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David Serotkin recall, Michigan (1983)

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David Serotkin, a Democratic state senator from Mt. Clemens, Michigan was the second-ever Michigan legislator to be recalled from office by
his constituents.[1] The election to recall him took place on November 30, 1983. 25,992 voters wanted the recall, while 11,737 voted against it. Sen. Phil Mastin, D-Pontiac, was recalled eight days earlier, on November 22, 1983.

Serotkin spent $105,404 to save his job, while the recall supporters spent less than $10,000.

The recall effort against Serotkin was part of a tax revolt that developed in the state in 1983 after the state legislature passed, and Governor James Blanchard (D) signed, a $675 million state income tax hike. Adjusted for inflation, that tax hike in 2008 dollars would be a bit more than $1.4 billion. In his election campaign for governor, Blanchard had promised that he would only turn to a tax hike as a last resort. However, he proposed the 38% state income tax hike before serving a full month in office. Democrats held both chambers of the state legislature when the tax increase was enacted.

The recall of Serotkin, combined with the recall of Phil Mastin, flipped the party with majority control in the Michigan State Senate from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.[2]

Recalling Serotkin

In order to put the question of recalling Mastin on the ballot, recall organizers turned in 23,400 signatures on September 21, 1983. The signatures were collected within 90 days and were 27% more than the minimum necessary to force a recall election.

The leader of the recall effort was Dan Powers. In 1983, he was a 25-year-old GM assembly line worker from Sterling Heights. He presented Sen. Serotkin, his senator, with a statement signed by 6,000 constitutents opposing the tax increase before it was enacted--to no avail.

The campaign strategy adopted by Mastin and Serotkin to ward off the recall was to persuade their constituents that one vote on one bill should not decide their fate. Mastin said, "There have been a number of things that I’ve done that have sort of built a total, broader record that I hope the people will judge me by."

Recall supporters rejected this line, urging constituents to focus on the tax hike. Mick Steiner, head of the Mastin recall effort, said, "I am a capitalist and I feel that Blanchard, Mastin and the others are a bunch of socialists. They want to take from the haves and give to the have-nots."

Political aftermath

Republicans won both of the special elections to replace the recalled senators and took a 20-18 majority control of the senate on Feb. 6, 1984. A little-known Republican state senator, John Engler, became the Senate Majority Leader and the primary political rival to Gov. Blanchard. Seven years later, in the 1990 campaign for governor, Engler narrowly unseated Blanchard in an upset election still shadowed by the events of 1983.

Lessons from James Blanchard

Commenting on the 1983 recalls in 2007, Blanchard told a supporter, "Everybody recognized that something had to be done about revenue, even though a lot of people were mad about the tax increase. The big political mistake was not going after the recall petition drive once it got started - challenging the signatures and so on. Once the recall got on the ballot, Mastin and Serotkin were toast."[3]

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