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The Seven-Year Night

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

The petition drive gathered the most signatures ever on a citizen initiative. But none counted because conservationists proved better at taking care of outdoor resources than they did at drafting a petition. The proposal lost a court challenge because it lacked the simple words, “Be it hereby enacted….”

It was like being Santa Claus and getting stuck in a narrow chimney, managing to struggle free, then dropping the gifts down the chimney… only to see them burn up because someone forgot to put out the fire. The Citizens’ Committee, both young and old, took a deep breath and decided to try it again, this time with a valid petition and a different funding source— a general sales tax.

No one person deserves more credit than Doris “Dink” Keefe, Jim Keefe’s wife. Mother and homemaker her entire life, she decided that someone needed to organize the petition drive. It was light years from anything she’d ever done, but she volunteered full time, unpaid, for a year at the Conservation Federation office, organizing petitions. There were thousands of signatures to check in nine congressional districts.

We traveled to shopping centers on weekends, carrying a clipboard with nine petitions, one each for a different congressional district. I made one talk in a rural school and the audience was polite…but every single one rushed out at the end without signing. Thankfully, that was rare. Most people signed. I can’t recall anyone being rude, although some said they’d rather not sign anything. It was daunting to ask strangers to sign a petition to tax themselves, but we all got braver as we went along.

After the first debacle—leaving out four words—the second try had to be meticulously checked, and Dink was the checker. There were no phony signatures, nor mistakes. She made sure.

Charlie and Libby Schwartz put pictures and sound to my script for a movie called Design for Conservation that showed to groups all over the state. Carl Noren and Ed Stegner traveled many miles together, speaking to any group of any size. Carl would outline the plan, the design, and Stegner would explain that a vote for the tax would ensure the plan.

The long wait

We traveled the state talking about the Design.Everyone knows now that the one-eighth cent sales tax for conservation passed, but until those wee hours in early November 1976, we didn’t. We stirred restlessly at the Ramada Inn in Jefferson City, a television set

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