Paul Jacob

As a kid, I spent many a summer with my family, vacationing at my aunt and uncle’s lake house in Michigan. Five in their brood and six more kids from our squad, together we created a . . . cacophony. No wonder, when we popped inside to make some request of the parental units, my uncle would quip, “Go play in traffic.”

Today, with those Michigan summers decades past, only politicians tell me to go play in traffic.

This election year in Virginia, Citizens in Charge sent an Initiative & Referendum Pledge to each candidate for the state legislature — and a separate but similar pledge to the three candidates on the ballot for governor. The goal is to identify legislative supporters and to also spur a discussion about the issue of citizen initiative rights — the ability for citizens to petition issues like term limits, tax limits, property rights, etc. onto the ballot . . . even against the wishes of powerful politicians.

The pledge for legislative candidates reads: “If elected to the Virginia General Assembly, I solemnly pledge to do my utmost to propose an amendment to the state constitution, which will, if passed by voters, establish a statewide process of initiative and referendum. I will support, vote for and, if necessary, sponsor such an amendment.”

The letter mailed and emailed along with the pledge to every ballot-qualified legislative candidate also encouraged those aspiring or incumbent elected representatives, whether signing the pledge or not, to “send any additional statement on the issue.”

This week an enthusiastic response came in from an incumbent in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s House of Delegates. This diligent delegate returned the most effusive letter of praise for Citizens in Charge and what we were doing through our Initiative & Referendum Pledge campaign, writing:

“Thank you for including me . . . I appreciate your efforts . . . I understand the value of pledges . . . I strongly encourage constituent groups and other legislative stakeholders to visit me in Richmond . . . I sincerely value your involvement and input . . . My door is always open. . . . I welcome you . . . Please do not hesitate to call my district office . . . I can also be reached anytime via email . . .”

Wow. What an open and welcoming fellow, eh?

Gee whiz, though, surely by “anytime” he doesn’t mean he stays up all night every night waiting to respond to any email that might pop up in his Inbox, does he?

This solon’s sunny-side-up response sorta put the service back in public servant for me . . . well, that is . . . until it dawned on me that, not only was there no signed pledge, there wasn’t a single word addressing his thinking on the issue of citizens being able to petition issues onto the ballot. Not one. Not even a syllable.

After all, that is what I had written the good gentleman about.

Like most incumbents, it turns out that Mr. Delegate only “understands the value” of pledges when they are exclusively “for candidates who have not held elective office.” Hmmm?

You see, the incumbent delegate told me, “I have cast over 5000 votes since entering the General Assembly. I respectfully ask that you and all of the members of Citizens in Charge review my voting record on www.legis.state.va.us.”

This is the “play in traffic” part: we are all implored to go online, to spend hours, if not days, researching every one of his 5,000 votes. Why? In order to get the answer the representative refuses to provide voluntarily as to what position he holds on initiative and referendum. He no more thinks we’ll waste our time in this way, you and I, than my uncle thought his smart-aleck ribbing would result in my cousins and siblings and me running out to play in traffic.

In fact, there wasn’t any traffic for miles around my uncle’s lake house! Nor it turns out did the incumbent legislator provide a correct website address. That site re-routes to this one: http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/.

Good luck finding out anything on either website, much less how any individual legislator voted on 5,000 different bills. Yet, even if we could peruse all those votes, they simply wouldn’t help us at all, because they weren’t cast on a constitutional amendment to establish statewide initiative and referendum for citizens.

The issue hasn’t come before the legislature in years.

Hence the reason for sending out an Initiative & Referendum Pledge.

The reader may by now be furiously interested in who this Virginia Delegate of whom I speak happens to be and wonder why I haven’t bothered to name him. The reason is simple. It is not about a single politician that I write today, but a system full of politicians working to become our representatives — but, simultaneously, working not to represent us.

Or to even allow us to know where they stand on issues, so that we might make effective choices for more effective representation.

This particular letter is not unique, not an outlier to be shocked at, but the usual response of the everyday politician in Everytown, USA, who represents himself first and foremost . . . and the voters when they provide enough heat for him to see the light.

However, the letter makes a worthy Exhibit A in why Virginians — and people in every political jurisdiction — need a lawful path to address critical issues and reform government without having to obtain the approval of their self-serving representatives [sic].     [See the original correspondence]


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.