Options sought for recall of state officials

OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers are considering ways to make it easier for citizens to recall elected officials, holding a work session Wednesday that explored the hurdles people face when they try to pursue such a campaign.

Republican Sen. Pam Roach says she’d like to see changes to state law and the Constitution to make the process more clear and less daunting. She said the campaigns can be financially burdensome because they require court consideration and that the law is vague on what reasons people can use to recall an official.

“If we make this law more specific so it’s less vague and less nebulous, it’s going to increase access to the process,” Roach said. She’d like to see changes made during the Legislature’s special session but acknowledged that the issue may need to wait until next year for further consideration.

Citizen activist Chris Clifford described during the hearing how he faced financial peril for pursuing a 2009 effort to recall a Port of Seattle commissioner. Clifford went before the state Supreme Court in order to get approval for the recall campaign but later fell short in his effort to collect enough signatures. He said attorneys on the other side of the dispute repeatedly sought compensation from him for legal fees. Even though they were unsuccessful, Clifford said it shows the peril that recall activists may face.

“You are putting yourself on the line,” Clifford said.

Voters in Washington approved recall rules a century ago, allowing such petitions to go forward for things like “malfeasance or misfeasance.” Roach and others brainstormed more specific actions that could be included in the rules, such as drunken driving, voting for self-enrichment and criminal prosecutions.

A few weeks ago, the Washington Supreme Court approved an effort to recall the mayor of Pacific amid accusations that he’s abused his authority in directing the police department to investigate his political enemies, has been arrested for interfering in a crime scene and has failed to fill key vacancies in the city government. An election is scheduled on that recall attempt next month.

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