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Paul Gallegos, Humboldt County District Attorney (6 mins)
Kaitlin-Sopoci-Belknap, Campaign Co-Manager for Measure T (19 mins)
John Bonifaz, Attorney and Founder of the National Voting Rights Institute (17 mins)
Local Group Seeks Fair Elections
Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights seeks ballot initiative prohibiting non-local corporations from election participation
Amid a jubilant crowd of supporters, representatives of the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights [HCCR] carried a mass of 7,668 signed petitions into the county elections office on the morning of Jan. 19th. The petitions were signed by local residents who want to see an initiative placed on the June 2006 ballot, which would prohibit non-local corporations from contributing money or in-kind support to influence the results of local elections. The initiative is titled "Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy."
HCCR is a group of local people, whose stated goal is to get the initiative passed. It is supported by the Democratic Party of Humboldt County, the Central Labor Council of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, and several prominent local officials, including Dave Meserve and Harmony Groves of the Arcata City Council, Chris Kerrigan and Peter LaVallee of the Eureka City Council, and District Attorney Paul Gallegos. Several hundred Humboldt residents have also expressed their approval of the initiative on HCCR's website, www.votelocalcontrol.org.
HCCR's concerns were triggered by two events in recent years - one was the attempt to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos in 2003. At that time, Gallegos had filed a lawsuit against Pacific Lumber for providing faulty data to the government during the Headwaters negotiations. Pacific Lumber's parent company, Maxxam Corp., and other timber interests contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the recall effort. Gallegos was supported by 60% of the voters, and retained his position.
The second issue was Wal-Mart's attempt in 1999 to build a store on Eureka's waterfront Balloon Track. The issue was highly controversial, with many residents believing that Wal-Mart would ultimately harm the local economy far more than it would help it. Wal-Mart subsequently launched a campaign to change Eureka's zoning ordinances, spending $235,000, according to HCCR, but subsequently lost at the polls.
HCCR feels strongly that local citizens should not have to struggle to raise thousands of dollars, to compete with the pressures of well-funded mega-corporations.
"We think that the folks who live in this county should be the ones deciding who is elected and we think that large corporations from outside our community should not have the ability to dictate what happens in our local elections," said HCCR spokesperson Yvonne Doble. "I was born and raised here and I want to preserve the way of life I grew up with - the people who live here should determine our future."
"This campaign is what democracy is all about, regular people engaging their fellow citizens in the process and making sure that the system works. When this law passes in June, our elections will be more just and our community will be better off. The vast support this campaign has received so far just shows what a solid initiative this is," said Patrick Riggs, Chair of the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee.
"I want to thank the volunteers who dedicated many hours for the benefit of their fellow citizens. I know that you weren't doing this for personal gain, and your commitment to improving the integrity of our local elections is admirable," said District Attorney Paul Gallegos.
"Thanks, I guess," joked a clerk in the Elections Office, upon receiving the boxes of petitions. She and her colleagues have 30 days to confirm the validity of the signatures. According to the county's website, only 4,387 valid signatures are needed to qualify the initiative measure for the June 30, 2006 election.
Humboldt is not the first community to try such an initiative. Several others have been enacted and subsequently overturned in courts. Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, the HCCR Campaign Manager, said that her group had received advice from other communities, and had studied the court cases carefully, to include language that would ensure the initiative's legality. She said that no one individual had written the ordinance, but that it was a group effort of thirty people.
The language of the initiative is so specific, in fact, that it may actually exclude some local corporations as well. Local corporations are defined as those whose employees and owners/stockholders live in Humboldt County, whose headquarters is in Humboldt County and who are not owned by another corporation. A small locally-owned business, for example, that operated in one of the outlying towns, such as Willow Creek or Garberville, and had even a single employee who lived across the county line would be considered non-local according to the initiative's legal language. Even though such a business might want to contribute funds - or cookies, or free copying services -- to a candidate running for a local school board, it might not be allowed to do so.
Sopoci-Belknap said that she did not think this would be a problem. "People can still donate their money as individual persons - the law is very clear about that," she said. "We tried to protect local corporations as best we could, but we had to draw the line somewhere."
"Corporations are not persons, and should not have the same rights as persons, "she said. "Corporations have a legal duty to maximize profits for their shareholders, that has to be their primary goal. They are not organized for the benefit of the community."
A controversy similar to the Wal-Mart issue is once again building in Eureka, as Home Depot is considering building a store on the Balloon Track, and the proposed developer, Security National Servicing Corp., may request that the Eureka City Council change the zoning to enable this development. If the initiative passes, both Home Depot and Security National would be blocked from imitating Wal-Mart's attempt to change local legislation. Even though Security National is headquartered in Eureka, its parent company is located outside the county, thus disqualifying it as a local corporation, explained Sopoci-Belknap. She said that nothing would legally prevent Robin Arkley, Jr., who owns Security National, from donating to a campaign as an individual, rather than through his corporation.
Once the signatures are verified by the Elections Office, the county staff will have to estimate the cost of implementing the initiative, Sopoci-Belknap said. At that point, the initiative will be brought before the Board of Supervisors. If the Board wishes, they can pass the initiative into law immediately, or they can choose to put it on the ballot.
"We hope that they do decide to put it on the ballot," she said. "We want it to be clear that this is the will of the people."
Some members of the Arcata and Eureka Greens have criticized the initiative, calling it "fatally flawed" due to its many "drafting errors" and being "out of line with state laws governing corporations," according to a recent press release. Sopoci-Belknap said in response, that the initiative did reflect the platform of the Green Party on the state and national level."
In response to the Arcata and Eureka Greens, a press release from elected Greens, states that "an isolated group wants to block Green participation in this coalition."
"Over 1,000 registered Greens signed the HCCR petition, and every elected Green in the County has formally endorsed the initiative," said Green Arcata City Council member Dave Meserve. "It is a shame that three individuals, who made up the entire attendance of the recent Arcata Greens meeting, claim to speak for a thousand registered Greens in our community who support the proposed ordinance."
Further, the press release reads "With the local Democratic party in full support of the Ordinance to Protect our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy, it is absurd to think that Greens would champion corporate influence rather than local control of our own elections," said Meserve.
"I hope that Greens will attend the General Assembly of the Green Party of Humboldt, on February 25, and stand up in support of grassroots democracy and community-based economics, not the idea that Wal-Mart should have free speech. The position taken by Greg Allen and Charles Douglas against this ordinance, without input from their own party, highlights the lack of accountability and true representation within the local Green party leadership. We have a responsibility to make sure that our party accurately represents the beliefs of its members."
For more information about initiative and HCCR, visit their website at www.votelocalcontrol.org or call 444-0407. For information on the Arcata Greens, contact Greg Allen at 825-0826.
Humboldt County Leaders Endorse Measure T!
Democratic Party of Humboldt County
Green Party of Humboldt County
Central Labor Council of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local #1684
Building and Construction Trades of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties
Carpenters Union Local #751
Operating Engineers Union Local #3 AFL-CIO
Paul Gallegos, Humboldt County District Attorney
Peter LaVallee, Eureka Mayor
Chris Kerrigan, Eureka City Council
Dave Meserve, Arcata City Council
Harmony Groves, Arcata City Council
Paul Pitino, Arcata City Council
Bob Ornelas, Former Arcata Mayor
Connie Stewart, Former Arcata Mayor
Elizabeth Conner, Former Arcata City Council
Julie Fulkerson, Former Humboldt County Board of Supervisors
... and hundreds of other individuals and local businesses! Join us today!
Learn more about Measure T in a Pros and Cons Video, produced by Eileen McGee (51 mins)
Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights