Paul Jacob
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The flag and the Great Seal of my home state, Virginia, feature the Roman goddess Virtus holding a spear and a sword, standing tall with her foot on the neck of a fallen tyrant. Below this is inscribed the commonwealth’s motto, the Latin phrase “Sic Semper Tyrannis.”

Sic semper tyrannis is precisely translated “thus always with tyrants.” But “death to all tyrants” is what was commonly meant by the phrase.

Mealy-mouthed, our founders were not.

Indeed, Thomas Jefferson suggested that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Our revolutionary beginnings are inspiring and all, but most sane members of today’s body politic have no desire to bleed or even to make “tyrants” bleed. We’re totally copacetic replacing peaceful vote for spear and sword.

Perhaps that explains why those wishing to rule us (as opposed to represent us) have backed off on their various “gun-grabbing” gambits, while ramping up their attacks on the petition process of initiative and referendum.

Legitimate government is anchored on the consent of the governed. Yet, ours not only lacks popular approval, the men and women pulling the levers are actively trying to cut “We the People” out of the picture.

Except, of course, to shut up and pay our taxes.

From Washington, D.C., to Sacramento, California, to little towns like Boulder City, Nevada, and Monroe, Washington, elected representatives of the people conspire to remove those people’s most effective means of oversight. They block the opportunity for those whom they should serve and to whom they must answer to decide issues at the ballot box.

Why protest Washington, D.C., chapter and verse? Everyone knows that Congress doesn’t represent us, regularly passing laws that a majority of folks oppose. Voters have booted majority parties three times in the last two decades. No change ensued. Today, Congress has set another all-time mark: the lowest public approval. Ever. Twelve percent.

Likewise, President Obama’s approval ratings are drooping. And it’s not simply due to the economy. All rational people now know that the problem with Barack Obama is not that he is “so different,” but that he is so much the same as every other politician. On the biggest new law, ObamaCare, while the candidate understood that “part of what we have to do is enlist the American people in this process,” and passionately promised “the public will be part of the conversation,” the president reneged in full.

Maybe Candidate Obama was pulling our leg. (Not funny.) Or he was recklessly not serious about following through on the promises that so led so many to place in him so much trust. Take your pick.

As the country reels under crisis, no one in the White House or Congress has even stumbled upon an idea that would include the American people more deeply in the conversation, give the voters a small role in decision-making, or, heaven forbid, any sort of check on their representatives’ awesome power.

Sadly, this studied lack of interest in ‘government by the people’ has also found its way to your state capital and even your city, town, village or hamlet.

In Sacramento, California, Governor Brown has already vetoed a bill passed by his own party’s legislators that would “drive up the costs of circulating ballot measures, thereby further favoring the wealthiest interests.” Another bill is now on Brown’s desk that would force people compensated in any way for circulating a petition to wear a sign that reads: “Paid Signature Gatherer.”

A majority of California representatives believe they have a right to slap a sign on a citizen’s chest if that uppity citizen engages in democratic acts legislators frown upon.

“We are trying to take on a giant with one hand tied behind our back,” Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto told the Los Angeles Times. The “giant” is the democratic right of Californians to petition issues onto the ballot and counter their out-of-control legislature.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported via headline that “Sen. Loni Hancock acts to thwart Amazon referendum.” Amazon.com is financing a referendum to challenge and place to a public vote legislation that will tax online retailers. Hancock argues, “The initiative and referendum process has increasingly been hijacked by large corporations for measures that would benefit their companies and businesses.”

Wealthy interests can, indeed, leverage the initiative process. But voters ultimately get to decide, and are not tricked like toddlers by TV ads. In 2010, Pacific Gas & Electric outspent its opposition 161 to 1; its ballot measures still went down to defeat. Amazon’s effort, self-interested no doubt, solicits nothing more than a decision from the citizens of California; Sen. Hancock’s goal is to prevent just such a public vote.

You can find the same disdain for citizen input even in small-town America. In this space in January, I told a story of Boulder City, Nevada, where citizens petitioning to place several initiative measures were personally sued by their own city government in an attempt to intimidate them and block a vote. Then, they were sued again after the measures passed.

In Monroe, Washington, citizens are locked in an ongoing battle to gain a simple vote on a measure to stop red-light cameras. Initiative activist Tim Eyman sums up the disrespectful, irresponsible behavior of local officials: “After working tirelessly to obstruct citizens who have attempted to participate in the traffic camera discussion, suing their own citizens, insulting the citizens by offering false choices at the ballot box and finally breaking all ethical boundaries by contaminating the anti-camera committee” by appointing “their pro-camera obstructionist” to it, “the Mayor and City Council's silence in the wake of this broiling battle has been absolutely deafening.”

It’s not just Monroe. Every time citizens anywhere in the country have voted on such traffic-ticketing cameras, they’ve said, “No!” Yet, politicians in city after city attempt to install the cameras to fleece citizens without their consent. When challenged in this unpopular endeavor, in localities in which citizens enjoy initiative and referendum rights, the politicians work to overturn the applecart of democracy.

Thus it always is, with tyrants.

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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.