About a month ago, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court heard the case of Take Shelter Oklahoma vs. Attorney General Scott Pruitt. The school shelter advocacy group filed suit against Pruitt, claiming he tried to sabotage their effort to put a $500 million bond issue on an upcoming ballot.
The high court ruled last week, and the decision seemed to be a compromise, but not everyone was happy.
When the ruling for this case first came out, it appeared that everyone had won. The Supreme Court decided to keep the Attorney General’s ballot title, which is what voters see on election day, but the justices also gave Take Shelter Oklahoma an additional 90 days to collect signatures in order to get their measure on the ballot this November. The group’s attorney David Slane didn’t see the court’s decision as much of a compromise, though.
“We think the ruling was more of a mixed bag, and obviously we disagree with the language of the attorney general. We think it overemphasizes the tax and under emphasizes the shelters,” Slane said.
He says that ballot title is crucial to the effort. In Take Shelter’s original version, the language discussed using a sliding scale business tax to fund safe rooms in schools across the state.
But after reviewing the measure, Pruitt sent back a rewritten version that critics said was overly complex and clouded its meaning. Slane says it’s hard to take the next step when the wording remains the same.
“I think the people who have been supportive of the shelters in schools feel that the language is very confusing, it's misleading, it's biased,” Slane said. “They just don't feel good about going forward with something they don't believe in.”
That’s right. Don’t feel comfortable going forward. In other words, the school shelter advocacy group has chosen not to collect signatures using the current language, despite the court’s decision.
Instead, Take Shelter has reached out to the Attorney General’s office and asked for compromised language, essentially requesting a new ballot title. University of Oklahoma Political Science Professor Keith Gaddie doesn’t think the state will cooperate.
“Well, when you've just won in court, there's not a lot of incentive to negotiate. You've won, why would you negotiate when you've won?” Gaddie said.
He says it couldn’t hurt to try, but he thinks the group might have more luck with another option, asking the court to reconsider its decision.
“Having lost once, the opportunity for a rehearing is no cost and nothing but opportunity for the advocates for this initiative,” he said.
Take Shelter had until Monday to decide if they wanted to do that. The Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the issue except to say “the ballot language issue has been decided.”
Mark Nestlen is a member of Take Shelter Oklahoma’s steering committee. He wishes the court would have taken a different approach.
“I think it would've helped the process if they would've rewrote it,” Nestlen.
He wants the wording to be as clear as possible to members of the public. He wants them to be able to enter a voting booth on election day, read the ballot title and fully understand the meaning of his group’s proposal. And while that’s understandable, Professor Gaddie says most people will probably have already made up their minds by the time they reach the polls.
“Mainly they're going to look at the ballot number. They're going to skim the title. They're going to recall what it is, and then they're going to cast a ballot,” Gaddie said.
If efforts to compromise or win a rehearing don’t work, Take Shelter members say they’ll write a new ballot title and start this process all over again.