Vail Daily letter: Part of the process
March 24, 2014
Jack Van Ens did a column about the recall of Colorado state senators because of the gun control laws passed last year. According to Van Ens, the recalls were a bad idea because we have a republican form of government, and these recalls had the tone of pure democracy.
Van Ens gave a confusing presentation, since a lot of his arguments, like quoting James Madison and Rev. John Witherspoon, dealt with federal law. Recall is a matter of state, not federal law.
The recall of elected officials is dealt with in Article XXI of the Colorado Constitution and Title 1, Article 12, Part 1 of the Colorado Revised Statutes.
It is interesting that Van Ens, who appears to be a liberal/progressive, is so hard on recall. It is the product of the Progressive movement that flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Colorado enacted the recall process into law in 1914. Two companion causes at that time were initiative and referendum; those were already provided for in Colorado’s original constitution of 1876.
The people who promoted such measures were mostly Democrats or partisans of more leftist persuasions. They included Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan and Al Smith. Republicans Theodore Roosevelt and Robert M. LaFolette Sr. also supported a number of Progressive ideas.
Van Ens complained because removal of elected officials should only be done “where other legal procedures have run their course. Use it when a legislator shows incompetence or is malfeasant in duties.” He did not identify any laws, court cases or other authorities to establish these conditions.
There was a 1974 Colorado Supreme Court case that dealt with the issue of grounds for recall — Bernzen vs. City of Boulder. There, Boulder resisted a petition to recall two council members on the basis that insufficient grounds had been alleged to justify a recall. The city had a recall ordinance of its own that required the grounds for recall should be spelled out in the petition.
The Colorado Supreme Court said: “Thus, Colorado is not state in which official misconduct is necessarily required as a ground for recall. Rather, the dissatisfaction, whatever the reason, of the electorate is sufficient to set the recall procedures in motion. “
“ … We view recall, as well as the initiative and referendum, as fundamental rights of a republican form of government (are you listening, Van Ens?) which the people have reserved unto themselves. “
Of course, you aren’t going to have recalls often, since there have to be a lot of very upset citizens to sign the petitions, finance the process, and get the votes needed. As I recall, there hadn’t been a recall of state officials before this in Colorado.
In any case — apply Van Ens’ standard to the recent recalls. Take John Morse, for example. He was president of the Colorado Senate. He did more than vote in favor of gun control laws that a lot of people strongly objected to. It is claimed he also restricted public comment during the hearings. There were a lot of complaints from people who had traveled long distances to Denver to offer their views, only to be denied an opportunity to comment.
It also is alleged that the Democrat majority refused to consider numerous Republican attempts to modify the bills. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s people had allegedly written these laws, and the proponents didn’t want any changes. The fix was in. Too bad the Denver Post and other news organizations didn’t check into this part of the story.
John Morse’s fingerprints were all over the fiasco that attended these gun control laws. He upset a lot of his constituents, and they gave him the boot. That’s part of the political process in a republic.