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Fair Elections and Local Democracy

Times-Standard Editorial
December 18, 2005

Get Involved Today!Proponents of an initiative to prohibit non-local corporations from participating in Humboldt County elections have a valid concern over a major problem in local, state and national politics.

The ability of wealthy individuals or large groups or corporations to pump obscene amounts of money into the electoral process should concern everybody.

But while the concern is legitimate, we think proponents of this particular initiative may have the solution the wrong way around.

The Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights, backing the initiative, has collected more than half the number of signatures for it to go on the June ballot. The "Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy" has already been endorsed by District Attorney Paul Gallegos, Eureka Mayor Peter LaVallee and Eureka Councilman Chris Kerrigan.

All three defeated big-money opposition in recent elections. In particular, Gallegos beat a recall attempt bankrolled in large part by Pacific Lumber Co., which faced prosecution by Gallegos over allegedly defrauding the government in the Headwaters deal. The DA's case, struck down by a judge, is pending appeal.

Initiative proponents use that recall - along with the failed Wal-Mart campaign of several years back to force a zoning change on the Eureka waterfront - to make their case that out-of-area corporations shouldn't be messing with local politics.

The point they seem to miss is that in those examples, the big money lost. Humboldt County residents saw past and through the big ad campaigns, weighed the issues and voted their beliefs. In short, the system - our democratic system - worked.

In addition, in most of the recent high-profile cases - including Kerrigan vs. Rex Bohn and LeVallee vs. Cherie Arkley - the big-money side also lost.

That being the case, the draconian cure of prohibiting all out-of-area corporations from local politics might be worse than the illness. And it raises other concerns.

Defining local and non-local corporations is problematic - a company could be based here but incorporated elsewhere. What exactly makes it local? Also, shouldn't a longtime area employer, based in Texas, Trinidad or elsewhere, have the right to participate - legally and with full accountability - in the area where it has strong, legitimate interests?

Barring individuals or groups or corporations from the political process goes against the ideal of democracy, which should be inclusive and not exclusive.

But, as we said earlier, the motivation behind the initiative is valid. So how to approach the problem of leveling the playing field between huge money interests - no matter their mailing address - and the rest of us?

Simple. Cut the flow of big money by severely limiting the amount of campaign donations. If, for example, an individual or corporate donor could give no more than $250 to a particular cause or candidate, that would tend to equal out the various sides in terms of spending power.

And with newspaper stories, TV voter forums, Internet sites and other venues, there are still plenty of ways for candidates to get their message out.

In short, let's limit the money, but protect everyone's right to participate.

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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!

View the full list of public endorsements!


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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)