October 25, 2007

The Curious Case Of Paul Jacob

I met Paul Jacob briefly at the Conservative Leadership Conference earlier this month, after a speech he gave regarding libertarianism, as I recall. I had heard a little about Jacob and his battle with the Oklahoma Attorney General over an issue of petition-gathering for a tax initiative that had turned ugly. Although Jacob didn't discuss the case at length with me, I asked him to send me some information so I could look at it more closely.

The case looks more and more strange the deeper one looks, I discovered. Jacob had worked in Oklahoma to gather signatures for a taxpayer bill of rights that would have capped state government spending, along with other national organizations such as National Voter Outreach. Oklahoma has a state law that requires that the gatherers of such signatures be Oklahoma residents, an odd requirement that seems very insular. Most states only require that the signatures represent actual registered voters in the state, and could care less about the gatherers themselves.

In Oklahoma, that certainly isn't the case. The indictment against Jacob and two others doesn't just charge him with a misdemeanor, but with felonies, including conspiracy. Conspiracy for what? To limit government spending? Jacob explains how the petition's advocates tried to comply with the law:

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.

Just to be safe, since sometimes simple law can be made amazingly complicated, I asked for any relevant legal precedent. The ruling in a recent challenge to an Oklahoma petition to ban cock-fighting seemed clear: residency was determined by an individual's intention to be a resident.

A number of petitioners moved to Oklahoma, declared residency, and proceeded to gather signatures on the various petitions. Ultimately, both the spending cap and the property rights measure garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Then, the various forces of big government that had worked so hard to block the vote, joined by a who's who of corporate CEOs and the heads of energy companies and banks (can you say "daddy welfare"?), challenged the petition. 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."

How permanent was "permanent"? One petition circulator, who moved to Oklahoma in September of 2005 and was still living there in July of the following year, was ruled not to be a resident.

Let's recall what constitutes residency elsewhere. How long did Hillary Clinton live in New York to qualify for the US Senate? How long did Alan Keyes live in Illinois for the same purpose, if not even close to the same result?

Quite clearly, the Oklahoma state government felt threatened by limited-government advocates and want to send a message to anyone else who tries to stir up trouble. It's a frightening abuse of government power, and all because people wanted to engage the political system.

I'll interview Paul Jacob on today's Heading Right Radio at 2 pm CT.


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