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Recall 1983 - Learn More

Recall 1983? The History of Michigan's Great Taxpayer Revolt.

In January of 1983, Governor James Blanchard had a problem. Michigan was in recession, losing jobs, and the legislature was facing declining tax revenues. Blanchard needed to hike taxes in order to maintain government spending, since real spending cuts seemed out of the question. He proposed, and passed through the legislature, a 38% income tax hike.

            Taxpayers revolted. Recall drives were launched against Governor Blanchard and 14 state senators who supported the tax hike. Citizens launching these recalls were not taken seriously at first because no governor or state lawmaker had ever been recalled in the history of Michigan. Why?

Recalls of state officials are difficult. First, there are a huge number of petition signatures that citizens must collect. To recall a governor, citizens must collect valid signatures equal to 25% of the total number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election. That meant about 750,000 signatures in 1983, and would mean nearly one million signatures to recall Governor Granholm today. For a state representative or senator, citizens need signatures equal to 25% of the votes cast for governor in that lawmaker's district. And they have only six months to do this.

The second reason recalls are hard is that the entire professional political establishment lines up against them. In 1983, citizens launching the recalls faced hostile local boards of canvassers (appointed partisan election officials) who ruled that the recall petition language was "unclear." Some of these local canvassers even refused to attend scheduled meetings so that a quorum could not be present to certify recall petitions.

Having the law on your side didn't always mean having judges on your side. A circuit court judge halted one of the recall efforts, but was later overruled by the appeals court who found in favor of the citizens. Citizen recall organizers also faced legal intimidation in the form of lawsuits brought by the state Democratic Party.

These hurdles were too much to overcome in the Blanchard recall, which failed to collect sufficient signatures. But citizens succeeded collecting signatures and winning court battles in the recall efforts against two state senators, Phil Mastin (D-Pontiac) and David Serotkin (D-Mt. Clemens). Both faced special recall elections in November of 1983. They, and the political establishment, would not give up without a fight.

Both Serotkin and Mastin raised huge sums of money from Lansing interests to defeat the recall, outspending pro-recall citizens by better than 10-1 margins. Both had consultants, staffers and organized interests to campaign on their behalf for a "No" vote in the recall election.

Both were recalled by voters by better than 2-1 margins.

That didn't stop Senator Serotkin. He resigned before the election results could be officially certified, figuring that if his resignation was official before the election results were official, than he wasn't officially recalled. Serotkin believed he could then run in the special election needed to fill his vacancy, and avoid the law that prevents a recalled legislator from becoming a candidate to replace himself. Not so, ruled Attorney General Frank Kelley. Kelley determined that the legislature never intended for such a maneuver. Serotkin joined Mastin, becoming the only two legislators ever recalled in Michigan history.

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