No More Tinfoil Hats
Omaha World-Herald Editorial
August 29, 2006
The 'Not me' problem
Ballot measure's out-of-state backers answer little, trample the spirit of Nebraska's petition process.
Readers of the comic pages will likely be familiar with a running gag in "The Family Circus" comic strip. When one of the parents asks who was responsible for breaking a lamp or muddying the floor, the children respond, "Not me!" A mischievous prankster phantom, labeled "Not me," invariably is shown running away from the scene.
As World-Herald staff writers Nichole Aksamit and Paul Goodsell explained in an extensive article on Sunday, Nebraska's petition process is beset this year by a disturbing case of the "Not me" syndrome - the failure of key players to explain how a particular ballot measure, the "humane care" proposal, originated.
That ballot measure, also known as the "Terri Schiavo amendment," would forbid family members or physicians, without exception, from taking people in extreme physical disability off life-support systems.
When Aksamit and Goodsell asked how the measure originated and why Nebraska was chosen for it, neither the Omaha couple who filed the legal papers for it nor a host of out-of-state activists could supply the answers. When asked "Were you the one?" in regard to a range of key matters, all the players in this peculiar drama provided the same unsatisfactory response.
"Not me," said the two Omahans. "Not me," said the deep-pocketed backers in Chicago. "Not me," said the interest groups in New York and Virginia. "Not me," said the Michigan and California lawyers who drafted the ballot language. "Not me," said the Wisconsin woman who ran the petition-collection efforts. "Not me," said the activist who heads a Montana-based group that served as the financial conduit for the petition drive.
These individuals failed to explain crucial aspects of how this ballot measure was created and promoted. And in some instances, the accounts given by one person contradicted statements by others.
Then there is the matter involving a Chicago-based activist group, Americans for Limited Government, which is a key backer of the petition drive. A member of the group's board, Steven P. Baer, has made no secret that he enthusiastically backs the humane care proposal.
Yet when John Tillman, the president of the activist group, was asked about the ballot proposal by the World-Herald reporters, he responded: "We have no position on the humane care measure. I've not even read that amendment."
That statement is a curious one, given that Tillman's organization gave no less than $2.4 million to support the humane care measure - the largest donation by far from any group.
So, what is going on?
The answer is what more than a few Nebraskans have been saying this year: Outsiders are using big money and clandestine methods to try to abuse Nebraska's petition process. In promoting the humane care amendment, the efforts of these outsiders were so convoluted and secretive that even they could not keep up with who was doing what.
Such manipulations are a direct assault on the spirit of Nebraska law.
Nebraska's constitution envisions a bottom-up, home-grown process by which Nebraskans themselves draft ballot-measure proposals and then take the lead in promoting them. It is absurd to think that that power was incorporated into the constitution with the intention that Nebraskans should play second fiddle to the manipulations and ideological obsessions of Chicagoans and Montanans and well-monied groups from New York and Virginia.
It is irrelevant, by the way, whether the outside manipulators are right-wing or left-wing. The harm to Nebraska, through the trampling of the spirit of its initiative process, is the same no matter what the ideological persuasion of the outsiders.
When Nebraskans are asked if they can respect a ballot measure when it arises from such troubling origins, voters will be amply justified if they offer an emphatic response: "Not me."--30--