Power to oust federal lawmakers tested - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Power to oust federal lawmakers tested

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Posted: Tuesday, September 22, 2009 10:29 pm | Updated: 3:04 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A recall petition filed Tuesday against a member of Congress could end up being a test case for how much power Arizonans have to get rid of federal lawmakers.

A recall petition filed Tuesday against a member of Congress could end up being a test case for how much power Arizonans have to get rid of federal lawmakers.

Papers filed by Tucsonan Thomas D. Young seek the ouster of two-term Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Young specifically complains of her support of federal legislation requiring increased use of electricity generated from renewable sources and new carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants.

Young, who said he has been in the building and construction industry, complained those standards will raise the cost of materials by more than 30 percent.

Giffords, in a statement prepared by her press aide, said members of her southern Arizona district sent her to Congress twice.

"Although some might not always agree with her, she is committed to representing them and being as accessible and responsive as possible," the statement reads.

But press aide C.J. Karamargin also said the whole exercise is meaningless, saying federal law precludes states and their voters from recalling and ejecting members of Congress. That can be done only by the full Congress itself.

That is true. But what also is true is that Giffords voluntarily signed a statement when she ran for re-election in 2008 saying she deems herself responsible to the people "and under obligation to them to resign immediately if not re-elected on a recall vote."

Karamargin sidestepped questions about whether she would honor that commitment to resign, saying the federal pre-emption against recall makes the issue legally moot. He pointed out there has not been a single recall against a member of Congress in the more than 30 years since the provision has been in Arizona law.

That, however, goes to the fact that no one has ever gathered enough signatures in this state to force the issue - and test the law. The burdens are significant: Young would need to get 82,067 valid signatures on petitions by Jan. 19 to call an election.

Karamargin would not say whether Giffords will seek to block an election if Young gets the signatures.

"Congresswoman Giffords has consistently complied with state and federal elections laws and she always will," he said, repeating his argument of federal pre-emption. But he also would not answer questions about why Giffords signed the pledge to abide by the results of a state recall election - one that could not legally force her out - if she doesn't believe such a vote is constitutional in the first place.

Attorney Lisa Hauser, one of the state's top experts on election laws, said if anyone gets sufficient signatures for a recall it will first be up to the Secretary of State's Office to decide whether to call the election.

One option is simply to follow what the law says and proceed with a vote, as the law has never been challenged in Arizona. But Hauser said the agency might instead seek a legal opinion from the Arizona Attorney General's Office that the statute is unenforceable.

Personally, Hauser questions whether an election is legally possible, even with a candidate's agreement to abide by the results. In fact, she said, just asking a candidate for federal office to sign the statement could be seen as an intrusion by the state into federal issues, though no one has ever challenged that law, either.

There is no requirement for candidates for Congress to sign the pledge to resign. They can sign an alternate statement saying they won't agree to quit.

Or, they can go the more popular route: not sign either statement at all. That was the course followed by two successful Arizona congressional candidates in 2008: Raul Grijalva and Harry Mitchell.

Young said while he has not been active in politics until now, he has been targeting Giffords for some time now in Web site postings, many of them associated with "tea party" protests of proposed health care reform legislation.

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