EDITORIAL: Don’t limit recall petitions, no matter how pointless

State lawmakers began work Monday, three months after most of them were elected. Depending on how things play out during the first weeks of the 2015 Legislature, three months from now some of those lawmakers could find themselves on the ballot again — before the end of the regular session.

Conservative activists are laying the groundwork to recall new Assembly Speaker John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, freshman Assemblyman Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas, and other moderate Republican legislators who refuse to flatly reject the tax increases proposed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval. If those activists go forward with recall petitions — under state law, they must wait until 10 days after the start of the session to collect voter signatures — the Nevada Republican Party might launch its own recall campaigns against GOP lawmakers allied with the conservative rabble-rousers. The number of recall elections this spring could exceed the statewide total of the past 20 years.

Bring it on.

Divisions within the Assembly Republican caucus on taxes and spending blew up this winter when Mr. Hambrick removed hard-line fiscal conservative Michele Fiore as majority leader and chairwoman of the Assembly Taxation Committee over her federal tax problems and public criticism of party figures. Ms. Fiore and her backers believe she was steamrolled to smooth the path for the governor’s $7.3 billion budget and the more than $1 billion in tax increases needed to fund it.

Exactly where Mr. Edwards stands in this dispute isn’t clear, but efforts to sway his support for speaker led to a Las Vegas police extortion investigation.

All this spawned the formation of political action committees to support the recall drives — and much hand-wringing over the recall process. Is it really fair to allow agitators to launch recall petitions against elected officials before they begin their jobs in earnest? Should citizens be allowed to recall officials over perceived ideology? Before they even cast a vote on legislation?

The answer to all those questions is a resounding yes.

Appropriately, it is incredibly difficult to recall an elected official in Nevada. Petitioners have 90 days to collect a number of valid signatures equal to 25 percent of the number of ballots cast in the targeted district. Those signatures must come from people who actually voted in that election. And if those requirements are met, petitioners still have to make their arguments to all voters. Recalls almost always fail.

However many petitions are circulated in the coming weeks, lawmakers will be tempted to change the state’s recall standards to shelter themselves and better protect incumbents at all levels of government. That’s exactly what happened during the 2005 Legislature, following two municipal recall elections (one of which was successful). A constitutional amendment was proposed to limit recalls to cases of criminal wrongdoing or abuse of office, requiring “factual support” for each allegation. Under such a restriction, office holders couldn’t be recalled for violating a campaign promise, for being ineffective, incompetent or absent. Thankfully, the resolution died.

Democracy — and politics in general — is a contact sport. It’s not supposed to be polite, or even fair. It is not for the weak. It is a constant power struggle. So if someone wants to recall an elected official for not saying “Gesundheit,” that person can have at it. The public knows when its time is being wasted — and it votes accordingly.

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