An extraordinary incident unfolded in the state of Oklahoma on Oct. 2. Three individuals were arrested, shackled and arraigned. Their crime: trying to curb the spending excesses of Sooner State politicians. They were accused of violating an arcane and certainly unconstitutional law that imposes restrictions on who can circulate petitions in the state.
Paul Jacob – president of the pro-initiative group Citizens in Charge and a senior fellow at Sam Adams Alliance, a grassroots political organization – and colleagues Susan Johnson and Rick Carpenter incurred the wrath of Oklahoma’s Soviet-minded political establishment for trying in 2005 to get an initiative on the ballot to limit state spending. The three could get as many as ten years in prison.
Back in 2005, despite organized harassment from unions and other pro-government forces, Jacob and other activists-with the help of a professional petition-signing firm-managed to collect the required number of names to get the antispending time on the ballot. In a tantrum worthy of an Iranian ayatollah the pro-political class Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the petitions invalid.
Why? Oklahoma has a statute that states petitions can be carried only by Oklahoma residents. What is a resident? According to precedent, residency is determined by an individuals intention to be a resident. When out-of-staters moved to the state to help local people get signatures for the antispending petitions, the State Supreme Court decided that precedent didn’t matter and concocted a new interpretation: Petitioners had to make Oklahoma their “permanent home.”
That was bad enough. But just to be sure no one ever again tries to restrict free-spending pols, the state’s hoodlumesque attorney general, Drew Edmondson (Dem.), has decided to seek to imprison petition leaders.
The Oklahoma case stands out as an extreme move to restrict behavior of political activists. But unless this thuggish behavior is firmly punished, other states and municipalities will quickly follow suit. After all, many local pols and their developer friends have been making ample use of the Supreme Court’s hideous decision two years ago that allows local authorities to seize private property to help politically connected private developers. Jacob has worked with Oklahomans pushing an initiative that would bar this type of eminent domain abuse, as well as a state term limits initiative. Now he is accused of committing a felony.