By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
ALBANY Assembly Republicans backed a plan Wednesday that would allow New York voters to throw their representatives out of office before their term is expired.
The bill would amend the state Constitution to allow for "recall elections" similar to those allowed in states like California and Wisconsin, where voters can petition for a vote to toss an elected official from office at nearly any time.
It was initially proposed by Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, Schenectady County, in March, but is now being embraced by the Assembly's minority conference as the first step of its own anti-corruption plan.
"We cannot continue to have headlines every other day or every other month where elected officials are looked at and laughed at by the public we're elected to represent," Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, Ontario County, said at a news conference. "We're taking this very seriously."
The GOP plan would allow a recall vote if a certain number of petition signatures are collected. That threshold would be 20 percent of the total previous vote in the targeted lawmaker's last election, while a recall vote for a statewide elected official would require that same 20 percent figure with other requirements for the state's more populous counties.
Recall elections in other states have shown varying results and captured national headlines. In 2003, California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, was ousted from office and replaced by actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
Last year, Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall attempt, winning his election despite heavy opposition from unions after he pushed to curtail state workers' collective bargaining rights.
The Assembly Republicans became the fourth legislative conference to push specific legislation in the wake of a pair of bribery scandals that led to the arrests of Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, D-Bronx, earlier this month.
But the recall legislation faces an uphill climb, both procedurally and politically. In order to amend the state Constitution, it has to be passed by consecutively elected sessions of the Legislature and approved in a public referendum.
The measure also doesn't have a sponsor in the Senate. In the Assembly, Democrats hold a 2-to-1 advantage. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, declined comment Wednesday, while a representative for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his office would review the proposal.
Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly have pushed plans that include public financing of political campaigns as a way to combat corruption, arguing that matching small campaign donations with public funds would put the emphasis on small donors and help get money out of politics.
But Republicans have pushed back against the proposals. Both Kolb and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos have reiterated their opposition to using taxpayer funds for a public financing option in recent days.
Skelos on Tuesday said the legislative conferences are trying to "one up" each other with their various corruption proposals.
"There's not a piece of legislation that would have stopped Malcolm Smith, those individuals down in the city," Skelos said.