A new governor. A struggling state economy. Controversial changes coming down from Lansing.
That was the recipe for the history-making recalls of two Michigan state senators almost 30 years ago.
Recalls are heating up again in Michigan, and around the country, this year. While an effort aimed against newly-elected Gov. Rick Snyder has commanded most of the attention, recall petitions are also being circulated locally against state Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) and some two dozen other Michigan legislators. Petition language was recently approved by the Wayne County Elections Division.
For organizers of Colbeck's recall, votes on cuts to school funding and business taxes are inexcusable.
But how fruitful will recall organizers' efforts be?
“We don’t know how many will even make the ballot - there’s just one I’m aware of that looks like it will at this point,” said Bill Ballenger, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics and a longtime observer of the state’s electoral landscape.
Stakes are high but so are the odds
Snyder’s recall is seen as a long shot by most political observers. No Michigan governor has ever been recalled and only two sitting governors have been recalled in the past 90 years.
But a recall of Colbeck and other GOP legislators could shift the balance of power in the state Legislature, halting new-found Republican momentum on everything from taxes to the state’s new emergency financial manger law.
"Our wording is simple," said Mary Kelley, the Northville resident who took out the recall petitions against Colbeck. "People don't want an unelected bureaucrat running their cities or schools." Kelley said she's part of a group of 423 people, including petition circulators, who are working on the recall.
For Kelley and her fellow petition circulators, the issues run deeper.
"There's the feeling that Sen. Colbeck doesn't really represent the interests of people in the 7th District - whether it's cutting $470 per student from our public schools to a $1.8 billion tax break for business," she said.
Cuts in per-student spending, mitigated in part by a one-time $100 per student "best practices" grant for districts that follow select financial procedures, and changes in the state's business tax structure are two key elements of the budget balancing and economic development strategies put forth by the governor and approved by the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate.
Colbeck, a Republican who represents the 7th Michigan Senate District, has called the recall effort wrongheaded and says he's doing his best to bring jobs and revenue back to Michigan.
"It is unfair to taxpayers to spend their money on recall elections when an elected official does their job and casts a vote as they were elected to do," Colbeck said in a statement to Northville Patch. "If we disagree with a lawmaker's philosophy or voting record we can work to vote them out of office at the next election."
Colbeck said he remained convinced that his congressional voting record was the right thing for Michigan.
"I have cast every single vote based on what I was elected to do by an overwhelming majority of the voters in my district, which is to restore financial responsibility to our state government and create an environment for job growth."
The state Senate district stretches from the Northville area to Grosse Ile and includes Plymouth, Plymouth Township and Canton Township, among other communities.