After the passage of Proposition 13, Howard Jarvis became even more popular with average citizens. He would joke that overnight he went from being regarded as a “nut” by the political elites to being seen as a “savior” for millions of California homeowners.
Visitors to Howard’s office would praise him for coming up with Proposition 13 just when it was so desperately needed. But Howard would just smile and point out that he had been working on property tax reform for 16 years.
Howard was tenacious and a big believer in the power of people when they combined together to make change. When speaking to groups he would hold up his hand with his fingers extended and say that while separately they were weak, united they were strong and he would form his hand into a fist. Some will remember seeing the photo of Howard holding up his fist on the cover of Time Magazine.
However, Howard understood that it was necessary to start small. His first taxpayer group meeting was attended by only twenty ordinary citizens — no celebrities, no politicians — just regular folks concerned that if the trend of ever escalating property taxes continued, they would lose their homes.
Howard would say that people who want to reform government don’t have to wait for somebody else to lead them. “You don’t need a campaign manager to lead you; you can be your own campaign manager and lead yourself,” he wrote. “The brains and capacities of the citizens of the United States are invariably greater than the brains and the capacities of bureaucracy – now misnamed government.”
For taxpayers, the key to success, Howard believed, could be summed up in the words of James E. Byrnes, Secretary of State in the Truman Administration, who said, “I discovered at an early age that most of the difference between average people and great people can be explained in three words: ‘And then some.’” Howard attributed the eventual success of the Tax Revolt to the fact that his fellow taxpayer activists did what was expected, “And then some.”
Although Howard passed in 1986, his spirit lives on in thousands of Californians who give of their time and energy to push for more economical and efficient government. To remind the public of these unsung heroes, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association annually presents the Taxfighter of the Year Award.
This year’s recipient is Ourania Riddle, a 30 year member of the Solano County Taxpayers Association, who witnessed the unelected State Water Resources Control Board running roughshod over the rights of taxpayers in her hometown of Dixon, and decided to take action. Her lobbying helped to assure passage of a state law that would allow Dixon to comply with water regulations and avoid penalties of $10,000 a day.
When the city determined a major water rate increase was in order, Ourania and her friends succeeded in gathering enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot to rescind the increase. Although a Court subsequently ruled that the taxpayers’ effort to use the power of initiative was invalid, Ourania and her cohorts succeeded in changing state law and putting Dixon officials on notice that its taxpayers are organized and are carefully watching costs.
We at HJTA thank Ourania and all those unsung taxpayer heroes throughout the state who improve our lives by volunteering to act as watchdogs over government spending and who prod government to make more efficient use of taxpayers’ dollars. The spirit of Howard Jarvis lives on in the actions of these outstanding California taxpayers who are willing to do what is expected, “and then some.”
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.