Nevada just witnessed the political equivalent of Shootout at the OK Corral. On one side was the full power of the Nevada government, and on the other was a grandmother armed only with a pen, petition and clipboard.
Janine Hansen is one leader of a grass-roots effort to require public officials to obey the Nevada state constitution. Their petition drive has struck fear in Nevada public officials seeking to raise taxes.
Imagine that - forcing public officials to obey their state constitution. In 1996, Nevada voters amended the state constitution to require a two-thirds vote of the legislature before a tax increase could become law.
The legislators and the governor tried to ignore this requirement, and the governor secretly obtained prior assurances from the Nevada Supreme Court that it would give judicial blessing to the deal to bypass the state constitution.
Hansen began gathering signatures on petitions to put the tax issue on the ballot so voters could have the last word. She took her effort to the CitiCenter, a large public bus station in downtown Reno.
Built with taxpayer money, CitiCenter is open to all except, apparently, those collecting signatures to hold government accountable to voters. Despite a 2001 law mandating that the facility allow petition drives for properly registered initiatives, the agency in charge had other plans.
"High noon" occurred during rush hour on May 6. Janine Hansen and her son were collecting signatures for a referendum to overturn the tax increase, and CitiCenter managers set out to stop her.
Less than two weeks before, officials had stopped the collection of signatures for this referendum at a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Reno while allowing petition gathering for a public school initiative. The governor's office later admitted it was improper to interfere with the tax referendum effort there.
But the Regional Transportation Commission, which runs CitiCenter, was determined to stop Hansen.
Officers approached her and demanded that she cease and desist.
"They told us to stop gathering signatures," Hansen said. "I told them their policy was a violation of state law."
Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller had issued a letter explaining that petition signatures may be collected without notice at public facilities in accordance with state law. Hansen explained, "We said we could, and weren't going to stop, so they arrested us. We weren't going to follow some illegal edict by a petty bureaucrat."
Photographers snapped pictures of an armed policeman handcuffing Hansen's wrists behind her back. After all, if her hands were free, she might have been able to gather more names on her petition.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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