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More and more, signature-gathering is becoming its own branch of local government. When powerful people don’t get their way in this city, they can enlist droves of signature-gatherers to rally the people around their cause – using whatever rhetoric necessary.

We saw the strategy’s influence in the battles over Barrio Logan, raising the minimum wage and now One Paseo in Carmel Valley. Kilroy Realty recently kicked it up a notch, using a worthless Chargers petition as a distraction ploy to keep its plans for One Paseo on track.

But aside from the annoying guys outside grocery stores whom you avoid making eye contact with, who are these signature-gatherers? 

“We’re the league of champions in direct democracy,” says Arenza Thigpen Jr., founder and CEO of the International League of Signature Gatherers. “We’re the latest wave of how democracy is taking place, not just in the United States but around the world. We’re the ones who are setting the new trend on how democracy is to take place with human-to-human contact.”

We talked with Thigpen on this week’s podcast to get a little insight on the business of signature-gathering. The One Paseo situation isn’t the first time he’s seen head-to-head petitions, and he says there are in fact consequences for gatherers who are caught flat-out lying to get more signatures.

Honestly, the guy’s fascinating in his general philosophies on petitioning. Enjoy these gems:

“It’s your constitutional right to be engaged by a signature-gatherer.”

“What I like about the entire process is that we’re engaging the public to make decisions based on how they feel instead of having legislators make decisions behind closed doors.”

“We have a specialty in explaining to voters the legal ramifications of something by them getting involved … We somewhat break down the legalese into layman’s terms so that the public can understand what’s really happening behind closed doors.”

And last, but certainly not least:

“There’s an inner circle of the Michael Jordan(s) of signature-gatherers. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but I am one of them. I’ve worked on ballot initiatives all across the country and I really understand the direction of where the country is heading … I’m letting everyone in the public know, listen, if you got a great idea and you can’t get support, you got it now.”

Also on the show, what a U-T sports columnist keeps getting wrong on the city’s history (and how not to handle criticism on Twitter), taking a page from the Padres’ playbook, community plan updates and more.

Listen to the podcast hereon Stitcher or on iTunes.

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Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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