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Initiative would force governor to seek recall of Guard units in Iraq

By Chase J. Davis, Globe Correspondent  |  August 26, 2005

A grass-roots coalition of Massachusetts peace activists is trying to force top state officials to press for a recall of all state National Guard troops from Iraq and to keep them from being sent there in the future.

If the state attorney general next month approves the wording of the ballot initiative, its backers will have to collect nearly 66,000 signatures in the process to put it on the November 2006 general election ballot. The effort may also serve to open debate on how governors should handle National Guard mobilizations.

Under the initiative, governors of Massachusetts would be required to ''take all necessary steps" under the law to bring home state Guard units deployed in Iraq. While only the US president can order such a recall, the initiative would compel the governor to argue against deployments to Iraq or risk being sued by a state resident, its supporters said.

The initiative would not grant any new powers, but rather would force the governor to use powers that already exist, they said.
Eric Fehrnstrom, spokesman for Governor Mitt Romney, said yesterday that the governor had not heard of the ballot initiative, but believes ''Massachusetts troops should do their part in the Iraq war effort."

Harold Hubschman, chairman of the group backing the initiative, which calls itself, said National Guard units are the only troops over which governors have some authority.

''He definitely has to be an activist on their behalf," he said.

The attorney general's office will announce on Sept. 7 whether the wording of the ballot initiative is acceptable under the state's constitution. Supporters will then have 60 days beginning Sept. 21 to gather signatures.

Historically, most petitions have passed the attorney general review. In 2003, 11 were approved and three were rejected. In 2001, 18 were approved, eight were rejected, and one was withdrawn, according to records kept by the attorney general's office.

Retired Colonel Leonid Kondratiuk, historian for the Massachusetts National Guard, said debate has flared during the past several decades over the role of governors in the deployment of Guard units. The result, he said, has been a fairly simple interpretation: The president controls Guard units when they are mobilized overseas; governors have control when the Guard is at home.

John Bonifaz, a Boston constitutional lawyer who is advising supporters of the initiative, said governors have some decision-making power, especially if the Guard struggles with domestic responsibilities as a result of overseas deployment.

''I don't think it's the absolute authority of the president," he said. ''I do think the governor can take steps to bring the guard home."

A spokeswoman with the Massachusetts National Guard said the office was not aware of the initiative and would not offer an opinion until it has more information. 

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


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