Do Recalls Work?

Supporters of political recalls say that average citizens need to be able to check the power of elected officials. The sentiment is very much in line with the Tea Party movement or Occupy Wall Street -- grassroots efforts by average Americans who are passionate about promoting their political agenda. But critics decry the recent explosion of recalls as a symptom of our toxic political environment. Are modern recalls designed to unseat incompetent officials or are they only used to wage a costly nuisance campaign? It depends on whom you ask.

A 2011 issue of U.S. News and World Report asked two men to offer their opinions on the effectiveness of political recalls: Tom Cochran, the CEO of the United States Conference of Mayors; and Mike Tate, the Chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party and a long-time political activist.

Cochran, who is disappointed in the high number of recall attempts against American mayors, believes that many modern recalls are frivolous and fueled by political anger, not real issues. He argues that the high cost of recall elections -- hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars -- cannot be justified in an age of economic austerity [source: Cochran]. Democratic Party Chairman Tate agrees that recalls shouldn't be used lightly, but counters that recalls such as the one in Wisconsin are absolutely necessary to check the power of elected officials who are pursuing what he calls a "radical agenda" [source: Tate]

Officials who have been the unsuccessful targets of recall attempts argue that recalls distract public officials from their real work and force them into constant "campaign mode," defending their record, raising money for court challenges and fighting negative attack ads [source: Holeywell]. In preparation for his recall election, Governor Walker of Wisconsin raised over $12 million in 2011 and another $13.1 million in the first four months of 2012 [source: Associated Press]. One thing is for sure, if you want to derail, or at least distract from the agenda of an elected official, a recall campaign is a great way to do it [source: Holeywell].

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