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House Calls: Michigan State Representative Jeff Irwin Talks About What Will Happen If Gov. Snyder Is Recalled

Representative Jeff Irwin, a Democrat, served for a decade as a Washtenaw County Commissioner. In January 2011, he began his first term in the Michigan House of Representatives. In his regular column, House Calls, A2Politico will pose a single question to Representative Irwin and he will answer it. The questions will focus on his work in Lansing and, of course, his efforts to bring the “progressive agenda” to state government that he told voters in Ann Arbor he intended to work on during his time in office.


A2Politico Asks: Representative Irwin, according to the Michigan Constitution, as well as Michigan election law, what, exactly, will happen if Governor Synder is recalled?

Representative Irwin Responds: The short answer is that nobody knows for sure what will happen if Snyder is recalled.

If the Recall Snyder campaign is successful in gathering the necessary signatures and a recall election is successful, I have little doubt that this question will be decided by the Michigan Supreme Court.  The recall of a Governor would be an untested circumstance and there is arguably a conflict between election law and the state Constitution.  The question that the courts will have to answer is: what is the exact procedure for dealing with succession to the Governor’s office given statutory and Constitutional provisions?  Unfortunately, our Justices have taken a dim view of direct democracy in recent years, and the court is dominated by very conservative and activist judges.

Here’s the issue:

Under Article V, Section 26 (http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(0gvmt0rh2ub3jp555repvb55))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-Article-V-26&highlight=article%20AND%205%20AND%20article%20AND%20V), the Lt Gov. automatically ascends to the office of Governor in the event of a vacancy.  In this section it uses the language, “for the remainder of the term.”  The only time that this provision has been used recently is when Lt. Gov. Milliken assumed the office upon the departure of Gov. Romney.  In that case, Milliken served until the next general election, almost two whole years later (He became Gov. in January of 1969 and stood for election next in November of 1970).

Under election law, it states that when a vacancy occurs in an elected office due to recall, the vacancy is to be filled by a special election at the “next regular election date.” (Sec. 168.971 of the Election Code: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(0gvmt0rh2ub3jp555repvb55))/mileg.aspx?page=getobject&objectname=mcl-168-971&query=on&highlight=recall%20AND%20governor).  That has been interpreted to mean that a special election is to be held at the next available opportunity; but, it seems that the courts have leaned against filling vacancies in February or May elections, opting for November contests where voters are more numerous.

Therefore, an argument can and will be made that the Constitution is at odds with the statute.

Recall proponents have argued that Lt. Governor Calley would be Governor for only 60 days or until the next practical electoral opportunity.  On the Recall Snyder Facebook page it states: “According the (sic) Michigan’s Constitution, if the Governor is recalled from office, a special election is held 60 days after the result is certified.” I can’t find the same or similar language in the Michigan Constitution. Perhaps there is case law to that effect. In any event, my assumption is that, in keeping with tradition, the Michigan Supreme Court would vote along partisan lines and rule in favor of the Republican party.

Similarly, if we ever get an opinion from the AG’s office on this matter, I suspect that his pronouncements will be in line with GOP goals.

In summary, the recall of a Governor would be hotly disputed situation and nobody really knows how, exactly, it would play out.

This paper from the Citizens Research Council has some good background on the issue and history: http://www.crcmich.org/PUBLICAT/2000s/2008/note200804.pdf 

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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=9716

4 Comments for “House Calls: Michigan State Representative Jeff Irwin Talks About What Will Happen If Gov. Snyder Is Recalled”

  1. I saw Jeff Irwin at the recent Elks Club chili cook-off a couple of weeks ago and discussed with him his recent activities, such as funding battles with the GOP-controlled circuit court while he chaired the County Board of Commissioners over the adequacy of security implemented at the courthouse and whether more expensive security programs needed to be implemented. He stated to me he felt that Archie Brown, then chief judge had requested more security than was necessary and denied the judiciary’s request for further funding.

    This funding dispute underscored the political nature of the circuit court and its clique’s attempts to engage in self-interest at the expense of the public good. While at the same event I spoke to Mike Woodyard, an attorney challenging incumbent circuit court Judge Timothy Connors and I thanked him on his candidacy and his challenge of the status quo at the circuit court.

    A couple of weeks ago, Mike received a bizarre and seemingly threatening letter which posted on his campaign’s Faceboook site – which is downloadable at http://www.facebook.com/woodyard4judge

    That letter, authored by an anonymous purported “Washtenaw County Attorney” gives some stern admonitions to Mr. Woodyard:

    “If you withdraw you can salvage your reputation in Washtenaw County and maybe enhance it…..[a]sk Brian Mackie for a job at the prosecutor’s office. Demonstrate wisdom by understanding that if you push your campaign into summer, you will have a difficult time practicing here or run for anything in Washtenaw County……[y]ou need to act now and there will be no turning back.”

    The posting of this letter produced numerous responses, including one from Woodyard himself:

    “Well-informed voters should find the beliefs expressed by this letter repugnant.”

    I am a local attorney who has practiced in courts of Washtenaw County and I do find the letter repugnant. I and many other local practitioners will support Mike Woodyard’s candidacy over Connors.

    I thank the efforts of Messrs. Irwin and Woodyard in challenging the ruling clique that believes they own the local circuit court system, rather than being for the public benefit.

  2. “…..[u]nfortunately our justices have taken a dim view of democracy in recent years, and the court is dominated by very conservative and activist judges.”

    The same holds true locally – and Jeff will be the first to agree.

    Jeff Irwin battled conservative Engler-appontee judges in the circuit court during his tenure as chairman of the Washtenaw County Commission.

    When circuit court judges wanted changes at the county building to ensure security, it was Jeff who politely but firmly said no; when the judiciary raised the spectre of legal action against the County Commission to complain the Commission was not fulfilling its legal duty to provide an adequate court facility, then-Commissioner Irwin did not back down – but the judiciary did in what was considered a political victory for Irwin over then-Chief Judge Archie Brown.

    When Archie Brown battled Irwin over District Court Judge Ann Matson’s courtroom in a highly-publicized “lockout” it was Jeff Irwin who calmly took the position that it was the County Commission who controlled the County Building – not Brown. In the end Judge Matson got her courtroom back after state-sponsored mediation – another political win for Jeff Irwin.

    It was also Jeff Irwin who presided over the police-court building controversy and interfaced with Ann Arbor City Council since, after all, the county was losing a long time tenant in the Ann Arbor 15th District Court. It was Jeff who disclosed that there was infighting between some circuit and district court judges and that Circuit Court Judge Timothy Connors was sore about his wife, Margaret Connors not receiving a magistrate’s position in disrict court that she wanted being a sorce of the infighting. Margaret Connors was planning a run for a District Court seat at this time and chatter about this infighting became a campaign issue; Margaret Connors finished a disappointing third in the district court primary election in 2008 despite receiving substantial support form all five circuit court judges in Ann Arbor.

    When Jeff Irwin was engaged in a tight primary race in 2010 with Ned Staebler, Margaret Connors endorsed Mr. Staebler; Jeff won in a squeaker despite Staebler’s longtime family connections to Ann Arbor – Jeff’s family hails from Sault Ste. Marie.

    Jeff Irwin has astutely recognized that court systems are political entities that are often governed by politics instead of the rule of law as they should.

  3. Chuck, I appreciate your sentiments. When a2poltico – whom I work for as a State Rep. – asked to have my take on these matters, my choice was to answer or refuse to answer the question.

    To your point: it would be my hope to throw cold water only on myself during these hot summer days. Now that I think of it, the petitioners would probably welcome some cold water with all of the hard, hot work they’ve put in to recalling the Governor.

    In any event, I appreciate and respect the democratic process and the opportunity for direct democracy provided through the rights to initiate laws and recall officials. Moreover, I respect the people who make our democracy work by getting involved and doing the hard, tedious work of organizing for social change.

  4. Way to throw cold water on the recall effort. Firing Rick Snyder is
    necessary, even if the Lt. Governor holds office for any length of
    time. It is important for voters to realize that a grass roots
    movement can flex its muscle; hardly any money is being raised
    by the recall organizers and they have already raised over
    300,000 signatures. The money raised so far amounts to about
    $0.10 per signature when the conventional wisdom says it takes
    about $1.00 per signature.

    The info Jeff has provided is interesting but ultimately defeatist.
    There will never be any progressive change in politics until an
    organized, grass-roots effort appears on the political landscape
    and starts demonstrating its prowess; what a great test firing Rick
    could prove to be!

    The recall effort has already succeeded in doing things that the
    “experts” said couldn’t be done. Firing Rick could and should be
    just the beginning!

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