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Citizens ignite Island County support with 2-1 decision
The grassroots group that’s dubbed itself Citizens Ignited is celebrating another victory this week.
In a 2-1 decision Monday, the Island County commissioners approved a resolution that urges Congress to prepare and send to the states for adoption a constitutional amendment that reverses the 2010 Supreme Court decision of Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.
Commonly known as Citizens United, the controversial ruling essentially determined that corporations and unions have the same First Amendment free speech rights as people and that the government could not restrict them from making independent political expenditures.
Like many equal minded citizens across the country, a group of Island County residents has banded together to build local, state and federal support to reverse the decision. Many of the members were present during Monday’s meeting and spoke in favor of the proposal before the board.
“We think it’s incumbent upon all of us as citizens to take a stand and ask our elected officials to represent our voice,” said Marshall Goldberg, an Oak Harbor resident and Citizens Ignited member.
According to Goldberg, 55 state legislators have signed a letter that is nearly identical to the county’s resolution and six states have passed resolutions in favor of a constitutional amendment. He claimed over 300 jurisdictions in the country have passed resolutions, five of which are in Washington – one includes Langley – and more than 1,400 registered voters in Island County have signed a petition.
Helen Chatfield-Weeks, a well-known Oak Harbor resident who is a regular at City Council meetings, was also present. She said she hasn’t been to a county commissioners’ meeting in years but made the trip to argue on behalf of the proposed resolution.
“I want to see you all do the right thing for us, we the people,” Chatfield-Weeks said. “Vote to change so we have a voice.”
But while Chatfield-Weeks’ comments elicited boisterous clapping from the crowd, the proposal proved as controversial in Island County as the decision is throughout the rest of the country.
Jeff Lauderdale, who is hoping to unseat Commissioner Helen Price Johnson in this year’s race for District 1, stepped to the microphone to speak against the measure. He said he respects the right of citizens to petition their decision makers, but the petition represents about 1 percent of the county’s total population.
He said this could lead to greater limitations, resulting in even political parties being restricted from contributing financially to campaigns.
“The idea that money is not speech I don’t agree with,” he said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have the old adage of ‘Put your money where your mouth is.’”
Although several more resolution supporters followed him to the microphone, Lauderdale was not alone in voicing concerns.
Rufus Rose, a regular at commissioners meetings, said he can’t think of anything more important than citizens speaking out. However, he said the resolution is addressed to President Barack Obama and that the board should send the measure first to the state Legislature.
Rose also asked which commissioners are personally involved in Citizens Ignited, either by signing the petition or donating money. He worried that things were moving too quickly, that he personally learned about the proposal the night before.
“This issue has not had adequate public conversation, it’s a last minute thing and here you are going to the president of United States with no public dialogue at this level,” he said.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she wanted to clear up any misconceptions, saying that the issue was advertised to the public and discussed at a recent staff session, that the board had a presentation and that the commissioners had been visited individually by the petitioners weeks before.
“There is nothing last minute or secretive about this,” Price Johnson said.
She added that she had nothing to do with the petitioning.
Commissioner Angie Homola said she believes she signed the petition but couldn’t verify it at the time. However, she spoke in favor of the resolution, saying that it’s concerning to have to take action just to try and convince the Supreme Court that corporations are not equal to people.
“This has been a concern for a long time so I think it’s the right thing to do to send a message to Congress,” Homola said.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson, who recused herself from the recent work session discussion for having donated to the cause, spoke against the proposal. She refuted what she said was misinformation about the Constitution and cited concerns similar to Lauderdale’s about the long range impacts to campaign committees and nonprofits, such as “the NAACP and the Sierra Club.”
She went on to say that if “Move to Amend got its way” — the national version of Citizens Ignited — “police could search businesses, unions, clubs and nonprofits at will without a warrant. The state could seize business property without due process or just compensation leaving pension funds and individual shareholders worthless stock.”
Emerson also said this would cost the government money during a difficult financial time and that she would not be supporting the measure.
Her comments resulted in shaking heads and murmuring from the crowd of resolution supporters. However, Price Johnson and Homola did not agree with Emerson’s sentiments and ultimately voted to support the resolution.