WSJ Editorial defends Paul Jacob, mentions Ore. connection

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board main editorial was defending petition rights hero, Paul Jacob, who was jailed in Oklahoma for his petition rights. The Oregon Voter Education Project is mentioned in the article. Partial article below…

Oklahoma’s Most Wanted
November 19, 2007; Page A18
A veteran political activist is facing 10 years in prison and a hefty fine for attempting to petition government for redress of grievances. The latest news from Pakistan? No, this is happening in Oklahoma.

Last month Paul Jacob, the former head of U.S. Term Limits and current head of Citizens in Charge, was led out of an Oklahoma City courtroom in handcuffs after pleading not guilty to charges that he conspired to defraud the state. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who’s overseeing this bizarre prosecution, has accused Mr. Jacob and two fellow petition organizers — Rick Carpenter of Oklahomans in Action and Susan Johnson of National Voter Outreach — of bringing out-of-state petition gatherers to Oklahoma to collect signatures.

In 2005 Mr. Carpenter, a Tulsan, launched a signature campaign to get a state-wide vote on a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Tabor, as it is known, would cap the rate at which state government spending could increase. Mr. Jacob and Ms. Johnson were later brought on board to assist the effort. Not surprisingly, politicians and interest groups that favor big government have developed an intense dislike for Tabor spending limits, even though, like lawmaker term limits, they tend to be popular with voters.

This certainly proved to be the case in Oklahoma. Despite strong opposition from organized labor especially, Tabor petition advocates managed to gather some 300,000 signatures from registered voters, far more than the 219,000 needed to get the measure on the state ballot. Following a court challenge, however, the signatures were invalidated, not because the signers weren’t legitimate but because the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined that nonresidents of the state had collected signatures.

Ironically, it is perfectly legal for opponents of a petition to solicit money and manpower from out-of-state. And sure enough, public sector unions opposed to the Tabor initiative recruited people from outfits like the Oregon-based Voter Education Project, an offshoot of the AFL-CIO that specializes in countering signature drives. They also set up Web sites that advertised the location of signature-gathers and urged their members to harass them.

After the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled, Attorney General Edmondson could have let the matter die. Instead, he decided that the best use of scarce prosecutorial resources was to indict the petition campaigners. There’s reason to believe his decision has less to do with enforcing the law and more to do with warning activists to think twice before challenging political elites.

Mr. Jacob says petition organizers consulted with both the board of elections and the secretary of state’s office and were told that the residency rule could be met by anyone who moved to the state and declared himself a resident. In any case, that residency requirement is currently being challenged in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Mr. Edmondson might have at least waited for that outcome before pursuing felony counts against three people acting in good faith.

“The response is draconian and intended to scare and intimidate,” says Mr. Jacob, who also faces a fine of up to $25,000 if convicted. “To get 10 years in prison for following what you understand to be the rules of the petition drive would send a chilling message, not only throughout Oklahoma but throughout the country. That’s not what we want people to be thinking about when they consider whether to join a campaign to reform their government.”…

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