According to three city council members in Homer, Alaska, it’s not up to voters to decide if they are “unfit for office.” It’s up to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The three, who are facing a recall vote, have enlisted the ACLU of Alaska to help them sue the City of Homer over what they claim is an unconstitutional recall election scheduled for June 13.
Donna Aderhold, David Lewis, and Catriona Reynolds are facing the discontent of hundreds of local residents who signed recall petitions in March. The petitions said they were unfit to represent the city.
The council members had worked as a group to craft a resolution that would have made Homer a “sanctuary city,” where illegal immigrants would find safe haven from law enforcement. The effort was cloaked in secrecy and residents were surprised when they learned of it. Under local fire, the resolution was eventually watered down and it failed passage.
The “Sanctuary Three” didn’t stop there. They also worked to establish an official position for the City of Homer opposing the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota and support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its resistance against the project. Some Homer citizens felt the council members had “gone rogue” in trying to make the entire city weigh in on a project thousands of miles and several states away, for no good reason other than obsequious political correctness.
The ACLU, in a press release, said that the three have done “nothing more than exercising their free speech rights.”
But the citizens are also expressing their right — their right to vote people out of office. They gathered 437 signatures — far more than needed — on petitions to recall the three council members. The city clerk, after consulting with the city’s attorney, said the petition was strong enough to allow it to go for a vote. The law provides liberal language that supports the public’s right to remove lawmakers.
But the ACLU disagrees.
“Legislators have a well-established right, under the First Amendment, to discuss their views on local or national policy and it is good that they do. Such a right promotes public discussion and advocacy of issues of concern to our neighbors at all levels of government,” the ACLU wrote in a press release.
“Taking public positions and drafting legislation are activities every lawmaker has the right to do, even if there are people who disagree with them,” the ACLU wrote. “As a result, the certification of their recall petition both violates the constitutional rights of the individual council members and would send a dangerous message to all of Alaska’s elected officials that they dare not express opinions on public policy issues for fear of facing a recall effort from a motivated faction of voters.”
That’s troubling to Larry Zuccaro, who was involved in gathering the signatures needed for a special election.
“That is just how a Marxist would think. They’re telling us we don’t have a right to remove them? It’s basic — that we are only governed through our consent, and we’re simply following the legal process for removing our consent to have them govern,” said Zuccaro.
“This is much more troubling than just this Homer recall,” Zuccaro said. “If the ACLU is able to block the citizens from a recall, where does this end on the national level, that we no longer have the authority to recall our own council members? Who is going to decide these things — will it no longer be the public but the ACLU now determining our local politics? It would set a significant precedent.”
Sarah Vance of Homer was also concerned about the ACLU’s involvement, but even more so by the fact that three city council members are suing to keep their elected positions – and asking that the city pay their legal costs.
“These three council members chose to have the ACLU represent them in suing the city that they swore to defend,” she said. “They’re suing to keep their jobs. It’s an insult to me as a resident that they would not allow every resident an opportunity to state their opinion at the ballot box, but have instead chosen a lawsuit, and they want to use our tax dollars.”
Mike Fell, another supporter of the recall, wondered why the ACLU got involved in the Homer election. “It’s absurd that the ACLU would try to stifle the democratic process. That’s what they are supposed to defend.”
In fact, at the national level the ACLU has made it a top priority to fight against voter supression. “Apparently the Alaska ACLU didn’t get the memo,” Fell said.
The lawsuit states that there are insufficient grounds to claim that the three are unfit for office, as the recall petition alleges. And, of course, the three council members in question are also asking that their legal fees be paid by the city of Homer.
The council members lawsuit is found at the ACLU Alaska’s web site here.
Their request for attorney fees is found here: Motion for declaratory and injunctive relief.