An American hero

Paul Jacob

4/4/2004 12:00:00 AM - Paul Jacob

You?ve probably never heard of Jack Adsit, but he?s one of my heroes. He?s a veteran of ?the big one?--World War II--and traces his lineage all the way back to Adsits, a father and son, who fought in the Revolutionary War. But,  his heroism stems from a different kind of war: the struggle for term limits.

For the last dozen years, this 77-year old ?average Jack? has battled the most powerful politicians and special interests in his home state of Wyoming, first to put term limits on the ballot and win the initiative, and then to defend this vote of the people from an array of legislative and legal assaults.

Citizen Soldier

The bane of our political existence are politicians who have no respect for the voters and, in fact, despise the very idea that simple-minded voters would dare to tell them what to do. Regular readers of my free Common Sense e-letter are well-informed about such politicians.

On the other hand, our hope is found in ordinary Americans--people like Jack Adsit--who believe in citizen control of government and will stand up to defend their rights against threats ?both foreign and domestic.?

Admittedly, Adsit is not an expert. In fact, he never graduated from high school. Nor is he any kind of slick political operator.

But Jack Adsit loves his country and is inspired by the ideas that have made America great. His patriotism led him to continue to study the laws of our land and the issues of the day, including plenty of lessons from the school of political hard knocks.

Even some in the term limits movement had doubts that a guy lacking political connections and media savvy could mount a winning campaign. But not only did Adsit win, he won big.

In 1992, Wyoming voters sent an unequivocal message with 77.2 percent favoring term limits--the highest percentage for a term limits measure of any state in the nation. Perhaps the big victory was due to the pioneer spirit that is still so vibrant in the Cowboy State, but no one who knows politics would dismiss Jack?s diligent campaign.

After such a tremendous political victory, some folks might have been plotting their next political move. Adsit was looking forward to retirement.

Yet, it was not to be.  Less than 60 days after the election, as legislators met in Cheyenne, bills to gut the term limits initiative began to move through the Legislature. Legislators wanted to delay the implementation of the congressional limits (forever, essentially) and double the limit in the House.

Mr. Adsit Goes to Cheyenne

Adsit was shocked (unlike more experienced cynics). He called various legislators and players in Wyoming politics to ask how any representative could go against such an overwhelming vote of the people. The arrogance he met led to a phone call asking for help from U.S. Term Limits in reaching the people.

Within days, U.S. Term Limits had an ad on statewide TV and Jack Adsit was traveling 320 snowy miles from his home in Sheridan to the capitol in Cheyenne. Jack entered the capitol much as a religious person might enter a cathedral. He was in awe of all the building stood for.

But his awe soon turned to dismay. As he testified for an hour before a committee, his legislators belittled and attacked this humble man. House Speaker Doug Chamberlain asked why these solons should listen to ?an Okie who had never stepped foot in the capitol before.? Another legislator actually called Jack an SOB. Jack, angry and disgusted, maintained his calm, defended the vote of 77 percent of his fellow citizens and endured the hour-long tongue-lashing from his servants in the Legislature.

?I got a pretty good education in Cheyenne,? Jack says of his ordeal. And he smiles when he adds, ?And it didn?t take me twelve years.?

Meanwhile, the television ad reached the 77 percent loud and clear. The public fury was immediate and so great that several politicians reported being accosted and fearing for their safety. Legislators tabled the bills.

Back At It

Now legislators were angry. Really angry. Who was this Adsit fellow? And who were these folks in Washington who dared fund television ads calling legislators arrogant and out of touch?

Two years later, in 1995, legislators were at it again, seeking to double the limit in the state House. Jack went to Cheyenne to urge that any change to a 77-percent vote of the people should go to the voters.

Voters? Listen to the voters? Count them as political adults worthy of any consideration? Legislators would have none of that. After all, the voters had caused the problem in the first place. Legislators doubled their voter-enacted term limits and refused to allow the voters any say.

Did I mention that Wyoming has a referendum process, whereby citizens can petition to put legislation to a vote of the people? The man who just wanted to retire was instead managing a second successful petition drive in the nation?s toughest petition state.

During the ensuing referendum campaign, every special interest with their hooks in the Legislature campaigned against the referendum. Days before the election, the sitting governor and two former governors held a news conference to urge a vote against the referendum.

But on election night, 54 percent of Wyoming voters said they wanted _their_ term limits back in effect. That night the governor said that the people had spoken and, though he disagreed, it was time to abide by the will of the people.

Yet, in the morning, the governor was told about a provision of the Wyoming Constitution requiring referendums to pass by a majority of everyone who went to the polls that day?not just those who voted on the referendum. The measure had narrowly failed and the House limit pushed to 12 years.

When in Doubt, Sue

Now, twelve years after beginning the effort to bring term limits to Wyoming, those limits are set to remove the first batch of long-serving legislators. But Adsit?s work still isn?t done.

Two legislators have filed suit to overturn the term limits initiative. Fearing the state might lay down (and roll over) on the case, something that has indeed occurred elsewhere, Jack convinced U.S. Term Limits to join him in intervening to defend the voter-enacted limits. Now a decision from the Wyoming Supreme Court is pending.  I believe the law is on the side of term limits, but wonder if that will even matter.

If the court should strike down the term limits law, deciding that a constitutional amendment must be enacted, the only route for term limits would require hostile legislators to vote for it. What kind of government would refuse to listen to 77 percent of the people?
 
Some worry that the people no longer trust their unrepresentative representatives. But more troubling is the fact that the politicians don?t trust or respect the people they are supposed to serve.  No wonder a recent poll showed that most Americans feel they have no voice in their government.

Jack Adsit is fighting because he believes, ?If our vote doesn?t count for anything, we?ve lost our Republic.? As long as there are stand-up citizens like Jack Adsit, there will always be hope.