Freedom, At Last, For the Oklahoma 3
Big news in the direct democracy world. Oklahoma's attorney general, who had brought a dubious prosecution of term limits advocate and two professionals -- the "Oklahoma 3" in initiative land -- for conspiracy to violate the state's law against out-of-state petition gatherers, announced today that he will drop the charges, the Associated Press reports. The decision comes after a federal appeals court struck down the law that the three were accused of violating.
The attorney general, Drew Edmondson, also declared he wouldn't appeal the court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. That's wise. The state almost certainly would have lost. Attempts to regulate signature gathering typically run afoul of First Amendment protections of political speech. And the Oklahoma law was especially wrong-headed; it made illegal what is standard practice in American initiative politics: the gathering of signatures by traveling circulators. The real question is why Edmondson persisted for so long -- it's been more than a year -- in pursuing the charges. Conservatives saw political bias. (Edmondson's a Democrat). Liberals unwisely exulted over the prosecution, despite the threat to free speech it represented. If they have any honor, the New York Times and the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center owe Jacob and his fellow defendants an apology.
Here's a toast to the web site, Free Paul Jacob, and a question about what's next over there.
As for Oklahoma, even with Edmondson's decision, it remains the toughest state in which to qualify a measure. Most significant, there's a 90-day time limit for gathering signatures -- that's very little time. The criminal prosecution had scared off initiative sponsors. Perhaps this decision will coax a few direct democrats back into Oklahoma.