Paul Jacob

Art imitates life. Then life imitates art. Thus, the emblematic movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, echoes today in Michigan.

The movie is about good citizens standing up to a corrupt political machine. Which is kinda what’s been going down in Michigan, just outside Detroit.

Former state legislator Leon Drolet, now head of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, may not often find himself likened to Jimmy Stewart, who played Jefferson Smith, the boy scout leader appointed to the U.S. Senate in the film.

Nor is Rose Bogaert, chair of the Wayne County Taxpayers Association, the spitting image of Jean Arthur, who played Senator Smith’s aide Clarissa Saunders on the big screen.

Yet, Bogaert, with the help of Drolet, launched a petition to recall Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon. And the result — a nasty, vicious campaign by Dillon and his cronies to threaten, smear, and intimidate recall proponents — is vintage Frank Capra. Only this is no movie; it’s real life.

The Dillon recall may be the most important political event of the year. (And yes, I’m well aware of the presidential race.) In all of U.S. history, citizens have recalled only two governors: California’s Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier in 1921. Never has a speaker been recalled.

(You may remember, though, that in 1994, Speaker of the U.S. House Tom Foley was defeated in his bid for re-election after he sued the voters of Washington State to overturn their vote for term limits. Foley was the only House Speaker defeated since the Civil War, but he was not recalled. There is no recall process at the federal level that citizens can initiate.)

Frankly, I like recalls. First, it means somebody is paying attention. That alone is nice to know. Second, it is almost always justified. Last, but not least, the voters get the final word.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.