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Scott Bruun: Recalling the Recall of Three State Legislators

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


A recall effort is underway in Oregon. One designed to punish three Democrat state legislators (State Reps Val Hoyle and Susan McLain, and Senator Chuck Riley) for their roles in recent gun-control legislation. Yet before we can speak of recalling these people, we must first consider how we got here. An election.

Elections matter, and they have consequences. The consequences from last November’s election include the re-election of an inconsequential U.S. senator, and the re-election of an ethically-obtuse governor. The 2014 election also ushered in an overwhelming Democrat majority in both chambers of Oregon’s legislature.

Now half-way through the 2015 legislative session, the consequence of electing a hyper-partisan, hyper-liberal legislature is abundantly clear. Namely, nothing of broad importance or relevance for the majority of Oregonians has or is likely to get done. In other words, this legislative session has been a tremendous lost opportunity.

Nothing done for Oregon’s beleaguered roads or bridges. Nothing done to help workers and families keep more of what they earn. Nothing done to shore-up Oregon’s underfunded colleges. And little done to enhance outcomes in public K-12 education.

Instead, the legislature has put the pedal to the metal on issues of narrow partisan interest. Issues like a new “clean fuels” tax; automatic motor-voter registration; and the latest issue, one that has brewed up a firestorm, universal background check legislation for gun sales in Oregon.

It’s this last, the issue of guns, which triggered the recall effort.

On the issue of guns, these legislators deserve some heat. While the problem of violence (even gun violence) is very real, the “fix” these legislators advocate is not. Universal background checks will not cure evil, they will not cure broken souls; and they certainly won’t keep guns out of the hands of people bent on doing harm.

Yet, recall in this case is the wrong approach. These legislators have done nothing to abuse power or personally profit from the offices they hold. Instead, they have simply pursued legislative agendas that are perfectly, albeit disturbingly, in line with their liberal politics. They have pursued the liberal legislative agendas on which they campaigned. Campaigned and won.

Recall efforts should be reserved for rare instances of corruption and abuse of power. Had he not resigned, for example, the use of recall against John Kitzhaber would have been entirely appropriate. The legislators currently targeted for recall, on the other hand, are not corrupt. They are just wrong.

Recall advocates will likely not be satisfied with this analysis. They should keep a couple things in mind, however. First, people in general don’t like it when anyone – including a politician – is unjustly punished or harangued. It smacks of bullying.

Take the recent example of Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor. In his first campaign, Walker ran on conservative principles including a plan to reduce the monopoly-like power of public-employee unions.  Walker ran on this theme, won on this theme, then acted on this theme once in office. In this, he acted on his public convictions. He did nothing wrong, nothing illegal or immoral, yet was still subjected to a bitter and protracted recall fight.

As the world knows, Governor Walker survived the recall. Walker stood his ground, he won, and is now a serious candidate for president. Failed recall made Walker a hero and, in this case, Wisconsin is better for it.

If recall efforts fail and thus make heroes (or “victims”) out of the three state legislators, Oregon will not be the better for it. The only thing worse than a misguided politician is a misguided politician with a big microphone.

Another consideration is what then happens if these recall efforts are successful? Who replaces these people? Recall advocates are wrong if they think it can’t get any worse. It can get worse. And Oregon’s system of filling vacant legislative seats almost guarantees that it will get worse. 

Those seats would be filled via recommendation from elected Democrat precinct committee people (“PCPs”). These PCPs, some of their party’s most liberal and activist members, are almost certain to propose replacement legislators who are even further out of the mainstream then the legislators being replaced. We are likely to see a situation where Oregon’s legislature gets pushed even further to the left. How does that help Oregon?

Whether creating little martyred legislative-heroes, or replacing bad legislators with worse, the recall effort is bound to do more harm than good. It’s fine to teach someone a lesson, but all of Oregon shouldn’t be made to pay in the process.

Instead, make them pay in November 2016 and November 2018. Make them pay at the ballot box. Make the case that these legislators have failed to serve the people of Oregon. Provide viable alternatives to these hard-left legislators. And in the process, help craft a brighter vision for Oregon.

After all, elections really do matter.

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs', yet dutifully commutes to Portland every day where he earns his living in public affairs with Hubbell Communications


Related Slideshow: The Eight Political Types

What political type are you? The Pew Research Center says most Americans fall into eight groups. Can you find your match?

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Steadfast Conservatives

Republicans who regularly attend religious services (55 percent attend at least weekly) and are very politically engaged. Steadfast Conservatives are mostly male (59 percent), non-Hispanic white (87 percent), and hold very negative thoughts towards immigrants/immigration.

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Photo Credit: Denise Cross Photography,Day 36/366.....I Voted, Feb 5 036/366, Live look
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Business Conservatives

If you are an individualist who invests in the stock market and believes the government is doing a bad job, then you might be a Business Conservative. Unlike Steadfast Conservatives, Business Conservatives believe that immigrants strengthen the country. Most Business Conservatives live in suburbs with 45 percent earning $75,000 a year or more. 

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Solid Liberals

Educated liberals who are optimistic about the nation’s future and who continually support President Obama (with 84 percent approving his job performance) and, you guessed it, faithfully vote Democrat. Unlike Business Conservatives who prefer the suburbs, 45 percent of Solid Liberals prefer to live in a city.

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Photo Credit: "President Barack Obama, 2012 portrait crop" by Official White House Photo by Pete Souza 
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Young Outsiders

Are you a person that dislikes both Republicans and Democrats? Young Outsiders may lean towards the Republican Party, but heavily support the environment and liberal social policies, unlike their conservative counterparts. Also they are one of the youngest typology groups, with 30 percent under the age of 30. Young Outsiders are 73 percent non-Hispanic whites who think "poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return." 

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Hard-Pressed Skeptics

Like Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics doubt Democrats and Republicans, but lean towards the Democratic Party view, although fewer than half approve of Obama’s job performance. Difficult financial circumstances have left Hard-Pressed Skeptics to believe that “the poor have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently.”

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Next Generation Left

You might just be a Next Generation Left if you're liberal on social issues: abortion, same-sex marriage and affirmative action. However, Next Generation Leftists deny the belief that racial discrimination is a barrier to success for racial minorities.

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Faith and Family Left

This group is highly diverse with 30 percent African-American and 18 percent foreign born. Faith and Family Left want a greater government role in programs such as aid for the poor. However, they are conservative when it comes to social issues, like opposing same sex marriage and legalizing marijuana, probably because the majority put religion and family first. 

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If you keep saying “I don’t get it, I don’t see myself as any of the types,” you might just be a Bystander, which means you're the person on the sidelines. You're more interested in celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyonce (are they really getting a divorce?) than government and politics. Noteworthy that Bystanders don't registered to vote, but do love the outdoors.  Some 66 percent of bystanders consider themselves an “outdoor person.”

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Photo Credit: By idrewuk (originally posted to Flickr as Hello hubbie!) [CC-BY-2.0 Live look, via Wikimedia Commons

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