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Can Luken and Taft Lose Their Jobs to Recall?

By Stephanie Dunlap · July 23rd, 2003 · Burning Questions
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Can dissatisfied voters kick Ohio Gov. Bob Taft or Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken out of office?

Not exactly. A provision for recall -- the procedure that allows citizens to petition for a vote on removing elected officials before their terms expire -- never made it into either the Ohio Revised Code or Cincinnati's city charter.

The question arises in light of the current groundswell of support for a recall of California Gov. Gray Davis.

The Progressive Movement, led by Teddy Roosevelt, swept the United States in the early 1900s. In 1912 an Ohio Constitutional Convention put a slew of progressive constitutional amendments on the ballot and succeeded in adding such measures as initiative and referendum, according to Zane Miller, history professor at the University of Cincinnati.

But recall was never established in Ohio, he says.

Nor in Cincinnati, according to the city's law department.

The city charter defers to Ohio's Constitution.

"The initiative and referendum powers are reserved to the people of the city on all questions which the council is authorized to control by legislative action; such powers shall be exercised in the manner provided by the laws of the state of Ohio," says Section 3 of the city charter.

The only recourse left to Ohio citizens looking to remove a public official is to press charges.

Citizens first must file a complaint setting forth a specific charge, signed by at least 15 percent of the number of voters in the most recent election for the office in question.

Charges that constitute the removable offense of "misconduct in office" include "willfully and flagrantly" exercising authority not authorized by law, "gross neglect of duty, gross immorality and drunkenness," according to the Ohio Revised Code.

A common pleas judge presides over removal proceedings and returns a verdict. If the defendant demands trial by jury, at least nine of 12 jurors must find the charges to be true.

Supporters once called recall, initiative and referendum the "Holy Trinity of Democracy," Miller says. These three, plus proportional representation and home rule for cities -- which made it possible for Cincinnati to adopt its own charter rather than having one handed down by the state -- were part of a great effort to free American politics from the influence of bosses, graft and corruption, he says.

Roosevelt championed the recall as a way for the people to hold their elected officials accountable.

"We have permitted the growing up of a breed of politicians who, sometimes for improper political purposes, sometimes as a means of serving the great special interests of privilege which stand behind them, twist so-called representative institutions into a means of thwarting instead of expressing the deliberate and well thought-out judgment of the people as a whole," Roosevelt told a 1912 convention of the National Progressive Party.

Special interests, however, have appropriated the very measures Roosevelt hoped could curb their influence, according to Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University.

"In the last five years I've been concerned about what I perceive to be the use of initiative in ways not consistent with the intent of the measure," he says. "Very often initiatives are motivated, organized and executed, frankly, by a limited, moneyed interest."

Beaupre sees legislators hiring people to stand outside shopping malls for $1 per signature. The recall effort against Davis has been led and financed by a Republican millionaire who seeks the governor's office.

In that case, would the citizens of Cincinnati -- a city with a history of bowing to corporate special interests -- be better or worse served by the power to recall?



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