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Michigan Voters May Render Midterm Judgment on Budget-Cutters

Union members from around the state protest Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget cuts April 13, 2011 in Lansing, Michigan. Photographer by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Union members from around the state protest Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget cuts April 13, 2011 in Lansing, Michigan. Photographer by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- Michigan voters angered by budget-balancing moves by Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature are collecting signatures to force recall elections of the first-term Republican and as many as 19 state lawmakers.

There also are efforts to remove nine Wisconsin senators who fought over limits on collective-bargaining rights for public workers, and a proposed November referendum in Ohio on a law that contains similar strictures.

The moves are a response to changes Republicans have sought in difficult budget times, creating early referendums on the governors and their policies, said Paul Beck, a professor of political science at Ohio State University.

“They have moved very far, very fast, and they have created a lot of controversy in how they’ve done it,” Beck said in a telephone interview. “We’ll see how deep that reaction goes because we’ll have votes.”

In Michigan, voter committees can file petitions July 1 to require recalls, according to the secretary of state’s office. Their efforts range from mere discussion to signature-gathering to require recalls for Snyder and nearly a score of Republican lawmakers, said Bill Ballenger, editor of the nonpartisan newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

The Committee to Recall Rick Snyder opposes spending cuts to balance the budget, and a new law empowering emergency managers to take over the finances of local governments, said Gerald Rozner, a spokesman.

“It’s too Draconian,” Rozner, 65, an electrical-engineering consultant from Monroe, said in a telephone interview.

Weathering the Storm

Snyder, 52, who took office in January, thinks the recall attempts are “democracy in action,” said Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman. The governor remains committed to “making the tough fiscal and policy decisions that have been put off for far too long,” she said.

Forcing a recall for Snyder will be difficult because it requires 806,500 signatures, said Richard Hula, chairman of the Michigan State University political-science department.

Nor is it clear how many recalls will proceed for lawmakers, Ballenger said. Michigan law requires signatures equal to 25 percent of the most recent vote for governor in a lawmaker’s district, according to the secretary of state’s office.

There’s a Chance

Representative Joel Johnson, a Republican from Clare, said that while he doesn’t think his recall will reach the ballot, it can’t be ruled out.

“We are doing things that make things a little tougher on ourselves and things that might make things tougher on others, but in the long run we think we are going to see Michigan bounce back,” Johnson said in a telephone interview.

Similar movements in Michigan after tax increases produced an unsuccessful recall attempt for the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives in 2008, and the removal of two Democratic senators in 1983 that gave Republicans Senate control, Ballenger said.

“If somebody is recalled, that will send shockwaves through the Legislature, through the Republican ranks,” Ballenger said in a telephone interview.

The fight over a Wisconsin law championed by Governor Scott Walker that curbs public unions’ bargaining power prompted recall elections for six Republican senators July 12 and three Democratic senators July 19, said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political-science professor.

Proxy War

Walker, 43, by law can’t face recall this year. Senatorial recalls let opponents make a statement about him and the law -- and may give Democrats control of the Senate, Franklin said in a telephone interview. The races also give “pro-Republican voters a chance to reaffirm their choice,” he said.

A Walker spokesman, Cullen Werwie, declined to comment.

In Ohio, Democrats and labor activists have collected more than 714,000 signatures toward a November referendum on the law limiting public employees to bargaining for wages and working conditions only, said Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, an umbrella opposition group. They needed just 231,000 by June 30.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed that 54 percent of Ohio voters would repeal the law. It would be an election about Republican Governor John Kasich, 59, and his approach to reforming government, said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Hamden, Connecticut, school’s polling institute.

Stakes are high, said Beck of Ohio State.

“If it’s defeated, he is greatly wounded as governor,” Beck said. “If it wins, he has generated support that I think will buoy him into the remaining years of his governorship.”

Sending a Message

In New Jersey, all 120 lawmakers the Senate and Assembly stand for re-election in November. The races will be proxies on first-term Republican Governor Chris Christie’s leadership, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville.

Christie has enacted a 2 percent cap on property taxes, cut education funding, announced plans to pull the state from a regional greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program and killed a commuter-rail tunnel to New York City.

Christie has implored voters to send more Republicans to Trenton to accomplish his agenda. Democrats now control the Assembly 47-33 and the Senate 24-16.

“For those who want to send a message to Chris Christie, the 2011 legislative elections are going to be their first chance,” Dworkin said. “By the same token, those who want to endorse Christie are going to get the same chance.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Niquette in Columbus, Ohio, at mniquette@bloomberg.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at

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