Measure 37: Rigging the process

There is nothing that Democrat legislators hate more than Measure 37, the popular land use planning law that requires the government to compensate you for taking the use of your land or forego the taking.

For over thirty years, Democrat legislators and Democrat governors have struggled to bar any changes to Oregon’s abusive centralized land use control system. Governor Tom McCall and other founders of our land use laws knew that our laws would create unfair situations for Oregon property owners, and urged the legislature to pass a law to relieve these problems and make our laws more fair. But Democrat legislators and governors have stopped every attempt at reform and offered no plan of their own.

So the voters took matters into their own hands. When the original version of Measure 37 (Measure 7) was passed in 2000, Governor Kitzhaber, who was charged with defending the new law, instead met with the measure’s opponents to craft a litigation strategy to overturn the law he was supposed to defend. The result was predictable – the Democrat appointed Oregon Supreme Court voided the measure on technical grounds, and Kitzhaber got his wish.

The voters next passed Measure 37, and another Democrat appointed judge voided it. This time, however, her reasons were so spurious that even the Democrat appointed Supreme Court couldn’t stomach her decision. They overturned it unanimously in a stinging rebuke of every rationale that Judge Mary Merten James created out of smoke and mirrors.

Having failed in court, the Democrats tried to gut Measure 37 in the 2005 legislative session, but House Speaker Karen Minnis (R-Wood Village) told the Democrats to go fly a kite.

Having failed again, Governor Kulongoski finally decided to listen to the public, and formed a non-partisan Commission to fix Oregon’s broken land use system, not Measure 37.

But last November, the Democrats gained control of both houses of the legislature. Drunk with power, they made decimation of Measure 37 priority number one, while Kulongoski’s non-partisan Commission was ignored, de-funded, and told to go home and shut up.

Democrat legislative leaders created a joint committee to make “changes” to Measure 37. While the joint committee was weighted in favor of the Democrats, they made a major mistake by allowing Senator Larry George (R — Sherwood) to sit on the committee. Prior to being elected, George served as Executive Director of Oregonians in Action and was one of the prime movers behind both Measure 7 and Measure 37.

Sen. George’s persistent attempts to force the committee to do its work in the public eye rankled Democrat leaders. The joint committee was soon abandon to a “process” in which Governor Kulongoski and a room full of lawyers (including lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office, who are supposed to defend the law, not try and repeal it) crafted a bill to gut Measure 37.

But there was one problem. No Republican would vote for the Governor’s bill, and neither would a couple of Democrat legislators who objected to the legislature overturning Measure 37.

Lacking a voting majority, the Governor and his lackeys finally agreed to refer their bill to the people. Only then could they obtain the Democrat votes necessary to gut Measure 37. On a straight party line vote (all Democrats voting for, all Republicans opposed), the legislature created Measure 49, and scheduled the bill for a vote this November.

The skullduggery wasn’t over. Governor Kulongoski had been polling voter acceptance of his attempt to gut Measure 37 and realized that the only way to con voters into voting for Measure 49 was to create a highly misleading ballot title — the first and last thing voters read before voting.

This was a problem for the Democrats. To prevent Governors and legislators of whatever party from using ballot titles to mislead voters, Oregon law demands that the public have the right to comment on a ballot title and appeal it to the Oregon Supreme Court if necessary.

The Democrat leadership knew that the public wouldn’t stand for their ballot title, and that the Oregon Supreme Court would likely reject it. So they created an exception to the law — just for themselves. Democrat leaders wrote the ballot title for Measure 49, barred all public comments, and prohibited Oregon Supreme Court review of their handiwork. Whatever it takes to repeal Measure 37, they will do.

This is one of those instances where it doesn’t matter whether you like Measure 37 or not. This is one of those instances in which you have to decide if everyone, including the Governor and the legislature, should play by the same rules. I think they should.