Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is the Illinois Governor Recall Amendment Fake Reform?

Last week I posted a copy of the proposed amendment to Illinois State Constitution to insert a procedure to recall the governor. There are multiple pros and cons to the amendment that are discussed in the amendment notification booklet itself, that are pretty self explanatory, but there is one issue that has jumped out as a hot topic of discussion: the caveat requiring approval of the recall procedure by both parties:
The recall of the Governor may be proposed by a petition signed by a number of electors equal in number to at least 15% of the total votes cast for Governor in the preceding gubernatorial election, with at least 100 signatures from each of at least 25 separate counties.  A petition shall have been signed by the petitioning electors not more than 150 days after an affidavit has been filed with the State Board of Elections providing notice of intent to circulate a petition to recall the Governor.  The affidavit may be filed no sooner than 6 months after the beginning of the Governor's term of office.  The affidavit shall have been signed by the proponent of the recall petition, at least 20 members of the House of Representatives, and at least 10 members of the Senate, with no more than half of the signatures of each chamber from the same established political party.

Kristina Rasmussen of the Illinois Policy Institute calls this fake reform:

Basically the argument is that this is far too stringent of a requirement for recall, that it doesn't put enough power into the hands of the people.  Kristina argues that it should be easier to initiate a recall, that we should do it the way it's done in other states.  In most cases I would tend to agree, however given the political landscape in the State of Illinois, I am leaning toward agreeing with this caveat.


First and foremost, let's look at the initial requirement that at least 100 signatures for recall be gathered from each of the 25 counties.  For anyone determined enough to spearhead a recall campaign, that's going to be an easy step, and actually lends itself to being a precursor to pressuring the representatives into going along with supporting the recall.  As to capturing the representatives, let's look at that requirement.

Basically it's saying that a recall will require 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans in the House to approve the affidavit.  Currently the House has 119 seats, with 69 Democrats, 48 Republicans and 1 vacant seat.  This means a recall is approved by the House with 14.5% support by seated Democrats, and 20.8% support by seated Republicans.  Next we go to the Senate, where we need 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans.  The Senate has 37 Democrats and 22 Republicans, meaning a recall is approved in the Senate with 13.5% support from seated Democrats and 22.7% support from seated Republicans.


To begin with, 20 people out of 119 and 10 people out of 59 are not exactly difficult coalitions to put together, but allow me to go back to my aforementioned point of the State's political landscape.  I like to think of Illinois as two states.  There is the State of Illinois, and there is the State of Chicago.  For the most part, the State of Illinois is largely center-right and trends Red, while the State of Chicago is as Blue as it gets.

Taking a look at the makeup of the House bears this out.  Of the 69 Democrats in the House, 30 are listed as being in the City of Chicago, with another 6 being from towns with different names, but that may as well be within city limits anyway:  Maywood, Skokie, Evanston, Cicero, Blue Island, Calumet City.  36 of the 69 Democrats in the House come from the State of Chicago.  By comparison, the State of Chicago has produced 1 Republican Representative.  This means the rest of the State of Illinois trends Republican by a margin of 47 to 33.

The State Senate breaks down similarly.  Of the 37 Democrats, 17 are from the City of Chicago, and another 2 qualify as State of Chicago: Evanston and Burbank.  The State of Chicago produces zero Republican State Senators.  This means the rest of the State of Illinois trends Republican 22 to 18.


One of the cons of Recall listed in the amendment booklet is that the party not holding the governorship would use the recall procedure to play political games, leading to an endless string of recall proposals.  Given the divide between the State of Illinois and the State of Chicago, this would be very likely to be the case.  If a Republican governor were elected by the State of Illinois, how long would it be before the Machine revved its engines and began a State of Chicago only recall process?  They'd have the Democrats without even thinking about it.  The reverse process would also take place.  If the Machine put a State of Chicago governor into office, it would not be long at all until the Republican State of Illinois fought back via the recall process.  We'd be looking at an intrastate political civil war pitting Democrat Chicago against the Republican rest of the state.

Essentially, the bipartisan cooperation requirement means that the State of Illinois and the State of Chicago have to play nice.  It puts a check on all out political posturing for its own sake, and requires that there be an actual legal and/or ethical reason for initiating the recall process.  I don't call this fake reform, I call this smart reform, and given that the recall amendment does not replace the impeachment process, but rather supplements it, I like the idea of voting for this amendment.


  1. Out of 18 states in over 100 years, not ONCE has any instance been found were a purely partisan or special interest effort got even close to getting a recall on the ballot.

    The bipartisan cooperation requirement means no recall will ever occur. Under Blagojevich, the Senate Democrats were UNANIMOUS behind Rod (until his arrest of course). Maybe 2 House Dems would have signed the permission slip. The reality is, partisanship would ensure no recall would ever occur.

  2. Your argument kind of contradicts itself. First you say that there has NEVER been a recall that was ever one-sided. Then you say that if it's required to be bipartisan, it will never happen. If recalls ONLY happen with bipartisan support, how does requiring it to be mildly bipartisan preclude it from happening?

  3. Recalls are a waste of time. Voters have a chance every four years to change the governor. In extreme cases involving criminal acts (like Blago's), impeachment is an option. Messy as it may be, the system to remove a governor worked in that case.