SC's newest third party launches ballot initiative

(Source: American Party/Facebook)
(Source: American Party/Facebook)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina's newest political party on Thursday proposed changing the state constitution to allow voters to recall politicians who break the law or act in ways that reflect poorly on their office.

American Party Chairman Jim Rex said it's time to give voters the option of recall elections to discipline politicians who won't police themselves.

Because the measure requires a change to the constitution, a two-thirds majority of the Legislature would have to agree to put the proposal on the next general election ballot, in 2016 at the earliest. The American Party must first find a legislator willing to introduce such a bill.

Rex said he hopes a successful petition drive pressures legislators into supporting the idea.

"We're hoping the petition makes it clear the people want this," said Rex, the state's former Democratic state schools superintendent.

He co-founded the American Party last year with Republican Oscar Lovelace, who challenged former Gov. Mark Sanford in the 2006 GOP primary, as an alternative to the two-party system.

Nineteen states allow recall elections of state lawmakers, including neighboring Georgia.

As the American Party envisions it, a legislator or statewide officer could face a recall if 10 percent of the total number of voters who participated in that person's election sign a petition for one. All registered voters represented by that lawmaker could sign the petition, regardless of whether they voted in the last election, under the proposal. But the specifics of the bill, including what conduct could trigger a recall effort, would be worked out during the legislative process, Rex said.

Rex said he believes the 10 percent threshold is high enough to avoid frivolous attempts to launch a recall vote, but low enough to be attainable when a politician's done something wrong.

Under that scenario, a recall election of a current statewide officer would require the signatures of between 90,740 and 134,420 registered voters, depending on the office. A recall election of a current legislator would take between 550 and 5,000 signatures.

The state Republican Party does not support the effort, said GOP Chairman Matt Moore.

"Recall elections allow a small number of highly organized activists to disproportionately change the will of voters. We have regularly scheduled elections if you don't like who's elected," he said.

Moore contends it also makes politics more expensive.

In Wisconsin, both sides of recall attempts in 2011 and 2012, which targeted GOP Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state senators, spent more than $137 million, based on an analysis by the independent group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. That state allows office holders to be recalled for any reason.

Rex and other American Party members said there are plenty of examples in recent years of South Carolina politicians behaving badly, but they declined to say who they believe should have been subject to recalls. Rex said that's for voters to decide.

In 2012, former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned and pleaded guilty to campaign-spending violations, while Gov. Nikki Haley was cleared by the House Ethics Committee of allegations she illegally lobbied for two employers while in the House. Since then, at least three current House members have been convicted of misdemeanors and three others face charges. Only felony convictions automatically remove someone from office. This month, House Speaker Bobby Harrell became the latest legislator indicted. He faces misdemeanor charges of using campaign donations for personal use.

Lawmakers of both parties have called strengthening the state's weak ethics laws a top priority since 2012 but have yet to agree on legislation that would do so.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.