Sometimes — though this is by no means a hard and fast rule — those who make the best lawmakers are those who would really much prefer to be somewhere else, applying their talents to fixing things in the private sector. State Senator Jack Tate is one of these.
Part of what makes Tate so effective under the dome is his impatience with the rhetorical gamesmanship that defines politics, preferring, as he does, the more practical arts of identifying problems and applying workable, prudent solutions.
This explains his most recent effort, advancing some ideas for reforming the recall process in the state, offered in the wake of a rash of mostly failed recall efforts (one remains active at the time of writing this) which left many questioning the institutional impact of the process as it now stands.
Crucially, Tate recognizes that the concept of recall is not a problem in itself. The right to recall an elected official who, in the eyes of those who put him or her there, has fallen short of expectations, broken the law, abused the office, or so forth, is a powerful tool for ensuring accountability. A means should exist for voters to pull their assent for whomever represents them at the Capitol for egregious reasons, and Colorado’s process is, in my estimation, overall a pretty good one. But there can be little question that it requires some adjustment to prevent abuse and to preserve it as the tool it is meant to be.
The catalyst for the most recent spate of recall efforts were the successful campaigns in 2013, in which Senate President Morse and Sen. Angela Giron were recalled for voting for excessive anti-gun measures, contrary to the interests of their constituents. It was probably the first time the recall was used for such a reason in the state — and it worked.
The 2013 recalls were in response to a rather exceptional circumstance, but they opened the door to their use as a political air strike. A few years later, the teacher’s union recalled three members of what was becoming one of the most effective school boards in the nation, in an effort to slam the gate shut on positive education reform. That one, too, was successful, which pretty much cemented the recall’s move securely into the realm of workaday political options.
That brings us to today. Earlier this year local groups of citizens, horrified by what they saw happening at the State Capitol, noted the earlier successes in El Paso and Jefferson Counties, and independently initiated recalls of their state electeds. Others worked statewide to start a recall effort against Gov. Polis, an earnest but quixotic effort that would require about two thirds of a million signatures to advance. Even among those who, like most Coloradans, agreed that the Democrats overreached during the legislative session, and even among those who generally supported at least some of the recall efforts, there were uneasy questions over this new pell-mell use of the recall and whether it was ushering in a new era of constant elections.
Enter Tate. Rather than impulsively attempting to overhaul the whole constitutional structure of the recall, his proposed Colorado Valuing Open, Truthful, and Ethical Recalls (Colorado VOTER) Act makes three modest and prudent statutory changes: A) require recall ballot language on petitions be factual, B) prohibit recall petitions from being filed or circulated while the legislature is in session, and C) disclose what the full costs of a recall election will be to taxpayers.
The first provision essentially says you need to state a clear reason for firing your target; for instance, instead of recalling Representative X because he clearly hates God, labour unions, puppies, and your mother, the stated reasons would have to be verifiable — e.g. “recall Representative X because he beat a constituent to death in a Walmart parking lot on May 8, 2022.” Accountability ought to go both ways.
There is that saying that goes “politicians think about the next election, statesmen about the next generation.” This is a noble effort on the part of Tate, and a bold one. It comes amid howls from liberals calling for wholesale changes to the recall process, deriding the latest attempts as, in their words, nothing more than sour grapes on the part of sore losers.
Meanwhile, in other news, efforts continue in Washington D.C. to impeach President Trump and reopen investigations into Justice Kavanaugh.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.