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Utah lawmakers frown on allowing recall elections

Published June 19, 2013 11:56 am

Elections • Panel pans proposal to allow voters to boot an official from office mid-term.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Even as possible impeachment looms for Utah Attorney General John Swallow, legislators gave a cold shoulder Wednesday to the idea of allowing voters to recall elected officials — even though 38 other states allow it in some form, and 19 allow it for statewide officials.

During a Government Operations Interim Committee discussion of the idea, no member supported it — and several said it has the potential for small numbers of voters to paralyze government by collecting signatures and forcing special elections anytime an official upsets them.

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, had raised the possibility of allowing voter recall elections amid controversy about Brigham City Mayor Dennis Fife ignoring calls for resignation after admitting an adulterous affair, and it gained attention as Swallow is facing impeachment.

But Perry said at the end of discussion Wednesday, "I can go back to my constituency and say, 'You know what, this is not the time or place right now to go down this road.' "

"It seems we have a recall ,and it is the [regular] election," said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who is also chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.

Several members said recalls elsewhere seemed to paralyze governments over emotional issues, rather than actual malfeasance.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said Wisconsin recently held recall elections for Gov. Scott Walker and six state senators after they moved to remove collective bargaining rights for public employees. Walker and four senators survived.

"Wisconsin was tied up for months. ... What a nightmare," Hillyard said. "I'm concerned that we don't end up like Wisconsin."

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, said as he watched how recall affects some small governments during his lifetime. "It really almost makes a governing body unable to govern."

Officials worry, he added, that any controversial vote could lead to recall by a small number of people, so they tend to avoid tough decisions.

Two Utah counties —Grand and Morgan —allow recall elections.

But Utah law changed in 2000 so that other counties can no longer adopt laws allowing recall elections. Perry said it may make sense to change the law again to allow local cities and counties to choose that option, even if legislators do not favor it for statewide officials.