Jared Polis once gave me a box of candy, so maybe I’m sweet on him and his administration because of confectionary bribery. You see, back when I ran for the U.S. House District 5 in 2008, and Jared was running in District 2, I attended one of his events as a favor and he kindly sent my campaign office a very nice box of chocolates. He’s nice that way — thoughtful and kind. I thought of that box of chocolates as I read legendary a Colorado Politics article summarizing what we learned from recent polling.
I’m pretty sure the governor did not send a box of chocolates (does anyone else’s mind automatically put the phrase “box of chocolates” into Tom Hank’s Forest Gump voice?) to every voter, yet the poll had good news. While some felt the recent legislative session went too far (by doing what the various candidates promised they would do), Polis remains reasonably popular, and the effort to recall him from office is not, with only 38% favoring booting him out of office. That’s good news for the governor, as is a recent Democratic Party mailing asking for donations to fight the recall effort.
Regular readers (hey Ed, I have some, right? Ed: just keep typing) may recall (get it? A play on words) my column focusing on the effort to recall Pete Lee, and frankly, much of the reasoning in that column is directly applicable to the anti-Polis campaign. As I said before, elections have consequences, for the winning side and the losing side. A former colleague of mine at the Air Force Academy once put this issue in clear terms, when he said our government needs to be rooted in popular consent but must also be free of popular whim.
Simply put, the government needs to be responsive, but it must also be able to make decisions without checking to see which way the political winds are blowing on a particular day. This is both the blessing and the curse of modern technology that allows for polling to be accomplished quickly. During, say, the presidency of James Madison, elected officials did not have to worry about the “overnight numbers” from a poll about a proposed action. Lincoln famously took actions that were unpopular in the short term but were the best for the nation over time.
That’s why we need to change the way we elect and recall people in Colorado. The Founding Fathers thought that we’d employ impeachment much more commonly. They saw impeachment, that mechanism wherein you are charged in the House chamber and tried in the Senate, as the proper way to isolate leaders from whims of the voters, but yet insured accountability.
I’m calling, from atop my rickety soapbox of idealism, for the state leaders in Colorado to undo the recall system. If we have to have it at all, let it be limited, say, to only be used after half or more of the elected official’s term has expired. I’d rather see no recalls at all, and a robust impeachment system for high crimes and misdemeanors. I also know that this won’t happen, because few currently in office would want to put forward a plan that some on the far right would bellow is a self-serving idea. Well, yes, but it would also benefit our state at large.
Very few things in government today are brand new. Quite often, history can inform modern leaders about the seemingly “new” issues before him or her. In this case, we need look no farther than my old buddy Alexander Hamilton (cough…hamiltonlives.com…cough) for insights. For example, in response to the unpopular Whiskey Rebellion, AH remarked, “It is long since that I learned to hold popular opinion of no value.” One should do what’s right, you see. And as he wrote in Federalist 71, “The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they entrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests.” See? Nothing new under the Sun, it appears.
So, let’s look at getting rid of the recall process as it exists currently, to free our leaders from momentary whims of passion. I really do think what was good enough for Alexander Hamilton is good enough for Colorado, even if you don’t get a nice box of chocolates.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.