Any infringement on the right of the electorate to choose its representatives should be minimal and absolutely necessary; such is the essence of democracy. Hence, the rare recall of a duly elected official should be reserved to extreme circumstances, like - as one well-known attorney suggests - crime, sexual harassment/human rights violations, or evidence of corruption. Otherwise, the remedy for popular disapproval of policies and decisions is to elect someone else when the disapproved party's term is up.
Like most citizens I sometimes disagree with what my representatives do. On the other hand, I sure don't want someone else hand-picking their replacement, in the event a recall is successful, taking that choice from me. Yet that's exactly what would happen.
Nevertheless, despite the absence of criminal or other extremes, a group of citizens is attempting to recall not one, but four elected Coeur d'Alene officials, at least nominally over park improvements. To be fair that's just icing on a cake of dissatisfaction (with lawful, if disapproved, choices) this group has long had. Their view is these officials ignore the populace and want to spend too much public money on what the public does not want. The other view is that the proposed changes have been studied, discussed, are lawful and will use funding specifically designated for this purpose when the urban renewal agency (and its funds) were created.
Never mind McEuen Park for the moment. No matter which way you see it, the process itself is at issue as much as the dispute, perhaps even more. A look at recall elections is called for.
Idaho is one of 38 states which permit recall of locally elected officials. Some states permit local only, others local and state (like Idaho), and only 11 allow for local, state, and federal recalls. Idaho and 15 other states don't specify or limit the reason for recall; the majority require a crime, neglect of duties, "malfeasance" or misuse of office. Recall attempts are uncommon, but when they are used, they're most often against local and school board officials.
Article 6, Section 6 of the Idaho Constitution provides for recall of any public officer, except the judiciary. Titles 34 and 59 of Idaho Code describe the process for recall (20 percent of registered voters' signatures then they step down voluntarily or a recall election takes place) and replacement, who is appointed by the governor. In Idaho's county offices and in many states, this appointment is from a list provided by a local political party committee (of the same party as the person recalled, sometimes advisory). Idaho Code doesn't specify for city offices, and even in the case of a nonpartisan office, the vacancy is still replaced by gubernatorial appointment. That's the rub - that the core of the same group recalling these officials could use the recall as a mechanism to influence or hand pick the replacement, without an election, without involving the electorate at large.
When used properly the recall is an important tool to protect the integrity of a democracy. However, it must be used sparingly and judiciously, lest it too easily and effectively become a political tool to circumvent the election process, whether or not so intended.
Sholeh Patrick, J.D., is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at email@example.com.