By TEDDYE SNELL
The U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions guarantee citizens the right to petition the government, and thousands of disgruntled voters are taking up the challenge.
Since last Tuesday’s election in which President Barack Obama won a second term, people in 30 states – including Oklahoma – have filed “petitions” seeking secession from the union. What the enthusiastic petition signatories may not realize, though, is the online forms are not “formal” petitions to amend the state’s constitution.
According to Oklahoma’s “petition” filed at http://tinyurl.com/d2a8q7b, at this writing, 11,756 people - including a number of out-of-state residents - have signed the document asking the federal government to “peacefully grant the state of Oklahoma to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own new government.”
The site, titled “We the People,” was created by the White House administration as a means to allow the citizenry to voice concerns, but not to affect any legal change.
“’We the People’ provides a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country,” states the site. “We created ‘We the People’ because we want to hear from you. If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.”
For the Oklahoma petition to gain review by the White House, 25,000 signatures must be collected by Dec. 10.
Amending the Oklahoma Constitution would require considerably more effort. Proponents of a ballot measure must file a copy of their petition with the secretary of state, and file separate copies of the measure’s text with the both the secretary of state and the attorney general. Proponents should also file a short ballot title – 200 words or less – with the secretary, explaining the measure.
Once the item has been reviewed and revised by the both the secretary of state and attorney general, a notice of filing is published in a paper of “general circulation,” the secretary certifies the text of the measure and the final title with the Oklahoma Election Board. Only then can signatures be collected, and to snare a slot on a ballot or have a special election declared, a state constitutional amendment petition must have 155,216 names – the equivalent of 15 percent of total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.
Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, recently filed a petition to prevent a redistricting measure, and understands how the process works. He wasn’t surprised to learn Tuesday about the online secession “petitions” in circulation.
“You don’t have to be smart to sign a petition,” said Wilson. “What’s happened is there’s so much dislike for Obama’s victory that people are grasping at straws.”
According to Wilson, though, the state cannot afford to secede.
“That would mean closing every single military installation in the state – Tinker, Vance, the ammunitions depots,” said Wilson. “[The state would lose] anything supported by the federal government. The Cherokee Nation would go belly-up. W.W. Hastings Hospital would cease to function. Our community would really suffer, because like or not, we’re primarily government [-funded]. People need to understand that for every $1 we send to the U.S. Treasury, Oklahoma receives $1.35 in federal funding.”
Wilson said most of the Southern states - many of which are among those petitioning for secession - are in the same boat as Oklahoma as “recipient states,” meaning they get back more money from the federal government than they contribute.
“Most of the Southern states are recipient states,” said Wilson. “Believe me, states like New York, New Jersey and California - donor states – would love for us to secede. Ask yourself, are we [Oklahomans] going to give up a third of our government largess if we secede?”
Wilson pointed out that facilities like Tahlequah City Hospital would also fail, as the bulk of its revenue comes from Medicare and Medicaid.
The Daily Press asked its Facebook friends to comment on the issue of secession, and many agreed with Wilson in one way or another, including Tahlequah resident Andrea Henson.
“Aside from the federal money, the state itself is broke,” said Henson. “We can’t afford to secede from the [union]. What programs would we have to start paying for? A short list includes Social Security, Medicare, the military ...I think this ‘petition’ is only helping to make our state continue to look redneck and backward.”
Former District Attorney Dianne Barker-Harrold said the petition initiative is “ridiculous.”
“The state is struggling financially already, and voters just passed tax cuts that will take millions away from schools and county governments, and not tax the higher-income people and corporations,” said Barker-Harrold. “Does the ‘United States of America’ not mean anything to the supporters of this initiative, and do people not remember how the North and South divided this country in the last secession attempt, and how many lost their lives? The United States is a world leader; this secession will make us look weak to the world.”
Tahlequah resident Jimmy Lang pointed out those serving in the military would face a number of hardships if secession were to move forward.
“If you’re in the National Guard or Reserves, you would have to leave the state or face court martial,” said Lang. “If you’re retired military, you would lose your retirement benefits. We would all lose Social Security. We would have to get Oklahoma passports to leave the state. We lose all the money we make from travel on Interstate Highways 35 and 40. We would lose the federal highways, as well, unless we maintained them. We can’t maintain our state highways as it is. All of this because a half-white man won the election in a system that is legal and a system a lot of us fought to protect?”
Tahlequah resident and U.S. Navy veteran Tony O’seland said the petition flurry is an “insane, knee-jerk response by bigots and fear-mongers,” organized by those who want to “whine about losing the election.”
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