Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
As I explained last Friday, the lieutenant governor (currently Brian Calley) would immediately assume office as governor upon the recall or resignation of Governor Rick Snyder. The day after I wrote that piece, a good friend e-mailed me with a rather interesting academic question: “OK, but who would replace Snyder if Brian Calley were no longer in office? Then could we get a Democrat?” This got me thinking, and I realized that there is exactly one way in which the people of Michigan could select a Democrat to replace Snyder in the event of his eventual resignation or recall. Assuming that none of the statewide elected officers in the line of gubernatorial succession dies, resigns, or changes party affiliation, however, Calley himself would have to be recalled first.
For much of Michigan’s history, the governor and lieutenant governor were elected separately rather than on a unified ticket. Consequently, as it happened, the people of Michigan sometimes chose a governor of one party and a lieutenant governor of a different party at the same election. For example, Republicans William Vandenberg (1951-1952) and Clarence Reid (1953-1954) both served as lieutenant governor during the administration of Democratic Governor G. Mennen Williams (the governor and lieutenant governor served for 2-year terms at that time). And in 1962, despite electing Republican George Romney to serve as governor, the people of Michigan selected Democrat T. John Lesinski to serve as lieutenant governor.
This changed following the ratification of the Michigan Constitution of 1963. Today, the Michigan Constitution specifies that “[i]n the general election one vote shall be cast jointly for the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor nominated by the same party.” Const 1963, art 5, sec 21. At first blush, this language seems to suggest that the governor and lieutenant governor must always be members of the same political party. Indeed, since this constitutional language took effect in the 1960s, that has always been the case.
However, this constitutional language applies only to “general election[s],” which are different from recall elections and governed by different laws. See Const 1963, art 2, sec 8; see also Const 1963, art 2, sec 5. Through the process of recalling the lieutenant governor, the people of Michigan may choose a lieutenant governor of one party to serve under a governor of a different party.
Just this morning, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers rejected a proposed petition to recall Lieutenant Governor Calley. Any successful effort to recall Calley seems highly unlikely—even more unlikely than a successful recall of Snyder. But if a petition to recall Calley were ever approved, it is possible that Calley could be replaced by a Democrat for the remainder of his term.
Here’s how things would proceed:
1. To begin, the Board of State Canvassers would need to pre-approve a petition seeking the recall of Lieutenant Governor Calley, including the proposed reasons for recalling him.
2. Petition circulators would then have 60 days in which to gather at least 789,133 valid signatures—a number equal to 25 percent of the total votes cast for the office of governor at the last gubernatorial election (3,156,531 total votes were cast for the office of governor in 2014). Const 1963, art 2, sec 8; see also MCL 168.955; MCL 168.961(2)(d).
3. Assuming that sufficient signatures could be collected within 60 days and that the petitions could be timely filed, a two-stage recall process would begin, consisting of a recall primary election and a recall general election.
4. By operation of law, Calley would automatically become the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in the recall general election unless he declined to run. MCL 168.970b.
5. Through a recall primary election, to be held in advance of the recall general election, the Democratic Party and qualified minor political parties would choose their own nominees for lieutenant governor, who would ultimately challenge Calley in the recall general election. MCL 168.970c; MCL 168.970e. Candidates without party affiliation could file to run in the recall general election as well. MCL 168.970e.
6. The nominee of the Democratic Party, the nominees of any qualified minor parties, and any qualified candidates without party affiliation would then face off against Calley in the recall general election, “to be held on the next May regular election date or the next August regular election date, whichever occurs first.” MCL 168.970e.
7. From among these candidates, the individual receiving the most votes in the recall general election would be elected to serve out the remainder of the term as lieutenant governor. MCL 168.970g. So, for instance, if the Democratic candidate received the highest number of votes in the recall general election, he or she would immediately replace Calley as lieutenant governor for the remainder of the term. Alternatively, if Calley received the highest number of votes in the recall general election, he would remain in office as lieutenant governor.
8. If the Democratic candidate received the highest number of votes in the recall general election, thereby succeeding Calley as lieutenant governor, he or she would replace Rick Snyder as governor in the event of Snyder’s subsequent resignation or recall. Const 1963, art 5, sec 26.
That, my friends, is the only way the people of Michigan could select a Democratic lieutenant governor to serve under Governor Rick Snyder. And in order for a Democratic lieutenant governor chosen in this fashion to ever replace Snyder as governor, the whole process—including the Democratic candidate’s victory in the recall general election—would have to occur prior to Snyder’s own recall or resignation.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, this scenario is extremely unlikely. It would require not only the recall of the lieutenant governor, but also the resignation or recall of the governor himself. In short, it’s not going to happen. But to answer my good friend’s question, yes, it is technically possible that a Democrat could replace Calley, and then subsequently replace Rick Snyder in the event of his recall or resignation.