Examples of successful grassroots action to remove corrupt state leaders
July 23, 2023 3:42 PM   Subscribe

What are some examples of officials removed from office through citizen action (other than voting)?

This guy is terrifying. Multiple people I know have fled the state or are trying to get out. The link is to an effort to impeach him. There are other efforts by state officials and activists to address the problems he’s creating. I just need to believe that something could possibly work, even in a state this red. One tiny bit of hope is that straight party voting got him into office and even (some, not all) staunch conservatives are appalled at his actions.
posted by bunderful to Law & Government (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You could read up on The Velvet Revolution.
posted by brookeb at 4:57 PM on July 23

Outside the United States, it's not uncommon. Iceland's government collapsed in 2016 and the prime minister resigned following mass protests due to revelations from the Panama Papers, for instance.

But in the U.S., it's quite rare to see such a thing. Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin DeLeon, for instance, has been the target of bitter, vocal protests following the release of a tape featuring a litany of racist remarks in a conversation he was part of. Even Joe Biden called on him to resign. But he hasn't.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:26 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]

I assume you are asking about something other than revolutions / coups / national-level "regime changes" since the context of the question is an American state-level elected official.

Leaving aside whether or not it was justified, the Chesa Boudin recall election last year may be an interesting case to look at. You say other than voting, but perhaps a special election like a direct recall election qualifies, since before it can proceed, a campaign pushing for it needs to gain enough signatures, and that is the part that may be construed as citizen action. Of course, grassroots campaigns can be different and some may have big money behind them) - but just as an example of a mechanism.
posted by virve at 5:27 PM on July 23

On the Fed level: James Watt resigned due to pissing off pretty much everybody.
posted by Melismata at 5:35 PM on July 23

(Lincoln and JFK were removed from office through citizen action, but that doesn't sound like the best approach here.)
posted by nobody at 5:55 PM on July 23 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hmm. Examples of people adjusting their behavior, having their power reduced …
posted by bunderful at 7:00 PM on July 23

Recall petitions are possible in some states (for example, see several governor recalls and recall attempts in California in the last 25 years or so) but in many states, including the one where I live, SC, there is no recall provision in the constitution.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:47 AM on July 24

> Hmm. Examples of people adjusting their behavior, having their power reduced …

Usually in the U.S., at the state level, this will happen if the state legislature and/or perhaps the governor decides to take action. They are likely to decide this if there is a huge public uproar, evidence of malfeasance in office, etc etc etc.

Also, sometimes if there is lawbreaking then the state attorney general or auditor or other suitable official or agency (FBI?) will investigate, possibly issue a report, bring charges, etc etc.

FWIW our state auditor is often asked to audit cities, counties, agencies, etc. The end result is usually a list of problem and recommendations. People usually take these VERY seriously, even though there are very rarely any actual legal consequences, sentences, lawsuits, etc. If the auditor says, "you have been mishandling state money XYZ ways, you need to make ABC changes in your procedures and processes" almost always those changes are followed through with.

In this case, the superintendent is a statewide elected office. So the only way to actually remove the person from office is going to be impeachment. The other possibility is a recall election - but it looks like OK does not allow that.

Impeachment will involve investigation by (usually) a House committee, then vote to impeach by the House, then vote to remove from office by the Senate. So it is a lengthy process and it is unlikely the legislature will go through simply based on the fact the a lot of people don't like the officeholder. There generally must be evidence of actual lawbreaking or malfeasance.

So if you have that AND a lot of people are getting very upset about it, writing their legislators from all over the state, there is a lot of fuss in the media etc over an extended period of time, then the possibility of impeachment proceedings becomes more likely.

Even if impeachment doesn't result in removal from office (very rare) or resignation (usually when it becomes obvious impeachment proceedings leading to removal from office are very likely), sometimes it results in some changes in behavior by the office holder. If the impeachment committee issues a report with serious findings and recommendations for change, this can have an effect even if the final result is not removal from office.

Also, if the legislature really doesn't like the direction the officeholder is taking, they will often introduce legislation to put limits on the actions of that office, reduce their scope of responsibilities, require certain accountability or regular reports to legislative committees, and such.

If such legislation is repeatedly introduced - even if never finally passed - especially if it makes a good deal of progress, and a fuss in the media etc, then sometimes the officeholder will alter their behavior somewhat just to head off the possibility of legislation. Nobody wants to be the one responsible for a new law that significantly reduces the responsibilities or scope of action possible under their office.

Those are the types of things that can alter officeholder behavior. Do note that changes in behavior and in precedent CAN happen even if none of these processes are ultimately successful in the ordinary way of thinking (ie, no removal from office, no charges laid, now jail sentence, etc.). These types of processes are how different arms of government exert power or influence on each other and often a realistic threat of that power being wielded is enough to cause changes by the officeholder in order to head off the changes.

However, all the depends on one officeholder or branch of government actually having a problem with the specific officeholder. For example, maybe you hate the superintendent but the leadership in the state House & Senate think he's a great guy who is mostly on track but maybe getting a little too enthusiastic here and there.

Well, those people are not going to bring impeachment proceedings. They LIKE what he's doing.

Flip side, in our (very conservative) state I have seen the legislature take quick and decisive action to cut loose members of their own party who are diddling the interns, taking bribes, embezzling, or engaging in other out-and-out malfeasance that is clearly illegal/immoral and tends to bring disrepute onto the entire party. The thinking there is, the party can do without pretty much any one individual member. If that member is doing damage to the entire party, then better to just cut them loose quick and retain their reputation as the party of law, order, and morality.

So if the malfeasance is of that order, then the odds are higher than some of the higher-ups in the party will start talking to the individual about some face-saving quick exit from office rather than going through the whole embarrassing fiasco of investigations, trials, publicity, etc that will damage both the individual and the party.

If it's NOT that type of thing, though, lower your expectations.
posted by flug at 10:03 PM on July 24

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