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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Recalling for stupidity not really an option

OLYMPIA – As Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing continues to suffer the slings and arrows from outrageous comment, it’s not uncommon for a supporter to call or write the paper and echo of hizzoner’s challenge to his challengers. That is, if the voters don’t like what he wrote, they can recall him.

Actually, no.

The suggestion shows a lack of familiarity with Washington’s recall provisions, which isn’t surprising because they are used far less often than they are mentioned. Spokane did go through a recall process in the not too distant past, so some readers with decent memories might remember it’s not so simple as removing someone from elective office for doing or saying something unpopular. They must be accused of substantial wrongdoing, that is, malfeasance or misfeasance. Not only must the particulars of the misfeasance or malfeasance be stated in the recall filing, that document must be vetted by a Superior Court judge.

Saying something that is inarguably racist about the president and First Lady may be stupid, impolitic and downright rude, but it doesn’t rise to that mis- or malfeasance standard.

As several readers pointed out, Mayor Rushing’s 1st Amendment rights extend to saying or writing such things with family or friends, even if by posting them on Facebook he’s publishing them to a broader audience. The city council and city staff have a corresponding right to call for his resignation, but he need not comply.

Washington’s standard for recall is higher than some states. In California, for example, a recall petition might be filed for just about anything, and if enough people sign the petitions to put the proposal on the ballot and the electorate is convinced to go along, an elected official is out. High signature requirements in California are the main barrier for ousting someone over petty grievances. But the practice of paying signature gatherers may someday overcome that. Gray Davis was re-elected governor in November 2002 and unelected 11 months later, not so much because of anything he’d done but because some petitioners were fed up with dysfunction in state government.

It’s impossible to say if Washington’s founding fathers held the same jaundiced view of California as current residents and decided to raise the ante for a recall when writing this state’s constitution. It’s highly unlikely they could peer more than a century into the future and anticipate the downside of combining social media with a lack of restraint, but let’s be grateful they came up with a reasonably high standard.

Were dysfunctional government a cause for recall in Washington, it’s likely that no Legislature would survive an entire session.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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