Put on your $2 shoes and play the above to hear the late Woodrow Wilson Guthrie of Okemah, Oklahoma, where your blogger has kin (Woody was a cousin by marriage), sing "Goin' Down That Road Feeling Bad." And then read this very interesting story from the Sacramento Bee about the 275,000 Californians who have gone back to the Dust Bowl states of Oklahoma and Texas in search of lower-cost housing, jobs and pastures of plenty.
Oklahoma has been one of the worst states to practice direct democracy. The short, 90-day time period for gathering signatures is a particular problem, making it difficult for anyone but the richest initiative sponsors to qualify a measure. (Such tight time limits, I would argue, also encourage petition fraud, though I've not seen enough data to say so for sure).
But this year, the Oklahoma legislature -- with only one dissenting vote -- opened up the process by passing legislation that would protect petition circulators and lift the 90-day limit. Now, Gov. Brad Henry has vetoed the measure after the legislature has left town (making it next to impossible to override the veto).
Henry argues that the bill's limitations on harassing signature gatherers (which has been something of a problem in Oklahoma) would infringe on the speech rights of others (essentially to scream at petition circulators, grab their paperwork, etc.). This is an interesting argument, and it may be a cynical one. In effect, his veto is an attempt to defend blocking campaigns, and puts the governor on the side of those who would limit access to the ballot.
Henry's veto message is below:
The two measures have merely advanced out of committee to the full state senate. The changes are modest. One would set a slightly less onerous standard for qualifying measures--a number of signatures equal to 15 percent of the votes cast in the most recent governor's race. The other would move up the process of appealing a title and summary earlier in the cycle of qualifying an initiative. Under current law, such appeals can be filed and heard only after signature gathering is completed. If an appeal results in a change in the title and summary, then the signature gathering is void and sponsors must start over. Under the proposed legislation, that appeal would be possible before signature gathering begins, saving time and effort.
Paul Jacob, the term limits advocate, emails and says that Citizens In Charge, his organization to advocate for the initiative process and the rights of people to petition their government, is growing. A year in, the group -- which is really two groups (one a 501 c 3, the other a different kind of non-profit, a c4) -- has six employees and is working on several fronts, including making it easier to qualify measures for the ballot in Oklahoma. If he's successful in opening up the process in Oklahoma (where the attorney general unsuccessfully attempted to prosecute Jacob for ballot initiative work), it would be especially sweet. The state is probably the hardest place in America to qualify an initiative, because of government hostility and a tight, 90-day time limit on signature gathering.
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.
Cato's Adam Schaeffer, responding to a post I wrote two week ago, has more--lots more--to say about pre-k effectiveness (or, from his point of view, the lack thereof). Before we start talking about the evidence on pre-k more generally, though—which is the real bone of contention here, right?—let’s close out the debate that started this: Do trends in Oklahoma’s NAEP scores since the early 1990s indicate that the state’s pre-k program is ineffective? My answer is still “no.”
The Cato Institute's Adam Schaffer is much too smart to believe that his latest argument that pre-k is ineffective holds water. Schaeffer argues that Oklahoma's pre-k program isn't improving student achievement, because Oklahoma's performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has declined, relative to the national average, since the early 1990s.
This argument is seriously flawed. For starters, the comparisons Shaeffer is making are invalid because he's comparing NAEP results for different cohorts of students--and there are real differences between those cohorts. Since the early 1990s, the proportion of Oklahoma children who are Hispanic and who are English language learners has risen dramatically, a difference that needs to be taken account when comparing performance of current and past cohorts of Oklahoma students. Similarly, Schaeffer's analysis doesn't consider other factors besides pre-k--such as changes in standards, curriculum, or funding--that may or may not have occurred in Oklahoma's public schools during this time period, potentially affecting student performance. Schaeffer has training in research methods, so he has to know that using NAEP score changes to draw conclusions about the effects of Oklahoma's pre-k program, without controlling for other factors in play, is totally meaningless.
This is news: an American newspaper thinks there should be more ballot initiatives. It's the Daily Okahoman, a paper in a place that makes it very hard to qualify measures (by only permitting initiative sponsors 90 days). This goes against the grain; newspaper editors tend to be beard-stroking Madisonians who worry about the people having to vote too much on complicated stuff.
CONNERLY SURRENDER: Connerly gives up in Oklahoma. It was one of five states where he had sponsored measures opposing affirmative action. They didn't collect enough signatures, they tell the Tulsa World. This is a major logistical screw-up by Connerly and his backers; signatures had been turned in in December. The backers had more time to gather signatures, but appear to have done a poor job in collecting valid signatures and in calculating how many they needed.
WILL THE SUNSHINE IN? Margot Roosevelt of the LA Times takes a thorough look at an alternative energy ballot initiative in California, sponsored by the University of Phoenix founder. The solar energy industry is skeptical.
COORS SIGHTING: The Rocky Mountain News reports on Monday's meeting between backers of a "right-to-work" initiative in California and Gov. Bill Ritter. No news from the meetings--lips were tight afterward, and no agreements have been reached. Ritter clearly would like labor and business groups to slow down their move towards a multi-initiative war. The News piece focuses on former Schwarzenegger aide, Jonathan Coors. And yes, he is one of those Coors.
UPDATED APRIL 4 After two nights of contacting gatherers and reading initiatives from all over the country (AND SOME EXCELLENT CORRECTIONS ON ARKANSAS AND MICHIGAN FROM Ballotpedia), here's my report on what's "on the street" and circulating in this great democratic land of ours. Please let me know if you think I'm missing important measures. For a more progressive take and focus, you can look at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center's issues map.