Grassroots Win Shootout In The West
- Grassroots Win Shootout In The West
June 30, 2004 by Phyllis SchlaflyNevada 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 side was a grandmother armed with a pen, a petition and
Janine Hansen is one of the leaders of a grassroots effort to require
public officials to obey the Nevada state constitution. Their petition
drive has struck fear in Nevada public officials seeking higher taxes.
Imagine that - forcing public officials to obey the constitution! In
1996, Nevada voters amended their constitution to require a
two-thirds vote of the legislature before a tax increase could become
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 constitution.
Janine 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 a large public bus station in downtown Reno known as the
Built with taxpayers' 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 Thursday, May 6th. Janine
Hansen and her son were collecting signatures for a referendum to
overturn the tax increase, and CitiCenter managers set out to stop
Less than two weeks earlier, 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 Mrs. Hansen at the bus station. Officers
approached her and demanded that she cease and desist.
"They told us to stop gathering signatures," Mrs. 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. Mrs. 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
Mrs. 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.
Next came the ride to the local jail, where Mrs. Hansen and her son
were incarcerated with unsavory types in a community cell until one
o'clock a.m. Mrs. Hansen was sustained during this demoralizing
experience by knowing she was in the right.
The transportation center remained unapologetic, demanding the
power to arrest all those who gather signatures unless they fill out a
detailed government form, specify future dates for the petition activity,
and obtain prior approval from a bureaucrat.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal asked, "Why are these people being
harassed, and even jailed? ... You remember the Constitution, don't
you, officers? It's that faded old document that charges you with
protecting our liberties -- the reason citizens fund your paychecks."
The battleground then shifted to the courthouse. Finally on a level
playing field, the grandmother routed her more powerful opponents.
After hearing exhaustive testimony and working late into the night,
state district judge Kenneth C. Cory handed Mrs. Hansen total
victory. He enjoined the transportation center, the director of Motor
Vehicles and other public entities from "intimidating or preventing"
Mrs. Hansen and her associates "from the full enjoyment of their
constitutional rights to free speech and to obtain signatures of
individuals on initiative and referendum petitions."
Judge Cory also extended the deadline for collecting signatures to
qualify for the ballot. It now appears likely that the voters will be able
to repudiate the massive tax increase that was rammed through the
A second referendum supported by Mrs. Hansen may also be put to
the voters. Recognizing the problem of legislators who are also
employed by state or local government, she seeks an independent
legislature free from government bias.
When government employees also serve in the legislature or other
elective office, that provides a powerful incentive to continue the cycle
of tax-and-spend. Thanks to the valiant efforts of Janine Hansen, it
looks like Nevadans will have the opportunity both to roll back a tax
increase and to improve their system of government.
PO Box 618
Alton, IL 62002