The 318 volunteers working for the Knox County Charter Amendment petition drive are showing no overt signs of panic, but they're aware they can't see the finish line yet. They need around 40,000 verifiable registered voters to sign each of two petitions. So far they have about 35,000. Which sounds impressive enough—it is, by far, the most successful petition drive in Knox County history—except that they have to get the balance of them by the deadline, Tuesday, September 2, in order to get their proposals before the public on the November ballot.
Some are suspicious of the motives of the drive, directed by a motley assortment of high-profile professionals who are, for the most part, not currently in elected office. The most common criticism is that both the petitions are "bundled," almost Congressional-bill-style, attaching obviously popular sentiments opposing nepotism and conflict of interest to some more surprising and controversial proposals. Skeptics of the effort aren't too hard to find, though many don't want to speak on the record, given the multitude and prominence of the movement's leaders. "I think it's pretty insidious, bundling them together like that," says a prominent attorney with a progressive reputation. He admits he signed it anyway. Good or bad, the charter amendments the petitioneers propose to put on the ballot amount to nothing less than major political surgery to Knox County.
Market Square on a Wednesday is full of bankers and lawyers on their way to lunch, as it has always been, but lately many other sorts of people once rare here: rich-looking couples, young hipsters, dog-walkers, teenagers. Today, amid the squeals of children dancing in the fountains and the growl of drills at the Four Market Square construction project, the farmers' market is in full swing in the center of the square. The weather's nice. Hundreds are out. A man with long hair and a beard sits on a bench and plugs his guitar into an amplifier. Pumping on a wah-wah pedal, he plays some electric blues in an apparently benign violation of the no-amplification law. Two bicycle cops near the old Market House bell ignore him. He's playing softly, by electric-guitar standards, and doesn't seem to be bothering anybody.
Seven or eight are on the square with orange and white petitions; two or three sit or stand at a table near Four Market Square, while the others circulate among the crowd.
Jay Cobble, a young real-estate man, approaches passersby. "Sir, are you a registered voter in Knox County?" A surprising number, perhaps fewer than half who answer the question today, are not, at least in the appropriate county. "I can't believe how many people from Anderson County are here today," Cobble says. A young couple says they live in Asheville. Several others are also from "Carolina," just visiting.
"That's great for Knoxville," he says, "to have so many people from out of town spending money here," It's just not helping the petition drive much. Cobble says he used to live in Memphis, where he was appalled at corruption and inefficiency in government. "It was pretty terrible," he says. "But I got back in town, and realized it was just as bad or worse in Knoxville. I decided we need to do something about it."
Over two hours, they engage with hundreds of passersby. Many say they've already signed it. "Market Square is pretty saturated," Cobble admits. "Most have already signed it, or they're not a Knox County voter." But it's one of few places they can appeal to strangers without special permission. Petitioneers are banned outright in both the big shopping malls, and Wal-Marts are particularly inhospitable. Only certain other retail centers allow them. Police have been called on petitioneers more than once, though once they arrive, merchants have generally declined to file charges.
Many, walking in groups on the way to lunch, ignore them. The solitary pedestrian, or the couple walking slowly, seem the ones most likely to stop and listen. A middleaged man stops, juggling a vanilla ice-cream cone and a drink, to listen, and then to sign.
A middleaged woman in a motorized wheelchair pauses, but only briefly. No, she declares, she's not registered to vote. "If you register to vote, I hear you've got to do jury duty!" she says. "That's what I hear. I don't want to do jury duty!" She'll hear no more of it, and zips off, as if escaping.
"I think I've signed it," one woman says, a little uncertainly before she decides for certain that she has. A man says, "Yeah, I'll sign it," as he signs it. "Nepotism and all that whatever," he says.
In the two hours here, no one offers criticism of the effort, or raises an argument about it. But it's obvious that many, perhaps most of the quarries sign the petition, or ignore it, without learning the full scope of the petitions' proposals. The things the volunteers mention to prospective signers in their opening salvos—nepotism, conflicts of interest, saving money—are shorthand highlights of a sweeping proposal that would restructure Knox County government as we know it. One of the items on the orange petition would shrink County Commission in size from 19 to 11 members, including two that are elected at large. Another, on the white petition, would put all the county's "fee offices"—the mostly bureaucratic positions like county clerk, trustee, and register of deeds, under the county mayor, abolishing them as independent, elected offices. Most passersby make the decision to sign or not to sign quickly, and move on, without taking the time to read the full petition or listen to the rationale behind it.
According to its boosters, the charter amendments would not only insist on new safeguards against nepotism and corruption, but streamline elective government by reducing the number of offices voted for directly; they believe their changes will make Knox County government both more efficient and more responsive to the people, via the county mayor and commission.
The seven or eight volunteers today are mostly young to very young, with the possible exception of Mary Lou Kanipe, human resources supervisor for Knox County Schools. She was involved in the effort from the early days, early last year when Knox County-One Question was formed merely to raise the question of how to proceed after the term-limit fiasco. "We want some changes in the way things operate at the courthouse," she says in that soft, old-fashioned Knoxville-Southern accent that seems scarce among those under 50. "I think we need to do it because it's the right thing to do. Fiscally, it's the right thing to do."
She's not as aggressive as some of the younger volunteers, but she seems to have a higher closing rate. "It's just to get it on the ballot," she tells them, accurately. That's usually the clincher. Nobody wants to seem like they're against putting something to a vote.
On the table are two signs that say "Knox Accountability: SIGN UP!" The breeze keeps knocking them over. The volunteers keep propping them back up. They're here for two hours on a busy day, and glean about 28 new signatures, maybe two for every volunteer man-hour.
Window of Opportunity
It all started with an accidental meeting, early last year. John Schmid is the high-school history teacher and outgoing Knox County Commissioner who was one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit that resulted in a state supreme-court ruling in January, 2007, which affirmed that Knox County's government did have to abide by term limits—but also that the home-rule county had a right to change the structure of its own government. After the back-room power-grabbing orgy that became embarrassingly famous nationally as Black Wednesday, Schmid wasn't the only one wondering whether there might be some way to improve county government permanently.
To Schmid, the ruling offered a window of opportunity. His first idea was relatively modest: county government would work more efficiently, he thought, if certain fee offices were eliminated from the ballot, to become appointive mayoral departments. "Those are not policy-making offices, and shouldn't be," Schmid says. "In my experience, it's just a lot of chiefs trying to direct things. On the county side, all these independent executives, the sheriff, the property assessor, the clerk—all these fiefdoms, that's what makes government so difficult on the county side."
"I call them fiefdoms, because that's what they are," adds Schmid, who teaches medieval history at the high-school level, and has some perspective on fiefdoms. The progressive Republican thinks they should be departments, working in accord with an elected administration. "In a metropolitan county like ours, you need a more businesslike model to work at things in an efficient manner. If you don't have the proper structure in place, you're going to suffer economically."
On Market Square last year, Schmid ran into Laurens Tullock, former city director of community development, now head of the charitable Cornerstone Foundation, who had similar perspectives. Over coffee, the two began talking things over. The result, after discussions with several others involved in county government, was an organization called Knox County-One Question—a takeoff on the hypercommunity effort Nine Counties One Vision of a few years ago, which involved several of the same people, especially Tullock. The One Question was simple, and suggested by the Supreme Court's ruling: "What changes, if any, are appropriate to meet the needs of Knox County in the 21st century?"
In short time, they'd made a lot of prominent friends. Among the first who signed on as a volunteer was former Knox County Finance Director Kathy Hamilton, who during her years in the Republican Dwight Kessell and Democratic Tommy Schumpert administrations had been frustrated at what she saw as built-in inefficiencies in county government. The trustee, the clerk, and the register of deeds work independently of County Commission; if each office can collect the pertinent fees, they can spend them as they see fit. She saw waste and unneccessary inequities. About 10 years ago, she attempted to open a discussion with the object of rolling all the elected officials' budgets into the county's general fund. "I thought it was at least a conversation worth pursuing," she says. "But they did not."
More recently, she notes, the collections for those three offices, combined, increased from $8.9 million to $9.9 million, in one year, from 2006 to 2007. "You didn't find that kind of increase in other parts of the budget," she says, and County Commission or the county mayor have nothing to say about it. Regardless of any other financial crisis in the county, what the fee officers collect is their own money to spend on their own offices.
Jim McClain, retired former principal of West High and former head of the school board, says he had never considered the specific measures the petitions call for, like shrinking County Commission. But he'd been frustrated by backroom politicking on County Commission many years before Black Wednesday. He noticed that alignments often changed after a recess, implying secretive dealmaking. "I had to warm up to it," he says of the petition drive. He's now an active volunteer at petition tables. "If you can't get good individuals over time, you really need to change the system of government."
Other prominent locals who got involved early on include former Metropolitan Planning Commission chair Don Parnell (now vice-president of Realty Trust), former County Executive Tommy Schumpert, entertainment tycoon Ashley Capps, maverick downtown developer David Dewhirst, ex-Commissioner Bee DeSelm, and former UT President Joe Johnson, who served as the early chairman of Knox County-One Question. In spring of 2007, the group hit the road, holding five public meetings at urban and rural locations around the county, asking attendees how they'd like to change government. Predictably, the responses varied widely, some calling for tax reduction, some for metro government. At each of the meetings, someone stood up and said they thought County Commission was just too big.
KCOQ also took their eponymous question to the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy, the academic research institution founded by its namesake, the former Republican senator. Just now completing its grand new headquarters at Cumberland and Melrose, it presently consists of several political-science researchers operating in the old Hoskins Library. About one year ago, a team of researchers, led by political science Professor Michael Fitzgerald, presented Knox County-One Question with a 146-page comprehensive report. It didn't examine the particular crises in Knox County government, the back-room dealing that became known as Black Wednesday, or the notorious golf vacations and lobster dinners—nor did it expressly recommend solutions. What it did, mostly, was describe some basics of how successful counties around America operate in the 21st century, especially in counties within Knox County's population bracket, with similar rates of growth.
In their comparative assessment, one thing stands out sharply. Knox County voters have an extraordinarily "long ballot." Knox Countians vote for a total of 55 elective offices—not counting city, state, or federal offices. Compared to 160 American counties in a population bracket of 250,000-800,000, the size of Knox County's main governing body, 19-member County Commission, is more than twice as large as the average. The report avoids use of the word "freakish," but it's clear that there aren't many county governments like it in America.
In choosing peer counties to compare with Knox County in some more in-depth profiles, the Baker Center stuck to the Southeast to assure a comparable "political culture"—perhaps to point out that the small-commission form wasn't some arrogant Yankee conspiracy.
Madison County, Ala., for example, another county of very similar size to Knoxville, home to the similar-sized Tennessee River city of Huntsville, is governed by a seven-member county commission. In Cobb County, Ga., pop. 680,000, five elected commissioners make the decisions. Richland County, South Carolina, slightly smaller than Knox County but home of the state capitol, Columbia, has a bigger-than-average county commission—with 11 members.
"Knox County has a very long ballot compared to its peers," the Baker Center's report concludes. "Long ballots impose an additional responsibility on voters to track and evaluate the performance of a large number of diverse county officials...." It goes on. "In order to hold public officials accountable for the conduct of their office and the performance of government... the public must be able to assign responsibility.... The goal of assigning clear responsibility and the coordination of corrective action is made more difficult when administrative responsibility is divided among many directly elected, and thus politically independent, executives."
While acknowledging that it's possible for almost any elective government to work effectively, the report implies that Knox County's is particularly vulnerable to dysfunction. "[I]f voters are discontented with the direction and performance of county government, numerous and relatively small constituencies make it difficult to change majorities on the commission.... The larger any group of independent decisionmakers becomes, the more likely it is that difficult-to-bridge divisions of opinion and interest will emerge. The situation can produce factions which stymie majority rule and is especially troublesome when factions harden around rival leaders...."
McClain and others recognized Knox County Commission in those lines, and were persuaded to spend their Saturdays collecting signatures to change it.
The report only touches on a motive to abolish elective fee offices, but does note that a 1996 study of county governments found that the "fragmentation of the executive branch due to a large number of constitutional officers" can impede effective government. It also remarks on ethical considerations, noting rather politely that compared to other counties' statutes and codes of conduct, "Knox County government is in the early stages of development in this area of concern."
Against the Stream
Some of the ideas expressed in the petitions had come up before. Asked when it first occurred to him that County Commission was too populous, Schmid says, "I think it was my first day on Commission." But Tullock says reducing the size of Commission was not a motive of KCOQ until the steering committee combined the results of the public meeting with the Baker Center report. "The Baker report shaped Knox County - One Question," he says.
Tullock says the Baker Center's report emboldened the group to go forward. With the report and its implied recommendations in hand, the growing KCOQ group set out to propose to the voters a new, stripped-down county government, with most of the fee offices—the trustee, the county clerk, the register of deeds, and the law director—under control of the county mayor, and reducing the number of county commissioners, from 19 to 11—one from each district, plus two who are elected by all the county voters at large.
They realize they're running against the stream. Many voters like the idea of maximizing elected officials, even if they can't name more than a few of them. Where the commission reduction is concerned, the petitioneers have an answer that at least sounds good.
Currently, most county voters get to vote for only two commissioners. (The exception is the far-west fifth district, which due to a quirk in the charter, and a larger population than other districts, has three.) By the proposed revamping, each Knox County voter would have the opportunity to vote for three commission seats: one for his or her district, and two at-large. Tullock says the district lines would need to be redrawn to assure equilibrium, and he would expect that they would be identical to the school-board districts, which also number nine. The alignment with school-board districts isn't mentioned in the charter wording, but Tullock says, "That's the only logical result."
Also appealing to fiscally conservative voters is the matter that all those extra commissioners are paid for their work. One signer, a young man with a baby stroller, is especially pleased to hear about the reduction in size of commission. "We're paying all those people to sit there and argue," he says. The extra expense of paying a dysfunctionally large number of county commissioners is another motive of the petition drive. Hamilton says the immediate total savings accruing from a pared-back commission, in salary, benefits, and expenses, would top $220,000 per year.
Volunteers' estimates of the savings vary widely; the one closest to credible figures is the former finance director, Kathy Hamilton. She says they haven't specifically estimated the salary of one new staffer, the Inspector General, but she expects the person who holds that post to pay at least for his or her own salary in savings from increased efficiencies. She adds that the consolidations implied in combining the fee offices should reduce the staff of each by about two employees, saving a total of about $200,000 more. In addition, she expects county government would have access to the fee-office budgets, which have lately been increasing, in combined revenues, by about a million a year. "I think we're very easily looking at a million and a half in savings," she says.
If Knox Countians haven't noticed its size XXL commission before, it may be because the urban county we often compare ourselves with is even bigger. Nashville—Davidson's Metro Council has 40 members. But, of course, Nashville's government is a city-county-combined metropolitan government. Consolidated metropolitan government often comes up as a solution to the chaos in Knox County government, and skeptics of the petition drive suspect that 50-year-old spectre is the real, long-term goal of this new effort, noting that making county government more similar to city government, as seems likely. Tullock and others deny that metro government is an ulterior motive for the petition drive.
"It would change the county structure in a way that it could cooperate with the city structure more easily," says Tullock. "Would it make it easier [to consolidate]? Absolutely. But consolidation's up to the citizens of Knox County." Consolidation is not suggested in the petition, and seems unlikely to come up for another vote any time soon.
Athanasios Bayiates—his allies, admitting failure with his name, call him "A.B."—is a teacher and president of the Knox County Educational Association. A young man who wears his hair wild, he's one of the more adventurous and aggressive of the volunteers today, diving into the crowd like Michael Phelps. Streamlining, he's convinced, will save millions—"and that's more money for the public schools."
Short of United Way campaigns, rarely do so many big shots come together over any issue, which is likely the beginning of the perception that it was an "elitist" effort. Some of the talent came in handy; among the early leaders was lawyer Tom McAdams, a well-respected attorney specializing in corporate law who has taken leadership roles in several community-development efforts in recent years. He assembled the wording of the proposed law, comparing it to the state constitution.
A few, especially county commissioners like Elaine Davis who opposed putting the amendments on the ballot, have raised questions about whether the amendments are legal. "Obviously, they haven't read the amendments, and compared them with the Constitution," says Schmid, who says he has no doubts about McAdams' work. He adds that the critics he knows about have personal reasons for favoring the status quo.
As for the elitism charge, it's true that all the leadership are mostly affluent and influential. ("I'm just an old football coach," protests McClain.) The result would indeed be that Knox County would have a smaller cadre of elective officials at the top, and to some that fact might well smack of elitism, broadly defined—even if such an arrangement would make Knox County similar to most counties in America.
The Ragsdale Problem
The petition effort may have been star-crossed by unprecedented accusations of the last year or so. The year 2008 is likely the worst year in Knox County history to propose concentrating more power in the office of the county's chief executive. The problem is separating the idea of the chief executive, men and women unknown to be elected in 2010 or thereafter, with the current chief executive, scandal-mired County Mayor Mike Ragsdale.
"The biggest problem we've encountered has been the backlash over the Ragsdale administration," says Schmid. "They've poisoned the well for us—even though they'll be gone before this goes into effect. We weren't expecting the Ragsdale administration to be such a freaking disaster, and it's undermined us a lot."
However, the charter-petition's goal may have a result of raising the bar for accountability.
Besides the petitions' overt appeals toward accountability and fairness, some volunteers hope that concentrating more power in the office of county mayor may also lead to more oversight from the voting public, in part by making the office more conspicuous on the ballot, and perhaps more appealing to competitive candidates.
Presently, the county mayor has little real power in county government, and that fact may explain some astonishing apathy regarding that office from both voters and prospective candidates. When Ragsdale, then one of many former county commissioners in town, first ran for the county's highest office in 2002, he had no opposition at all, either in the Republican primary or the general election. When he ran for re-election in 2006, he had one opponent, but only in the Republican primary. Ragsdale has campaigned for the county's highest office in four elections, and has had to fight for it only once. And in all four cases, he was nominated or elected by a voting total equivalent to less than 10 percent of Knox County's population—or about a third of the number who voted in the last presidential primary. Would voters care more about an office that had much more responsibility associated with it?
Go Get 'Em
If there's not an organized opposition to the charter amendment proposals, it's taking a wait-and-see attitude. The Knox County Republican Party, in a meeting this past Saturday, condemned the charter amendments. Individual opponents seem concentrated in current county government; there's no question these changes would be disruptive to some careers. (A couple of known opponents in county government hadn't returned calls for comment by our deadline; city officeholders steer clear of the issue. City Mayor Bill Haslam and others in his administration decline comment.)
Some critics suspect the anti-nepotism and ethical-government aspects of the petition are a candy coating for some strong medicine which most voters might find unpalatable.
Few of the volunteers' appeals to passersby on Market Square, for "more accountability" and "no nepotism" mention the reduction in size of County Commission, or the removal of direct voter choice on the fee offices. The summation at the top of the white petition describes it thus: "STREAMLINING THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH TO BECOME MORE COST EFFECTIVE BY MAKING THE NEXT COUNTY MAYOR RESPONSIBLE FOR APPOINTING DEPARTMENT DIRECTORS TO PERFORM THE DUTIES OF THE NON-POLICY-MAKING FEE OFFICERS AND LAW DIRECTOR SUBJECT TO APPROVAL AND REMOVAL FOR MISCONDUCT BY COUNTY COMMISSION."
All that's apparently accurate; Hamilton emphasizes that there's currently not a way for commission to discipline or remove fee officers, once they've been elected, and several argue that the fee officers would actually be more responsible to the public as mayoral departments, subject to review by both the mayor and County Commission. But the summation doesn't mention that citizens wouldn't get to vote for them anymore. The full story can be found in the full text on each petition signed, of course, and it does take a longer time to explain than most people have on their lunch hour.
Tullock, who's been dismayed by assumptions that there's anything deceitful about the effort, says the bundling was purely practical. He says he and his allies tried to get County Commission to put the measures on the ballot separately, merely by resolution, the usual way. "They could have done that, and we wanted them to," he says. "But they didn't."
They presented the idea of putting the charter amendments on the ballot before County Commission in January, 2008. They needed a two-thirds majority of 13 members to approve it. After three months of discussion in early 2008, 12 commissioners had agreed to put the seven amendments on the ballot separately. But seven commissioners declined it: Then-chairman Scott Moore, Greg "Lumpy" Lambert, Paul Pinkston, Ivan Harmon, Craig Leuthold, Elaine Davis, and Victoria DeFreese.
Tullock remembers Scotty Moore's parting shot: "If you think you can get that many signatures, get your tenny shoes on and go get 'em." Ever since then, the petitioneers have convened for what they call "tenny-shoe Saturdays."
At some point, member Tom McAdams noted they were going to need many more signatures than the they originally assumed—the 18,000 that would have represented 15 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election. Thanks to a resolution passed quietly in the '90s at the state level concerning Tennessee's two home-rule counties, Knox and Shelby, need 15 percent of all registered voters, a much higher number, nearly 40,000. It's rumored to have been an Ashe-administration ploy to prevent growing public opposition to the Turkey Creek proposal from scotching the city- and county-subidized project. A resolution approved in the August primary will restore the older rule which makes it easier for petitioneers to get measures on a ballot—but not until September, 2010. Tullock remarks that that amendment, the only KCOQ proposal County Commission accepted, and approved by an overwhelming majority of voters, is the only established legacy of their effort so far.
The state attorney general told them the individual proposals couldn't appear on a ballot separately unless each had its own petition. Placing them separately on the ballot would have required 40,000 signatures on each of seven different petitions—which would suggest major logistical problems of perhaps as many as 280,000 signatures—each of which has to be verified, at a cost of $1 each to county government. (McClain notes that if the county had approved putting the amendments on the ballot in April, they could have saved $80,000 in petition-verification charges. "But maybe, to the county, that's not much," he says.)
So, Tullock says, they combined them in an orange petition, which deals mainly with commission, and an white petition, which deals mainly with the executive branch. However, as the effort's website shows, the original steering committee's recommendation did "bundle" them differently, with the four less-controversial ethical recommendations under category A, and the three more-specific surgical changes under category B.
Watching any petition table, it's clear that many people sign the petition without realizing the full import of the changes called for. Though some volunteers mention them—Tom Parnell seems especially adept at laying it all out expeditiously and disarmingly—most stick to nepotism, conflict of interest, ending the good-ole-boy network. But then again, the petition is not to make the changes; it's merely to get the proposals on the ballot and let the people decide on Nov. 4. It's safe to say there will be plenty of discussion of the issue before that.
And if County Commission moves rapidly, Tullock says, commission can choose to separate them on the November ballot.
Some suspect the chance of these charter amendments passing in November is even slighter than the chance of the petitions succeeding. It's rare for voters to agree to have fewer choices, even if the choices themselves don't mean much to most voters—who, numbers suggest, avoid county politics except when they align with national elections.
Still, for now, the volunteers try, with the help of another group of paid petitioneers. The Hessians of this effort are about 20 local hirees of a Portland, Ore., group called Citizen Solutions. Tullock says KCOQ, which has raised about $125,000 for the effort, hired Citizen Solutions only when they learned the minimum number of signatures would be twice as high as they had previously assumed. "Our volunteers have jobs, and aren't able to stand all day in front of retail stores." The Citizens Solutions employees, working shopping centers, have generated 20,000 signatures, almost two-thirds of the signatures gleaned so far. A push in the form of an endorsement and free space in the News Sentinel generated about 1,500 signatures.
Another PR group, Target Up Solutions, led by Gary Drinnen, has also been hired. Drinnen got acquainted with the Knox Charter Petition movement when he called to protest some of the candidate-reducing aspects of it. "I had kind of a knee-jerk reaction, and wasn't fond of them," he says. "I showed up for a couple of meetings, and became a believer." He volunteered, and later graduated to hired help.
Several volunteers say they feel more confident now than they did a week or two ago, before they'd approached the 30,000 mark. But they still have about 12 days to gather at least 5,000 signatures. All that's a guess, of course, at a moving target—no one knows what the total number of registered voters will be in a few weeks, during a hot presidential election campaign. And no one knows what percentage of those gleaned will be authenticated as valid—and how many have absent-mindedly signed it twice.
And then, once it's on the ballot, they'd have to start convincing people to vote for it. It may seem like a hail-Mary pass that hasn't yet left the quarterback's hands.
With no home football games before the deadline, Boomsday, on Aug. 31, is said to be the last best hope of the petition drive. Several involved in the effort declare that if they fall short, they'll keep trying to get the amendments on the ballot, first through a County Commission that has a little different makeup than the one that fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority for approval in April. Tullock won't acknowledge any Plan B. "We're going to get 40,000 signatures," he says. "That's our plan."
"I'm done with my political stuff here in Knoxville after this," says John Schmid. "If the voters don't want it on the ballot to vote on, so be it. If they like the form of government we have in Knox County, well, that's the will of the people."