Aus­ti­nite seeks way to re­call a pres­i­dent

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - Ken Her­man

There’s no short­age of folks around town with what they think are pretty good ideas about how to im­prove the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. I, for ex­am­ple, would hit the delete key on the 21st amend­ment, the one that gave up on Pro­hi­bi­tion be­fore we gave it time to work.

As a rule, folks who think they can get a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment passed are delu­sional. But I lis­ten when Gre­gory Wat­son talks about one be­cause, if suc­cess­ful, it would be his sec­ond.

His latest idea is right there in the Con­gres­sional Record, Page H5525, in a sec­tion in­glo­ri­ously called “Pe­ti­tions, Etc.”

“The Speaker pre­sented a pe­ti­tion of Mr. Gre­gory D. Wat­son, a Citizen of Austin, TX, rel­a­tive to urg­ing Congress to pro­pose, for rat­i­fi­ca­tion by spe­cial con­ven­tions held within the in­di­vid­ual states, an amend­ment to the United States Con­sti­tu­tion which would es­tab­lish a pro­ce­dure by which the Pres­i­dent of the United States may be re­moved from of­fice by means of a na­tion­wide re­call elec­tion, which was re­ferred to the Com­mit­tee on the Ju­di­ciary.”

And the Con­gres­sional Record this week noted that Wat­son’s pe­ti­tion also has been sent to the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

For now, let’s over­look the fact there’s a very good chance Wat­son’s cur­rent ef­fort will die along with all

the other stuff that dies in com­mit­tee. Let’s fo­cus in­stead on his past suc­cess. Wat­son, a for­mer long­time state Capi­tol aide, now is an Austin City Coun­cil aide.

As the story is told, as it has been many times, Wat­son was the un­likely driv­ing force be­hind the 27th and most re­cent amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. Back in 1982, Wat­son, then a Univer­sity of Texas stu­dent, learned that a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment pro­posed by James Madi­son in 1789, never had been rat­i­fied by the re­quired num­ber of states but was still in play.

Madi­son wanted to bar mem­bers of Congress from vot­ing them­selves an im­me­di­ate pay raise. Un­der his pro­posal, such a pay raise couldn’t take ef­fect un­til an af­ter a con­gres­sional elec­tion.

Wat­son got the ball rolling again on the pro­posal and by 1992, two cen­turies af­ter it was pro­posed, it had been rat­i­fied by enough states to add it to the Con­sti­tu­tion.

In 2002, John Dean (yes, that one, Water­gate fans) wrote about Wat­son’s ef­fort. “Re­mark­ably, and sin­gle­hand­edly, Greg Wat­son had amended the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Dean wrote, call­ing Wat­son “a con­cerned citizen — ac­tu­ally, a kind of su­perci­t­i­zen. He is mod­est and self-ef­fac­ing — not some­one seek­ing his 15 min­utes of fame.”

The su­perci­t­i­zen is back, this time not with a pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment al­ready in the pipeline. Wat­son says his cur­rent ef­fort re­sults from noth­ing more than his feel­ing that there ought to be a way other than con­gres­sional im­peach­ment to oust a pres­i­dent.

A na­tional re­call elec­tion, he be­lieves, would be the way to go. Wat­son in­sists this is not aimed at any par­tic­u­lar pres­i­dent though “I’m not par­tic­u­larly in love with the cur­rent pres­i­dent.”

“He tends to ig­nore the struc­ture of the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Wat­son, who sides with those who be­lieve Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has used ex­ec­u­tive or­ders to ex­ceed his au­thor­ity on some top­ics.

But be­fore you ac­cuse Wat­son of be­ing a par­ti­san, let’s note he also wasn’t a Ge­orge W. Bush fan be­cause of “the wars and the deficits.”

Wat­son un­der­stands the long-shot na­ture of his cur­rent ef­fort. His cur­rent pe­ti­tion to Congress is one of many that body fields. Al­most all of them never get any fur­ther than filed.

“There is no guar­an­tee they’ll do any­thing with it,” Wat­son said. “But it’s still worth try­ing.”

The process he hopes to have put in place would con­tinue with state-bystate ac­tion, a rat­i­fi­ca­tion method used in 1933 to end Pro­hi­bi­tion.

Wat­son sees re­call as a pro­ce­dure nec­es­sary “should the Amer­i­can peo­ple be­come suf­fi­ciently un­happy” with a par­tic­u­lar pres­i­dent.

I see pres­i­den­tial re­call elec­tions as po­ten­tial may­hem. But maybe may­hem has its place.

And, if you see Wat­son around City Hall, ask him about another idea he’s sent to Congress: It in­volves cre­at­ing a $25 bill.

Re­gard­less of whether you like his par­tic­u­lar ideas, you’ve got to like a guy who has ideas.

Wat­son says there should be a way for vot­ers to re­call a pres­i­dent.

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