Past recall attempts |

Past recall attempts

by Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

If the Independent American Party decides to circulate recall petitions to remove members of the Nevada Supreme Court over their controversial tax decision, some would describe it as deja vu.

The only other attempt to recall a statewide elected official in Nevada was also aimed at members of the Nevada Supreme Court and was also organized by the IAP.

That petition drive began in 1970 after a majority of the court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Thomas Lee Bean, sentenced to death in 1963 for the rape, murder and mutilation of former Olympic skier Sonja McCaskie.

Then-IAP leader Dan Hansen demanded justices Gordon Thompson, David Zenoff and John Mowbray be recalled for their vote but had to abandon the effort six months later, admitting they had collected about 6,000 of the 23,353 signatures needed to force a recall election.

Now, 33 years later, other members of the same Hansen family, including Las Vegas lawyer Joel, again under the IAP banner, are key partners in the group demanding removal from office of the justices who voted to lift the two-thirds super majority vote required to raise taxes, saying it must “give way” to the constitutional mandate lawmakers fund education.

This time, however, the state’s growth has pushed the signature requirement much higher. The required 25 percent of voters who cast ballots in the election which seated the official being challenged now ranges from 128,109 signatures for Chief Justice Deborah Agosti to 153,340 for Justice Mark Gibbons, depending on the year the individual was elected.

In addition, any recall effort is now limited to 90 days to raise the necessary signatures.

Although the 25 percent requirement makes it difficult to recall a statewide official in Nevada, there have been a number of local officials who were forced to face the challenge.

Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha says he has found a half-dozen recall attempts, including several in which the official was removed. But he said they almost universally involve small jurisdictions where it’s much easier to raise the signatures.

After the IAP attempt to remove the three justices in 1968, probably the most prominent recall movement was against Clark County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates, who survived two drives to remove her in 1998. The Ethics Commission reprimanded Gates and fellow commissioner Lance Malone for voting on applications for valuable concession space at McCarran International Airport which involved friends. Both petition drives against Gates fell short of the necessary total signatures.

Another Clark County drive involved University of Nevada regent Joe Foley of Las Vegas. The 1992 petition seeking to remove Foley from that office also failed to gather enough signatures to force an election.

Joni Wines was removed as Nye County sheriff in a 1980 recall vote.

Bill Lee was recalled as mayor of Mesquite in 1994. Ken Carter, the man appointed to finish his term, was himself recalled from office in a 1999 special election, along with councilman Harold Wittwer.

Esmeralda County District Attorney Bob Reeve was replaced by Harry Kuehn in a special election in 1999. He wasn’t the first to face that challenge in Esmeralda. But efforts to recall District Attorney Peter Breen failed in 1970 when a majority of voters backed him.

Political opponents tried to recall four Lander County officials in 1997 — commissioners Heather Estes and Jim Fouts, District Attorney Will Mattley and Assessor Lynn Maloy. All four attempts failed — three in court challenges, and the attempt to remove Fouts in an election where voters retained him.

Finally, Reno City Council members Kathyrn Wishart, Gus Nu-ez, Karen Bryan and Grant Sims were targeted by a group opposing plans to widen Plumas Street in the early 1990s. The drive was dropped when the city council dropped efforts to widen the street.