Recall and Expulsion
Michigan does provide other options for removing public officials besides impeachment. One of them is defeat for re-election.
At the local level, incumbents are often defeated. In the Aug. 2, 2016, primary election, for example, four of the nine Genesee Co. commissioners were ousted at the polls. In Emmet County, all incumbent county commissioners lost. Same thing happened in various local jurisdictions this year, such as three incumbents on the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) board.
But defeating incumbent officeholders at the state and federal levels in Michigan is difficult if not impossible. The last incumbent federal and statewide elected officials to suffer defeat at the ballot box in Michigan were James Blanchard for Governor in 1990; Richard Austin for Secretary of State in 1994; Spencer Abraham for U.S. Senator in 2000; state Supreme Court justices Clifford Taylor in 2008, Alton Davis in 2010, and Kurtis Wilder in 2018; and a handful of Congressmen.
Is there anything else? Yes, there are other ways to get rid of politicians whom the citizenry decides for various reasons they don’t like. It’s important to note, though, that they hardly ever happen
One way is recall. In fact, Michigan and Oregon were the first two states to provide for recall of elected public officials, beginning in 1908. Today, 17 other states also provide for recall of state officials.
But it’s now tougher to recall state officials than it used to be. Under amendments to Michigan’s recall law enacted in 2012, approved petition language has a shelf life of only 180 days. Signatures must be collected within a 60-day time frame within that 180-day window. An effort to recall Whitmer’s predecessor, Rick Snyder, didn’t come close to succeeding.
No Michigan governor has ever been recalled, and only three state legislators: state Senators Phil Mastin and David Serotkin, both in 1983, and state Rep. Paul Scott in 2011.
Recall under both the 1908 and 1963 Michigan Constitutions excluded judges. Impeachment was the only way to remove a sitting judge until the adoption of a constitutional amendment in 1968 creating, in Article VI, Section 30, a Judicial Tenure Commission which may recommend to the Supreme Court that a judge be censured, suspended, retired or removed from the bench.
How about expulsion?
The current (1963) Michigan Constitution, in Article IV, Section 16, provides that each legislative chamber may expel a member with concurrence of two-thirds of all members elected and serving. Yet only four lawmakers have been expelled in all of Michigan history: state Rep. Milo Dakin in 1887; state Rep. Monte Geralds in 1978; state Senator David Jaye in 2001; and state Rep. Cindy Gamrat in 2015.
Back to impeachment. Any action against Whitmer under HR 324 would have to be accomplished before year’s end, when the 100th Legislature adjourns sine die. Nothing is likely to happen in the next five weeks, even a committee hearing, because House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) has announced that the resolution will not be taken up. But Chatfield’s final term is up at the end of next month, and so is that of Jason Sheppard (R-Lambertville), chairman of the Government Operations Committee, in which the measure is lodged. The resolution will have to be reintroduced in the 101st Legislature and then could be a ticking time bomb for nearly two years through 2022, when Whitmer is expected to seek re-election.
Will incoming Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) be any more hospitable to HR 324 than Chatfield? Doubtful, because he doesn’t want to make a martyr out of the embattled governor, no matter how divisive and polarizing she may be during the next 25 months.