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This Means War 

"Don't imagine your cool new president is going to give you a pass," we said a week after the Nov. 4 election, in re the successful Eureka and Arcata citizen initiatives banning military recruiters from targeting children ("Town Dandy," Nov. 13). As it happened, though, the feds moved to overturn Measures F and J almost a month before the cool new president took office.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal suit against the two towns on Dec. 23, arguing that the measures -- which passed overwhelmingly, with a 73-27 margin in Arcata and a 57-43 margin in Eureka -- sought to take powers away from the federal government. The measures, the DOJ argues, are both unconstitutional (given that the Constitution assigns to the federal government the power to "raise armies") and in specific violation of acts of Congress (which allow 17-year-olds to enlist, with the permission of a parent, and instruct the armed forces to conduct "intensive recruiting campaigns.")

"Due to the enactment of Ballot Measure F, military recruiters who operate in the City of Arcata are presented with a dilemma," the complainant writes. "They either may continue to perform the duties entrusted to them under federal law, thereby placing themselves in violation of the ordinance, or they may obey the ordinance, thereby failing to fulfill the duties entrusted to them under federal law." (Similar language is employed against Eureka.) These were precisely the objections that legal scholars raised when the Journal's Japhet Weeks wrote about the nascent measure last April ("First to Contact, First to Contract," April 17).

It seems a pretty open-and-shut case, on the face of it. In fact, residents will be forgiven if their mind jumps back a couple of months to the case of Measure T, the 2006 initiative that banned out-of-town corporations from donating to political campaigns. In that case, a couple of local corporations (which were deemed non-local under the terms of the initiative) enlisted the help of the conservative powerhouse Pacific Legal Foundation, which won a quick initial judgment against Humboldt County, after which the county caved, and -- $100,000 in county funds later -- that was that.

But there's a case to be made that these are measures worth fighting for, and it looks like the two cities are going to do just that. The City of Eureka recently authorized its city attorney to devote some time to the case, and the Arcata City Council looked ready to follow suit at its meeting Wednesday (Jan. 7), after this issue went to press. This is encouraging, given the absolutely overwhelming support in favor of the initiatives at the polls. It was no secret that this lawsuit would be coming, and citizens voted in favor anyway. The cities owe them the fight, and even if they lose they will have made a point.

And it looks like the legal fight that follows will be a bit tougher than the one over Measure T, thanks in part to the initiatives' sponsors. One of them, Arcata's Dave Meserve, said that their group was planning to join the lawsuit on the defendants' side, meaning that they will be able to tap some high-powered sympathetic attorneys to argue the case on their behalf. This never happened with T.

"We certainly understand that with the financial crisis in municipal government, it's not appropriate for the cities to spend a great deal of money defending these," Meserve said Tuesday. "So by providing pro bono legal assistance and also by our own study of the issues, being able to form what the defense would be, we can assist the city and keep the costs to a minimum."

No one denies that there are ethical military recruiters out there. We wrote about one two years ago -- Staff Sgt. Michelle Corning of the U.S. Air Force, who was stationed in Eureka at the time ("Meet the Recruiter," Feb. 16). But -- sorry to say -- there's also some low-down dirty sharpies who use advanced, quasi-lying sales pitches on impressionable young minds, spinning sugary confections of horseshit to lure kids off to unnecessary wars. To the degree that these people are called out on the carpet, Measures F and J will have done some good in the world.

To that end, Meserve and fellow proponent Jack Nounann are asking kids, ex-kids and parents for their military recruiter horror stories. If you have one that took place in Eureka or Arcata, e-mail Meserve ASAP at, or send a letter to P. O. Box 1052, Eureka, Calif., 95502. Your stories may help the case.

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About The Author

Hank Sims

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