OregonPEN, Vol. 3, No. 27 – 19 August 2017 – Impeachment Issue

The people of Oregon have a problem. As is evident, sometimes the Executive must be impeached

But, in Oregon, the government we empower to serve us has two serious, structural problems, which are related:

First, our state constitution affords us no way to remove a chief executive (Governor) for maladministration or malfeasance.

Second, we have no deputy chief executive — such as a lieutenant governor — who can fill the position when the governor resigns or dies in office. So, in that case, we make do by moving the secretary of state into the governor’s office. This makes the secretary of state, the office responsible for overseeing elections, a partisan stepping-stone on the way to the governor’s office for ambitious politicians.

As the evidence from the national capital so clearly shows, it is critically important that there be a way for the people in a democratic state to remove, without a coup, or force the resignation of the head of the executive branch of government when that chief executive has demonstrated unfitness or unwillingness to conform to the requirements of the office he or she holds.

This deficit — our inability to remove a governor — is even more serious because of our secession problem, where we could easily have a Secretary of State rise to replace a governor of a different political party, a serious problem in our system where we have fixed terms of office instead of fluid terms such as used in parliamentary systems. In those countries, when the head of the government falls, an election is held, promptly, and the government in power either wins a new majority and resumes its administration with a new head, or a new party assumes power and has a new first or prime minister. If the populace is disgusted only with the individual who had been the head of government, the party remains in power with new leadership; if the people have turned against the party in power, they lose power along with their leader.

But in our system, we can easily imagine that a chance event – a car crash or a crackpot assassin — produces a change in the administration that gives control of the governor’s office to a member of the a different party for a substantial length of time.

This is to say nothing of the problem of having the state elections machinery headed by a strongly partisan politician. To the greatest extent possible, elections should be administered in a strictly nonpartisan way, not by a partisan official whose eye is on higher office.

It is time for Oregon to follow the vast majority of states and provide both for removal of the chief executive in the state and for their assured replacement by a compatible official, at least one compatible enough to belong to the same political party and who was considered by the voters of the whole state.

With luck, impeachment would be used rarely, if ever. But as the nightmare in Washington shows, and the experience of other states presently (the state with the “other” Portland, Maine, being a singularly good example) demonstrates, the strengths of the political parties has plummeted sharply in the last 50 years, for a variety of complex reasons. As a result, the quality of officeholders has plummeted even further.

As a result, we are now seeing the election of people who espouse ideas and take positions that would have caused them to be laughed out of any prospective candidates recruiting meeting not all that long ago. Not that the “smoke filled rooms” never failed – but, on the whole, it is clear that candidate based politics, in the age of weaponized media that can be individually tailored to create a unique, unverifiable reality for each possible voter, and the atrocious Citizens United decision, make the election of totally unfit characters or even outright con artists a much more likely outcome.

We must have the ability to remove the Oregon governor from office constitutionally without elevating a candidate from a different political party. Or, more precisely, we must be able to ensure that we don’t fail to remove a governor because it would result in giving control of the executive to the opposite party.