Once again, Republican state Rep. Paul Hollis has introduced a sensible bill to put into effect a realistic recall provision in the Louisiana Constitution. Once again, lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, will fight to prevent that from happening.
HB 54 by Hollis would leave unchanged the present 40 percent standard of registered voters for jurisdictions with fewer than 1,000 to trigger a recall election. The remainder of his bill, which tracks his effort HB 272 from last year, would keep 33 and a third percent – the current standard for all populations 1,000 and above – for the 1,000 to 24,999 range, drop it to 25 percent for 25,000 to 99,999, and lower it to 20 percent for 100,000 and above.
Hollis points to the inability to recall past corrupt officials, particularly one in his neck of the woods, as a reason to reduce the numbers in this fashion. Only three recalls in state history (when permitted under a Constitution) have succeeded in gaining ballot placement in jurisdictions over 10,000. Further, no state even approaches Louisiana in terms of the large number of signatures needed; most have far lower standards (although 22 states don’t have such a provision).
Essentially, as is, Louisiana’s standard is unworkable for larger jurisdictions. Fortunately, a majority in the House recognized that last year and passed his bill, even though almost all its members would have a greater chance of recall under it.
Yet it never even came to a vote in the Senate, with Democrat state Sen. Karen Peterson not bringing it up in the Senate Governmental and Affairs Committee over which she serves as chairwoman. The House debate and results from that suggest why.
On the final vote, almost all votes against came from Democrats, few of whom voted for it, and almost all of those opposing were blacks. During debate, Democrat state Rep. Pat Smith summed up a convoluted argument that lowering the standard would “leave people out of the process.” Assuming that sentiment still exists, this year Peterson, if she ever lets it come up, will shepherd her committee with a 5-4 Democrat majority, all blacks, to kill it.
That reasoning to vote against makes zero sense. If an election comes about, all voters have a chance to participate in it. As to another argument that alleges trivial recalls would happen with a lower standard, not only would the bill maintain a higher standard for all offices than in any other state, but in those other states with much lower ceilings recalls historically still have occurred in small numbers.
The greater accountability that would ensue from reducing the numbers needed – not only making elected officials more likely to govern in the people’s interest, but also less likely to abuse their office – would produce better governance. Sadly, some kind of special interest politics looks to deny meaningful use of this tool by the citizenry.