Paul Jacob

“All Americans Agree Our Politicians Suck.”

That’s how FDL’s Jon Walker summarized-by-headline a comprehensive survey of American opinion, the newly released fifth political typology study conducted by the Pew Research Center, entitled “Beyond Red & Blue.”

“There are few points on which all the typology groups can agree,” Pew reports, “but cynicism about politicians is one. Majorities across all eight groups, as well as Bystanders, say elected officials lose touch with the people pretty quickly.”

The numbers are startling. Fully 72 percent of us agree that those we send to Washington to represent us promptly lose touch with us. Sixty percent “strongly agree.”

Asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “Most elected officials don’t care what people like me think,” 69 percent of Americans agreed — 60 percent strongly so.

You’d almost think we need labels on politicians to alert folks to the danger: “Warning: Highly Paid Politician Spending Your Money” or “Beware: Usual Politician Who Says One Thing and Does Another.”

But seriously, even in a robust state for voter initiatives like California, no crazy citizen has ever proposed such a humiliating, obviously unconstitutional and historically repugnant idea as making politicians go around in public wearing warning labels on their chest. It’d be downright un-American.

Instead, that’s what California State Senators Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) intend to force on citizens. Under their landmark Senate Bill 448, in section (c), “The individual circulating an initiative, referendum, or recall petition shall wear the badge required by subdivisions (a) and (b) on his or her chest in clear view of all individuals signing or asked to sign the petition.”

Section (a) of the bill requires one’s new personal license plate to read, either “PAID SIGNATURE GATHERER” or “VOLUNTEER SIGNATURE GATHERER.” Though our nation’s High Court has ruled unanimously that citizens have a “core” right to hire people to circulate their petitions, legislators insolently hinder this right and belittle those exercising it.

Even though being a registered voter is not required of those who circulate petitions, SB-448’s section (b) mandates that the chest-badge also contain either the California county in which one is registered to vote or display, “NOT REGISTERED TO VOTE.”

This proposed new law, no doubt deliberated over at length by these senators, would compel a husband or wife receiving a petition in the mail to fashion a badge and to wear it before engaging in any political conversation with one another. Or heaven forbid, talk to a parent. Or sibling. Or friend or neighbor or co-worker.

Citizens should not have to wear large badges on their chests when speaking to their neighbors or friends or relatives or, heck, even total strangers about politics. Or, for that matter, any subject two or more free people voluntarily choose to discuss.

Just to be clear the “badge” is to be nearly as large as a placard, Section (d) states, “The print on the badge shall be no smaller than 30-point font.”

I thought California Democrats were “live and let live” folks. Apparently that doesn’t extend to petitioning one’s government.

At least, not if the petition could have the impact of reforming government in ways our reviled politicians don’t favor or to refer a law our rulers have passed to a vote of the people or to recall one of our exalted solons. While SB-448 harasses initiative petition circulators, none of the rules apply to the same petition circulator when working to gather signatures for Senator DeSaulnier or Hancock.

Oversight? Don’t hold your breath waiting for a friendly amendment.

Government has no rightful power to force citizens to display signs on their chests saying what the government prescribes — no matter the message. This is even more clear regarding those engaged in petitioning their government, something the U.S. Supreme Court places at the “zenith” of the First Amendment.

The sponsors of this ludicrous legislation so despise the initiative process and bristle at the thought of the voters actually being their boss that they have lost their senses.

Is it any wonder why politicians aren’t better liked?


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.