2014, like few legislative sessions prior, will have the cloud of scandal looming above the chambers of the House and the Senate thanks to the shocking revelations surrounding former Attorney General John Swallow.
Historically, lawmakers have dealt with any ethics violations in-house, preferring to create internal investigations, impose fines as opposed to criminal charges, and say that the key to preventing violations is reporting information rather than putting limits on campaign spending and contributions. Likewise, lawmakers have often said that the electoral process will take care of any issues in due time, so there is no reason to speed the process up. It is for this reason that many claim Utah’s style of dealing with scandal is a paternalistic one where daddy knows best.
That mentality is what makes HJR 4 – Joint Resolution on Recall Elections from Representative Gage Froerer (Republican – Huntsville) so unique and shows us the serious impact the Swallow sandal has had on policymakers.
Currently, the only way an elected official can be removed from office, outside of an election year, is by stepping down or through impeachment. Neither of these processes come directly from the people. Yes, public opinion may heavily sway these decisions, but as we saw with Swallow, it is possible an elected official will stay in office long after the public has decided that it is time for them to go. The citizens of Utah simply do not have a direct way to remove someone from office – even if the public has lost all faith in the individual and the office. As we noted in an editorial in November, 71% of voters called for Swallow’s resignation prior to him stepping down.
HJR 4 looks to change this by putting into law recall elections. Put simply, the resolution would allow the citizens to directly remove elected officials from office.
Interestingly, the resolution would only affect the governor, state auditor, state treasurer, and attorney general’s office – legislators would still be exempt from any potential recall election.
It should also be noted that the resolution does not outline the specific mechanisms associated with how a recall would actually work, though this should not be cause for alarm as a resolution amends the Utah State Constitution and simply affirms that the recall should exist – the details of how the recall should work would be reserved for Utah code, something that can more easily be changed as situations change.
If successful, Utah would be the 39th state to implement some form of recall and the 20th state to have a direct recall of state officials. In June of last year, lawmakers resoundingly rejected the idea of a recall during an interim session meeting. Senator Lyle Hillyard (Republican – Logan) said creating a citizen recall process would hinder Utah, pointing to the events in Wisconsin where citizens attempted, though ultimately failed, to remove Governor Scott Walker from office. Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) said the only recall process necessary was the standard election process that takes place every 2 or 4 years, and Senator Kevin Van Tassell (Republican – Vernal) expressed concern that individuals could hijack the political process.
The resolution has a high hurdle to jump: two thirds of the House and Senate have to agree to the measure, and a majority of the public will need to vote it into our state constitution.
To contact Representative Froerer, click here or call 801-200-5595.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker