The Taxpayer Bill of Rights ” or TABOR ” initiative petition was thrown out by the Oklahoma Supreme Court last December because the process was riddled with fraud, including the illegal use of out-of-state petitioners (non-taxpayers) as circulators.
Oklahoma’s multicounty grand jury looked at the tactics of the petitioners, and it also found them to be in violation of a state law that requires petition circulators to be residents (typically taxpayers) of Oklahoma.
Yet, when the multicounty grand jury issued indictments against Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson and Rick Carpenter in October, criticism from their cronies was immediate, accusing my office as the agency that oversees the multicounty grand jury of filing these charges against the will of ” you guessed it ” taxpayers.
The law requiring individuals who circulate initiative petitions to be residents of Oklahoma has been on the books since 1969. The defendants and their friends don’t deny that. They simply say it somehow doesn’t apply to them.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court and the multicounty grand jury both independently found these defendants to be in substantial violation of Oklahoma law. Jacob, Johnson and Carpenter would have you believe that I’m the only one who has a problem with their methodology.
And, never mind the fact that thousands of taxpayers who legally signed the petition in question had their voices silenced because the out-of-state circulators did not follow Oklahoma law. The drive’s organizers, who are now awaiting trial in Oklahoma County district court, can’t dispute that fact, and therefore don’t bring it up.
The rights of initiative and referendum are found in the Oklahoma Constitution and codified into law. They are legislative processes. Some detractors have confused this with a petition for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Oklahoma has as much right to demand that petition circulators be qualified electors (residents) as they do to put residency requirements on candidates for the Legislature.
Regardless of what the defendants and their friends say, the Supreme Court found substantial flaws in the petitioners’ methods. The multicounty grand jury agreed, and now my office is charged with overseeing this prosecution.
TABOR supporters should applaud this prosecution. Ironically, some of them don’t. Because the Supreme Court found that these circulators broke the law, the state question never made it onto an Oklahoma ballot.
In my mind, it’s not too much to ask that people from out of state who come here to promote changes to our laws should also have to follow our laws in the process. It’s just that simple. By following the laws that govern our petition process, petitioners ensure that every signature is counted, and that every taxpayer is heard. That didn’t happen in this instance because these petitioners broke the law in their efforts to change the law.
Millions of dollars were spent on the TABOR effort. Thousands of Oklahomans signed petitions in good faith.
Thousands more man-hours were devoted by individuals on both sides of the question. The time and attention of the secretary of state, the Oklahoma State Election Board and the Oklahoma Supreme Court were taken up by reviews of the process. All of this came to naught, because the court found gross, blatant and overwhelming fraud tainted the entire process.
The multicounty grand jurors took these matters very seriously. So do I.
Edmondson is attorney general of Oklahoma.