Measure 49: What is in a ballot title?

Have you read Measure 49? No, I don’t mean have you read the ballot title, or watched the political ads, or listened to the advocates discuss it. Have you read it? Really read it?

That is the single most important question you will confront when considering Measure 49 at the special election in November.

In most instances, voters can rely on information contained in the official ballot title for a measure. For decades, Oregon law has required the Oregon Attorney General to craft the ballot title. The public is then given an opportunity to comment on the draft, and the Oregon Supreme Court reviews the Attorney General’s draft to ensure that it is both fair and accurate, and not a statement in support or opposition to the measure.

In most instances, before any significant legislation is adopted, Oregonians can rely on the public hearings at the legislature, the give and take of the debates and the opportunity for proponents and opponents to comment on the effect of the language in the bill.

In most instances, voters can rely on public records and Oregon’s sunshine laws to disclose the manner in which various special interest groups influence the progress of legislation and judge the degree of that influence.

In most instances, all of that is true – but not in this instance. That is why the fundamental question for you as a voter is, “Have you read Measure 49?”

There is no better description of the corruption of the legislative process leading to Measure 49 than the words of Sen. Ted Ferrioli (Senate Minority Leader) and Rep. Wayne Scott (House Minority Leader):

“Because Measure 49 makes such a significant change to Oregon law, you would think that the legislature would have consulted with top experts, held numerous public hearings, and drafted a fair and unbiased ballot title to make sure that Measure 49 would work and that all Oregonians would be heard. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

“The legislative process for referring Measure 49 was steeped in secrecy, special favors, and suspension of laws that have been in place for decades to protect the public from manipulative and misleading ballot titles and statements.

“How do we know? We were the legislative leaders of our respective caucuses during the last legislative session. We tried unsuccessfully to forge a bipartisan Measure, ensure that the public was heard on this important issue, and make sure that the Oregon Attorney General and Oregon Supreme Court performed their traditional roles regarding ballot measures.

“Unfortunately, we could not prevent this corruption of power. The end result was that every member of our caucuses voted against Measure 49.”

The process leading to Measure 49 offers a crystal clear view of everything that’s wrong with Oregon politics.

Measure 49 is a product of the Oregon legislature. Normally, a bill goes through a number of steps before it becomes law. The most important of these steps is the public hearing process. Public hearings allow the public to explain the impacts of a particular bill to their elected representatives.

When the legislature proposes a dramatic change to the law, the need for public hearings becomes even more critical. And the one thing that opponents and proponents of Measure 49 agree on is that it makes dramatic changes to Oregon law.

So you would think that the legislature would have held public hearings on Measure 49, right?

Wrong. Measure 49 first appeared in the legislature on April 26, 2007. Over the course of 41 days, Measure 49 was amended and approved by a legislative committee, sent to another legislative committee for further amendments, sent to the House floor, approved by the House of Representatives, sent to the Oregon Senate, referred to another legislative committee for even more amendments, re-sent to the Senate floor, approved by the Oregon Senate, sent back to the Oregon House, and re-approved by the Oregon House.

Each time Measure 49 was approved and re-approved, it was done on straight party lines (all Democrats supporting, all Republicans opposing). A bi-partisan compromise this wasn’t.

But what is truly disturbing is that throughout Measure 49’s tortured journey through the Oregon legislature, not one public hearing was held on the Measure. Not one.

No give and take. No public process. No opportunity for the public to testify, and no requirement that the legislature listen to those whom they were about to irreparably harm. No opportunity for experts to make suggestions or point out drafting errors. In short, pure power politics at its worst.

But the fun was just beginning. 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.

That was a problem for the Governor. 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 Governor and legislative leaders 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.

All of this secrecy, all of this manipulation, all of this lying and avoiding public participation – and for what? Only about 1.2 percent of Oregon is currently developed. Yes, that’s right. Only 1.2 percent or 730,000 acres of 61 million acres are developed. If every Measure 37 claim is approved (and they won’t be) and if every acre of every Measure 37 claim winds up being developed (and they won’t), the total acreage developed in Oregon will be less than 3 percent. That leaves 97 percent of Oregon as undeveloped open space. When is enough enough?

But this is about government power and those who control that power. And this governor and the legislative leadership have proven that property rights and voter rights be damned in the quest for power.