Stop the Recall Madness

Let him answer.

Photographer: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The simplest political response to a crisis is also the least sensible: Demand that someone be fired, impeached or recalled. It's the last of these that is facing Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who will testify before Congress on Thursday about Flint's contaminated drinking water.

Snyder, a Republican, has acknowledged that his administration failed to act quickly enough to address the dangerous lead levels in Flint’s drinking water. He faces investigations and interrogations not only in Washington but also in Lansing, the state capital, and must defend against several lawsuits. There is the possibility of criminal charges.

He is, in short, being held accountable for his management of the problem. Attempting to remove him from office will do nothing to speed solutions in Flint. It will only create a political distraction that will prevent Snyder’s administration from focusing its full attention on the issue.

Still, Snyder's situation raises a larger question: Can a recall election ever be justified?

There should certainly be a high bar. If managerial mistakes are sufficient grounds for recalling elected officials, no mayor or governor in America is safe. Management is not an error-free proposition, and incidents of incompetence are inevitable in any large organization, public or private. Except in the most extreme cases of malfeasance, executives elected by the people should be allowed to serve out their terms.

It's also worth noting -- not that anyone forgot -- that every election is political, and calls for resignation, recall or impeachment tend to be more partisan than principled. Hillary Clinton, who called for Snyder's resignation, has not made a similar demand of Gina McCarthy, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who will also testify Thursday. Nor has she called for the resignation of Democratic officials who have been censured or indicted for ethics violations and corruption charges.

Clinton herself is not unfamiliar with unwarranted calls for removal from office. Last year, a Republican congressman suggested that, if elected, she could be subject to impeachment proceedings on her first day in the White House. It’s an outrageous claim, of course. But presidential candidates will reap what they sow.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.