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Where's the line?

Time for a risky comparison.

In the year 2003, we’ve had three high-profile examples of a minority body using their legal ability to either effect or prevent change. The first is the Democratic filibusters used in the Senate to prevent three (out of many) of Bush’s judicial nominees from reaching the federal bench. The second is the Killer Ds — the Texas Democrats who fled the state to block redistricting. The third is the California recall election.

All of these represent a minority taking advantage of an established, legal tactic. If I argue (as I have) that the Texas Democrats are legitimate in their actions because the law allowing them to do so is well-understood and in effect supported by the citizens of Texas, I think I must make a similar argument for the California recall. The law allowing the recall is no surprise; there have been plenty of attempts to recall California elected officials. It’s just that most of them fail. If it’s a bad law, Californians have had every opportunity to repeal it.

Any of the three tactics may be ill-advised, in the way that running Bush for President may have been ill-advised. You can say any particular one of them shouldn’t have happened and was a mistake. But I don’t think you can call any of the processes by which they occurred an abuse of the democratic process unless you’re willing to call all of them an abuse of the democratic process.

In other words: minorities sometimes get to exercise power, even when the majority disagrees.

There are a couple of qualitative differences between the various situations. Most obviously, the California recall is an example of a minority actively effecting change, rather than an example of a minority actively blocking change. I’m not sure there’s a moral difference there, however, particularly in light of the other obvious difference: namely, the California minority voice only created a situation in which a full vote can take place rather than enacting change in its own right.

Now, the California recall voting process itself is pretty questionable. (Wow, what a great opportunity for approval voting…) But I think I want to consider that separately from the process which leads to the recall vote, and I don’t think we’ll really know until closer to October whether or not a very small minority (i.e., under 40%) will actually choose the next governor of California. My bet is on the usual dynamics of winner-take-all voting to come into effect in mid-September as the field narrows down to two “real” choices.


  1. So a “very small minority” is a minority of those who actually vote smaller than that which normally elects the President? Just checking.

    Good points to consider, though. I’ll have to think more about what I think about the California recall.

  2. I think the California situation is a lot like the Texas situation, in that the laws were built to allow exactly what’s happening.

    I can’t speak to what the laws in California are and how they’ve been used in the past, but I know we’ve had several walkouts in Texas. If we didn’t like quorum-busting, we’d change the Constitution. We may do that now, and so may California. But if one tactic is legitimate, so is the other.

    Besides, now there’s a state with wackier political stuff going on than mine. 😉

  3. I think you’re right, Ginger, although I have a niggling suspicion about the cost of filing that I will develop later on when I have time.

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