Omaha mayoral recall vote part of angry voter trend

OMAHA, Nebraska Mon Jan 24, 2011 7:30pm EST

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OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Omaha voters go to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to recall mayor Jim Suttle, the latest in a number of angry attempts across the nation to throw the rascals out.

Suttle's offense, according to some voters, was to raise property and other taxes after he took office in June, 2009.

In 2010, 15 U.S. mayors were either recalled or resigned before the recall election took place, compared with five the year before, according to Ballotpedia, a website that tracks recalls.

There are already 12 mayoral recall attempts underway in 2011, Ballotpedia said.

Leslie Graves, editor of Ballotpedia, blames the trend on the struggling economy, which has hit local governments hard.

"We have angry voters being asked to pay higher taxes," said Graves. "People have run out of patience."

Suttle, 66, a Democrat and former city councilman, faces a recall election over the tax increases, after a petition drive in Omaha gathered nearly 29,000 signatures.

There's no question that taxes have gone up in Omaha since Suttle took office in June 2009. By the end of 2011, Suttle's tax hikes will have raised a total of $56 million in new city revenues, including higher property taxes and taxes on restaurant and bar tabs.

But to Suttle and his supporters, the tax hikes show that he has been a decisive leader willing to fix the city's problems quickly, even if the solutions are not always popular.

When he took office, Suttle faced an array of serious budget challenges, including a police and fire pension shortfall, sharp increases in health benefit costs and a recession that sapped the city's tax revenues.

Until recently, most recall efforts were reserved for politicians involved in corruption, criminal wrongdoing or personal scandals. That high bar seems to have eroded.

Andrew McFarland, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said he is not surprised by the number of recalls.

"There's a trend of criticism of incumbents in government," he said.

Illinois voters, for example, saw former Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrested for corruption while in office, and added a recall provision to state law in the last election.

A recall movement has already started against recently elected Gov. Pat Quinn, who agreed to raise the Illinois income tax rate by 66 percent to ease the state's budget crisis.

The Illinois drive is unlikely to succeed because it requires a substantial bipartisan group of state lawmakers to kick off a petition of recall.

Graves said she was concerned that some cities and school districts use the instrument of recall to an unhealthy degree.

"It reminds me of when parents divorce and they can't be peaceful for the sake of the children," Graves said.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and David Hendee in Omaha, Editing by Greg McCune)

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