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Reforming American Democracy Through Citizen Initiative: An Interview with Paul Jacob

by , Editor in Chief, Free Liberal

Paul JacobPaul Jacob is the president of Liberty Initiative Fund, a group that works with state and local activists on putting liberty issues on the ballot.


What is your personal mission and how do you represent that mission in the organizations you are involved with?

I’m trying to expand freedom and protect it – hopefully, in a meaningful and lasting way. I think we can make a difference through political action that can change the history of America and the world.

I work with Citizens in Charge and Citizens in Charge Foundation to protect and expand the initiative and referendum process, the most important path citizens have to make reforms, especially to limit government.

We mobilize folks from across the political spectrum to block bad legislation aimed “fixing” the rules to undermine initiative petitions. Sometimes we get to help pass important reforms. This year in Nebraska, legislators unanimously repealed a restriction to the state’s petition process that was passed a decade ago by angry legislators first being blocked from reelection because of a term limits ballot initiative.

We also litigate to defend petition rights and have had a good bit of success striking down mean-spirited state laws aimed at blocking petitions.

In addition to making sure there is a ballot initiative process to use, I also am happy I get to use it through Liberty Initiative Fund, where I serve as president. We’re launching three campaigns featuring state and city initiatives that: (1) Hold Government Accountable, (2) Stop Crony Capitalism, and (3) Protect Our Liberties.

From term limits, to ending civil asset forfeiture, to blocking corporate welfare, the ballot initiative process is where we can achieve the most change.

What are your most important campaigns right now and what should we know about them?

Last week, Arkansas Term Limits, a group we’re working closely with, filed an initiative to restore term limits in the wake of a deceptive ballot measure that passed last November. Legislators referred the amendment, which claimed to impose a gift ban, but it actually doubled their time in office and garnered politicians a 150% pay raise to boot, while the gift ban has been easily circumvented.

Holding government accountable might best be accomplished by kicking Arkansas legislators in the pants. Hard. But restoring term limits is a close second best.

I’m excited about a Kansas City, Missouri initiative now gathering signatures that seeks to block municipal officials from spending tax dollars to push for expanding light rail in the city. This after the same initiative activists defeated an effort by city officials to expand light rail, only to hear the mayor and others ignore the voters and announce on the evening of their defeat that they’d keep trying.

Washington state’s Tim Eyman and Voters Want More Choices are closing in on gathering enough voter signatures to earn a place on the state’s November 2015 ballot. The measure is the next step after the state supreme court struck down his previous statutory initiative requiring a 2/3rds legislative vote to raise taxes. This time, the law lowers the state sales tax until and unless the legislature votes to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on a 2/3rds legislative vote to raise taxes.

In the wake of all the criminal justice issues blazing throughout the last year, stay tuned for a number of city initiatives to end civil asset forfeiture, mandate police body cameras and stop policing for profit this year and in 2016.

[Editor’s Note: A body-cameras-for-cops petition has been filed in Ferguson, MO by local citizens ]

What is your greatest reason for hope and your greatest reason for fear in America in the next 5 years?

My greatest reason for hope is the strong strain of libertarianism in millennials and I think our viewpoint seems to be growing across the board. At some point in the 1990s, I realized people were more skeptical of big government than at any point in my life. For many years, I’ve felt like the public has been getting more libertarian, yet we have a lot of difficulty implementing the will of the people for less government through the governing process.

Again, to me it demonstrates the critical function of direct democratic processes like initiative, referendum and recall.

The greatest fear is our never-ending war that begets a never-ending national security police state and a devil like “the terrorists” to justify acceptance of both evils — and even more evils. We have to stop the war to make the kind of change I want to make.

In 2007, you were indicted in Oklahoma on state charges that were eventually thrown out by the Federal court. How often do government officials use their power of prosecution to shut down their opponents?

The charges were dismissed against the three of us, “the Oklahoma Three,” by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson a year and a half after he brought the very politically-motivated charges. I believe his motivation was to block us from placing an initiative on the ballot to control state spending.

And that much may have worked for him.

In the end, the charges were dismissed because he couldn’t even get through a preliminary hearing with enough evidence to get a judge to hold us over for trial. And because from the Wall Street Journal and Forbes editorials to Ralph Nader calling him out, the AG was roundly criticized for this attempted persecution.

How often do those in power use that power to shut down their opponents? As often as they think they can get away with it. That’s precisely why it is so important to fight back against these bullies.

We succeeded in Oklahoma not just because we were innocent, but also because we went on offense. During the time I was under indictment, we worked to get a constitutional amendment passed to term-limit the AG and other statewide officials and another to make it easier to petition measures onto the ballot. Another group challenged the state’s petition rules in federal court and overturned the law. Most important of all, Drew Edmondson is now a private citizen again and not a powerful AG.

It’s important that bad behavior by AGs be punished at the polls.

[Editor’s note: Read more about the case in The Oklahoman, “State’s unjust prosecution” and Forbes, “Has North Korea Annexed Oklahoma”]

You’ve been in this business a long time. It isn’t without its risks. You have actually gone to prison for your beliefs. At the very beginning of your career, you were a draft resister. Can you tell us about that experience?

In college, when I first became involved in the libertarian movement, we focused a lot on the threat that the military draft would return. I felt a duty not to register for it. I didn’t want to send a message to the government that I was theirs to register or to conscript; I was not going to be forced to kill or die in a cause I didn’t believe in.

So, in 1980, as the then-19-year-old chairman of the Arkansas Libertarian Party, I organized a protest against draft registration and spoke out to the news media, which outnumbered we protesters about 5 to 1. From that news conference, the head of the Selective Service System in Little Rock sent my name to the Justice Department, which placed me on the top list for prosecution.

Unlike other targeted resisters, I traveled throughout the country from 1981 through the end of 1983, and was featured in Rolling Stone magazine as the movement’s first “underground” resister. After my indictment in absentia in September of 1982, I became a federal fugitive.

In late 1983, I returned to Arkansas to get married and await the birth of my first child. On Dec. 6, 1984, three FBI agents arrested me at my home. Awaiting trial, I continued to travel speaking against the draft and registration for it.

In July of 1982, I was convicted and began serving the longest prison term of any post-Vietnam draft resister: 5 years with all but 5 and ½ months of the sentence suspended, and two years of community service.

My take-away from it all has been very empowering. I got to see that when we oppose tyranny, we make people judge and decide and that’s a good thing. I trust my fellow citizen a lot more today because of how I saw people react, who both agreed and disagreed with me politically. Even going to prison, I caught a good glimpse of the real-life limits on government power.

The government can’t crush us like bugs, not because the words of the Constitution protect us alone or because we have guns to back down the Feds, but because we have each other. We’re connected. And I’m not going to ignore attacks on you or your rights and I have a degree of faith you won’t look the other way if my rights are violated. That’s what keeps us as free as we are.

Lastly, I think resisting the draft is the nicest thing I’ve ever done for my fellow man.

[Editor’s note: While in prison in 1982, Paul Jacob wrote “The Draft is Slavery” which appeared as an afterword in Neil Schulman’s The Rainbow Cadenza. In 1985, he wrote “Why I Refuse to Register” which appeared in the Orange County Register. ]

About

Comrade Führer Kevin Rollins faces the world with an open heart and an open mind.
Kevin Rollins is the founder and editor of Free Liberal and principal of Kevin Rollins Consulting. He was formerly the managing editor of Econ Journal Watch. He holds a master’s in economics from George Mason University.