A Chilling Effect on Oregon’s Democracy

There is nothing that elected politicians and the lobbyists who support them hate more than Oregon’s beloved initiative process. The politicians hate it because they are elitist who think the people are not smart enough to make decisions on major issues and need the “superior intellect” of elected officials to tell them how to live their lives. (It has always puzzled me as to how these elected officials think that the people are smart enough to elect them to office but too dumb to question their (in)actions through the initiative process.) The lobbyists hate it because it interferes with their control over the movement of legislation and rulemaking.

No political group hates the initiative process more than the public employees unions (“unions”) and never more than today when they have finally absolute control of the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. In the days before the unions and their tens of millions of dollars in support of Democrat candidates and their armies of conscripted volunteers working for Democrat candidates wrested control first of the Democrat party and now the Democrat led legislature, the unions organized what they euphemistically referred to as the Voters Information Project. Regardless of its high minded label it was basically a goon squad sent out to intimidate voters out of signing initiative petitions.

It was a cadre of beasts averaging over two hundred pounds (men and women alike) dressed in red shirts storming through public gatherings yelling at hapless citizens who were contemplating signing various initiative petitions. They used cameras to videotape people signing petitions leaving the distinct impression that retribution would come later. They filed countless frivolous complaints with Secretary of State Bill Bradbury – a public official who has fed at the trough of the public employee unions’ largesse in the form of countless political contributions. They pressed for and obtained rules changes and favorable rulings from Bradbury that make the signature gathering process harder each political cycle. And while they couldn’t stop the signature gathering process, they made it more difficult and expensive.

But now that the unions are largely in control of the legislature, they mean to have their way – to drive a stake through the heart of the initiative process and thus effectively deny Oregonians their primary tool for holding government in check. Rep. Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland) has announced that her committee will hold “informational hearings” on the initiative process. For those of you who do not know Rep. Rosenbaum, she is ardent Portland liberal who has held various positions with her own union and can be described as a handmaiden for the public employee unions. Although Ms. Rosenbaum has stated that there is “no promise” of legislation from these hearing, the die is already cast. The unions are insistent that costly and high hurdles be placed in the path of those who would use the initiative process. You can expect that out of these hearings will come legislation that mirrors the unions demands by requiring that a substantial number of signatures be gathered before the Secretary of State approves the form of the petition and provides a title for the proposed initiative.

That might seem innocuous but this Secretary of State, Bill Bradbury, is well known for changing the rules as to the form and methods of gathering signatures midstream and for issuing titles and statements designed to cast the initiatives in an unfavorable light. The effect of all of this is to require those who would use the initiative process to engage in a time consuming and costly roll of the dice to gather signatures without any assurance that either the form or the title of their efforts will pass muster with the highly partisan Bradbury.

In the meantime, the Democrats are gearing up to overturn two popular initiatives passed during the 2004 elections – Measure 37 which cured some of the abuses of Oregon’s land use system and Measure 36 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. With new restrictions on the initiative process, Oregonians will watch again as their will, expressed at the ballot box, is thwarted and the governing elite and their special interest supplicants can act without limitations.

Please remember that the legislature less than four short years ago adopted the largest tax increase in the history of Oregon – without a vote of the people. Had the measures championed by the unions – the chief beneficiaries of tax increases – been in place, the opportunity to defeat the tax increase would have been denied Oregonians.