Organizers of a term-limitation petition demanded Wednesday that Utah Lt. Gov. Olene Walker apologize for slandering their efforts and undermining the right of citizens to change the Utah Constitution through ballot initiatives.
Walker, who showed up at the Utah Term Limits press conference, steadfastly refused."Every decision I have made has been in favor of citizens' rights to place initiatives on the ballot," she said. "I have bent over backward to give a broad interpretation to the law."
Walker's comments did not mollify about a dozen supporters of Utah Term Limits, who rallied in front of Walker's office, often shouting down the lieutenant governor when she tried to respond.
"We are mad about the negative campaign that seems to be run from the lieutenant governor's office to discredit term limitation," said Bart Grant, executive director of Utah Term Limits, adding that Walker has been "more of an obstacle" in the petition process than a facilitator.
The lieutenant governor's office is charged with certifying the initiative petitions and placing the measures on the November ballot. The term limit initiative garnered more than 90,000 signatures, about 12,000 more than is required by law to place the measure on the November ballot.
But Walker said about 5,000 signatures were fraudulently obtained and that some of the names on the petitions were of people who had died. Continued allegations of fraud prompted Walker to send the petitions back to the counties for recertification.
That angered supporters of Utah Term Limits, who said Walker's action is a politically motivated and slanderous attack on the volunteers who gathered the signatures.
Walker has also raised the issue that Utah law requires the person gathering the signatures to sign an oath on the back stating he or she witnessed the signatures. But in this case, many of the packets containing signatures were signed by Independent Party congressional candidate Merrill Cook and his wife, Camille, who did not actually witness the signatures.
Supporters of the petition said they consulted with the lieutenant governor's office about the process before they collected the signatures and they were told the process was legal.
Grant admitted that two individuals collecting signatures fraudulently obtained signatures, and he said they should be punished but the illegal actions of a couple should not jeopardize the entire petition process, which gathered more than enough signatures to place it on the ballot.
Walker said she sent the petitions back to county clerks for recertification at the request of the county clerks.