The US Constitution says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That is the First Amendment which applies to every square foot of US soil except Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma, three people circulating petitions for an amendment to the state constitution were arrested, placed in handcuffs and hauled off for violating a liberally interpreted Oklahoma law requiring petition circulators to be residents of the state.
Oklahoma’s version of TABOR, the Stop OverSpending measure, quickly found itself the subject of an all-out “blocking” effort by the public employee unions and a vast coalition of alphabet soup groups that seem to really cherish overspending. People opposing the initiative were encouraged not only to complain to store managers to have petitioners denied access to store entrances and parking lots, they were instructed to prevaricate for their cause: blockers have publicly admitted to lying to store managers about the behavior of citizens petitioning outside stores.
My impression was that petition circulators are allowed access to private property, such as store parking lots, because that is the only way to get access to the public.
This wasn’t merely a few renegades. Jeanne Berg, a liberal labor activist from Oregon, was hired to run a campaign of harassment. Blockers were hired from throughout the country and paid as much as $100 a day. Their function? Swarm around anyone out circulating the petition and create enough street theater and mayhem to chase away citizens who, since the measure was overwhelmingly popular, would otherwise be likely to sign.
What to do ? Well, many petitions are circulated by people who are paid for legal signatures. They are not as easily intimidated as volunteers, at least until now.
Unlike most initiative states, Oklahoma has a residency requirement allowing only Oklahoma residents to circulate a petition. But when the petition company checked with state officials to determine what constituted a resident, those officials said that a person could move to Oklahoma and immediately declare residency—and begin petitioning.
Then the powers of the state began to intervene.
And the Oklahoma Supreme Court came to their aid, providing a much different standard for residency than in the past. The judges now equated residency with a “permanent home.”
The effect ?
The court thus struck enough signatures from the 300,000 gathered to deny the people of Oklahoma a vote on the spending cap measure.
The power of the public employee unions and others who want to see unlimited government spending is impressive. The three who were running the initiative campaign, a public initiative, were arrested and taken to jail in handcuffs and leg irons, lest they miss the point.
You see, stopping the people from voting to cap spending wasn’t enough. The people who run the state of Oklahoma want to make certain that upstart reformers like Rick Carpenter don’t dare attempt any future initiatives, and that professional petition managers like Susan Johnson or “outside agitators” like me quickly think better of providing any assistance to such citizen-initiated efforts.
Orange County, CA where I live has once declared bankruptcy. The public employee pension system has been declared insolvent. The response ?
A political campaign to defeat those who warn of insolvency.
John Moorlach is the only Republican candidate in the state actively criticizing unions for their over-the-top pension deals. That, insiders say, has mobilized the unions to make an example out of John.
Who is Moorlach ?
As you know, John warned of the County’s 1994 bankruptcy and subsequently as Treasurer has imposed fiscal discipline, restored solvency and assisted in the County’s recovery.
John Moorlach was a private accountant who ran for the office of County Treasurer in 1994 against the incumbent, warning that the County’s investment strategy in the bond market was too risky. The LA Times opposed him, dismissing his fears as unfounded. He lost that election and six months later the County declared bankruptcy ! Moorlach was elected Treasurer at the next election and is now a County Supervisor. The unions failed to defeat him in 2006.
Because now, more than 10 years later, Moorlach finds himself returning to his town-crier role and back to using the B-word – bankruptcy. Moorlach has been telling anyone who will listen – and many who don’t want to – that Orange County could face a $5 billion shortfall largely due to the new, expanded retirement benefits for county employees.”You know this is a train wreck coming, then it happens,” he said. “You kind of want to thump your chest but at the same time, you want to cry because you have to deal with the problem.”Moorlach’s train-wreck scenario began last August when the supervisors approved the union’s contract that included the pension hike. Moorlach argued that any increase placed more stress on a system that was already believed to be $1 billion short.
Of course, Orange County is not Oklahoma. Not yet.