While the Albany Times Union reports corruption charges against yet another state senator, its editorial page features an op-ed by four Republican legislators who believe the solution to corruption among elected officials is the recall. They want New York to become the 20th state enabling constituents to initiate a recall campaign against their elected representatives. Is recall really necessary on their own level, where officials are up for re-election every two years? Yes they answer: "Why should our bosses — that is, our constituents — have to wait if enough of them believe their public servant is derelict enough to be tossed out now, and on Election Day?"
The authors have a point, to a point. But whether a public servant should be tossed out and whether his constituents want him tossed out are two different things. Too many apparently corrupt politicians have been vindicated by their constituents, who often want their representatives to keep bringing home the bacon and may believe them to be framed, for a recall option to achieve the presumably desired result of eliminating "derelict" legislators from government. Before pressing for a recall law, supporters (regardless of party) should question their own priorities. Do they want to enable constituents to recall derelict legislators, or do they want derelict legislators removed as a matter of principle? If the latter, why make it optional? Why not instead pass a law expelling automatically any legislator who gets arrested, regardless of his ultimate guilt or innocence, and rendering him ineligible to reclaim office until his case is resolved? That might serve as a deterrent against having even the appearance of corruption. The idea may seem draconian by our very liberal standards, and it might not pass constitutional muster for some reason or other, but such a gesture would have the virtue of allowing the entire state to set a rule rather than leaving any politicians' fate up to his potentially unreliable constituents. All a recall law would do definitely is create jobs for the organizers of the petition campaigns upon which recalls depend. Meanwhile, both the most successful recall campaign in recent history, which made Arnold Schwarzenegger the governor of California, and the most dramatic unsuccessful campaign, which nearly toppled Gov. Walker of Wisconsin, had nothing to do with alleged crimes. If the object is to punish criminal legislators, why give lobbyists opportunities at the same time to reverse perfectly legal elections and overthrow perfectly law-abiding officials for ideological reasons? Ideological objections from right or left can and should wait until the next election. Unless the bill proposed by the New York Republicans specifies that recall can be invoked only in cases of corruption or other criminality, it will end up empowering lobbyists more than it empowers the people.