POSTED ON OCTOBER 10, 2007:
High Ground or Low Blow?
State AG Edmondson accused of politicking with indictment of TABOR petitioners
Three people who tried to get a so-called "Taxpayers Bill of Rights" on the last year's November ballot might be facing jail time, to the outrage of Owasso's Republican Sen. Randy Brogdon.
A multicounty Grand Jury indictment against Richard Merrill Carpenter, Paul Jacob and Susan Elizabeth Johnson was unsealed last week.
The three are accused of conspiracy to defraud the state and of filing a false, fraudulent, felonious and fictitious initiative petition.
Last year, they gathered 300,000 signatures for a petition to get State Question 726 on the ballot for a popular vote.
The question to be put before voters was the "Stop Over Spending" initiative, which would limit the growth of government to the rate of inflation.
The state Supreme Court struck it from the ballot, though, citing insufficient valid voter signatures due to "substantial illegal participation of out-of-state circulators."
Now, Carpenter, Jacob and Johnson are accused of knowingly breaking the law by hiring those out-of-state circulators.
"Oklahoma law requires anyone who circulates a petition be a qualified elector," said state Attorney General Drew Edmondson in a prepared statement.
"That means a U.S. citizen over the age of 18 and a resident of Oklahoma. The grand jury alleges Carpenter, Jacob and Johnson knew they were violating Oklahoma statutes and engaged in a conspiracy to illegally gather signatures," he explained.
If convicted of conspiracy against the state, each could serve up to 10 years in prison and/or be fined up to $25,000.
If convicted of filing a fraudulent petition, they could each serve up to two years in prison and/or be fined up to $500.
All three entered "not guilty" pleas for both counts.
Brogdon condemned the indictments as a political attack by Edmondson.
"Oklahomans should be outraged," he said in a statement after Edmondson announced the indictments.
"These individuals sought nothing more than to participate in their government through the initiative process protected by Oklahoma's Constitution," he added.
Since his election to the state Legislature, Brogdon's name has become almost synonymous with TABOR because of his outspoken and vigorous efforts to enact such a policy in Oklahoma.
The petition to get it on the ballot as a state question began after opposition in the Senate halted Brogdon's efforts to do so through the Legislature.
"The right for citizens to petition their government is the very lifeblood of the democratic process," the Attorney General said in his statement.
"The voices of those Oklahomans who chose to support this petition were silenced because of this alleged conspiracy. We cannot tolerate schemes designed to manipulate our state's election laws," Edmondson continued.
Brogdon, however, said the "only crime was the disenfranchisement of over 300,000 Oklahoma voters who expressed their voice by exercising their constitutional rights."
The lawmaker told UTW that, although the state Supreme Court ruled the petition invalid because it was circulated by people who came from out-of-state, "there's nothing in the statutes that prevents that from happening."
He acknowledged the constitutional requirement that petition circulators be residents of Oklahoma, but qualified, "There's no legal definition of 'resident.' That's the rub."
Brogdon said an argument could be made that the circulators qualified as "residents" by having moved to the state and set up residences while they worked for the three accused, but they never had a chance to make that argument before the petition was rejected by the court.
"We never got a hearing with the Supreme Court but, had we had an opportunity to get our case before the court, it would have turned out differently," said Brogdon.
According to the indictment, the accused filed the petition and signatures "with full knowledge and understanding that said petitions contained numerous signatures gathered by out-of-state circulators who came into the state with intent to leave the state once the TABOR drive was complete."
"And that was their right," said Brogdon in response to that charge.
The senator said he believes last year's Supreme Court ruling and the current indictments against Carpenter, Jacob and Johnson were motivated by elected officials who don't like to see political power so directly wielded by the people as the petition process is intended to allow.
"It appears Drew Edmondson is more concerned with protecting his own political power than he is with preserving, protecting and defending the right of Oklahomans to free speech. This is nothing less than an attack on our Republican form of government," the senator continued.
"Everyone should be deeply concerned about this. The constitutional rights of every citizen of Oklahoma are in jeopardy as well as the liberty of three good people who face 10 years in prison. If this shameful political assault succeeds, everyone is at risk. It is an outrage!" Brogdon added.
Jacob, 47, is the president of Citizens in Charge, and organization that defends citizen initiative rights.
Carpenter, 43, is the president of Oklahomans in Action, which proposed another state spending cap in 2005.
Johnson, 47, is the president of a petition management firm, National Voter Outreach.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A18183