After the fiasco two weeks ago, when the Illinois Senate buried Rep. Franks’ recall amendment (HJCRA28), Senator Hendon introduced his own recall amendment in the Senate. This version (SJCRA70) is substantially similar to Rep. Franks’ recall but has a few changes: the ability to recall judges, the Governor and Lt. Governor have to be recalled together, and salaried local officials can be recalled.

Two weeks ago, I testified at the Senate Executive Committee hearing on HJCRA28 and spoke specifically about the ability to recall judges. There is understandably some concern with this (and rightfully so) that unpopular but legally sound decisions could cause a judge to be recalled from office. I had proposed that as a prerequisite to recalling a judge, the judicial discipline process in Article VI, Section 15 of the current state constitution be used. At the time, Senator Hendon expressed that he liked the idea and he has incorporated my suggestion into his current amendment.

The big problem with the bill that no one has caught so far (and admittedly, I missed it when I testified two weeks ago) is that an officeholder subject to a recall can also run to succeed himself should the recall succeed. To illustrate, let’s say Blagojevich/Quinn get a successful recall petition that’s on the ballot. Both can, in turn, can submit the right paperwork to run in the succession election that occurs during the same election. It is important to note because of the condensed time frame, there are no primaries. This means, like what occurred in California in 2003, you would have a crowded field running to replace a recalled official. It is entirely plausible that an official who is successfully recalled will be able to get “re-reelected” with a plurality of the vote in a crowded field. That is why most recall provisions prohibit the recalled official running from running as a successor candidate. There is no prohibition in this amendment.

An interesting idea surfaced two weeks ago during the recall debate then, that because the Governor and Lt. Governor run together as a ticket that they must be recalled together. I find this idea rather unconvincing considering that there is no requirement that they must be impeached together. I think it is a ploy to accomplish two things: put Lt. Governor Quinn in the hot seat for pushing this issue and make it harder to accomplish recalling a governor successfully. Voters who may want to recall a Governor may vote no simply because they don’t want to “take it out” on the Lt. Governor. I am not sure how much of an effect it has, but it’s there.

Lastly, the big change and big win is the inclusion of local officials in the recall amendment itself. The amendment, however, restricts recall to only “salaried” elected officials. This immunizes school boards, for one. In smaller towns or counties, elected officials there may not draw a salary. Officials who are paid per-meeting “stipends” may also not be subject to recall. It’s a limitation that I can live with, but I prefer that anyone elected can be recalled. It’s philosophically sound that way. I’m not sure the reason for shielding unpaid officials.

I certainly do think that SJCRA70 is an improvement on HJCRA28 with the adding in of judges and most local officials. I think the threshold for signatures could be lowered to 10% for all the offices and would like to raise the number of counties needed for statewide recalls, but by and large I think most of it is good. The show-stopper here is that a recalled official can run to be their own successor which all but nullifies the intent of recalling them in the first place.

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