(Editor's Note: The following was printed in the September/October 2008 issue of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Rep. Andy Dillon, D-Redford, survived the recall election outlined below and was re-elected to a third and final term in the Michigan House of Representatives on Nov. 4. This article is being republished here to highlight the court decision that allowed the recall effort to move forward and protected the Constitutional rights of Michigan voters.)
An effort to remove Michigan Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford, from office has succeeded in placing a recall question on the Nov. 4, 2008, ballot in Dillon's district - the same general election ballot on which the lawmaker will stand for re-election to his third and final term in the Michigan House. Those organizing the recall are targeting the Speaker for his role in pushing through the state tax hikes and budget increases during 2007 (see "Total Recall...," March/April 2008 Michigan Capitol Confidential).
Needing 8,724 valid names from Dillon's district to initiate a recall election, those seeking his ouster originally believed that they had collected more than enough signatures to place the question on the August primary election ballot. But because of a Michigan law requiring signature gatherers to be registered to vote within the district of the targeted lawmaker, and the subsequent discovery that some of the gatherers collecting signatures were not registered within the district, the Michigan Bureau of Elections invalidated 2,053 of the submitted names, leaving the recall proponents 776 names short of their mark and seemingly putting an end to their campaign.
However, a federal court ruling on a similar case had recently invalidated a residency requirement for petition circulators in Colorado, holding that the ineligibility of a citizen to vote on a particular electoral matter did not preclude that same citizen from exercising other First Amendment political rights. Using this precedent, recall proponents filed a lawsuit claiming that the Michigan law also violated the U.S. Constitution. The court agreed, ordering the Bureau of Elections to reconsider the 2,053 names without using the residency law and - if at least 776 of them were valid - to place the recall question on the November ballot. On Sept. 5, the Bureau of Elections announced that the signature requirement had been met and certified a recall election for Nov. 4.
Reinstating a recall that was assumed dead was just the latest of many colorful legal and political disputes regarding this ongoing drama. Here are just a few:
On May 1, when the signatures were first submitted, recall proponents and the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance had planned a press conference inside the capitol building but were denied the use of a room by the Speaker. "They want to have a press conference in one of my rooms? Yeah, right," said Dillon to the MIRS Capitol Capsule daily newsletter (www.mirsnews.com - subscription required.)
The weather permitted the recall team to hold its news conference on the steps of the capitol instead.
That same afternoon, the Speaker held his own press conference to detail his reasons why the question should not appear on the ballot. According to MIRS in a separate article, the "top story" from this event was Detroit Free Press capitol reporter Dawson Bell asking Dillon why he didn't "just let the voters of his district vote" on the question," to which Dillon responded by accusing Bell of having a pattern of bias when reporting on the recall story.
Earlier, as the signatures were being collected throughout the spring, partisans of both sides filed injunctions asking local courts to put a stop to alleged illegal conduct. Those siding with Dillon accused the pro-recall side of fraud and violating the state prohibition on out-of-district circulators - the allegation appearing to be related to the law that would later be ruled as unconstitutional. Part of the fraud allegation was an assertion that 279 names were forged - a charge that the pro-recall side later refuted by producing a sworn deposition from a Democratic activist who stated that she had been paid by Dillon's attorneys to infiltrate the recall campaign and deliberately solicit bad signatures.
Throughout the campaign, those collecting signatures against Dillon repeatedly claimed that they were receiving "harassment and intimidation" from pro-Dillon partisans in general and Redford Township government officials in particular, led by Redford Township Supervisor Miles Handy. The pro-recall side would file an injunction, alleging that township police officers were being used to intimidate recall petition circulators canvassing door-to-door.
To document and publicize their claims, the anti-Dillon group produced a humorous five and half minute YouTube video titled "The Thugs of Redford Township," done to the theme of the old "Dukes of Hazzard" television show, which alleges harassment of petition gatherers by Handy and one of his police sergeants.
In a surprising later development, Handy unexpectedly lost his own bid to continue serving as Redford Township supervisor when Democratic primary voters rejected him on Aug. 5 - the same day that Dillon's opponents had originally scheduled as the date of his recall election. Absent the recall question and with only mild Democratic opposition, Dillon easily won his primary.
Dillon has a Republican opponent in the Nov. 5 general election and Republicans in the Michigan House note optimistically that his margin of victory as recently as 2002 was just 681 votes.
Another interesting possibility is that voters may decide to both remove Dillon from office for his present term via the recall, but still re-elect him for the new legislative term that begins on Jan. 1, 2009. In this instance, he would be required to vacate what remained of his present term in office but could return in January.