Total Recall: Beyond Pat Davis

Citizens tried to oust eight other elected officials last year.

Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court took up the recall petition against Port Commissioner Pat Davis. Chris Clifford, who charges Davis with malfeasance and misfeasance for attempting to secure former port CEO Mic Dinsmore a golden parachute behind closed doors, has been trying for more than a year to get the go-ahead to collect signatures to try to oust Davis. (The King County Superior Court ruled in his favor. Davis appealed the case to the high court. A decision could come any day now.) In King County alone, there were attempts to recall nine officials last year. Davis' case notwithstanding, the other eight petitions—five Seattle School Board members and three school board members in Shoreline—were dismissed. So far in 2008, King County has seen just one recall attempt: Clifford's attempt to jettison Hospital District #1 commissioner Don Jacobson (charged with violating the Open Meetings Act) was recently dismissed by King County Superior Court. It's not easy to get an elected official kicked out of office anywhere, but it's especially hard in Washington. Here, a citizen must prove that the official has broken the law or violated the public's trust or oath of office before he or she can start collecting the signatures needed to get a vote on the ballot. Conversely, in Oregon all you need to do is file a statement to be allowed to start petitioning for an individual's recall—and the petition can be based on something as simple as an unfavorable opinion of an elected official, says Oregon elections compliance specialist Norma Buckno. Recalls nationwide are rarely successful—unless the case is sensational, that is, such as the push to oust Arlington, Ore., Mayor Carmen Kontur-Gronquist for a racy photo she posted on her MySpace page. And even that effort was close: Kontur-Gronquist was fired in February by a vote of 142-139. The last successful recall effort in King County was in 2004, when Southwest Suburban Sewer District commissioner Mike James Colasurdo got voted out for discriminating against an employee on the basis of race. Statewide, the most notorious case in recent memory was that of Spokane Mayor Jim West, recalled in 2005 by a margin of 65 to 35 percent amid charges of sexually abusing underage boys. Reasons for recall vary as widely as the officials the citizens are seeking to kick out. In 1993, Dolores Lee, mayor of the town of Pe Ell, Wash. (population 657), was charged with making water service available to a customer whose account was delinquent, and later for directing the city treasurer to write off the debt behind the City Council's back. Former Pierce County Auditor Cathy Pearsall-Stipek was up for recall twice: first in 1996 for selling Democratic political fund-raiser sweatshirts to city employees during office hours, and again in 2000 for lying about where she went to college and for mishandling a 1997 referendum for a new professional football stadium. Both officials survived to stay in office.

 
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