Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can Floridians vote to recall Gov. Rick Scott?

Rick Scott, red necktie.
Can Florida Gov. Rick Scott be recalled? The short answer is no. Not under current law. And even if the law were to be changed, which could be done, the answer remains the same. But for different reasons. Primarily, Florida isn't Wisconsin.

Florida law provides for the recall of elected officials. But only at the municipal level. The legislature had the smarts not to create the means of its own destruction. Or for anyone else in state government.

Under current law, the fastest way the people of Florida can rid themselves of Gov. Rick Scott before he succeeds in his apparent goal of turning the state into a third world nation is to convince the GOP-controlled legislature to impeach him.

Yeah, right.

Or we can do damage control while praying that somewhere a grand jury is preparing a bill of indictment. Oh, wait. Our attorney general is also a Republican. Not happening.

Or suffer through four years and vote him out. But can Florida really survive four years of this guy?

We're not without a remedy, however. All we have to do is change the state constitution. Unfortunately, we can't amend the constitution with a provision requiring Scott to be thrown to the curb. But we can, in theory, amend the constitution to provide for a way to toss him to that curb by extending recall to state officials.

All it takes is lots of money, tons of time and the cooperation of 676,000 of your closest friends. Our state constitution grants us the power to propose amendments to that constitution. But it doesn't make it easy. And, perhaps, rightfully so.

The proposed amendment would establish a procedure for the voters to recall folks elected to state office. Something similar to what's happening in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin recall laws were enacted by that state's legislature during a more enlightened era. There isn't much enlightenment in the Florida legislature these days. Or in Wisconsin.

The petition process has worked in the past. Smoking, for instance, is banned in most bars and restaurants as the result of a constitutional amendment - not an act of the legislature. Big Tobacco. Big Money. You get it.

To land on the ballot, it must be demonstrated that a proposed amendment has support. Accordingly, proponents of the measure are required to gather petitions signed by a number of voters equal to eight percent of the votes cast in the last presidential election. And at least half of the state's congressional districts must be represented.

This is where those 676,000 close friends enter the picture. Or to be more precise, 676,811 of your closest friends. That's eight percent of the votes cast in the 2010 presidential election. And your friends must all be registered voters.

This isn't going to happen, of course, with a couple of folks armed with clipboards. But could it happen? Possibly. Would it work? Not with Scott. But here's how it would happen if it did happen.

There are about 329,000 public school teachers in Florida. That's today. Considering Scott's strategy to gut public school funding, you might want to check back in the morning. We can conservatively add about 50,000 support staff to this number.

Why teachers? At best, Scott's opinion of public school teachers is contemptuous. Until Scott figures out a way to funnel public school money into his wife's health care company, his attitude is unlikely to change.

Public school teachers are motivated. It's easy to get motivated when there's a scary-looking Kojak clone in Tallahassee who's out to take away your paycheck. It's a fair bet that teachers would crawl on bloody knees going house-to-house with petitions. And, of course, sign them.

Teachers also have parents, siblings, spouses and children. Toss in a few friends and neighbors and that 678,000 threshold begins to look doable. Joining the bloody knee brigade are the 131,000 or so state employees Scott has maligned from the moment he decided to purchase himself an election.

Adding the aforementioned parents, siblings et. al. and the doable begins to look done. But names on paper are just part of the process. And here's where money comes into the picture.

If you want a constitutional amendment, you have to register as a political committee. This is done through the state. And before names can be collected, the state division of elections must approve the petition's format. Then a serial number is assigned. It's at this point that names can be collected.

These names must then be verified by each county's supervisor of elections to make sure the people who signed are really the people who signed and that they're registered voters. If one million signatures are gathered, verification would cost a minimum of $100,000. And it could be more. The deadline for submitting petitions to the local elections supervisor is January 1, 2011.

You're out $100,000 at this point, and the fun is just starting. Your petitions are then reviewed by the state division of elections. Scott runs it. Then it's off to the attorney general. She's a Republican. Then it goes to the supreme court for an advisory opinion. This is the court Scott is attempting to dismantle.

Your petitions have been reviewed by the county, the state division of elections, the attorney general and the supreme court. You're done, right? Uh, no.

Along the way it goes to something called the Financial Impact Estimating Conference that determines, surprisingly, the financial impact of the proposed amendment. Or, how much is this thing going to cost us?

Finally, the secretary of state (appointed by you-know-who) weighs in, and the amendment question is ultimately assigned a ballot position. In case you're still wondering, nothing in this process is designed to make things easy. In fact, there is still a possibility (very strong) someone will sue to remove the proposed amendment from the ballot. Like Scott, for instance.

If and when the voters approve the amendment, Scott would likely be into his third year in office. And all that has been accomplished is to allow him (and his friends) to be recalled. The recall process would likely be similar to the amendment ordeal. And just as lengthy.

By the time we got around to voting Scott out of office by recall, we would be voting him out of office in the general election. The irony, of course, is that the pro-Scott forces could use the recall process we've just created against his successor - presuming his successor is a Democrat.

The bad news in all of this is that there's really no way to engineer a recall effort against Scott. But this doesn't make a constitutional amendment campaign a bad idea. By gathering one million signatures in an effort clearly aimed at Scott, there's a powerful message being sent. And, considering the mood of the electorate, there's little doubt that a recall amendment would pass.

The question would be: Is Scott so tone deaf he wouldn't hear the message? Probably. But his GOP colleagues in the House and Senate would likely get it, even though they wouldn't be directly affected by a recall measure.

Recall is a double-edged sword. It's a great idea if the other guy is the target. It's not so good when it's your guy. And with today's contentious political environment, we could be looking at ballots filled with recall referendums. Instead of calling for recounts, losers would be launching recall campaigns while the polls are still open.

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