Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Party vs. the Incumbent

There may be an interesting struggle between an incumbent lawmaker and her party coming up soon in Colorado. Anti-gun-control activists in the district of state Senator Evie Hudak (D-Arvada) are trying to assemble enough petition signatures to force a recall election against the incumbent. This is coming on the heels of two successful recalls of Democratic senators last month. The difference is that Democrats now only control the chamber by one seat. If this recall succeeds, that's the end of united Democratic governance in Colorado, at least until 2015.

Now, Colorado is one of just five states in which vacancies in the state legislature are filled via partisan vacancy committees, consisting of local party officers in the departing member's district. If the recall effort gathers enough signatures by December 3rd to force a recall election, Hudak will have a short window in which to decide whether to resign or fight to keep her seat. If she resigns, Democrats in her district get to pick a replacement, and the chamber stays Democratic. If she fights, she stands a significant chance of losing, turning chamber control over to the Republicans. Her district is almost perfectly split between Democratic and Republican voters; it's actually more conservative than those of the senators who were recalled last month.

For now, Hudak says she won't resign, but I can only imagine that the pressure from her party to step down will be crushing if the signatures succeed. At any rate, this will likely make for an interesting test of the powers of incumbents and parties.

Update: Just to update the graph from my previous look at recalls, Hudak appears to be less representative of her district than either Morse or Giron (the previously recalled senators) were. She has slightly more liberal voting patterns than the others did, and she's from a notably more moderate district. This will probably make a successful recall even more likely in her case, and will increase the pressure on her to bow out.

Further update: Jonathan Bernstein asks whether this situation could be resolved by offering Hudak a nice ambassadorship. That actually points to one of the benefits of parties in a multi-layered government system like ours. After all, Governor Hickenlooper can't name any ambassadors, but the President can, and they're bound together by party ties. I doubt the White House wants to make a practice of awarding ambassadorships to state legislators, but this strikes me as a pretty unusual case: Colorado's a swing state with unified Democratic governance in the balance. Could Hudak be bought off with a chance to serve as ambassador to Micronesia? Togo? Maybe Luxembourg? It might be worth asking.

One possible down side is the creation of a perverse incentive. If this works, it still leaves Democrats with a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate. Maybe another state senator one gins up a fake recall campaign against himself just to get offered an ambassadorship. But I doubt this will happen, since, as any state legislator here will tell you, there's no more beautiful place in the world than Colorado.

 

9 comments:

  1. That is a terrible law. Vacancies should only be filled by an election, and no one should be able to thwart a recall through shenanigans. And I say that as a Democrat who's rooting for her to succeed.

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    1. I guess that depends on your view of the recall. Is it to remove a specific officeholder? If so, then as long as she leaves office, it shouldn't matter who replaces her. Or is it to replace the party and ideals for which she stands? That's tricky, especially when control of the entire chamber is in the balance.

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    2. I guess my opinion is colored by the fact that I'm from Wisconsin and the recalls here are just special elections that may or may not feature an incumbent.

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    3. If Hudak resigns, can activists immediately petition to recall her replacement? Is there any reason this effort would have a lower chance of success than recalling Hudak?

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    4. No activists can't immediately petition to recall her replacement. New office holders have a grace period before they are eligible to be recalled.

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  2. Actually, Colorado's system is an excellent one, although for reasons having nothing to do with the quirky circumstance of this particular recall that is based on partisan policy rather than individualized personal failings.

    Colorado's system effectively removes the political incentive to use attacks on the personal life of a partisan opponent for political gain that is so very common in federal politics. In Colorado, it is in the interests of the party of the candidate with personal scandal issues to have that candidate resign (so that a candidate without that handicap can be run as an incumbent in the seat) and it is in the interest of the other party to ignore that personal scandal until election season is in full swing and nominations are closed.

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  3. The progressives who created the recall would have been appalled. It is being used in exactly the opposite of how they envisioned. Why aren't people standing on the rooftops screaming about that? Perhaps the ability to recall should be recalled.

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  4. I agree with Todd; the recall was not meant to be a partisan tool to re-fight the last election. I think recalls (and referenda, by the by) are a bit *too* democratic for my tastes.

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  5. We trust Todd; the actual remember wasn't designed to become a partisan device in order to re-fight the final selection. I believe recalls (as well as referenda, through the through) really are a little bit *too* democratic with regard to my personal preferences.

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