The COVID-19 virus has taught us some painfully valuable lessons. For starters, it showed us how ill-prepared we were to deal with a pandemic, and it underscored disparities in our healthcare system. The pandemic has also given our elected officials an opportunity to either shine or shrivel under pressure. For example, it is widely accepted that Donald Trump lost last year’s election, in part, due to his inept handling of the virus. But while the White House fell short in identifying a national strategy to protect us, it was the state Houses that people blamed for restricting our movements and closing our local economy. Even those who supported their Governor’s attempts to stop the spread of COVID could be heard complaining about closures and lay-offs. Then there were those who took their complaints to extremes. In Michigan, a radical mob stormed the State Capitol in protest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmire’s handling of the pandemic, and a gang of conspirators even plotted to kidnap her. In California, New York, and other states, Governors were called out for inconsistencies in determining which types of businesses would be closed. Now, after nearly a year of shutdowns, public complaints are turning into political action.
As of last week, no less than eight Governors were the subjects of a recall campaign. They include: Kate Brown of Oregon; Doug Ducey of Arizona; Mike Dunleavy of Alaska; John Bell Edwards of Louisiana; Phil Murphy of New Jersey; Gavin Newsome of California; Jared Polis of Colorado; and Gretchen Whitmire of Michigan. If petitioners gather the required number of signatures, they can force a recall election, but doing so is a long shot. In fact, only four recall attempts have ever made it to the ballot, one of which was in California back in 2003. That’s when Democrat Gray Davis was recalled, and Republican movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected Governor. One reason that recalls are rare is that only 20 states allow them. They are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Reasons for recalling a Governor vary from state to state. In Alaska, a recall can proceed if the chief executive has, among other things, neglected his or her duties. In Georgia, misappropriating funds will do the trick. A Montana Governor can be recalled for lack of mental fitness, while in Rhode Island, being indicted for a felony is sufficient grounds for removal. In Virginia, a conviction for a drug-related misdemeanor qualifies. Of course, in this COVID era that we inhabit, terms of a recall can be applied and interpreted in a number of ways. Again, though, that’s only in states where it’s legal even to attempt a recall. For example, an increasing number of New Yorkers want their Governor removed for allegedly causing the deaths of thousands of seniors living in nursing homes. However, in the Empire State, a recall is not allowed. Nor is it here in North Carolina where Democrat Roy Cooper has been accused of abusing his emergency powers during the pandemic. That brings me to the need for enacting reforms and re-defining roles.
Former Lt. Governor Dan Forest took Cooper to court last year for failing to consult with the Council of State when making decisions to close schools and businesses. Cooper prevailed, but he shouldn’t have. No Governor should have unlimited emergency powers. That’s why, at the very least, our General Assembly needs to re-define the terms of executive powers during an emergency. For example, a Governor’s ability to act unilaterally during a pandemic should be limited to a finite term, such as 90 days (Cooper has been a virtual lone wolf since last April). Second, state lawmakers should hold a special election for voters to decide if we want the power to recall a Governor. If these reforms succeed, we’ll have the pandemic to thank for teaching us that people deserve more power and Governors deserve less.