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Tea Party attempts to recall US Senator
March 16, 2010 5:27 PM   Subscribe

Today a New Jersey state appeals court ruled that the secretary of state must accept a petition filed by the Sussex County Tea Party to recall US Senator Robert Menendez - the first ever recall effort aimed at a US Senator. Their petition was originally denied by Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells back in January. The debate over recall elections has persisted for centuries in the US, with it notably being a part of the Virginia Plan that was proposed at the Constitutional Convention. Are recalls a good way to make senators accountable to their electorate? Or would they make senators slaves to the ever changing whims of the people? Here is a brief history of the recall in the US.
posted by Consonants Without Vowels (45 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can we recall the entire senate, and not replace them? I'm thinking that would vastly improve our government.
posted by mullingitover at 5:35 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two Words: Term Limits
posted by msbutah at 5:37 PM on March 16, 2010


Aren't there these election thingies every few years that are supposed to make senators accountable to the electorate?
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:38 PM on March 16, 2010 [14 favorites]


Two Words: Term Limits

Yup. Regarding the Senate, the problem isn't necessarily "the system" in general, but specifically a system where becoming increasingly good at being corrupt benefits your constituents by allowing you to bring home more "reappropriated" money home to your district than the next senator, thereby making their immediate future dependent upon your re-election.
posted by rollbiz at 5:45 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Three words: Repeal the 17th.
posted by unixrat at 5:46 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like this idea, but if you think there's deadlock now, wait until every wingnut and his 10,000 online friends manage to get your senator drowned in paperwork everytime he speaks up. This is what term limits are for.
posted by GilloD at 5:52 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Driving Governing While Hispanic
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:10 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dennis Kucinich will be announcing tomorrow his "reluctant" support for passing the Senate version of the Health Insurers Bailout bill.

At this point, I am willing to try literally anything else.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:17 PM on March 16, 2010


Are recalls a good way to make senators accountable to their electorate? Or would they make senators slaves to the ever changing whims of the people?

So the question is whether the people are even more mercurial, two-faced and unprincipled than our Senators?

The answer is: "No."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:22 PM on March 16, 2010


Aren't there these election thingies every few years that are supposed to make senators accountable to the electorate?

The Tea Party is arguing that the people should be able to express their will more often than once every six years, and I'd tend to agree with them on this. If you elect a senator that turns out to be a total dirtbag (easy enough to do since there always seems to be a wide chasm between campaign promises and what someone actually does when they're in office), why should the US have to suffer through 6 whole years of a total dirtbag?

Of course the counter argument is that this will lead to an influx of recall petitions in the states that currently allow recalls, which would keep senators from actually legislating since they would be constantly fighting for their seats (not sure how this is a big difference from what we have already since most elected officials already act like they're campaigning 24/7). Or, in other words, a riff on the slippery slope. I don't see this as being a huge problem. Even if there are dozens of petitions that pop up because of this, what matters is how many of those petitions actually come to fruition. The Sussex tea partiers need to 1.3 million signatures for their recall - that is a lot of signatures. I don't think that anyone aside from the Tea Partiers themselves think that they can actually pull this off. As long as the actual bar for the recall is set high enough to squash movements that don't actually have popular support, I say let them run with it.
posted by Consonants Without Vowels at 6:45 PM on March 16, 2010


Two Words: Term Limits

Reelection is what makes representatives accountable to the electorate. If they are term limited they have no incentive to give a shit once they are in office. For proof see the Governor's office of Virginia.

wait until every wingnut and his 10,000 online friends manage to get your senator drowned in paperwork everytime he speaks up

And there's the rub with making reelection too often. For proof of this problem see the House of Representatives.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:49 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the experience with term limits in California has been pretty bad in my opinion. You get a lot of inexperienced legislators rotating through, even more hyper-partisanship since there's less accountability (fewer elections to worry about). We get even less accomplished than we did without term limits. I've yet to see any good come out of it, the state is worse off by just about every metric, including corruption and bad governance.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:51 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


If this catches on, look for your elected representatives to spend even more time fundraising and appeasing lobbyists than they are now, to ensure that they can afford spontaneous midterm recall campaigns.

Certainly nothing will improve the ability of our legislators to make difficult, unpopular but necessary decisions like knowing that they can be challenged for their office any time they piss somebody off. Your righteous dudgeon is appreciated, but I don't think you'll be getting the result you hope for.
posted by ardgedee at 6:54 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Seconding wildcrdj on the effect of Term Limits in California. And the Recall in California is what gave us Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

I've said it before, but all the other problems with the U.S. Senate pale next to the fact that the 500,000 population of Wyoming (the state that elected Rep. Dick Cheney) have the same amount of power as the 38,000,000 population of California. That's not 'protecting' the small states (where people don't want to live), that's putting them in charge. Get back to me when you get a fix for THAT.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:16 PM on March 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Of course the counter argument is that this will lead to an influx of recall petitions

Actually, the counter argument is simply that the federal constitution doesn't allow for recalls, so it doesn't make a bit of difference to anything whether NJ holds a "recall election" or not.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:26 PM on March 16, 2010


> You get a lot of inexperienced legislators rotating through

Term Limits--> inexperienced legislators, operating within a sea of lobbyists and staffers who are very experienced and very permanent
posted by darth_tedious at 7:47 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can a state court rule on the federal constitutionality of something? Because if so, this is clearly the wrong ruling -- the U.S. Constitution outlines the qualifications for being a Senator, and the nature of a Senator's term in office, without providing for recalls.
posted by aaronetc at 7:53 PM on March 16, 2010


I've said it before, but all the other problems with the U.S. Senate pale next to the fact that the 500,000 population of Wyoming (the state that elected Rep. Dick Cheney) have the same amount of power as the 38,000,000 population of California

YES. Exactly It.
posted by eriko at 8:18 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Get back to me when you get a fix for THAT.

That's easy. Repeal the 17th Amendment.
Allow Senators to go back to representing the States, not the People.
You know, like the system was designed in the first place.
posted by madajb at 8:29 PM on March 16, 2010


So the question is whether the people are even more mercurial, two-faced and unprincipled than our Senators?

yes.. http://i249.photobucket.com/albums/gg226/JimGinPA/sign_of_the_times.jpg
posted by MrLint at 8:29 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I actually clicked on the Tea Party page link, and followed through to this news story. Do these folks have a reason for this, or is it just because they can and he is a Democrat?

I hardly every comment on how a website looks because everything I learned about how to make a website I learned in 1996. But damn, I could make a better website than the one they got.
posted by marxchivist at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2010


Repealing the 17th might be nice, but I have a feeling it would end up like the any other high profile appointed board - that you'll have the ruling party pick the most extreme person to appeal to their base. And then the US Senate is worse off because you've got half birthers and half Kuciniches. (I like the latter, but its not a good idea for moderates to go away)

It probably wouldn't stop pork (they still work for the state).

I'm up for it for 12 years (two full senate terms) just to see how well it works (or doesn't).
posted by SirOmega at 8:50 PM on March 16, 2010


Call me conservative, but I find it amazing that this thread is full of glib comments about how clearly dumb the compromises that underlie our constitution are.

I don't claim to know whether we'd be in some way better off without a senate, but I'm sure as hell not comfortable with leaving that decision up to the Sussex County Tea Party.
posted by Xezlec at 8:56 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Repealing the 17th might be nice, but I have a feeling it would end up like the any other high profile appointed board - that you'll have the ruling party pick the most extreme person to appeal to their base.

Well, there's no doubt there'd be corruption and backroom dealing.
But keep in mind that the Constitution just says chosen by the legislature, it doesn't say how they need to be chosen.
So one state could elect two members from the ruling party. Another could elect 1 from each of the two major parties, etc. Hell, they could give to an ex-Governor.

Of course, the same thing holds true for popular elections for Presidents and the House.
There's nothing Constitutional stopping a state from implementing Instant Run-off or another form of elections that would give third parties a fighting chance.
posted by madajb at 9:17 PM on March 16, 2010


It probably wouldn't stop pork (they still work for the state).

You can be pretty damn sure that unfunded federal mandates would be halted toot sweet, for one.
posted by unixrat at 9:21 PM on March 16, 2010


Sorry misread this, thought it was about this. Sorry, carry on...
posted by fallingbadgers at 12:04 AM on March 17, 2010


That's cute. The Tea Party can't wait for the next election, so they're asking to have it early.

As a New Jersian, I've been pretty happy with Menendez. They probably just hate him because he's pro-health care, and that's somehow unconstitutional to them because they don't like it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:57 AM on March 17, 2010


There's a very simple script for this, and the Turd Blossom operating manual is still getting heavy usage:

Democrat in power: the democratic will of the people needs to be expressed and it's a patriot's right to speak up and, if necessary, bear arms. Respect for democracy is what makes America great.

Republican in power: who do these anti-election commies who want to overturn the rightfully elected Senator think they are? Respect for democracy is what makes America great.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:14 AM on March 17, 2010


This is what term limits are for.

In my opinion, this is what campaign finance reform is for. Let's face it, under the current scenario our representatives in Washington are beholden to the monied interests. It doesn't matter if they hold office for one term or ten.

And once a term-limited politician is out of office, I'd suspect they'd go through that revolving door and come out as a lobbyist. Hell, this is what happens today, it would just be a shorter process.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:28 AM on March 17, 2010


I've said it before, but all the other problems with the U.S. Senate pale next to the fact that the 500,000 population of Wyoming (the state that elected Rep. Dick Cheney) have the same amount of power as the 38,000,000 population of California. That's not 'protecting' the small states (where people don't want to live), that's putting them in charge.

Yeah, it sucks to be California and not get to tell Wyoming what to do in the Senate. It sucks to be Wyoming in the House of Representatives too. Tell you what, why don't those of you who have them just take your elected representatives home with you and let us folks here in DC run our own affairs.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:47 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can a state court rule on the federal constitutionality of something?

Sure, it happens all the time, especially in criminal trials.

Federal appeals courts (incl. the Supreme Court) can overturn their federal-constitutional rulings, though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:52 AM on March 17, 2010


See, here's the thing...
The Senate, as constructed by the founders, isn't meant to be beholden to the whims and desires of the electorate. As conceived, the Senate is meant to actually go against popular opinion, if necessary. It's meant to be the more deliberative branch of the government. The branch charged with protecting the long-term view of things. If you want to express, politically, the current zeitgeist, that's what the House is for. The Senate is, supposedly, where the grownups go to think these things over.

Now, I'm not saying that's how it works these days. Far from it. But bullshit like term limits and recalls aren't the fix. Term limits serve to disassociate the electorate from their responsibilities even more than they already are. Don't like the guy in office? Relax. He'll be outta there, by law, in a couple of years anyway. Terms limits are the codification of "lazy electorate" into law.

As for recalls...I can't think of too many things that would take the (intended) deliberative nature of the Senate and bury it for all time than the threat that, if you don't vote as we say, we will recall you mere months into your term. This threat will only serve to freeze the process even more, especially when you get conflicting groups, each threatening a recall if the vote goes against their particular points of view.

I'm afraid the only effective fix for broken systems like the Senate, is to get the damned electorate to take their responsibilities seriously and fucking vote, and vote with their brains. Barring that, you have no hope for ever having a working government. Which, frankly, may be exactly what groups like the teabaggers want. There's more than a little bit of "kill it off" in their rhetoric, which should really scare any thinking individual.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:12 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and find a way to get rid of this whole "us v. them" mentality that is killing civil discourse in this country.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:14 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


In my judgment, this is highly unlikely to work. The Constitution is pretty explicit about the fact that senators are elected every six years. The federal courts have rejected any attempt by the states to impose term limits on federal legislators, as the states are not permitted to impose qualifications for office more stringent than those imposed by the Constitution itself. That being the case, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that they would permit a state to actually cut short the term of a senator by a special election.

The federal government, so the story goes, is a government which flows directly from the people of the several states, not the states themselves. As such, using state laws to effect changes in the federal government is a complete non-starter.

This a stunt, and not even all that clever a stunt. Essentially taking down a national advocacy group by pulling a Moore-esque "journalism" stunt? Clever, if arguably evil. But running a petition which hasn't even a remote chance of working just to express your displeasure? Ig'nant.

I'm glad they've found something to do with their time, but I wish it were something more closely related to, you know, reality.
posted by valkyryn at 6:22 AM on March 17, 2010


Why stop at just letting the states do their own recalls? As the Scott Brown election showed us, it's everyone's business who represents my state, so surely I should be able to recall some guy in Utah or something I don't like.
posted by Legomancer at 7:21 AM on March 17, 2010


Governing While Hispanic

Oh, please. You don't have to be racist to dislike Menendez.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:50 AM on March 17, 2010


...but it helps.

kidding
posted by Pollomacho at 8:01 AM on March 17, 2010


Term limits have exactly the opposite effect of what most people who support them wish they did.

Namely:

- they transfer more power in the direction of corporations and lobbyists

- they increase partisanship rather than decrease

- as pointed out above, once the elected official has won that last election there is no more incentive to work for constituents at all

Of course that last one happens to an extent with or without term limits but with term limits it is built into the system to become far, far more frequent.

FWIW this is based on not only thinking through logically what the (unintended) consequences of term limits but more specifically watching all these things happen here in my home state since term limits were put in place.

Term limits might be somewhat helpful if there were about 3-4 times as long as typically proposed.
posted by flug at 12:42 PM on March 17, 2010


Two Words: Term Limits

It seems like that would make senators care even less about public opinion.

Actually, I think we should go back to have senators appointed by governors, or state legislators. Electing senators hasn't really worked out, and Senate campaigns are pretty much all B.S. anyway. There would still be democratic accountability, in the form of picking governors or whatever based in part on who they vote for in the senate.

They wouldn't have to worry about public opinion as much, but they also wouldn't need to fund campaigns, and therefore, wouldn't care nearly as much about what lobbyists have to say.

I do think we should have age limits though.
posted by delmoi at 1:36 PM on March 17, 2010


I've said it before, but all the other problems with the U.S. Senate pale next to the fact that the 500,000 population of Wyoming (the state that elected Rep. Dick Cheney) have the same amount of power as the 38,000,000 population of California. That's not 'protecting' the small states (where people don't want to live), that's putting them in charge.


...pale next to the fact that the 38 million population of California (the state that elected Pelosi and Boxer and Feinstein) has a 53-1 advantage over Montana (fer instance) in the House of Representatives. Without the Senate, California could run roughshod over any one of the small, one-Representative states. California could run roughshod over several states combined, in terms of representatives.

That's one of the beauties of our American government - checks and balances, remember that from Civics class?

So quit picking on us small states. We have the same damn rights, responsibilities, etc, as you fancy big-staters.
posted by davidmsc at 2:34 PM on March 17, 2010


davidmsc: "California could run roughshod over several states combined, in terms of representatives. "

Seems fair, given how much more California is contributing to the federal budget. In terms of net contribution to the budget Montana is a pretty big parasite, receiving $1.64 for every dollar it contributes. Granted these are semi-stale numbers, but in 2004 California would've actually be financially better off leaving the union.
posted by mullingitover at 3:51 PM on March 17, 2010


I've often quoted those same (dated) numbers, mullingitover, but seeing DC at the top, and so far above and beyond the top, it makes me wonder if I should. What is included in Federal Spending anyway? Civil servants' pay? Facilities? Funding for actual projects? Welfare dollars? Seeing as how DC gets 5 or 6 times what it pays in by this reconning, it must be a pretty broad brush. What we really want to know to rate the ammount of "trough feeding" going on is funding on pork, earmarks, and welfare rather than things like pay.

Incidentally, do we really want military bases, nuclear facilities, and missile ranges in the middle of urbanized areas or is it better to put them in the middle of nowhere? How about national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:56 AM on March 18, 2010


So quit picking on us small states.

Nobody's picking on small states. Last I heard, most of your Reps and especially most of your Senators get waaaay more media attention, cash, favors, fawning, disproportionate influence, and special treatment than most big states' do.

That's one of the beauties of our American government - checks and balances, remember that from Civics class?

To paraphrase Gandhi, "Checks and balances. They would be a good idea."
posted by blucevalo at 11:29 AM on March 18, 2010


Can't stand the heat, so have the user's posts deleted? Snap, what a sad direction this website has gone since I joined oh so many years ago. Enjoy your homogenized debate, it's clear what's going on here.
posted by GrooveJedi at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2010


(Good one, Pollomacho)

It seems like that would make senators care even less about public opinion.


But surely that's what they are supposed to do. Rise above public opinion and do the Right Thing and all. Anything to encourage high mindedness rather than poll watching should be a good thing rather than not, no? Else we put everything to referenda and have mob rule.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:57 PM on March 18, 2010


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