October 16, 2007
Exorcising the Ghosts of the ’83 Senate Recalls (MGTV)
Due to the large file size, please allow approx. one minute before the movie begins, longer on slower connections.
The 1,000-pound gorilla throwing banana peels on the floor during legislative negotiations to resolve the state’s latest fiscal crisis has been living in the Capitol for nearly a quarter of a century.
It was birthed by the 1983 recalls of State Senators Philip Mastin of Pontiac and David Serotkin of Macomb County, Democrats who had voted for an income tax increase to dig the state out of a deep financial hole. The recalls enabled Republicans to take control of the Senate under John Engler…and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then it has taken permanent residence at the Capitol and become a formidable beast. Few have been able to talk about taxes without seeing the ghosts of Mastin and Serotkin in the clutches of the gorilla.
The conventional wisdom (some would say excuse) under the dome is that citizens rose up after the tax increase and smote the two lawmakers through recalls. The recalls have had a chilling effect on tax policy ever since.
But what really happened in 1983? Was it a populist tax revolt or a cleverly manipulated GOP strategy to seize control of the Senate? Was it a lesson for all future lawmakers or an aberration that should have been largely ignored by future legislatures?
In 2003 — the 20th anniversary of the recalls and, coincidentally, on the same night California voters were recalling their chief executive and opening the governor’s mansion to Arnold Schwarzenegger — the Michigan Political History Society held a panel discussion in Lansing to explore those very questions.
The panel included a reporter who covered the events, a PR executive who helped the citizen groups, a Democratic political operative from the recall areas, and two former state senators from that time — one who beat a similar recall effort in his district.
The recollections and analyses of the events 20 years earlier are as relevant today as they were then, perhaps more so in light of the state’s current fiscal crisis and 13th-hour resolution of the problem in keystone cops fashion.
See the video of the panel discussion as recorded by Michigan Government Television (MGTV) that 2003 night.
Watch and make up your own mind.