It's not easy to get an elected official kicked out of office anywhere, but here it's harder than most. Washington is one of only seven states that requires specific grounds for giving a public servant the boot. A citizen must prove that the official's broken the law, or violated the public's trust or the oath of office, before he or she can start collecting the signatures needed to get a vote on the ballot. But in Oregon, for example, all you need to do is file a statement before you can start petitioning-- and it can be as simple as an opinion, something as little as "I just don't think heSo far this year, King County's seen only one recall attempt, also filed by Chris Clifford, according to King County Elections. Clifford's latest effort, the recall of Valley Medical Center commissioner Don Jacobson for violating the Open Meetings Act, was recently dismissed by superior court.
The last successful effort in King County was in 2004 when southwest suburban sewer district commissioner 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 (population 657), was charged with making water service available for 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 fundraiser 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.
The amazing thing, says Clifford, is how hard the elected fight recall efforts given the fact that most attempts, even if they meet the ground stipulated in state law, rarely garner enough signatures to get on the ballot. "God," he says. "Talk about ego."