Lawmakers should empower citizens who seek to hold local officials accountable. Time and again, local politicians, bureaucrats, and their tax-funded lawyers use unethical and illegal tactics to stifle voter opposition and thwart lawful petition drives.
The City of Houston has repeatedly tried to defeat lawful petition efforts by its own citizens who sought to hold a public vote on important policy issues. The most infamous case was the extended battle over Houston’s “Equal Rights” ordinance (HERO).
There were two primary fights.
The first issue was the effort to get the HERO ballot language re-worded so that “YES” means a vote in favor and “NO” means a vote against. The city worded it opposite to confuse voters. Citizens sued the city and ultimately achieved a victory when the Texas Supreme Court struck down the city’s misleading ballot language and forced local officials to comply with the state’s laws and reword the ballot proposition.
The second issue was when the city disqualified signatures on the petition to bring the question to a public vote. Despite the best efforts of former Mayor Annise Parker and her henchman city attorney – which included unconstitutionally subpoenaing the sermons of pastors who spoke out against the ordinance – a lawsuit by citizens forced the measure to be placed before voters where it was repealed.
Houston’s fight demonstrated that city officials pursing their unpopular and potentially illegal agenda will stop at nothing to advance their cause, even if doing so requires violating its own charter, the state constitution, and the First Amendment rights of its citizens.
Citizens living in the City of Plano have also been forced to sue their city after officials rejected the legitimacy of a petition drive.
State lawmakers should strengthen and simplify existing petition laws to make it easier for citizens to seek redress from their government. Additionally, government employees and officials who either break the law or encourage others to do so should be held accountable.