State Officials Await Details Of Court TABOR Decision

Saturday, September 2nd 2006, 1:20 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling throwing out the so-called taxpayer bill of rights because of ``illegal activities'' of out-of-state initiative petition circulators could have a significant impact on the political process in the state, officials say.

The court tossed the so-called TABOR petition last week on a 9-0 vote, saying it lacked sufficient signatures. The plan would restrict state government spending to the growth in inflation and population.

Chief Justice Joseph M. Watt, in a brief order, wrote that an official opinion will be released later ``specifically addressing the issues of signers' numerical insufficiency and of illegal activities of out-of-state circulators.''

The court decision was a surprise to petition supporters, who collected 299,000 signatures on the proposal.

It came a few minutes after TABOR supporter Randy Brogdon, a Republican state senator from Owasso, announced formation of Oklahomans for Good Government, a group designed to raise money for a campaign to pass the issue.

Attorney Kent Meyers, in arguments before a Supreme Court referee, had charged that those working on the petition drive had committed ``fraud, corruption and chicanery'' by using scores of nonresident circulators to collect tens of thousands of signatures as the deadline for gathering the required signatures neared.

Supreme Court Referee Gregory W. Albert found that the petition was 1,341 valid signatures short after disallowing 80,806 signatures for various reasons, including 56,940 that were collected by circulators who lived out of state.

Albert wrote of ``significant evidence'' that National Voter Outreach had ``knowingly'' imported crews of out-of-state circulators ``in violation of Oklahoma law.''

The Associated Press attempted to contact NVO for comment on the court ruling, but calls were not returned.

Rick Carpenter of Oklahomans in Action said his Tulsa-based group received more than $1 million for the petition drive and about 99 percent of the money came from one source _ Americans for Limited Government.

That group is headed by Howard Rich, a New York real estate investor and political activist who also headed U.S. Term Limits, which was involved in passing a proposal to limit the terms of legislators in several states in the 1990s, including Oklahoma.

Carpenter said the recent petition drive picked up steam after state Senate leaders blocked a hearing on a TABOR-like proposal by Brogdon.

He said the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative group, was at the forefront of the TABOR movement in Oklahoma and the idea got rolling after OCPA official Brandon Dutcher attended a 2005 meeting of ``think tank types'' in Virginia.

Ironically, two of OCPA's board members _ former Oklahoma Attorney General G.T. Blankenship and Tulsa businessman John Brock _ were among the group of business leaders that filed the lawsuit challenging TABOR that led to the Supreme Court decision.

The group, represented by Meyers, challenged the petition both on the sufficiency of signatures and on the constitutionality of the proposed state question. Leaders of the group said it would hurt the state's progress by limiting the ability of the Legislature to properly fund roads, schools, health care and other vital services.

Some officials have long complained that out-of-state groups have unduly influenced the political process in Oklahoma through the initiative process in recent decades.

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, said Thursday's Supreme Court order ``sends a clear signal that Oklahoma will not allow out-of-state interests to manipulate public policy in our state.

``The initiative petition is an important tool granted to the citizens of Oklahoma in their Constitution. The Supreme Court said that abuse of the initiative process by special interests groups from beyond our orders will not be tolerated.''

Carpenter disagreed that the TABOR idea was being ``pushed'' on Oklahoma voters. ``There was a strong push for it from within Oklahoma,'' between the efforts of Brogdon and the OCPA, he said.

``Brandon (Dutcher) had been writing about this thing for three or four years. The push came from within the state, but not the funding source.

``The fact that a funding source was found outside the state is irreverent to me. It was an opportunity to make changes that we want to make in government and we would be fools not to take it.''

Carpenter said changes need to be made in the initiative process in Oklahoma. He said he sat through days of hearings before the Supreme Court referee and was confused about exactly what the requirements are for someone to circulate initiative petitions.

``I still don't know what a qualified elector or a bona fide resident is,'' he said.

Brogdon's group will carry the TABOR banner from now on, Carpenter said.

It remains a touchy political issue, but has not generated a lot of talk in statewide or congressional races.

The Associated Press surveyed the then-148 members of the Legislature in late March and 86 House and Senate members opposed the plan. Only 17 would publicly support the proposition and 45 were undecided.