I don’t recall

Here’s a great idea for those of you interested in making things worse:

Let’s allow voters to recall any elected official in Maine that they don’t like, including the governor.

Democratic state Sen. Justin Chenette of Saco has introduced a bill to do exactly that. Never mind that it’s probably unconstitutional (more on that later). The big problem is it’s a recipe for political chaos.

If you think the state is currently divided — Democrats versus Republicans, urban versus rural, north versus south — just imagine the atmosphere in the wake of a successful attempt to recall a sitting governor. The deposed executive’s supporters in the Legislature would engage in all manner of obstruction against his or her successor. With gridlock gripping the State House, special interests would exert their devious influences behind the scenes. Reasoned debate would be replaced with name calling, smear campaigns and fake news. The economy would stagnate. Infrastructure would deteriorate. The education system would flounder. Tax money would be squandered.

Actually, that’s pretty much the way things are now.

Nevertheless, this dream of recalling duly elected officials is — you’ll excuse the expression — deplorable. The state Constitution already has a dandy provision dealing with governors who commit crimes. It’s called impeachment. That document also contains a clause that allows the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to declare sitting governors incompetent or impaired and remove them from office. And then there’s that election thingy. Governors who botch their duties can be defeated at the polls. Even before they come up for re-election, their legislative allies have to face the voters every two years. Surely all that provides ample safeguards against executive authority run amuck.

Not according to Chenette. He’s quoted in the Lewiston Sun Journal as saying we need to “give power to the people by providing the public an extra tool of government accountability,” because those constitutional provisions can’t be trusted to do the job. Chenette seems unaware that the people he wants to give additional powers to are the very ones who elected this doofus in the first place.

But let’s get back to that constitutional issue. In 1992, the Legislature considered a recall bill and quickly determined that such a measure ran contrary to our fundamental law. Only a constitutional amendment could authorize recall. But such an amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both the state House and Senate and approval by a majority of the voters. Chenette’s bill doesn’t call for any of that, instead opting for passage by simple legislative majorities and the signature of the current governor (as unlikely as that seems). It’s doubtful that would meet constitutional standards.

Another little problem with this proposal is the grounds for removing a governor. They include “incompetence in the performance of duties” (goodbye John Reed, James Longley, John McKernan, John Baldacci and Paul LePage), “obstruction of voter-approved initiatives (so long Angus King, Baldacci and LePage) and “neglect of duties” (you’re out of here McKernan and LePage). These rules are so over-broad and vague that it’s doubtful any Maine governor — including such prominent figures as our first chief executive, William King; Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain; or a national figure like Ed Muskie — could have escaped their reach.

To initiate recall of an elected official, Chenette’s bill requires the collection of signatures of disgruntled voters equal to 15 percent of those who cast ballots in the election that put this miscreant in office in the first place. Compared to most other states with recall provisions (Rhode Island is the only one in New England and look how swell things are there), that’s on the low side, with most setting the threshold at 25 percent. The failed 1992 effort to institute recall in Maine required at least 35 percent. Chenette’s 15-percent figure would encourage recall petitioners to hit the streets every time a governor did anything the least bit controversial. Election season would never end.

Actually, that’s pretty much the way things are now.


Correction: In my column two weeks ago, I misidentified the sponsor of a sleazy legislative fundraiser as the Maine Republican Party. The actual sponsor was the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC, which is almost — but not quite — the same thing. Sorry about that.


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Last modified onSaturday, 22 April 2017 19:40