Senator Steve Smith on Future Recall Elections

By Senator Steve Smith

The following opinion piece appeared in the Arizona Republic on December 19th:

The Republican state senator talks about his plan to make it tougher to recall Arizona legislators.

Why do you want to make it more difficult to recall a state lawmaker? 

We just witnessed how the radical left has used the recall system to defeat an opponent they could not and would not have been able to defeat in a standard election. I believe this is a gross misuse of our recall system. I believe one should be recalled because of an egregious act committed or a proven inability to be effective in one’s job.

Do you expect the successful Pearce recall to open the floodgates of more recalls? 

Based on what has been said recently, this is clearly what the radical left wing is trying to do. They went after Russell Pearce and now they stated they are going after Governor Brewer, Sheriff Arpaio, and have threatened to do the same to other Republicans.

Do you think state government was harmed by losing Russell Pearce from the Legislature? 

Absolutely. Russell Pearce is an honest and fair man, and quite frankly, one of the best legislators this state has ever had. Under his leadership last session alone, we now have a jobs bill that will put more Arizonans back to work, a legitimately balanced budget for the first time in years, pension reform and much more.

You want to require signatures from a majority of voters in the district before a recall can be triggered. Why this approach? 

I believe the majority of the people (50 percent plus 1) should decide if an elected official should be recalled or not. Currently, 25 percent of the electorate is needed to initiate a recall, which means typically any political demographic can initiate the recall. The recall process should be a nonpartisan movement in which the majority of the people unify in response to an egregious act by the elected official.

Democrat attorney Paul Eckstein says lawmakers proposing this simply want to protect themselves from recall. Is this your motivation? 

I believe that if the right wing started using the recall system as the left wing has done and continues to do, Democrats like Paul Eckstein would soon agree with my position. Again, although a recall can be initiated for any reason, it should only be used when the majority of the people want it to occur.

Do you think the Pearce recall will soften the Legislature’s approach to immigration? 

No and nor should it. Remember, the people of Arizona have spoken time and again at the ballot box about this issue. Each time there has been a proposition relating to cracking down on illegal aliens, Arizonans by very wide margins (over 70 percent in most instances) have voted in favor of doing so.

Do you think your caucus will be able to work with recall winner Jerry Lewis? 

The Republican caucus is a strong and mighty force with many moral, constitutionally sound, and patriotic leaders. Although Russell Pearce will be greatly missed, I believe the Republican caucus will continue to effectively lead Arizona.

What do you think will be the important consequences of the Pearce recall? 

The biggest consequence of course is the loss of Russell Pearce for this upcoming session. Beyond that, other consequences would be that maybe others will decide to play dirty like the Democrats did and will initiate recalls.


  1. Tyler Montague says

    Senator Smith, I think we should change the recall provision to get rid of paid circulators for recalls. That would effectively prevent even the appearance of a bought or manufactured recall.

    That said, the results of the Pearce recall election show that it wasn’t an outside “leftist radical” hit. And one successful recall in the last 100 years is hardly evidence that we’re going to have a rash of these.

    Truth is, a majority of Republicans had issues with at least some aspects of Pearce’s methods, even though they agreed with a lot of his voting record and appreciated his service, as I do.

    The recall provision is a good check and balance against extremism, and recalls will not get off the ground without broad, non-partisan opposition to a politician.

  2. Capitol Railbird says

    Least they could have done was cited the AZ Capitol Times for doing their leg work.

    Self preservation: Lawmakers lament recall process, want to make it more difficult

    By Caitlin Coakley Beckner –
    Published: December 4, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Still shaken from the successful recall of Senate President Russell Pearce, some lawmakers are seeking to make it more difficult for voters to oust politicians from office.
    One Pearce ally plans to sponsor legislation that would require recall organizers to obtain signatures from a majority of registered voters in a district — an unprecedented proposal that would far exceed signature requirements in all other states that allow recalls.
    Another legislator wants to see a two-tiered process for recall elections in which voters could potentially be asked to head to the polls in two separate elections to remove an office-holder.
    Pearce supporters have charged that the former lawmaker was a casualty of a lax recall process that was exploited by Democratic supporters and organizations.
    But history and national statistics do not back up their arguments: The Pearce recall marked the first time in the state’s 100-year history that a sitting lawmaker had been recalled, and Arizona’s process for a recall election falls squarely in line with that of other states.
    “It’s clear to me that the process was not hijacked,” said Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender, a constitutional expert. “The process worked exactly the way the Arizona Constitution intended it to work.”
    Since the recall procedure is outlined in the Arizona Constitution, any changes would have to be approved by the voters before taking effect.
    House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, was non-committal about whether he would support any attempts to change the recall process, saying that he would have to take a look at the language first.
    But he, too, said the process was abused during the Pearce recall. Recall elections, he said, were intended to be used against politicians who had done something egregious, illegal or unethical, not because the opposing party doesn’t like their policies.
    “They clearly abused the system, because it wasn’t meant for that,” he said. “That’s what we have elections for.”
    Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, argued that the previous signature threshold for recall petitions is too low. Currently, a group behind a recall has to collect signatures equal to a 25 percent of the voter turnout in the election for the seat, and has four months to do so.
    Smith said it’s too easy to get those signatures, and he would prefer a requirement of obtaining signatures from a majority of voters in the district.
    Under current system, the group behind the Pearce recall had to collect 7,756 valid signatures, but if the requirement was a majority of registered voters, they would have had to gather 35,584 signatures, nearly five times as many.
    “With 25 percent, that’s a political party in pretty much any district in the state,” Smith said. “That lends itself to a political party recalling anyone they dislike enough.”
    Lobbyist Stan Barnes shares Smith’s concern, saying it would be easy to collect the required number of signatures if the recall organizers were smart about who they petitioned.
    “It’s not hard to go into a district and collect signatures from people who are either anti-incumbent in general or of an opposing party,” he said.
    If Smith’s proposal is approved by the Legislature and voters, it would be unprecedented.
    Arizona is one of 19 states that allow for recalls of sitting lawmakers. Of those, the state with the highest signature requirement for a recall is Kansas, which requires
    40 percent of the votes cast in the last election for the official being recalled, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
    Some states’ signature requirements are based on the number of eligible voters for the office, rather than votes cast, but none require a majority.
    Furthermore, history suggests that the signature threshold is high enough to filter out most recalls. The number of required signatures typically ranges in the thousands, and many are likely to be rejected on various technicalities.
    For instance, activists this year filed recall petitions against Brewer, Pearce, Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik,
    Rep. Carl Seel and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl. Only Pearce’s recall came to fruition.
    During the 2010 election cycle, petitions were taken out against then-Rep. Rich Crandall, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and U.S. Sen. John McCain, but organizers never gathered enough signatures.
    Randy Parraz, who led Citizens for a Better Arizona in organizing the Pearce recall, said the process of getting signatures was far from easy.
    “This was the most difficult challenge I’ve ever undertaken in my 16, 17 years as an organizer,” he said. “It was extremely hard.”
    Smith said he wasn’t basing his ideas off what other states have done, but is focusing on the flaws he saw in the Pearce recall.
    “It’s a shame that Russell had to be first person for this to happen to, but now that we see the flaw, it shouldn’t happen again,” he said.
    But others argue that the state’s history proves that the recall process has plenty of built-in checks.
    “Our recall process has had one legislator recalled in 100 years,” said election attorney Paul Eckstein. “One. That does not suggest to me that the process is ripe for abuse, or that it’s too easy.”
    Smith isn’t the only lawmaker who thinks the current process is flawed. Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, also argues that the recall procedure was misused against Pearce.
    “I’m frankly frustrated that the recall process has been used as an election strategy, which I think is contrary to the intent by our founding fathers,” Olson said.
    His solution, which he plans to introduce in the form of a referendum next session, would be to hold a two-tiered process for recall elections. In the first election, voters would be asked whether they wanted to recall the lawmaker, and only if a majority said “yes,” would there be a special election to choose a successor.
    The idea is that voters would be less likely to vote “yes” on a recall if a challenger wasn’t on the same ballot. Voters would only be inclined to recall the lawmaker if there was an egregious violation of voters’ confidence.
    Olson said the details of how a challenger would be chosen are still being worked out, but he is more concerned about separating the two decisions.
    The model he describes is used in nine other states. But nationwide data doesn’t support his theory that the two-election process would make it more difficult to recall lawmakers.
    Jennie Bowser, senior fellow with the National Conference of State Legislatures, pointed out that only four states with the two-election system have held recall elections.
    Of the 10 total recall elections, eight were successful — higher than the nine out of 22 recalls in states where a single election was held. While she acknowledged it was a small sample, she maintained that the data suggested a two-election recall process is statistically likely to be more successful.
    But Bender pointed out that a two-election recall procedure would be more expensive and drags the timeline out, which, in a state with two-year legislative terms, would make a recall election impractical.
    Of course, he suspects that’s exactly the point.
    “It’s just the party people wanting to keep control of the process,” he said. “I think they just don’t like the idea of voter recall. But the Arizona Constitution is very clear that the voters should have a veto over what the governor does, and what the Legislature does.”
    Eckstein’s instinct says the same.
    “They just want to kill any recalls,” he said. “Who’s suggesting this? People who want to protect themselves from a recall.”
    While Pearce’s allies argued that Democratic groups supported the recall, and some threw financial support behind Pearce’s more moderate challenger, Jerry Lewis, Bender said at the end of the day a majority of voters in the district said that they would rather have Lewis representing them than Pearce.
    “Isn’t that the whole idea of the democratic process, that the person who represents a district is the one that a majority of the voters want to represent them?” he said. “To me, that shows that this process works.”

  3. But of course Steve Smith, Tobin, Stan Barnes, and Justin Olsen know more about the Framers’ intent than the Framers themselves or a Constitutional law professor. One of the big myths perpetrated by the Pearce camp is that a recall is only to be used in cases of malfeasance. The Framers certainly had that option and rejected it.

    Good luck to Smith, et al, convincing voters that a Constitutional provision that has been used once in 100 years is being “abused”. Good luck also convincing them that voters shouldn’t be trusted with the one tool that they have to hold legislators accountable. They obviously learned nothing from the Pearce recall.

  4. On second thought, disregard what I just said. I am drunk.

    And I am a lifelong Republican!

  5. Why every cabel of coup d’etat plotters on the planet ALWAYS argues that the “people wanted it.”

    Standard excuse procedure for cutting short elected officials terms of office.

    • wanumba,

      I know you’re alleged to be in Africa, where governments have the life span of a Spinal Tap drummer* and military coups are de rigeuer, but what happened in Mesa, wasn’t a freakin’ coup d’etat, and you know it. Jerry Lewis won with Republican, Independent, and Democratic, so stop being a whiny little punk, except the fact that Russell Pearce lost touch with the electorate, and that he was removed from office by the people using a Constitutionally valid process.

      You cheapen the idea of American democracy when ever election that you lose becomes an affront to democracy – i.e. your poltical wishes.

      Either that, or get an Amazon subscription for Kleenex, you freakin’ baby.

      • * – Credit to Buffy Summers

      • Christopher Jacoby says

        Well said, Klute. I find it very telling that Wanumba did not allow comments on the “coup” post. Anyone who seriously relates a single recall election (in fact, the FIRST recall of a sitting senator in the entire history of Arizona) to a third-world coup d’etat is, to say the least, out of touch. Whether Wanumba likes it or not, the Pearce recall was done, to the letter, in accordance with the laws and democratic procedures of the state of Arizona and the United States of America.

        Statistically speaking, it takes at least two instances of *anything* to identify a trend and even then any statistician worth a damn would still demand much more data.

      • Nothing like a change in latitudes to bring a fresh perspective.
        If you’ve never been in a coup d’etat, then you don’t know what they are, do you? I been in FOUR, and for the Third World, that’s actually not very many, but it’s lightyears ahead of anyone around this little pond’s experience.

        Why, here’s the coveted “first person account” or “PRIMARY SOURCE” and hmm hmmm. no no no!
        I didn’t allow comments for two reasons:

        1) I could have written the whinges and caterwauling all myself so predictable they are.

        and 2) I was actually out all day so OFF was easier to supervise than WHINE patrol. I had a great day and I LAUGHED OUT LOUD when afterwards I saw the crybabying.

        Can’t publically brag about targeting the head of the executive branch, the head of the legislative branch and a major law enforcement of a state without people questoning one’s motives, one’s tactics and one’s sincerity. ALL of whom were RECENTLY elected through the entire primary and geneal election process, but being ripped out by partisan recall operations.

        There IS a word for it, it’s well known in Latin America.

        • “been in FOUR, and for the Third World, that’s actually not very many, but it’s lightyears ahead of anyone around this little pond’s experience.”

          And tell me, these coup d’etats you’ve been in, did they involve following a process laid out in that country’s constitution, a months long process of gather signatures, court challenges, a campaign, debates, television appearances, and finally a democratic vote where the party in power validated the opposition’s vote?

          Or was it something more like this?

          Marge: “Who’s Muntu?”

          Kitenge: “He is our leader. He seized power in a bloodless coup — All smotherings!”

          Yeah, yeah, what happened in LD18 or what’s going on in Wisconsin is a “coup d’etat”. How many lies do you think you type out or say every day to try to advance your agenda, wanumba? A dozen? More?

          • Christopher Jacoby says

            Again, well-said, Klute. What say you, Wanumba? Were all four of your firsthand coups d’etat done in accordance with prescribed law in their respective countries?

        • So much puffery. I’ll compare my passports to yours for stamps and visits to dangerous places.

          BTW, whenever you “contribute” to this form, be a man, and allow comments.

  6. Steve Nelson says

    Steve Smith thinks that the voters of LD18 are far left socialists!!! With advocates and supporters like that, it is no wonder Pearce lost. I think Smith lives in his own little world. Somehow he thinks that the majority of voters in LD18 still want Russell Pearce. He somehow missed the fact that Pearce got trounced. Pearce had all the advantages that usually spell victory. Incumbency, the Position of Senate President, law enforcement background, deep Mesa roots, hundreds of thousands of dollars, etc. and he still lost.

    With this warped perception of reality, no wonder Senator Steve Smith thinks that a border fence in Arizona can be built for $300K. That fence is his pride and joy right now. Someday he will realize it was a waste of time and effort and in 10 years one of two things will have happened. They will have built three miles of chain linked fence as a monument to his futile idea, or the legislature will “sweep” the money from its intended use and give it to Sheriff Joe or Paul Babeu. Either way, the suckers who contributed money to his fantasy will be the real losers.

  7. Steve Nelson says

    Another Steve Smith classic: “Russell Pearce is an honest and fair man.”

    Reality: If Pearce were honest and fair, he would have won the election. The reason why he lost was that he wasn’t honest and he wasn’t fair. He said he always kept his promises. That is not true. He promised the voters that he would show us the cancelled checks to prove to us that he paid for his College football tickets from the Fiesta Bowl. He never did. He told us he didn’t know anything about Olivia Cortes. That is like saying he didn’t know anything about Jerry Lewis. Newsflash, public officials always know all about the people who are running against them, it is the nature of the beast. He would be an idiot to not know anything about an opponent. And he told Mesa voters that Jerry Lewis was ashamed of Mesa and that he was a thief.

    Now the reality, and this may be hard for people like Steve Smith who put so much faith in one person: Russell Pearce doesn’t have any cancelled checks. The reason? He didn’t write any checks! If he had cancelled checks, he would have shown them. Senate Presidents don’t have to look through their files at home to find the old checks. Senate Presidents pick up the phone and call the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank and say “Last year I wrote 5 checks to the Fiesta Bowl, will you help me find them?” And it would be done in about one hour.

    Russell Pearce mislead all the voters by saying he did not “personally” know Olivia Cortes. But the reality is that while he may have never met her, he knew all about her. And the voters knew it too. The voters also were somehow smart enough to not believe Pearce when he said that Jerry Lewis hates Mesa. Generally, people who hate their city don’t run for office to further that hatred. Usually, a person runs for office because he loves his community and wants to make it better.

    One day Russell and Steve Smith will realize that to be a “Patriot” means a lot more than just saying you’re one. In fact, I think most Mesans found it old and tiresome that Pearce tried to define himself as a Patriot and implied that if you are not supporting him, you are un-American. When I think of a Patriot, I think of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock, Ben Franklin, etc. Those were the true Constitutional Conservatives. I don’t think Russell Pearce quite meets that standard.

    • Uh, Steve, please let me help. Franklin and Jefferson were not constitutional conservatives. They were choosing what they thought were the lesser of two evils. Actually, Jefferson was not a constitutionalist at all, let alone a conservative, at least during the period considered “the Founding.” Jefferson didn’t even sign the US Constitution. He wasn’t involved in the debates over the Constitution and its provisions.

      Some people whom I might call today conservatives were duly-authorized delegates from states who walked out of the Constitutional Convention out of fear, hatred, or disgust with what they saw emerging as the national government.

    • To say that Pearce is swine is doing a disservice to our porcine friends. Corrupt beyond belief, out of touch, and focused on one issue (Mexicans bad..uggh!), is no way for a responsible man to act, let alone an elected Senator. The ability to recall an elected official is liberty, it is freedom and thankfully those that created our state constitution agreed.

      Of course, for the narrow minded, its only good when it works against their foes, but, we expect the nonsensical ramblings from party first individuals…

      Pearce got fat and happy and lost touch, and the citizens in LD 18 saw that he went too far, and he was beaten, whipped actually, by 12 points.

      Democracy is good, even when you don’t like the results, that is the risk you take.

  8. Can’t publically brag about targeting the head of the executive branch, the head of the legislative branch and a major law enforcement of a state without people questoning one’s motives, one’s tactics and one’s sincerity. ALL of whom were RECENTLY elected through the entire primary and geneal election process, but being ripped out by partisan recall operations.

    There IS a word for it, it’s well known in Latin America. Don’t pick on Africans when Latin America has plenty of practice at it.

  9. Wonder how Steve Smith will do in 2012 without his $36,000 in taxpayer money to run his campaign?

  10. Having absolutely nothing to do with Russell Pearce, of course politicians want to insulate themselves against the people. Politicians are generally cowards and forget that they are SERVANTS of the people.

  11. Sgt. Flapjaw says

    My god you people are hateful bastards. I assume most of you are LD18, truley a sick place. Just think, after reapportionment some will, lucky for them, be moved out, and others will be cursed and be sentenced to be thrown in.
    Sad day for the ones going in.


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