Searching for Meaning in the Failed Adams Recall

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The first question asked about the failed attempt to qualify the recall of Assemblyman Anthony Adams for the ballot is: How could that happen?!

Given the money raised to support the effort, the professional signature gatherers involved, constant agitation from Southern California talk radio hosts, and anger from many in the electorate to the tax increases Adams supported after signing a no-tax increase pledge, many experts are puzzled over the failure to secure the necessary signatures in Adams district, which spans Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen revealed on Friday that less than fifty percent of the randomly selected signatures were valid. The test results indicated the measure would not qualify and no full count was required.

Flashreport’s Jon Fleischman speculated on what might have happened in his weekend column. Could fraud be involved? Or an unlucky draw of random signatures?

Former Republican Party Chairman, Mike Schroeder, one of the Orange County residents who led the recall effort, told the John and Ken Show on Friday that he planned to meet with the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Some will pursue conspiracy theories about possible fraud or sabotage from Adams’ supporters. It is left to the rest of us interested in the matter to determine if any lesson can be culled from the surprise result.

The second question after “What Happened?” will be: Does this failed recall make it easier to raise taxes to deal with California’s budget crisis? If a Republican in a solid Republican district is not punished for voting for a tax increase would other legislators have anything to fear from raising taxes? Taxes will not be easier to increase, but those interested in raising taxes will push harder to get it done. Tax increase advocates believe they have captured a flag flown high by opponents who claimed they face certain electoral punishment if they vote for taxes. Pressure to raise taxes will be turned up.

Of course, the fact that not enough local voters signed a petition to recall a tax-increasing representative may have little to do with the voters’ attitude toward tax increases.

Local voters may not have signed petitions because they did not want to be told what to do by outsiders regardless if those outsiders came from Orange County or over the airwaves from Los Angeles. Perhaps Adams’ constituents did not believe his vote for a tax increase was a recallable offense.

It is impossible to read the minds of the 59th Assembly District voters. However, it is not inconceivable that they gave Adams the benefit of the doubt in reaching his decision on the tax increase bill.

The question of a representative following his or her own judgment or representing the feelings of constituents has been discussed and debated endlessly in political science classes. Eighteenth-century British Parliament member Edmund Burke, sometimes called the Father of Conservatism, gave a speech to his constituents in Bristol in which he argued that while constituents’ wishes “ought to have great weight” in a representative’s decision making process, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Barring any malfeasance discovered involving the signature gathering or the random count, we could debate the meaning of the failed recall for some time. However, Adams’ constituents will have the last word when they express their judgment on the kind of representative they want in the coming 2010 primary and general elections.

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