OP-ED | Recall Elections: Change We Can Do Without
Change. It’s one of those words when uttered in a political context conjures up images of a cynical office seeker looking to exploit a malaise that might or might not be based in reality.
Though he didn’t use the word — perhaps because the nation was relatively peaceful and prosperous in 1960 — Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy promised a litany of changes in policy ranging from the Reaganesque peace-through strength to the more progressive but quaintly titled “Aid for the Aged.”
Ronald Reagan promised change to a nation that truly was in rough shape, but he also noted in a moment of populist self-effacement that “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” Sixteen years later in a re-election bid, Bill Clinton vowed to build a bridge to the 21st century — a radical change for a nation that presumably lacked such a link.
In his campaign for governor in 1990, Lowell Weicker turned promise on its head, vowing no change to Connecticut’s position as one of only two New England states without a personal income tax. After winning, he promptly changed his mind.
Barack Obama liked the concept of change so much that he incorporated it into one of his many 2008 campaign bromides: the vapid “Hope and Change.” How did that work out for you?
Now we have a group called “Change Connecticut” looking to exploit a pervasive sense of discontent in a state that’s reeling from two huge tax increases in four years — the result of excessive spending and deficits as far as the eye can see.
At this point, it’s difficult to tell what the group is all about. Its website, changect.org (#ChangeCT), is as much of an empty slate as the slogan it’s named after. There’s nothing but a brief form to fill out, enabling the group to get your name and email for future use, and a link to Change Connecticut’s Facebook page, which does little more than point us to mainstream news articles about the dismal state of affairs in Connecticut’s economy.
Enterprising reporter Neil Vigdor of Hearst Connecticut learned that the group is the brainchild of Justin Clark, who managed both of Republican Tom Foley’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bids against Democrat Dan Malloy.
Clark told Vigdor, apparently with a straight face, that the website and Facebook page have nothing to do with his former boss but that Clark started them because he is “really miffed at what was going on at the Capitol.”
“I am not advocating on behalf of anybody or against anybody,” Clark insisted. “It’s not really a political vehicle.” Then why, might I ask, do you want my contacts? The website doesn’t even say.
Democrats have seized on the group, saying it smacks of the Connecticut Policy Institute, a “non-partisan, not-for-profit research organization” Foley started after his first narrow defeat at the hands of Malloy in 2010.
And now Foley is openly lamenting Connecticut’s lack of a recall provision for wayward office holders such as Malloy, since in his view Malloy lied when he said he wouldn’t raise taxes in a second term. If such a provision existed, Foley said, he would definitely run again.
Recall elections, such as those permitted in California and Wisconsin, are such poor public policy on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start in deconstructing the idea. Voters in California successfully recalled Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, shortly after he was elected to a second term, because they suddenly didn’t like his policies and decided he was in over his head. Voters in Wisconsin tried unsuccessfully to recall Gov. Scott Walker halfway through his first term because he did what he said he was going to do during his campaign — namely roll back the impressive gains made by public-sector unions.
Up the road from where I work in Berkshire County, Mass., a special election will be held this weekend to recall a member of the Hinsdale Board of Selectmen, essentially because some residents don’t like her voting record and personality.
What a bad idea. If that’s the kind of “change” Change Connecticut is aiming for, then count me out. The removal of an elected official should be reserved for those who have committed crimes or otherwise abused the power of their offices, not those who pursue policies we don’t like or those who rub us the wrong way. Removal from office is what the impeachment process is designed for and more than 10 years ago it worked quite well here in Connecticut in the case of twice-convicted felon and disgraced ex-governor John Rowland.
And it almost goes without saying that we should never use the Foley standard for removal from office. After all, if we fired every politician who lied, there would be no one left to lead us.
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