By Karen Shanton
Last night's episode of The Rachel Maddow Show included a segment on the history – and possible political future – of state legislative recall elections (segment starts at 2:00).
The segment was interesting but there are a couple of points in it that call out for clarification. Early on in the piece, Maddow suggests that recalls used to be deployed primarily against officials who were convicted of crimes and refused to leave office. But that's not really the case. As I mentioned in a previous post, the vast majority of legislative recalls are politically motivated. And that's been true almost since the beginning. Following California Senator Marshall Black's recall for embezzlement in 1913, there wasn't another misconduct recall until the mid-1980s. The intervening recalls were all political.
Maddow also suggests that recall elections tend to favor Republicans. Whether or not that's borne out in the future, it hasn't been the case historically. Republicans have faced significantly more recall elections than Democrats and survived a smaller percentage of the recalls they've faced. Of the 38 total legislative recall elections, 14 were against Democrats while 24 were against Republicans. Democrats survived eight of their recalls to the Republicans' nine, for respective win-loss records of 57-43 percent and 38-63 percent.
And the proportion of Republican recalls has actually increased in the past couple of years. Before the wave of recall elections in 2011, 12 recalls were aimed at Republicans while nine targeted Democrats. Since then, Republicans have fielded 12 recalls to the Democrats' five. That puts the pre-2011 D-R split at 43-57 percent and the 2011-2013 split at 29-71 percent.