Ever since former Attorney General John Swallow subjected Utahns to an all you-can-eat buffet of corruption scandals, lawmakers have been investigating the idea of allowing voters to call a “do over,” or recall election, to remove a public official from office. Tuesday a resolution passed a committee to allow for the question to be put on the next ballot for voters to decide, but the details of how the recall elections would work are still being tinkered with by the bill sponsor.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville presented a pair of bills to legislators of the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday. House Joint Resolution 4,which would put the question on the November ballot to voters to allow for recall elections and House Bill 63 that specified a framework for the recall elections.
Froerer said his objective was to create a bill that would allow voters to recall any future John Swallow-type officials, but that would also create a high enough threshold that recall elections couldn't be used simply as a political weapon.
“The way I drafted it was to give the public an added tool if they decide to use it,” Froerer said. “A tool that can't be abused and can't be used for any political reasons.” Froerer said the standard he felt that was on the lips and minds of voters during the nearly year long unfolding of scandals affecting Swallow was the the former AG had violated the “public trust.”
Froerer pointed out that besides the difficult and costly impeachment process, voters have no other recourse to go after an elected official that has violated that trust.
“Who better to decide a violation of the public trust than the public?” Froerer asked.
Froerer's companion bill HB63 sought to set the boundaries of that process by borrowing the requirements of Utah's referendum process. A high bar he hoped would prevent the system from being abused or influenced by outside money given the fact that Utah is considered to have the most stringent referendum process in the country.
Following the ballot initiative standard, a recall election would have to garner the equivalent of 10 percent of the votes cast in the last presidential election, in 26 of 29 counties to recall an elected official. This would require months of signature gathering and would require significant public outrage enough to actually recall a candidate.
James Humphreys a political advocate who researched the issue with Froerer, argued that the long gestation time for the recall election would mean the matter would have to be very serious. “If there is such a violation, it would be a long and drawn out process" and the cataylst for the recall would have "to be so egregious as to remain with the public on the top of of their minds,” Humphreys said.
The bill would only focus on Utah's executive branch—the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and State Treasurer.
While committee members supported HJR4 and the idea of putting the matter before the voters, they weren't sold on the specifics, especially after Mark Thomas, Director of Elections under the Lieutenant Governor's Office challenged the language of HB63. He pointed out that other states have standards for their recall elections that include incompentency, malfeasance, while HB63 only requires a person to submit an application for a recall election (of course they would still have to mount the signature gathering campaign).
He also pointed out that other states with recall elections have voter standards as high as 25 percent while Utah's is 10 percent, as per the law dealing with ballot initiatives.
These details stymied committee members and while they passed HJR4 out with a favorable recommendation and by a unanimous vote, the committee also voted to hold onto HB63 and keep it in the committee, while Froerer hammers out details about recall standards and other aspects of the bill.
With the Legislature more than half-way over Froerer will now have to work fast pull a “do over” on his own bill, get it tuned up and present it before the committee again so that it will still have time for a full debate in both houses.
To read HJR 4 click here, for HB63 click here. To contact Rep. Froerer about these bills click here. To find your legislator to contact them about these pieces of legislation click here. For more updates from the hill visit CityWeekly.net and follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.