Arizona Democrats threaten recall elections over redistricting
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the GOP-controlled state Senate on Tuesday removed the chairwoman of the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission, after the commission drafted a map that Republicans say favors Democrats.
In response, Democrats are threatening to launch recall efforts against four moderate Republican state senators who gave the GOP the two-thirds majority it needed to execute the move.
Echoes of public-employee union fights in Wisconsin or Ohio are clearly present in the current Arizons stand-off, but don’t count on a repeat of the large-scale battles that have been waged in those states.
In Wisconsin, Democrats and unions launched recalls of six GOP state senators after the state legislature used a controversial maneuver to pass a bill limiting union rights. In Ohio, a similar bill has led those groups to pursue a referendum on the ballot next week. Both situations resulted in tens of millions of dollars being spent by both sides.
The results in Wisconsin were mixed, with Democrats unseating two GOP state senators but narrowly failing to retake the majority. In Ohio, a referendum that would uphold the new GOP-backed law looks like it could be headed for a defeat next Tuesday.
The question in Arizona is whether a broad recall effort is doable or even worth it.
State Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny made no mention of recalls in statement released after the removal vote, but the state party was discussing its options internally Wednesday morning, and a recall effort is still on the table.
“This was an illegal removal, and the senators who voted for it will have to answer for this,” state Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said. “Right now, we are focused on the unfolding legal challenges to this Republican abuse of power.”
The bar for recalling a state senator in Arizona is actually lower than in Wisconsin. While Wisconsin required between 14,000 and 21,000 signatures to recall each of the six GOP state senators, Arizona requires about half as many.
In fact, state Senate President Russell Pearce is already facing a recall vote — his recall election this coming Tuesday is the first recall in state history — and signature-gatherers in his district had to assemble just 7,756 signatures to force it. (The actual number of signatures required depends on a number of factors that are district-specific.)
But there are also plenty of reasons for Democrats to forget about the recalls.
The largest one is the fact that every state senator is already up for reelection next year. Most states have longer terms for state senators, but Arizona forces them to run every two years.
And, given the lengthy process, any recall effort would likely mean that the state senators would face a recall just a few months before they would have had to run for reelection anyway.
The effort to recall Pearce, for example, began a full 10 months ago. If the process started today and it took that long again, the state senators would face recalls in September – just two months before they face regularly-scheduled elections.
And even if Democrats successfully recalled and defeated the four senators, they would still be a long way from a majority since they currently hold just nine of 30 seats.
In other words, it’s a significant undertaking to make a point that could be made just a few months later. And, even an overwhelming victory wouldn’t do much to curtail the GOP’s stranglehold on political power in the state.
Democrats could still try it, but the payoff and motivation may not be the same as it was in Wisconsin or even Ohio.