Home » Archive by category "Martin Luther King"


Throwing Them Out Isn’t Easy

The guy in the photo is Lynn J. Frazier. He was the first public official in the country removed from office by recall. It happened in 1921 in North Dakota.

Frazier had been elected governor three different times on the Non-Partisan League ticket, but his radical brand of progressive politics eventually got him crosswise with the state’s voters. Ironically, he advocated that the recall provision be added to the state constitution and almost immediately it was used against him.

The recall of a governor has happened only one other time. Gray Davis suffered Lynn Frazier’s fate in California in 2003. All this by way of saying, recalling an elected official, as has now been proposed in Idaho (and in Wisconsin), isn’t easy.

The Idahoans who say they want to recall State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna have a big hill to climb. First, they need to collect just north of 158,000 valid signatures (meaning they probably need to gather thousands more) and have only two and a half months to get the job done. That is a lot of standing around in Walmart parking lots and PTA meetings and it will require hundreds if not thousands of volunteers. Such efforts normally dictate paid signature gathering, but if this effort is, as it seems to be, truly grassroots, then the money won’t be readily available to finance the signature production.

Still, the group has a Facebook page up with (as of late yesterday) more than 4,000 friends and they has generated a good deal of media attention. Meanwhile, the Idaho State Journal reports that an American Falls high school senior has launched a “Stand with Luna” website to support the state superintendent.

Other than a handful of local election officials, Idahoans have been reluctant to resort to the recall. Two Idaho Falls state legislators were recalled in 1971. Efforts to recall two Boise legislators are also underway, resembling in some respects the widespread legislative recall efforts underway in Wisconsin.

A fellow often referred to at the time as “a St. Maries dog catcher” mounted a recall effort against Sen. Frank Church in 1967 until it dawned on everyone that there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution to recall federal officials. The dog catcher – he had some links to the John Birch Society – and his recall quickly faded away.

Nationally only 13 legislators, including the two in Idaho, have been recalled since 1913. Seven of the 13 recalls took place in Oregon and California.

The most obvious thing about these numbers, as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political writer Craig Gilbert points out, “is how seldom the recall has been used successfully. Only 18 states give their citizens the power to remove their state legislators by recall, and in only five has it actually happened.  No one knows how many recalls have been attempted, but only 20 have succeeded in gathering enough valid signatures to force a recall election, and only 13 have succeeded in removing a legislator from office.”

Like I said, it’s a big hill to climb and it should be. As a general rule we have elections to get rid of politicians who fall out of favor. Still, as Gilbert notes, recalls tend to form around a not particularly partisan issue and tend to draw energy from the right of the political spectrum. Of the 13 recalled state legislators, 9 have been Republicans and some of them were recalled because they fell out of favor with their own party.

Essentially that’s what happened to Davis in California in 2003. Davis became enormously unpopular due to the state’s terrible fiscal condition and an energy crisis. The long-time Democrat, governor of an  overwhelmingly blue state, saw his approval numbers go deeply in the ditch with constituents across the board, including Democrats. Enter the Governator.

Successful recalls seem to require a cause and passion, or perhaps anger. Interestingly the very conservative Americans for Limited Government is touting expansion of the recall as a way to get at politicians who aren’t tough enough on spending, an issue that increasingly cuts across all political demographics.

Considering that Luna won re-election last November with just over 60% of the vote – more than 268,000 total votes – the cause he represents – his package of education reform bills – will have to be extremely unpopular for the recall to get real legs. To date, I know of no public polling on how Luna’s education policies are playing with Idaho voters, but  public comments in the media, on newspaper websites and in legislative hearings seem to trend pretty strongly against. Across the state local school boards are scrambling to implement changes, consider more layoffs and four day school weeks and deal with another year of declining budgets.

But it’s an open question as to whether this all adds up to the type of cause that typically drives a recall and whether the passion is deep enough to propel a grassroots signature campaign that results in an election. Having said that, education has often been a mobilizing issue in Idaho. Many voters may not care much about the big policy debates in Boise during a long legislative session, but they do care about the local schoolhouse and they have opinions about whether the students they most care about are getting the right kind of education.

Bottom line: the Luna recall will have to catch fire very fast and burn very hot to have a chance to succeed.

As a curious footnote to recall history, North Dakota’s booted Gov. Lynn Frazier wasn’t out of office for long. About a year after being recalled, Frazier ran for the U.S. Senate and won. He served in the Senate for 18 years until losing a Republican primary in 1940. Further proof, perhaps, that recalls are fueled by the passions of the moment and passion can cool quickly.

Great Speeches Week

JFKEisenhower, Kennedy and King

It is Martin Luther King, Jr, Day, a good day to remember Dr. King’s remarkable impact on the evolution of American notions about civil rights and to acknowledge the work that remains.

And, even though King made his most famous speech in August, no MLK Day is complete without remembering one of the great speeches ever delivered in the English language, his “I Have a Dream Speech” from 1963.

This week also marks the 50th anniversary of two other truly memorable speeches – Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell were he warned of the rise of the “unwarranted influence” of the “military-industrial complex” and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural where he summoned the nation to “ask not” what the country can do for us.

Remarkably these two speeches – delivered just three days apart in January 1961 – speak to us still across half a century.

Eisenhower, the popular president and former five star general, it is now clear, labored at length over his final speech from the White House considering it, as his grandson says, a significant part of his legacy of public service. Fifty years later, with the American military engaged in two wars and the nation’s enormous power projected in every corner of the world, Eisenhower’s words speak an enduring truth and, like Kennedy, he called the country to informed, engaged citizenship.

As David Eisenhower told NPR over the weekend, his grandfather’s “farewell address, in the final analysis, is about internal threats posed by vested interests to the democratic process. But above all, it is addressed to citizens — and about citizenship.”

Kennedy’s great speech, delivered on January 20, 1961, can be read as a companion piece to the speech of his predecessor and it was also about citizenship and responsibility. Speaking in the context of the nuclear arms race with the then-Soviet Union, Kennedy said: “So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

Those words, in the context of our domestic politics today, certainly ring true.

In the age of Twitter and text messages some might argue that the spoken word or political rhetoric has lost its power to inform and stimulate. Three classic speeches we remember this week leave us with an entirely different message. Enduring truth, delivered with genuine conviction and deeply imbuded with knowledge, is always powerful.

As Dr. King so powerfully said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

All three great Americans spoke in their most famous speeches to “the ultimate measure of a man” and their words live on.

A Day for Human Rights

kingRemembering From Whence We Came…

It hasn’t been all that many years ago that Idaho was one of the last states to embrace an official celebration of human rights in connection with Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. Repeated efforts to establish a state holiday failed in the Idaho Legislature before legislation was finally approved in 1990.

It is important to remember some of the context of those times. The white supremacist Aryan Nations still held court in northern Idaho and the state was regularly depicted in the national media as a haven for the group’s perverted notions of racial superiority. Their annual parades, even when dwarfed in size by those opposing their message of hate, received extensive media attention. Major employers struggled to recruit people of color to live and work in Idaho. Despite having one of the strongest malicious harassment laws in the nation, Idaho’s image was hurting.

I’m convinced the decision to create a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Day in Idaho was a major catalyst in changing the then-prevailing perception.

With the inspired leadership of then-Human Rights Commission Executive Director Marilyn Shuler, human rights activists in northern Idaho and then-Governor Cecil Andrus, the holiday honoring Dr. King came to be 20 years ago – long overdue, but finally in place.

Fast forward to 2010 where the Idaho Legislature now considers a proposal to eliminate state funding for the Idaho Human Rights Commission, an agency that has protected the rights of Idaho workers and employers for more than four decades by leveling the field for both. The Commission has been in many, many ways, the focus in Idaho for a common sense, practical approach to human rights and dignity for all. It is a tiny agency with a huge mission, a mission just as important now as it was in 1990, or when it was created more than 40 years ago.

We’ve all heard of the philosopher George Santayana’s famous observation that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Yet, it seems a constant challenge for our public policymakers to remember from whence we came. As our attention spans grow shorter, our memories do as well.

Idaho’s human rights history has traveled a well-worn and rocky path that has steadily – at least since the mid-1980’s – lifted us higher and higher. Republicans like former Governor Phil Batt and current Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones took the issues very seriously back then, as did Democrats like Andrus and Governor John Evans. But it is not a given that we will keep on climbing. A new generation of leaders will need to step forward and keep pushing.

We would do well to consider the message – both practical and symbolic – sent by Idaho if the state appears to be devaluing the work of the Idaho Human Rights Commission. Enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws won’t go away. Rather the federal government will enforce the law in Idaho if the state is left with a less than adequate effort of its own.

All too obviously, much work remains to realize Dr. King’s dream and live out his courage even as his words speak to us as powerfully as ever:

“Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different.”

We are not condemned to repeat the past, we need only to remember it.