California Could Start Recall Trend

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Some Nevadans hope to emulate California’s wild recall race and remove Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn (search) from office as a punishment for raising taxes.

The Nevada effort, gaining strength from the weight of its neighbor's election, may signify the beginning of an increase in popularity for recalls.

Recall backers in Nevada have until Nov. 25 — 90 days from when they filed notice of the recall effort — to collect 128,109 signatures, representing 25 percent of those who voted in last November’s gubernatorial election. If the petitions are certified, Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller (search) would have 10 to 20 days to call a special election to be held 30 days later.

Nevada conservatives criticize Guinn for raising state taxes by $836 million to close the deficit on the state’s $5 billion budget.

Small business owner Tony Dane is leading the recall effort with the backing from the anti-tax Independent American Party (search). They are also seeking to recall six Nevada Supreme Court justices who handed Guinn a key court victory in his budget battle with Republican lawmakers who blocked tax increases in the state Legislature.

Dane, chairman of the Recall Kenny Guinn Exploratory Committee (search), said he and 80 full-time and 200 part-time volunteers have collected almost 18,000 signatures.

“I am very optimistic. This thing is going a lot better than I expected,” Dane told

“Nevadans expect their elected officials to make difficult decisions that are not always popular with everyone. With respect to the recall effort, I have great faith in the wisdom of the people of Nevada,” Guinn responded to his opponents in a statement last month.

Few observers give the recall effort much chance of success. A Reno Gazette-Journal/KRNV-TV News 4 poll in late July found 68 percent of respondents opposed recall efforts, 24 percent supported it and 8 percent were unsure.

The recall campaign also lacks the financial resources to hire paid signature-gatherers, such as those used in California. And it does not have the support of leading Republicans or Democrats.

Guinn, 66, has been a popular governor and easily won re-election to his second and final term in 2002, defeating state Sen. Joseph N. Neal, 68 to 22 percent.

Many conservative business leaders, who have been critical of the governor for his tax hike, reject the recall effort, saying that it is led by a fringe element and that they are uninterested in experiencing the same chaos as California.

Nevada activists have never recalled a state official, and unlike in California, where almost every governor is threatened with recall petitions, recall attempts in the Silver State are rare.

Norman J. Ornstein, a political expert and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who doesn't expect the recall effort to succeed, said the attempt to remove Guinn might be part of the political fallout from the California recall.

“I don’t think that this is the beginning of a trend, but when you have one recall, it invites others. I wouldn’t be surprised to find, partly for political purposes, Democrats in some places saying ‘Alright, if that’s how you want to play, let’s see how you like the medicine,’” Ornstein said.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, also doubted that the Nevada effort would be successful.

He added that it is unlikely California's process will be repeated elsewhere.

“You can’t have something this big in the nation’s largest state without there being ramifications elsewhere. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a trend though. There are only 18 states and the District of Columbia that have any kind of statewide recall provisions and most of them have much more restrictive laws than California,” Sabato said.

Ornstein said California's recall may have been easier to achieve because recall supporters had to collect signatures from only 12 percent of the votes cast in the previous election and had the cash backing of $1.7 million from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

California has among the lowest thresholds in the nation for initiating a recall. Other states require signatures from as many as 40 percent of voters in the previous election. And some states only allow a recall if there has been criminal corruption.

“In the end we’re not going to see very many recalls like this one, [which is] driven both by partisan politics and unhappiness with policy positions and personality. What we’re likely to see are recalls where there is a serious ethical problem or violation of rules of law,” Ornstein said.

Like referenda, the recall is largely a phenomenon in western states. Ten of the 18 states allowing recall elections for state officials are in the West.

Throughout history, recall attempts at the state level have been largely unsuccessful, according to the National Conference of State Legislators (search). Only one governor has been recalled — North Dakota’s Lynn J. Frazier in 1921. California voters have initiated 31 recall attempts, but the current one is the first to ever reach the ballot.

Recall efforts focused on state lawmakers have been only slightly more successful. In California, 107 recall efforts were initiated between 1911 and 1994, and only four qualified for the ballot with two resulting in removal. Two other recalls have succeeded in Michigan and one in Oregon.

Sabato said that rather than an upsurge in the recall of statewide officials, a more likely result from the closely watched California race will be an increase in efforts to recall local officials. The recall is already used much more often on the local level, with at least 36 states permitting the recall of local officials.