Lt. Gov. Ken Ard's recent ethics law troubles have focused our attention again on a voter recall of elected officials, something not possible in South Carolina.
House Democrats were rebuffed in their attempt this week to get lawmakers to consider a bill that would pave the way for recalling statewide officeholders, a move they said was aimed at Ard.
Gov. Nikki Haley said she supported the idea, but wanted to see it expanded to legislators, too.
But why stop there? Local elected officials also ought to be included if recall is to be allowed. Actions by local officials here have raised the issue. It came up after Hilton Head Island Town Councilman Bill Ferguson accosted a fellow council member during a meeting earlier this year. And it came up after a Beaufort County Treasurer's Office employee was arrested and charged with stealing more than $210,000 in 2010. Then-treasurer Joy Logan had rehired the employee after she admitted to taking $600 from the office in a separate incident.
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Fortunately for those who were dismayed by Logan's performance, she was up for election in November, and petition candidate Doug Henderson was able to get on the ballot and defeat her.
One could point to Henderson's victory and say there's no need for a recall option. But had the theft and the operational problems revealed in a subsequent forensic audit come to light later than they did, Logan, who faced no opposition in the Republican primary and no Democratic Party candidate, probably would be serving another four-year term right now.
As for Ferguson, state law addresses removal for a crime of moral turpitude and misconduct in office, or if a member lacks the required qualifications to hold the seat.The law allows municipal councils to set qualifications for office and to establish the grounds upon which members can be forced to forfeit office. But town ordinance does not address removal of council members from office, and South Carolina courts have not addressed the issue, the town's attorney said.
We'd like to see the recall idea get a full debate when the legislature reconvenes in January. There are several bills in both the House and Senate that set up recall procedures. It would require a constitutional change, so voters would have their say in the next general election.
Critics say recall efforts could be too disruptive for officeholders, but the right ground rules could minimize that. A bill introduced by state Sen. Larry Grooms requires the signatures of 25 percent of registered voters in the affected district to bring it to a vote. If a recall effort fails, another could not be brought against the same individual for two years. Only one person's name can appear on a recall petition.
Another bill states no recall would be allowed in the first six months of office nor in the last six months of office.
The people who collected the signatures to get Henderson on the ballot can testify that it was not easy. And he only had to get 5 percent of the county's registered voters to sign his petition.
The right rules could keep recall efforts from becoming a tool to harass elected officials and still hold them more accountable to voters.