by Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
A newly formed group of advocates based in southern Oregon that aims to improve transparency in the Oregon Legislature is zeroing in on its first target: state Sen. Alan Bates.
Citizens for Transparent Government is re-launching an effort to recall Bates, a Democrat from Medford. The advocacy group sees Bates’ support and handling of a bill in the 2013 session that would have designated 30 rivers “scenic waterways” as a prime example of a lack of openness in the legislative process.
“His actions point to a concerted strategy that appears to be one of attempting to limit public debate,” CFTG co-founder Eric Dubin said. The bill originally would have designated 14,000 miles of waterways as “scenic waterways,” opening them to future regulations and rules on private property set by the state parks administration. The bill was amended to study which waterways should be considered scenic waterways, but failed to get out of committee.
Bates’ bill spurred a recall effort in his district that failed to get the needed signatures in 90 days. Now, the transparency group, set to use Bates as its first case study in what Dubin and others see as a lack of transparency, is gathering pledges from people who say they would sign a petition to recall the senator.
Dubin said the group has pledges from about 1,000 people who say they will sign the petition. He said once the group gets to 5,000 pledges he will file officially for a recall petition. Then advocates will have 90 days to collect 7,500 valid signatures.
Bates could not be reached for comment.
Dubin said property owners were largely left out of the legislative process and that there wasn’t a public debate on Senate Bill 401. CFTG accuses Bates of adhering only to special environmental interests and ignoring those who opposed the bill.
“He shunned them,” Dubin said.
David Hunnicut, president of Oregonians in Action, said he is not involved in the recall but applauds the effort to make lawmakers more accountable to the public.
“We’ve been arguing about that for years,” he said.
Oregonians in Action, a nonprofit organization representing Oregon property owners, fought SB 401. Hunnicut said the designation of scenic waterways causes concern for property owners because it opens the doors for unknown widespread regulations.
“It’s so open ended you really don’t know until the agency sets the administrative rules what the limitations are going to be,” he said.
When Lane County commissioners wanted to designate a scenic waterway locally that would have prohibited property owners from disturbing native vegetation, Oregonians in Action argued the rules were so restrictive a homeowner would not have been able to cut down a wild blackberry bush in their yard. That designation failed after much opposition from the property rights group.
Environmentalists argue that designated scenic waterways are vital to keeping Oregon’s rivers healthy. From the website of Oregon Wild, an environmental advocacy group pushing for the scenic waterway designations:
Oregon is justifiably famous for iconic rivers like the Rogue, Umpqua, Sandy, and others, and we have a duty as Oregonians to protect them from short-sighted, destructive uses.
State Scenic Waterway designations protect water quality and salmon, enable Oregon jobs and tourism to the state, and significantly add to property values, quality of life, and recreational experiences.
Dubin said his biggest problem with the bill was not giving the public a seat at the legislative table. He said the scenic waterways were designated in the past by popular vote, not by political posturing in Salem.
“This really isn’t an issue about partisan politics, it’s more about the process,” he said. “Government is, on an ever increasing basis, becoming more distant from the people that they are supposed to represent.”
Contact Shelby Sebens at [email protected].org
Northwest Watchdog is a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity