Paul Jacob

Less oppressive government is (or was?) our competitive advantage in the world economic competition.

Staying the best in freedom and democracy, just like in textiles and synchronized swimming, requires constant innovation and improvement to make what is good even better. It means staying focused on that essential element that makes one the best in producing any product or service.

In America, for more than two centuries, our mission has been all about protecting the rights of life, liberty and at least the pursuit of happiness.

Today, I’m inspired by the democratic demands being sounded throughout the corrupt, autocratic Arab world. And yet, I’ve been kind of jealous, too. Greater freedom and democracy may be coming to these countries, while we in America are struggling to maintain our own.

Where are the political leaders advocating meaningful reforms that provide ever-improved control by the voters?

You can count them on one hand. Most politicians work to undercut any democratic check on their power. After yet another election in which energized voters demanded serious change, state legislators in many of the 24 states with voter initiative have returned to session with perennial bills to void the initiative power of voters.

The very same voters they pledge to represent.

Citizens in Charge and Citizens in Charge Foundation polled Americans in all 50 states last year. By at least a two to one margin and as high as a seven to one margin, voters in each state favor initiative and referendum, where issues can be petitioned onto the ballot for a vote. That doesn’t stop powerful politicians and the sometimes chummy forces of big labor and big business from working to block establishing the initiative and referendum process in the states that lack it and scheming to snuff it out where it does exist.

In Colorado, the initiative petition process has been declared “dead” because of a 2009 law that enables lawsuits against the proponents of citizen petitions, personally. Major parts of this law have already been blocked by a federal court on constitutional grounds, but the remaining portions still threaten citizens with bankruptcy as a consequence of their political action. Now legislators are pushing new statutes and a constitutional amendment designed to drive deeper nails into the proverbial coffin.

Interestingly, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a union-backed group that advocates the “progressive” use of the initiative and lobbies state legislatures to handcuff the process, awards “dead” Colorado their highest grade in the nation.

In Washington State, legislators are considering a law to regulate and manacle those paid to circulate initiative petitions. But the only case of petition fraud in memory was an SEIU official who has admitted forging signatures on last year’s unsuccessful initiative to establish a state income tax. Not only is documented petition fraud incredibly rare in Washington state and across the country, but the legislation, enthusiastically if not apologetically endorsed by SEIU, regulates paid petitioners working for petition companies — unions like SEIU are exempt!

Currently, Nevada citizens must gather signatures in each of the state’s three congressional districts to qualify a statewide ballot issue. Legislation has been introduced to increase it from these three petition drives to 42 separate drives by requiring issues to qualify in all 42 state legislative districts.

Oklahoma voters passed a constitutional amendment last November to make it s little easier to place initiatives on the statewide ballot. A few months later, Oklahoma’s state senate passed a constitutional amendment attempting to make it harder.

The battle for freedom and democracy is not taking place just in a far off land in fast flickers on your television screen; it rages in a city hall and state capitol near you. And if we citizens ever stop fighting to protect and to enlarge our freedom and our control over our democratic republic, we will cease to be No. 1 in the world.

At least, in terms of what matters.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.