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In our opinion: Recalling senators is a bad idea

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Maddie Kaminski drops her election ballot off outside of the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah lawmakers are considering HB217, which would provide a legal process and pathway for the voters of Utah to recall a sitting United States senator. This is a bad idea.

Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, is the sponsor of the bill, which would allow for a recall vote of a duly elected United States senator through petition. If enough signatures were collected, representing 25% of active voters, the recall question would appear on the ballot of the next naturally occurring election.

Accountability to the people is paramount for every elected official. This is a piece of legislation that sounds good on the surface but is fraught with unintended consequences that would do little to advance accountability and, in some cases, would further promote the weaponization of words and add more cynical contempt to the current political environment.

Congressional offices on both sides of the political aisle regularly say they field two types of calls from constituents. One category includes the messages, “don’t give an inch,” “never bend” and “stand your ground.” The second conveys the idea, “always compromise” regardless of the cost. Both of these approaches are wrong because they fail to incorporate political realities and true political courage.

Voters regularly say they want elected officials to show courage. The ongoing threat of a recall would put senators in a posture of perpetually checking the political wind before taking positions or casting votes.

Members of the House of Representatives already face such a problem by virtue of their two-year terms. The never-ending campaign cycle causes House members to be forever assessing focus group data, polling and job approval numbers. HB217 would create a similar set of distractions for senators.

The more elected officials have to hesitate and vacillate for fear of removal, the less likely they will be to take principled stands on issues of importance.

Utah’s senators have shown how political courage can happen in ways that might not occur were HB217 enacted and able to pass constitutional muster.

Utah’s senior senator, Mike Lee, has delivered stinging rebukes to the Trump administration relating to the ongoing U.S. military involvement in Yemen and congressional briefings relating to U.S. action in Iran. He has also stood alongside President Trump, and many of his Democratic colleagues, when the president signed historic bipartisan criminal justice reform. Sen. Mitt Romney has stood by and voted with the Trump administration on a number of tax and regulatory reform bills while speaking out against the administration’s actions relating to Ukraine and limiting certain refugees from entering the country.

The fact that Utah’s senators can stand on principle, negotiate from a position of strength, compromise for the good of the country and disagree without contempt should be applauded and never should be the basis of a recall. We know people of Utah agree and disagree with both senators on a number of issues, but the ongoing threat of recall, by any who disagree on any issue, isn’t healthy for representative government.

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution put the power to elect United States senators directly into the hands of the people of each state. It is up to those people to hold senators accountable in free and fair elections as outlined in the Constitution.