Snyder recall campaign extends petition drive

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A long-shot campaign to recall Gov. Rick Snyder over the Flint water crisis is extending its petition drive by three weeks in hopes of collecting enough signatures to put the second-term Republican back on the ballot.

Rev. David Alexander Bullock, of Detroit, head of the Committee to Recall Governor Snyder, said a sluggish start prompted the campaign to move back its planned turn-in date as it tries to build on “a lot of momentum” and collect at least 789,133 valid signatures.

“It’s in the realm of possibility, but it’s a huge undertaking. It’s all about what people are willing to do,” Bullock said.

The petition language, approved in February by the Board of State Canvassers, references Snyder’s emergency declaration in response to the Flint water contamination crisis, but Bullock said the campaign is also reaching out to citizens frustrated with the governor for other reasons.

“This is about all of the people who say they don’t like the emergency manager law or are upset about the Flint water crisis or think the state has done a poor job with (Detroit Public Schools),” he said. “This is about whether those people are serious enough to circulate and sign.”

Snyder continues to face criticism for his administration’s handling of the Flint crisis, but he’s vowed to fix the problem and has pushed the state Legislature to send roughly $70 million to Flint. He has proposed another $166 million in aid this year and next.

“The governor is focused on getting continued resources to Flint for its whole recovery,” spokeswoman Anna Heaton said. “Citizens have a right to the recall process but it’s unfortunate when these efforts detract from the most important priority, which is helping Flint residents.”

Campaign finance records show the Snyder recall committee had raised just $925 through April 25 and spent $770 of that on petition printing and supplies. The campaign has relied on volunteers to collect signatures and also provided a petition download option on its “” website.

Groups that have placed initiated legislation or referendums on the statewide ballot — efforts that require fewer signatures than a gubernatorial recall — often spend in excess of $1 million and hire petition circulators.

“You would think that even with the groundswell of negativity and unpopularity toward the governor it would be a piece of cake to collect signatures,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a Democratic consultant and ballot campaign veteran. “It could be if you had troops on the ground who are actually collecting, but I’ve never seen a single petition being circulated.”

Successful petition drives typically enjoy organizational support from unions or business groups that can help coordinate efforts, according to Rossman-McKinney, but Democrat-aligned groups have mostly sat on the sidelines of the recall campaign.

“I think it’s in part because they’re really focused on the election cycle at hand and taking back the majority in the (state) House — that’s a very real possibility,” she said. “If you have to make a choice — and you do in terms of investing your money and energy — that would be the far more practical task to take on.”

Under state law, the recall petition language is valid for 180 days, but any signatures the committee turns in must have been collected within the prior 60 days, according to Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams.

Unlike other types of petition drives, recall campaigns do not currently have the option to prove the validity of older signatures by “rebutting” the presumption they are stale and void.

Michigan legislators updated the state recall law in 2012, making the process more difficult by shrinking the window for signature collection from 90 days to 60 days.

The Snyder recall campaign originally planned to wrap up its petition drive Wednesday. Extending the effort three weeks will invalidate signatures collected in the first three weeks of the campaign.

Bullock said minimal initial funding prevented the campaign from getting the word out about the petition. While the group has an online presence, he said a number of people in urban areas like Detroit may not have Facebook.

“It’s amazing to me how many people are kind of just finding out about it, or just finding a petition,” he said. “I’m running into folks who want to sign, want to circulate, but didn’t know.”

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