The First Casualty of the Recall Wave

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As Adam noted below, Carlos Alvarez, the mayor of Miami-Dade county, was ousted in a recall election yesterday. Less striking than the result was its margin: 88% of the more than 200,000 voters who cast ballots wanted Alvarez gone.

For Alvarez, a Republican elected in 2004, it was an ugly fall. As our Miami-based colleague Tim Padgett reported, Alvarez was “one of the few Miami politicos with a reputation for probity,” and he was re-elected in 2008, a year after convincing voters to vest more power in his office to aid his campaign to root out waste and graft in an unpopular municipal government. He was toppled for violating a cardinal rule of politics: you can’t ask voters to sacrifice one moment and reward yourself and your cronies the next.

In the wake of the housing crisis, Alvarez raised property taxes to restock government coffers, orchestrated a deal to put public money toward the Florida Marlins’ new stadium, and cut public salaries 5%. At the same time, he was tooling around in a spiffy Beamer purchased with his county car allowance and boosting the pay of top aides. Despite spending more than $1 million to defend himself, Alvarez was snared in a wave of voter frustration, fomented in part by Norman Braman, the anti-tax billionaire who led the recall push. A country commissioner was recalled as well. The commission has a month to decide whether to appoint a replacement or call a special election.

Alvarez’s fate could augur trouble for the battery of Wisconsin state senators against whom recall petitions are currently being circulated. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, since Oregon first adopted the procedure more than a century ago, only 13 wayward officials have been recalled. Sixteen are now facing the prospect in Wisconsin alone. “In terms of the US, nothing comes close to such a wholesale effort,” Greg Magarian, an election law expert at Washington University in St. Louis, tells CSM. While Scott Walker’s push to strip bargaining rights from public employees is at the heart of the Wisconsin dispute — Walker could face a recall vote of his own once he becomes eligible, a year into his term –  such votes can be more about generalized frustration than specific policy. Frustration is everywhere, which is why the coming recall wave could be a big one.