BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Imagine if you will, a state in tornado alley where EF4 and EF5 twisters are prevalent. Imagine that state having so few public school safe rooms that daily over 500,000 students, teachers and staff attend school and work at sites with no protection from a tornado.
Imagine the Legislature in that state imposing on those schools the nation’s largest cut in school funding. Imagine those school districts having no revenue and no ability to borrow money to address the safety of their students and teachers.
Imagine a group of citizens finding a non-partisan way to allow the people of that state to vote to set aside funds, without raising taxes, to allow school districts, if they choose, to have access to money to build safe rooms or to match federal FEMA dollars to build storm shelters.
Now imagine a governor who does not want to use those funds to protect students because that money can instead be used to fund a tax cut for corporations.
Finally, imagine an attorney general who politicizes the process by feigning concern with the “language of the petition” in an attempt to sabotage and stymie the collection of signatures so that ultimately the governor’s desire to provide a tax cut to corporations will prevail over the safety of school kids.
Can that really be true? Does that sound farfetched? What can be done about a government that attempts to block the will of the people? There is a solution and Oklahomans have it.
Thomas Jefferson believed that “the people are sovereign and that the power of the government can only be granted by the people.”
James Madison eloquently wrote in No. 49 of the Federalist Papers that “the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the … several branches of government hold their power … it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory to recur to the same original authority … whenever it may be necessary to enlarge, diminish, or new-model the powers of government.”
Thankfully, in 1906, the delegates to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention knew what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison feared and provided that when a government had little regard for the will of the people, the citizens of Oklahoma would have the power of the Initiative Petition.
We often hear about the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Top billing goes to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, right to bear arms and the right to be secure in our homes.
However, a powerful tool possessed by the citizens of only a few states is the Initiative Petition. The process allows citizens, with no governmental restriction or interference, to propose a law and have it voted on by the people of the state. Its unique nature comes directly from the populist fervor that spread across the country in the very early 1900’s.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time! Since statehood, Oklahoma’s citizens have had this little used power of the people to reign in an out of touch government or a government paralyzed by inaction. It is often overlooked, because in our democracy we learn about the power of the ballot box, but are led to believe that it is only the power to elect candidates.
What happens when our Legislature refuses to enact laws that the people want? This tool is our protection against an unresponsive government.
Will Rogers said, “Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.”
While Will’s analysis is correct most of the time, Oklahomans have the power to bypass the roadblock of a governor, the sabotage of an attorney general and the stall tactics of a state Legislature.
It is true that in any given year a very small number of children will be in danger of death or injury, but children deserve to be safe and parents deserve to know that schools have the resources to protect students.
Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, is showing that the power of the sovereign is truly reserved to the people by working with a non-partisan group, Take Shelter Oklahoma, to circulate a petition to allow the people of this great state to vote on this issue.
The choice on whether you want to join him is yours. If you do, you can find out how to join this grassroots effort on Facebook.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives