When one political party is consistently defeated by the other in an area, it tends to inspire childish behavior: If you can’t win at cards, you can at least knock over the table and scatter the deck. What we are seeing in politics is an equivalent partisan approach to elections. Democrats seek policies to convenience voters and maximize turnout. Republicans find themselves disadvantaged by this and have taken the opposite approach, seeking to limit turnout of particular groups, often making false claims about voter fraud to do so. Anyone who doubts this hasn’t been paying attention to the Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News where, over and over again, the evidence shows a lot of right-wing folks pushed pro-Donald Trump and 2020 election conspiracy theories they knew to be false. Coming up with an excuse to contest an election is child’s play when the truth is regarded as wholly unimportant.
Baltimore briefly witnessed this strategy at work last year when there was an effort to petition to voters a charter amendment that would create recall elections in the city. The concept of a recall election has been around for more than a century. In essence, it gives voters in whatever jurisdiction you might have in mind, from local to state government, the right to put an elected official back on the ballot. Gather enough signatures and Mayor So-And-So or Governor Fill-In-The-Blank can be forced to stand before the voters before their term in office is set to expire. Last year’s petition drive failed — but not by much. Recently, it was reported that People for Elected Accountability and Civic Engagement, the political action committee that underwrote that effort, wants to take a second bite at the apple in 2024.
The populist appeal here is apparent. Heck, if a politician is doing a really bad job, wouldn’t it be nice to see that person get the boot? But, alas, we’ve seen too many examples around the country where recall elections are thinly veiled partisan exercises to try to boost Republican influence — or just throw a monkey wrench at government. Or maybe it’s about right-wing media influence. PEACE is financed almost entirely by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. Chairman David Smith, owners of WBFF Fox45 where the newsroom mantra seems to be, “How can we attack a predominantly Black city today in a way that really satisfies our predominantly white suburban viewers?” The single-mindedness and shameful lack of context given the station’s coverage of school test scores provide the most recent example.
Just look at recall elections elsewhere. Surely, the highest profile was the unsuccessful attempt in 2021 to oust California Gov. Gavin Newsom on the grounds that his approach to masks and vaccines at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was too tough. It failed massively. But it proved a major distraction — a point Newsom made after his victory in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin. And it was the Republican Party’s best shot at dethroning Newsom and putting in his place radio talk show host Larry Elder, an opponent of abortion. And by the way, that little exercise in Golden State pseudo-democracy cost state and local taxpayers an additional $200 million. Newsom then won reelection handily last year.
Maryland already has a law that can remove a Baltimore mayor convicted of a crime or “willful neglect” of duty or other misbehavior. It requires the governor to simply remove that person, and then a special election is held. And Baltimoreans will remember the most recent mayoral scandals, involving Catherine Pugh and Sheila Dixon, did not require voter intervention. So what exactly is the problem that the recall election seeks to address? Could it be that such transitions simply aren’t theatrical enough for Sinclair ratings or damaging of the status quo enough for the GOP?
We’re all for accountability. And “civic engagement” sounds pretty good, too. But we trust any city resident who is approached to sign a recall petition in the months ahead will note that the latest spokesperson for the cause is failed Republican candidate for Congress from Severna Park Yuripzy Morgan, not exactly an apolitical, city-oriented bystander. That she says she’s also researching to see if a voter referendum can force government to pay for private school education reinforces the anti-Baltimore, anti-public schools reality at the heart of the movement.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.