LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – Recall threats are being leveled by a little-known gun rights group against Democratic legislators who support stricter gun regulations, but a review of recall attempts against state legislators over the last 16 years shows a trail of big talk that’s light on follow through.

Since a large recall attempt spurred by the 2007 income tax hike, MIRS found 76 recall attempts threats against sitting legislators through old reports, old campaign finance committees and Board of State Canvassers minutes.

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Even though petition language was approved in more than half of the cases, only twice did organizers receive the signatures needed to put the recall question on the ballot.

The one that was successful — former Rep. Paul Scott in 2011 — came prior to a 2012 law that tightened the window of when recall signatures could be collected from 90 to 60 days. Since then, the number of legislative recall attempts has dropped precipitously in Michigan from 70 between 2007 and 2012 to six between 2013 and 2022.

A 501(c)4 called Great Lakes Guns Right “promised” on Feb. 20 to work with local political activists and begin recalling anti-gun politicians who vote for gun control legislation being pushed through the Michigan legislature.

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“Are Democrats willing to lose their majorities this summer pushing these egregious and unconstitutional gun control bills? I guess we will find out,” said Great Lakes Guns Rights Executive Director Brenden Boudreau.

On Thursday, this group mentioned by name in a tweet three House Democrats who represent politically competitive seats who all voted for expanded background checks on gun purchases.

“Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) and Rep. (Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) and Rep. (Jenn Hill (D-Marquette), will you continue to be pushed around by your leadership team to vote for this garbage?” reads the tweet by Great Lakes Gun Rights.

Boudreau has a history of working on gun rights in Ohio and Michigan. However, neither he nor this group has been politically active until this year.

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Recall threats, however, are nothing new in Michigan politics. Former Democratic Sens. Phil Mastin and David Serotkin were recalled in 1983 for voting to raise the state’s income tax, paving the way for Republicans to take the majority in the Senate for 40 years.

“Will Democrats, remembering that they lost control of the Senate 40 years ago because of recalls back in 1983, be so afraid today to make the same mistake twice that they will not support gun control measures that they are otherwise disposed to do?” wondered Ballenger Report editor Bill Ballenger in an interview last month.

However, since then recalls have been used more as political threats than concentrated efforts to remove a problematic legislator from office.

The modern-day movement of recalls began in 2007. Michigan Taxpayers Alliance Executive Director Leon Drolet, himself a former legislator, organized an effort to recall multiple lawmakers from both sides of the aisle after the income tax was raised to 4.35% to balance the state budget during the great recession.

Republican senators were targeted for either delivering an immediate effect vote on the income tax hike or orchestrating the short-lived sales tax expansion to services.

This spurred an off-shoot effort by the Michigan Democratic Party to target then-House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche with a recall, even though he had nothing to do with Drolet’s efforts.

At least 19 efforts were contemplated with campaign committees created and threats leveled, but only 11 were actually started. Fewer than that had recall language approved for petition gatherers.

Only the recall attempt against Speaker Andy Dillon picked up any momentum and received the signatures needed for the recall. When put on the ballot, the recall election was shot down, 37% to 63%.

Months later, then-Attorney General Mike Cox criminally charged two of the petition organizers for forging names on the petitions.

In 2011, the first year of the Gov. Rick Snyder tenure, the recall phenomenon was kicked into a different gear after Democratic-sympathizers filed recall paperwork against 30 Republican lawmakers. Language was approved on 27 of them.

The recalls were filed predominately for voting in favor of the new emergency manager law, which was designed to allow a state-appointed manager to break union contracts to cut costs in debt-stricken local governments and school districts.

At one point, 18 of the Republican caucus’ 26 members had recall petitions taken out against them in 2011.

Republicans responded by filing recall language against 15 Democratic legislators, many of them for voting against the emergency manager law.

While organizers were close to getting the signatures on then-Rep. Nancy Jenkins and then-Rep. Kurt Damrow, only the Michigan Education Association-led organizers in Genesee County were able to get the needed signatures against House Education Committee Chair Paul Scott.

Scott ended up being recalled from office by 233 votes, 50.4% to 49.6%.

Republicans concentrated their efforts on then-Rep. Lisa Brown, but that one fizzled out, too.

A final serious recall attempt was tried in 2012 against then-Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, which was reportedly used as leverage to get him to take up a Right to Work bill. Signatures were never filed and Richardville took up Right to Work.

The recall-palooza spurred legislation later in 2012 that cut the time frame for collecting recall signatures from 90 to 60 days. The Board of State Canvassers, not the county board of canvassers, would approve the language for legislators and countywide officials.

Nobody serving a four-year term could be recalled in their first or fourth year of the term. A state House member couldn’t be recalled in the first or last six months of their term.

Another key change was that the person being recalled would need to be pitted against an alternative, as opposed to being simply an up-or-down vote on whether they stay in office.

“I think putting somebody on the ballot all by themselves with the naysayers out there able to say thumbs-up or thumbs-down like Caeser, makes it pretty bad on the person when they are on the ballot with no opponent,” Ballenger said, “They are like a sitting duck.”

The number of signatures needed to put a legislator on the ballot for recall is 25% of the gubernatorial votes collected in that legislator’s district during the most recent election. Depending on the House district, that equals out to around 14,000 and 11,000 valid signatures over 60 days, or about 230 a day.

Because of the law, senators cannot be recalled until 2024. Signatures can’t be collected for House members until July 1.

Between 2019 and 2022, only one recall attempt was attempted against a legislator — Larry Inman, after he was charged criminally by federal authorities for allegedly attempting to solicit a bribe. Despite an organized, coordinated effort, the Larry Inman Recall Committee fell 208 short of the 12,201 signatures needed to put him on a recall ballot.

The logistical odds of pulling off a recall are already long, but Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said on a recent Off the Record episode that the gun lobby is “choosing the wrong issue” to try to recall someone over.

The Senator said the recall threat comes as no shock to the new senate Democratic majority.

“Going into this historic majority, we always knew this could have been in the Republican playbook. This is how they stole the majority from the Democrats 40 years ago. So this is something that we thought about as an option.”

But he sees a parallel with what happened last November with Proposal 3 as far as where the public stands.

He compared the Right to Life crowd to the pro-gun lobby.

“The anti-abortion side was loud, but it wasn’t where the population was,” Moss said. “I think if they try to recall us on these gun laws we’re proposing, the people are not going to be there.”

On Democrats possibly having second thoughts about voting yes, if there are any, Moss said, “If you look at those Democrats who are ready to vote for the bill, there is a faction who believe this is the most important issue they can vote on. So, when they are deciding between their political future and saving lives, they are always going to choose saving lives.”