Remember when we would hold elections, and then after the vote, they would be over?
Those were the days. Now, it’s sadly apparent that the 2020 election, decisive though it was, isn’t going to end anytime soon — at least not in the minds of those who refuse to accept the results.
On Monday a group filed five charges in Olympia to try to recall Gov. Jay Inslee. They did this though Inslee just won reelection last November by a 545,000-vote margin, the most in state gubernatorial history.
It’s the latest in recall fever that’s sweeping the country, with groups of citizens trying to give the boot in record numbers to school board members, mayors and more than a dozen governors.
Last year there were 434 attempted recalls around the nation, up 26% from the year before, according to Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at Wagner College in New York, who tracks what he calls a “hair trigger” form of government.
The vast majority of these recalls fail; most never make it to a vote. But the surge of them seems to jibe with a rising refusal to accept democracy’s verdicts (exhibit A of that being the sorest loser of all, the recently deposed ex-president down in Florida).
The coronavirus pandemic accelerated a backlash trend.
“The pandemic unleashed a good deal of voter anger, and a good portion of that was on the right side of the aisle,” Spivak writes.
There were 14 recall attempts against state governors in 2020, he notes, 12 of which objected to pandemic-related lockdowns or restrictions. Only 19 states even allow citizens to recall the governor, so 14 is quite a lot. The recall of California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, now appears headed to a vote, only the second one for a governor in that state’s history.
The one here, against Inslee, is almost entirely sour grapes, as the issues in it were the main subject of the just-concluded election.
“Washington State has been ravaged over the past nine years with bad decisions made by our governor,” the petitioners, a group of conservative citizens, say. “But over the last two years his actions have crossed the line and become malfeasance, misfeasance, and violation of his oath of office.”
Their specific charges are that Inslee went too far with his COVID-19 restrictions — violating religious freedom by curtailing church gatherings, for example, or exceeding his authority by suspending the Open Meetings Act so government bodies could meet remotely via Zoom. They also question whether COVID-19 was an emergency. The next step is for a judge to rule whether the recall petition qualifies.
Says the group: “The voters of Washington have had enough of his criminal actions and his unprecedented grab of tyrannical power.”
Doesn’t seem like it. Because this was the same line of argument made last fall by the GOP candidate for governor, Loren Culp, who lost by more than half a million votes.
But Culp, like Donald Trump in the presidential race, has refused to face up to a defeat even that large — insisting, without a shred of evidence, that the election was somehow rigged. This suggests Inslee isn’t the legitimate governor. So a recall effort now flows from that same conspiratorial spring.
This sort of denial has become an epidemic in its own right. A CBS News poll out this week found that 67% of Republican voters nationwide don’t consider Joe Biden the legitimate winner of the national election. It’s not hard to imagine Inslee faces a similar wall of delusion here.
At least the other local recall going on right now — of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant — is predicated on actual instances of wrongdoing. And it’s about actions she took after she last ran for election in 2019. Her sins all strike me as relatively minor, as rules or norms violations, not real corruption. But the state Supreme Court said they were serious enough, so in the end it’ll be up to voters, if the recall gathers the needed signatures.
This gambit though of filing for a recall immediately after an election, a la Inslee, is a red warning light for future elections.
The Inslee recall folks say they started their effort in January — the same month he was sworn in for his new term.
By then, Inslee’s pandemic emergency powers had long been upheld by multiple courts. He ought to bring that emergency to an end, with the state scheduled to fully reopen next month. But his overall handling of the issue, warts and all, was overwhelmingly endorsed by voters just last November.
A recall on those same issues — now? That’s pretending the last year of intense, record-voter-turnout democracy never happened.
Which, from Mar-a-Lago on down, is what’s really going on here. Six months after an election that was mostly about the pandemic, the pandemic is easing its grip. It’s democracy that’s still on a ventilator.