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Fair Elections or First Amendment Attack?

Robert A. Zigler, Times-Standard Guest Editorial
March 17, 2006

Get Involved Today!Measure T, entitled “Ordinance to Protect Our Rights to Fair Elections and Local Democracy” and set for the local June election, is repugnant to my notion of freedom and democracy. It is an attempt to disenfranchise the political rights of people and entities by taking away the right to vote or contribute to elections and political issues.

It quashes free and open debate over important social and political issues. It severely abridges First Amendment rights of speech, press, assembly, to petition for redress of grievances, and denies due process. Though Measure T may sound good to some on its face, take a closer look and consider its effect on democratic principles.

If there are social ills that need to be fixed, address those specific issues, don't use the meat ax. A severe gap in logic exists (some people who manage large corporations do bad things, therefore all corporations are bad). What I want to expose is that the proponents of this measure are people philosophically opposed to the very concept of the corporation as a separate business entity.

Section 5 prohibits all “non-local” corporations from contributing to campaigns “for the purpose of (a) Promoting or defeating the candidacy of any person for nomination, appointment or election to any political office within ... Humboldt County; or (b) Promoting or defeating any initiative, referendum or recall election within ... Humboldt County.”

”Local” is defined as “all employees reside in Humboldt County, and has its primary place of business in Humboldt County, and has its corporate headquarters located in Humboldt County, and all shares of stock (if any) are owned by individuals residing in Humboldt County, and no portion of the corporation is owned by another corporation.” Section 3 (2) states that “Only natural persons possess civil and political rights. Corporations ... possess no legitimate civil or political rights.”

I have tremendous respect and appreciation for diversity of opinion; the result being that more questions are asked and better-informed decisions emerge from that process. Our founding fathers were well aware of the value of free and open debate. It is the cornerstone of our democracy. When the extreme left liberal element in a free and open society attempts to censor information and stifle debate over important political issues, I say they are going full circle to extreme right wing fascism in an attempt to establish a political system intolerant of diverse opinion.

So, who are these people who would stifle free speech; who missed basic lessons taught in introductory level civics classes? I found the answer on the website for Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County: Look carefully at its web site and links and at the biographies and philosophies of its steering committee and members. The ordinance is sponsored by the Humboldt County Coalition for Community Rights. The California Center for Community Democracy is DUHC's fiscal sponsor. DUHC declares its most ambitious project was “bringing together a group of local leaders to help us plan a campaign that would meaningfully challenge corporate rights.”

DUHC says it “educates citizens about the illegitimate seizure of our authority to govern ourselves. We design and implement grassroots strategies that exercise democratic power over corporations and governments. We seek to create a truly democratic society by provoking a non-violent popular uprising against corporate rule in Humboldt County that can serve as a model for other communities across the United States. ... “(Our) primary mission is to shift the culture of Humboldt County and to inspire our community to believe that we have a right to resist corporate rule and to see that another world is not only possible -- but necessary for survival of life on earth. ... We strive to move away from the corporate capitalist system that is based on oppression and violence and towards a system of democracy that is based on justice and lasting peace.... (We) decided to create a formal organization devoted to dismantling corporate rule at the local level.”

People running corporations may do bad things, but corporations are not bad. Corporations allow continuity of existence even if a shareholder dies and provide a layer of protection for the assets of shareholders. Shareholders were not liable for the defective gas tank design of the Ford Pinto. The same protection is allowed a small incorporated Mom and Pop grocer. Measure T does not differentiate between large and small or profit and nonprofit corporations in Humboldt County. The Times-Standard is not a “local” corporation, so none of the political opinions expressed herein nor any rebuttal would be allowed.

Measure T attempts to overthrow the backbone of American business and industry. If corporations are non-entities without rights, it also means that corporations cannot be sued. How would one recompense incidents like the Exxon Valdez oil spill?

DUHC claims it is time to quit “challenging ... one harm at a time.” But DUHC views ALL corporations as the root of social evil and wants to dismantle the very concept of the corporation as a separate entity. Rather than addressing specific issues, this initiative takes the illogical position that eliminating corporations will eliminate social evils. Revolutionary thought is good. Thomas Jefferson would have approved such free speech but not the denial of democratic rights.

DUHC members deny democracy in the name of democracy. Isn't THAT ironic? Corporations are a collective voice of people. Collective groups of people have every right to express opinions whether they are DUHC or General Motors. Thank God Measure T is also largely unconstitutional. If Measure T passes, the law requires that the county defend it at county expense. Defeat it now or defeat later in litigation. Do we have extra taxpayer money to throw down this drain?

Robert A. Zigler is an attorney at law in Fortuna.

Editor's note: An opposing viewpoint from Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County will appear in our final Voices issue on March 28.

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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!

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Pros and Cons of Measure T

Learn more about Measure T in a Pros and Cons Video, produced by Eileen McGee (51 mins)


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Chris Kerrigan, Eureka City Counsel, and Kate Christensen, owner of The Garden Gate, support Measure T! (1 min)


Paul Gallegos, Humboldt County District Attorney, and Nezzie Wade, community member, support Measure T! (1 min)


Larry Glass, owner of The Works, and Dennis Rael, owner of Los Bagles, support Measure T! (1 min)