initiative, referendum, and recall

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The Lion of Woodinville

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Mike Dunmire passed away last weekend. Mike helped me form the Liberty Initiative Fund, serving as an original board member. But he was best known as a key funder of Tim Eyman’s Washington State ballot initiatives.

Indeed, Eyman’s incredible success at the ballot box — I once called him “America’s Number One Freedom Fighter” — would not have been possible without Dunmire, who was happy to help: “I honestly think he is the only one who gets anything done, and the money could not be better spent.”

Dunmire loved the initiative process. When legislators considered adding a $100 fee for citizens to file a ballot measure, Dunmire eloquently objected:

This hundred dollars may not seem like very much. It will eliminate some people who have fringe ideas. But let me tell you once it was a fringe idea that the world was round. I don’t think we want to suppress these ideas, and I think that all this bill does is buy a tremendous amount of ill will. . . . You maybe will make $10,000 off of this, but you stick a finger in every citizen’s eye. . . .

A native of Woodinville, Washington, he balanced humility with wit, hard work with compassion. He once jokingly introduced himself as “the Woodinville Think Tank President” at a legislative hearing.

“Although starting out with very little, I’ve been fortunate,” Mike once wrote. “I live in the most beautiful state in the union, I have my health, a wife I love, and had a career that brought me financial success. I’ve supported many philanthropic efforts during my life. In recent years, I’ve supplemented my ‘normal’ charitable giving by supporting political efforts to hold government more accountable.”

Mike Dunmire remains alive in the hearts of all those he helped.

This is Common Sense. I’m glad I knew you, Mike.

Their Power

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Boo hoo.

Thirty-three hifalutin members of Colorado’s political elite — state legislators, former legislators, board of education officials, city and county politicians, and assorted insiders — are whining as plaintiffs in what’s called a federal case.

Why? They lost an election … in 1992! Now, as the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals put it, “Plaintiffs claim that they have been deprived of their power over taxation and revenue.”

Over 22 years ago, Coloradans petitioned the Taxpayer Bill of Rights onto the ballot and voters passed it. Known as TABOR, the constitutional amendment limits the growth of government spending, unless voters approve higher spending levels. It also requires voter approval for tax increases, except in an emergency. The politicians objected at the time, but have since lacked both the courage and the democratic sensibility to take the issue back to the people.

Instead, they’re suing to overturn the result.

The legal theory behind the lawsuit? That TABOR limits the legislature’s ability to unilaterally raise taxes or spend money as it pleases, thus denying the state a “fully effective legislature” — thus TABOR violates the federal constitution’s guarantee that each state have a republican form of government.

Last week, the 10th Circuit ruled the state legislators have standing to sue the people of Colorado over the legislators’ right to tax and spend without a bunch of pesky voters getting in the way.

Those who founded our republican form of government would be absolutely astounded … if they could only be stopped, first, from spinning at such high rates of speed.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Moving Boulders

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Supreme Court says Boulder City cannot sue citizens over ballot initiatives,” read the Las Vegas Sun headline.

An important legal victory . . . a long time coming.

Three years ago, I caught an online story about a citizens group that had petitioned three measures onto their local ballot: (1) require voter approval before the city council could incur $1 million or more in debt, (2) term limits for members on city commissions and committees, and (3) restrict the city to just one publicly-owned golf course.

Their public spirit was promptly rewarded by being sued, personally, and dragged into court by the city attorney of Boulder City.

I called the citizens’ attorney quoted in the news story, Linda Strickland, and we talked for over an hour. This case, as the Nevada Supreme Court has now agreed, is a classic violation of the state’s Anti-SLAPP statute (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).

Citizens in Charge Foundation gave Linda and Terry, her husband and law partner, the John Lilburne Award, affording this small town legal scuffle some national recognition and sparking news coverage across Nevada.

On a later trip, I sat in Linda’s living room with a dozen local citizens who recounted the good feeling of participating in the petition campaign and then their unease of being sued by their own city government. I couldn’t be more pleased to now relate that Linda’s efforts have paid off in a state Supreme Court win, protecting the rights of all Nevadans to petition their government.

Freedom is regularly attacked and must be defended. Thanks to Linda and others, it shall be.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Video: Paul Jacob on Nelson Mandela and Peaceful Change

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

This was recorded a few weeks ago, before the death of Nelson Mandela:

Can’t Buy Me Votes

Monday, November 11th, 2013

“Corporations and some of the wealthiest Americans have spent more than $1 billion in the past 18 months on ballot initiatives in just 11 states,” Reid Wilson informed Washington Post readers following last week’s election. He dubbed it “an unprecedented explosion of money used to pass new laws and influence the public debate.”

He’s implying that bad ol’ corporations and “the rich” can change our laws merely by petitioning issues onto the ballot. Is that right?

Thankfully, no: we get to vote.

“Money is most effective on ballot measures when you’re trying to get a ‘no’ . . . the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” explained Rob Richie, the executive director of FairVote, appearing yesterday on C-Span’s Washington Journal. “It’s a lot harder, actually, to spend a lot of money and get a ‘yes.’”

He’s exactly right. Big corporations and big labor have had success in defeating measures, but not much at all in passing “new laws.”

Last Tuesday’s election bears this out. While there were 31 issues on state ballots, only three were initiatives petitioned onto the ballot by citizens, and all three were defeated.

In Washington, Initiative 517, a pro-initiative measure, and Initiative 522, a measure requiring genetically modified foods to be labeled, were both badly outspent and defeated. However, in Colorado, those supporting Amendment 66, a tax increase for education, spent over $10 million to promote the measure compared to less than $50,000 spent against it. Still, the tax hike was defeated 2-to-1.

Money helps in campaigning, no doubt. But the facts show that wealthy interests can’t buy our votes or brainwash us to gain new laws. We decide.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A Fighting (Peaceful) Chance

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Elections you win are better than elections you lose. But while the polls remain open, I say cast your ballot and savor the chance to win, make a decision, make needed changes. In other words, accept that fighting chance.

But no fighting, actually — it’s peaceful political action.

Today, I’m watching closely three contests.

First, Liberty Initiative Fund, where I work, has been a big supporter of pension reform in general and Cincinnati’s Issue 4 in particular. Ballotpedia, the nation’s best tracker of ballot measures, declared the Cincinnati issue one of the nation’s five most important being decided today.

Win or lose in Cincinnati, the pension problems of cities and states across the country won’t just go away — not without an engaged public to demand the issue be addressed. Pension reform ballot initiatives “end run” the can-kicking on city councils and in state houses.

Second, Citizens in Charge was a major backer of the petition drive that succeeded in earning a spot on today’s Washington State ballot for initiative 517, the “Protect the Initiative Act.” While 517’s supporters have been badly outspent by opponents, at least we’ve had a chance to take the idea to the people.

The third? Governance. In Vancouver, Washington, city officials blocked citizens from petitioning onto the ballot the issue of bringing in (and connecting with) the light rail system of twin city Portland, Oregon. After battling and losing a court case (with support from Citizens in Charge Foundation), citizens didn’t give up. They formed Vancouver Vitality and are supporting the ouster of several incumbents and their replacement with a clean slate of new candidates.

I only hope we can do more good when we go vote a year from now.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A City in Need of CPR

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Next Tuesday, Cincinnati voters will decide Issue 4, a charter amendment petitioned onto the ballot by a citizens’ group called Cincinnati for Pension Reform (CPR).

If passed, the initiative will put newly hired city employees into a 401(k)-style retirement program, while protecting the pensions of current city retirees and workers through annual audits, publicly reported results, and requiring the city to take steps to close any fund deficit.

The Queen City’s public pension system is in deep trouble. Even by the city’s rosy accounting, it’s only 61 percent funded, with a whopping unfunded liability of $862 million. Moody’s recently downgraded the city’s credit rating, specifically because of its pension liabilities.

Nonetheless, Issue 4 faces fierce opposition from a group “primarily funded” by government workers’ unions. “In just two weeks,” reports the Cincinnati Enquirer, “the committee raised $207,970 . . . It received contributions from only two individuals, totaling $750, including a $500 contribution from former acting Cincinnati city manager and current Dayton city manager Tim Riordan.”

Jeff Harmon, president of a union representing 850 city workers said, “This measure is going to lead to higher taxes and possible lawsuits for the city and would potentially bankrupt Cincinnati.”

Why would actually funding the promises the city has already made to workers “lead to higher taxes” or “bankrupt Cincinnati”?

Who would file those “possible lawsuits”? It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this is a polite way of saying: If you don’t vote the way we want, we’ll sue.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.