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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Wrongdoing, not offensive words, is basis for a recall

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 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 as 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 First 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 persuaded 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.

This seems familiar

In what may be considered a midsummer ritual, an initiative sponsored by Tim Eyman qualified last week for the November ballot and was denounced by his ardent detractors. Eyman comes up with some initiative or another every year – it’s his business, after all – and his opponents stay exercised by pointing out what’s wrong with them.

This year he wants to force the Legislature into sending voters a constitutional amendment next year that would require legislators to approve tax increases with a two-thirds supermajority.

Such an amendment would have to pass both chambers by that same supermajority. Because it is difficult to force the Legislature to do anything with a simple majority, let alone the higher standard, Initiative 1366 contains a gun-to-the-head provision. The state sales tax would be dropped by 1 cent per dollar if the Legislature doesn’t comply. That’s a hit of more than $1 billion a year to the state’s coffers.

Within 24 hours of the petition signatures being certified, opponents were asking a court to keep the initiative off the ballot. This is a common, but rarely successful, strategy because the Supreme Court usually declines to rule on the legality of an initiative unless voters pass it. Until that happens, it is what Joey Tribbiani of “Friends” used to call a “moo point,” that is, it’s like a cow’s opinion; it doesn’t matter.

Last call for ballots

Most Washington voters should take a few minutes, sort through their stacks of junk mail and find their primary ballots. Odds are you haven’t voted and sent them back.

At the end of last week, the Secretary of State’s Office said turnout was at 13.4 percent statewide. In Spokane County it’s a bit better at 19.4 percent. But that means four out of five ballots still are sitting somewhere, unmarked and probably unread.

The ballots aren’t particularly long, so even voters who have spent the summer at “the lake” and haven’t paid any attention can bone up quickly and make an informed choice by checking out the Washington Primary link at the top of this newspaper’s website, or the Voter Guide link at the Spokane County Elections website.

Election Day is Tuesday. Ballots must be postmarked by that day or deposited in a drop box by 8 p.m.

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