Recall elections almost invariably are driven by emotions.
Such was the case involving attempts to recall Modesto council members Jenny Kenoyer and David Cogdill Jr., after they voted in January to amend Modesto’s general plan to include Wood Colony, a century-old farming community.
That Kenoyer reacted to Wood Colony supporters by scolding and lecturing them during meetings – and resorted to snapping photos of them because they had taken her photo as well – only fueled their ire.
But recalling elected officials is never easy. In this case, it was made more difficult because so many of those demanding the recalls don’t live in the city, either in Kenoyer’s 5th Council District or Cogdill’s 6th District, and therefore couldn’t sign the petitions. The recall organizers who do live in those districts couldn’t generate the same kind of fervor to get the 3,300 signatures needed to put Kenoyer’s recall on the ballot, or the 3,100 needed for Cogdill.
That such efforts fell flat by no means gives the council a mandate on the Wood Colony issue. To the contrary, an overwhelming majority of Wood Colony residents oppose being ingested by Modesto and will continue to fight it. The conundrum: They are frustrated because they are not city residents and therefore don’t get to elect the city’s decision-makers. But because they don’t want to be part of Modesto, they leave themselves at the mercy of the city and the Local Agency Formation Commission, agencies that ultimately approve annexations.
It takes incredible organization and lots of money for a recall to get to the ballot. In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis was a career politician who had just been elected to a second term. Unpopular vehicle fees and the deals he made with energy companies gave legs to the recall movement. Tons of money and Hollywood star power in action film star Arnold Schwarzenegger generated the groundswell that ousted Davis.
More often, they fail. A recall attempt in 2008 against Atwater Republican Jeff Denham, while he was a California state senator, was led by Bay Area Democrat Don Perata. Perata tried to retaliate against Denham because Denham refused to support Perata’s version of the state budget. The recall effort bombed in a major way.
Riverbank voters, meanwhile, had every possible reason to recall Councilman Jesse James White and yet failed not once, but twice (2009 and 2010).
It didn’t seem to matter that the grand jury recommended White should resign because he wasn’t registered to vote when he applied to run for the council seat, or because of his arrest on drug charges during a probation search (to be on probation requires a previous conviction); the city had turned off the water to his apartment over a billing issue; and he missed numerous council meetings when the council needed to fill a vacant seat. The latter ultimately forced the city to spend $35,000 to hold a special election.
Each recall attempt fell several hundred votes shy. Of course, both came before White was convicted of two felonies (driving under the influence causing injury and resisting an Oakdale police officer) and pleaded no contest to misdemeanors (child endangerment and hit-and-run causing property damage). That likely would have been a game changer. He left the council when his term expired in 2012.
Recall efforts experience the same voter apathy so prevalent during the elections.
Mike Lynch, a Valley political consultant, believes the recall process should be used only in cases of malfeasance or corruption involving elected officials.
“It’s not for public policy disagreement,” he said. “It should have a much higher standard. I may disagree with his or her vote on an issue, but I’m not going to recall them for it. (The threat of recall) really paralyzes the actions on part of the council.”
Overuse diminishes the effectiveness of recalls as a tool, he argues.
The fact of public service is that every vote, every public statement and the manner in which electeds deal with constituents is fair game when they come up for re-election.
Kenoyer and Cogdill Jr. certainly can expect some residual effects from the recall attempt should they choose to run again in November 2017, as will Mayor Garrad Marsh and Councilman John Gunderson in 2015.
But this time around, being cantankerous or simply for something the Wood Colony folks are against didn’t sustain the emotions and the signatures needed to force a recall.