Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, Ohio House of Representatives
March 19, 2013
Greg Coleridge, Director, Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee
The American Friends Service Committee educates, advocates and organizes for justice, peace and self-governance. We’re concerned not simply about creating justice and fairness on various issues but also about just and fair governing rules – that is, laws and constitutional decisions permitting We the People to have the power to decide what takes place in our communities, state and nation.
This is especially important given the current crisis of credibility of our political and economic systems. People increasingly believe our political institutions aren’t broken but fixed – as in rigged to benefit the very wealthy and corporations.
The ability of citizens to be heard by their public officials, to gain authentic access to political representatives and to have real political influence playing by the rules we’ve been led to believe exists in our representative democracy has never been weaker than today.
Whether massive political campaign contributions (or investments) by a wealthy few and cash-flush corporations, lobbyists representing these same special interests with unlimited access to policy makers, or corporate agents appointed to oversee agencies charged with regulating the very corporations these agents come from – the political system truly is rigged against people without money having their voices heard, their needs met, and their communities helped.
Citizen petitions for initiatives, referendums and recalls are examples of direct democracy. There’s no middleman or woman to interpret what people want or don’t want. Citizens can decide for themselves. These are sacred principles. Public officials who truly represent We the People should commit themselves to expanding, not contracting, these tools of direct democracy.
The goals of “fairness” and “uniformity” of petition campaigns by proponents of SB 47 are noble. How they are reflected in legislation is the issue.
The litmus test for evaluating any reform of these sacred direct democratic principles should be this: Does the proposal make it easier or harder for citizens to govern themselves? In other words, does it narrow or widen direct democracy?
As proposed in the current form, SB 47 would make it more difficult for citizens to petition their own government — especially for groups that don’t have paid staff and hundreds of thousands of dollars to spent and need every day they can get to gather signatures from their fellow citizens.
In the spirit of fairness and uniformity, I support the elimination of signature gathering during the verification period if and only if extra days are added, say 30 extra days to the current 90, to collect signatures to place a citizen referendum on the ballot. This would expand the direct power of citizens.
In the same spirit of fairness and uniformity, I also call on supporters of SB 47 to likewise, fast track legislation that addresses the enormous and growing unfairness and inequality of political access by the very wealthy and corporations to public officials. It’s clear that the current political system is rigged through political campaign contributions and lobbyists to benefit a few at the expense of the many here in Ohio.
Such additional legislation would serve as a powerful testament to your noble goals of fairness and uniformity not simply in citizen petitioning but also in public elections and governance.