Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
On Friday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the initiative petition to repeal House Bill 1010XX was invalid, saying the petition was misleading. "The gist of Referendum Petition No. 25 is misleading for multiple reasons, any of which would suffice alone to declare it insufficient. Combined, these flaws leave no doubt that signatories are not being put on notice of the changes being made," the ruling states. "Further, the failure to include an exact copy of the text of the measure to be referred violates a strict statutory mandate that exists to ensure signatories and voters are put on notice of exactly what law is potentially going to be submitted for their approval."
Of the nine Justices, five concurred (Combs, Kauger, Edmonson, Reif, and Wyrick), one dissented (Winchester), two were recused (Colbert and Darby) and one concurred and dissented(Gurich). Four of the five who voted to strike down the petition were appointed by Democrat governors. Six of the nine current Supreme Court Justices were appointed by a Democrat. Of course, they are non-political and Party affiliation doesn’t mean a thing-right!
In his dissent opinion, Winchester said the flaws were minor and that it is not the court’s job to prevent taxpayers from voting on legislation they disagree with. "While this Court's duty is to guard against fraud, corruption or deception in the referendum, our decisions should not serve as a roadblock for the people to voice their objection to legislation," Winchester wrote. The group that ran the petition-Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!- now will determine if they want to run another initiation petition, which would have to be completed by July 18th to get on the November ballot. Three points:
First, the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot is only 41,000. That is a low threshold and very doable if the Repeal group decides to amend and circulate. There are clearly more than 41,000 Oklahoma voters not pleased with the legislature passing the largest tax hike in state history and would relish the opportunity to vote on repealing it. The challenge any group circulating an initiative petition in the Oklahoma is the hoops and hurdles they have to jump through to gain approval for circulation. That is not by accident- it is to discourage citizen involvement.
Second, the Supreme Court’s decision was political. As Winchester pointed out the errors were minor and it’s not the court’s job to protect the legislature. If this would have been an issue the court politically agreed with, no doubt it would have been approved. The high court’s action should concern everyone in Oklahoma, no matter their political leaning. Recent rulings from the Oklahoma Supreme Court have been inconsistent, political and partisan.Third, five of the nine Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices will be on the November ballot. Justices James Edmonson, Yvonne Kauger, Norma Gurich, Patrick Wyrick, and Richard Darby will face voters on a retention ballot. Since Oklahoma went to the retention ballot system, no judge has been turned out. Guess they all have done such a flawless job. Perhaps it’s time to change that and send some of them home. The job of the court is not to be a roadblock for citizen involvement in their government.