Initiative Roundup

Jesse Cornett

Petition season is in full drive and I wanted to do a post about various issues aspiring to be on this November’s Ballot, and pass along some of the local media coverage of the process. From a few submitted early to one that's not yet gathered a single signature, the coming weeks will be provide ample opportunities to sign for the good, the bad and the ugly. The media is also likely to continue it's biennal coverage of some of the problems that exist with the way signatures are gathered. For now, here's some information and a few of my thoughts....

Early Submission

On May 26th, there was a whole gaggle of initiatives that were submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office (would this be a good place for the disclaimer? I work for the Secretary of State but do not speak for the office, especially here on Blue Oregon). IP’s 14, 23, 24, 57 and 102 all submitted signatures for early verification. A quick run-down of what’s come in:

Westlund

Next, and to get it out of the way, Ben Westlund’s campaign has been gathering signatures for a while now and they claim to be close to the 5000 mark. Only 13,364 or so to go, but he has a little longer than initiative petitions. Steve Duin's column Sunday where he begins to try to unravel Westlund, who has apparently had socially progressive rebirth in recent months. We can expect that Westlund’s effort will be stepped up after July 7th when the initiative petition signatures are due. But that still might not be enough. The last post here at Blue Oregon covers this in more detail.

Open Primary

According to the Oregonian’s Political Blog:

Keisling acknowledged that “despite a concerted and vigorous effort,” supporters of the measure fell short of gathering enough signatures to submit them by May 26, the “early submission” deadline set by the secretary of state’s office. (The final deadline is July 7 to submit at least 75,630 valid signatures.) Keisling said the main reason they fell short was that the signature gathering firm they hired decided to shift people to other, “far better funded initiatives.”

Let me be clear that I am not supportive of this effort. I’ve warmed to it slightly in recent days but is in itself is political trickery. The sponsors would have you believe that if we just get rid of Party labels, the Tom McCall’s and Wayne Morse’s would just come out of the woodwork and return us to the good old days of Oregon politics. Wrong. It’s not how we elect people that’s the problem, but who chooses to run.

But even with the extended deadline, there’s evidence that Open Primary won’t make the ballot. Democracy Resources, who has consistently been a premium sponsor of this blog, is collecting their signatures, which may be evidence it’s on shaky ground. You’ll note that some of the articles referenced in this post refer to unfulfilled promises because they apparently can’t keep enough staff on board (which may be why they wisely always advertise for staff here). Democracy Resources generally circulates progressive measures but in 2004 they circulated the medical malpractice measure that ultimately drew millions of dollars away from other progressive causes. This year they also gathered signatures to repeal Portland’s Voter-Owned Elections and are currently working with Westlund, so their progressive credentials have been slightly tarnished for the sake of business.

Healthcare

IP #143 has been abandoned by its sponsors. This measure would have raised cigarette taxes by 60 cents per pack in order to pay for health care for children in Oregon. It’s too bad that while over 125,000 Oregon children go uninsured that the same Democracy Resources just mentioned, somehow deems it more important to gather signatures for Westlund’s candidacy than an initiative in which he was a Chief Sponsor. According the to above linked article:

But the deathblow came late last week when Democracy Resources, a firm hired to manage the signature-gathering, told sponsors that they would not have enough paid staff to do the job.

Also left in the garbage pile for this year is the Healthy Oregon Plan, which would have required the legislature to “establish a basic framework for basic universal health care will also fall short. Sponsors have conceded they won’t be able to gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot.

But wait, there is still HOPE? The only healthcare measure still vying for the ballot is the HOPE initiative. Unfortunately Democracy Resources was gathering their signatures too and there’s an 800 pound gorilla getting ready to walk in the room: the proposed Casino.

Casino

For now, here comes the big one: a casino in Wood Village. That’s right, it’s been cleared by the court and may be on the street soon. The backers of this initiative are planning to collect over 100,000 signatures before July 7th and only when they do, they’ll tell you who has been funding their ongoing effort. The Oregonian editorialized Saturday against signing under such circumstances. I agree. Here’s a snippet:

The state does require groups such as the "Good for Oregon Committee," the pro-casino group headed by Studer and Rossman, to submit campaign contribution and expenditure reports. But the reporting requirements and deadlines are too lax. With court clearance, the Good for Oregon Committee has until July 7 to get 175,000 signatures. But it doesn't have to report until July 24 the sources of the money it used to pay for collection of those signatures. That's no help at all to Oregonians being asked to sign on to the casino.

Maybe we can advocate during the upcoming legislative session for a change to law that requires gatherers to report, oh I don’t know monthly, on who is paying for their political activity. Yesterday’s Oregonian had a rather extensive piece on some of the loopholes that exist for initiatives.

If the Casino initiative chooses to move forward with gathering signatures, they have the ability to crush most other issues with hopes of being on the ballot. The amount of money they may have to put into this effort will lure petition gatherers from far and wide. That will hurt a couple of progressive issues and is unfortunately unlikely to stop a gaggle of conservative issues that are much closer to their magic numbers.

Mercury

Last week Scott Moore over at the Mercury highlighted some of the tricks that petition gatherers are currently playing, mainly drawing Portlanders in on a liberal issue and then without ample explanation asking them to sign multiple conservative petitions. These “mercenaries” are a problem with our system. Not only because they come from out of state but because outside of those who pay their check, Oregonians have no idea who they are. They could easily be the guys (and gals) who once worked at your local Hollywood Video just trying to get along, or they could be shipped in from out of state with no interest in Oregon other than a paycheck.

All in all, there’s going to be a lot of activity in the coming weeks. We’ll say goodbye to some good ideas for now, hello to some bad ones and continue to scratch our heads at Bill Sizemore. For now, that's my Roundup but if you have links or information on these or other initiatives that you want to bring up, feel free to pop them into the comments.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    If you'd like to help us get HOPE on the ballot, please let us know.

    If you're in Multnomah County, give me a call at the Multnomah County Democratic Party's office (503-248-0826). We have packets at the office that you can pick up in order to gather signatures.

    Outside of Multnomah County you can sign up to get a packet through Onward Oregon: http://tinyurl.com/fj29k

    Please help us get this important measure on the ballot.

  • (Show?)

    Jesse, You seem to imply Westlund is taking signatures from measures, nothing could be further from the truth. Until after july 7, we are using Democracy Resources sparingly. We want the staffing to go to measures, although we are told Ben's petition makes gathering other measures easier. DR has only gotten us 1200, far less than the number needed by those measures to qualify.

    If you are looking for someone to blame, look to OEA who ate up limited resources only to pull corporate accountably when they got a deal from buisness. That was 100,000 signatures that could have gone to healthcare. What a waste of people's time.

    Regarding the staffing issue, as you mention, DR is having a problem with staff because they are following the law, M26, and paying by the hour. Mercenaries who pay by the signature are poaching their staff.

    As you noted, these stories as already getting covered. We did some research of an own and these mercs are a real problem. It's why Ben is proposing initiative reform that targets this practice:

    Westlund would impose significant mandatory penalties on those who knowingly break Oregon’s gathering laws and make initiative sponsors and treasurers personally and financially responsible for violations, create a reciprocal system with other states whereby a violation of one state’s election laws would be punishable in another state and require that at least one primary officer for any initiative be an Oregon resident.

    It's just a start and we're looking for other good ideas to strengthen volunteer efforts. Thanks to people like Becky who have already sent in good suggestions for improving our proposal.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    This is about as depressing as it gets. Why does our side always have to play defense? Why aren't any progressive, liberal or just humane proposals making it to the ballot?

    I heard or read that the labor unions and other liberal interests were pulling in their ballot measures and redirecting their resources to fight TABOR and Prop. 14. I was thinking it was more than the Corporate Accountability Act. The fact that all the health care proposals are being pulled sucks.

    And where is 1000 Friends or OLCV with a proactive ballot measure to re-establish Oregon's commitment to land use planning?

    Is it possible that the entire Oregon progressive movement consists of the 25 or 30 people who regularly blog here?

  • (Show?)

    Does anyone have an intelligence on the efforts by U.S. Term Limits to get signatures for the term limits initiative? I've seen it being carried by the same folks carrying the Tax Payer Bill of Rights (TABOR) but I've haven't seen them out lately.

  • (Show?)

    Obviously if the problem is mercenaries (which is illegal) the only thing that really can be done is to find out who is using them and make it public. Those that educate themselves about the initiatives should refuse to sign or talk to these people.

    I'm not sure what happens if these people get caught (maybe someone can enlighten me), but my guess is they only get written a ticket unless they are rude to the police. If this is the case, what real deterrent is there.

    I would also think people should be straight out asking petitioners, "do you get paid by the hour or by the signature?" If they won't give you a straight answer, then don't sign it.

    A lot of people are so turned off by the initiative process and the fact those that gather them are aggressive with people. It's no wonder that some initiatives (including Westlund's petition) are having a difficult time.

  • (Show?)

    Stacey writes:

    If you are looking for someone to blame, look to OEA who ate up limited resources only to pull coporate accountably when they got a deal from buisness. That was 100,000 signatures that could have gone to healthcare. What a waste of people's time.

    Democracy Resources is responsible for Democracy Resources' decision to not continue carrying the two health care measures. How about not signing up more campaigns than you can handle? If anything, OEA's decision -- despite what you think of it -- should have made collecting for HOPE and the tobacco tax easier, not more difficult.

  • Patty (unverified)
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    Chris, here is information from Our Oregon about the connection between U.S. Term Limits and TABOR. They are both using Arno Political Consultants out of California. Arno hires signature gatherers first for those two and then will add 14, 23 and 24 to the clipboard if their productivity rate is high enough. For those they get a "bonus" based on the number of signatures gathered. Democracy Direct (Tim Trickey's company) also has a piece of this contract. Word on the street is that Arno is paying per signature and there is already an election law complaint against Democracy Direct for the same violation. It - along with a complaint against one of his subcontractors, was filed on Dec. 22nd. To the best of our knowledge, those investigations remain ongoing.

    In the past few weeks Arno has shipped a big crew from California and they are also poaching gatherers from Democracy Resources. Also, because the Arno signature gatherers are working as independent contractors many are also carrying the two campaign finance measures and open primary along with the right-wing measures. We haven't seen the parental notification pay any of these companies yet. They say they are paying signature gatherers directly. Probably more than you needed to know. But here's a report from the May C & E filing.

    Our Oregon.

    Also, here's a story on how signature fraud is contributing to troubles for law-abiding companies.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Gil, you think it might be as many as 25?

    Seriously, I blame the local Dems for the few mobilizable progressives. I've turned up to more "grassroots organizing" meetings than I care to remember only to find out that the national party had decided to push some arcane position and needed some warm bodies to carry out their wishes. Serious progressives show up at those meetings, but after having all their original ideas focused back to the party's a priori conclusion and getting absolutely no answer to legitimate questions, they leave in disgust. Really I shouldn't concentrate on the Dems, though that's were a lot of progressives show up and get scandalized.

    All the local "progressive" groups that have paid staff are equally scandalizing. Try to have a civil, constructive debate with someone from OSPIRG about anything they are pushing. I heard one of the staff making a presentation on the Bull Run aquifer once, and she kept saying that it was so pure that Portland doesn't add chlorine. She meant fluoride; you have to add chlorine by law. Wouldn't hear of it; "I wasn't down with it". For the rest of the talk, I was "them". Another time I heard someone saying they were so proud to work for an organization that dumped Starling GMO corn on the capitol steps. I mentioned that while I agree that there needs to be serious debate on the issue and that marketing was getting ahead of science, that corn was food to a certain class of people that are literally dieing. During the admission, using the restroom, it was recommended to me by two rather burly lads that I not ask anymore questions.

    There are plenty of progressives; it's just that the paid ones will do anything to keep their dream jobs, screw the issues and screw you and me.

  • Eric (unverified)
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    Looking at what we have with these initiatives, it proves without a doubt that people can come up with garbage when they are bored and have nothing better to do that to think it up. This is the reason that I do not sign petitions and why I don't vote for them either - it's not worth it.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks, Patty.

    How do you interpret that Parental Notification hasn't paid anyone to gather signatures yet? Do you think they're using a grassroots strategy in churches? (I know that really isn't exactly Our Oregon's purview, but hey)

  • (Show?)

    The Parental Notification measure is collecting signatures through the churches (their website has a "church outreach" packet) and is using the same basic infrastructure, lists, ect. as Measure 36 (same people running the campaign as well). I've personally seen a paid petition gatherer for PN at the New Seasons on Killingswoth, but that's been it. My wife and I talked to him a little bit and he told us that he was paid directly from the campaign.

    If you want to get involved against the measure, you should contact NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon (503.223.4510), Planned Parenthood of the Columbia Willamette, or the ACLU.

  • Patty (unverified)
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    Patton,

    Re: Parental notification-according to their campaign manager, they are paying signature gatherers but paying them directly.

    pw

  • Becky (unverified)
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    The connection between US Term Limits and TABOR is much deeper than simply sharing Arno as a signature gathering provider.

  • Bob T (unverified)
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    Patti's submission above is revealing. How many of the signatures gathering operations and campaigns are playing by the rules, and is the AG or SOS paying ANY attention?
    Her post indicates a complaint floating out there since December. I know the wheels of justice turn slowly, but this is ridiculous. Did I see in that post the Keisling's measure is one that may or may not be being carried with right wingers? How's the former SOS paying signature gatherers for his open primary? I don't know much about it except what I've read on this blog, but this paying for signature business smells funny. BOb

  • progvoice (unverified)
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    How can one distinguish between the motives of the campaign that sponsers an initiative vs. the company that contracts with the campaign vs. the individual that is employed by the company that contracts with the campaign vs. the person that signs that petition?

    These companies act mearly as an agent to place people on the street as a surrogate for donors that would rather not.

  • Ramon (unverified)
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    This is about as depressing as it gets. Why does our side always have to play defense? Why aren't any progressive, liberal or just humane proposals making it to the ballot?

    The original Progressives of 100 years ago enacted the Initiative & Referendum (I&R) system as a means to curb government insider-ism and corruption. Gil's comment reveals how far from "progressive" today's self-proclaimed Progs have wandered.

    The situation now is a result of laborite politicos having tried to kill off the initiative system by executive decree, lawsuit and regulation - because they don't like how it is being used and can't win on the popular measures being put forward that the Legislature would NEVER offer. The laborites have only ended up making initiatives more expensive, and thus out-of-reach for ... progressives.

    In fact, it is today's I & R crowd - not the poser Progs - who carry forward the legacy of the original, anti-corruption Progressives.

  • Chris McMullen (unverified)
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    Good point, Ramon.

    Moreover, the corruption, back-room dealings, intimidation and malfeasance perpetuated by Labor Unions makes Grover Norquist's misconduct look downright trivial.

  • Becky (unverified)
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    I disagree with Ramon. I believe the situation now is a backlash against corrupt political insiders hijacking the initiative process in order to circumvent the republican form of government that they otherwise claim to revere.

  • Jennifer Warren (unverified)
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    All -

    There are actually three health care initiatives still in play:

    IP 105 and 122 would provide specific, significant improvements to targeted areas of our current health care system.

    IP 40 -HOPE- offers our state the chance for landmark resolution to the issue of access to effective, affordable health care - and essentially requires the legislature to bring everyone to the table to make that happen soon.

    IP 105 Establishes staffing requirements for Nursing Homes, and specifies minimum allowable Per-Shift Staff-To-Resident ratios

    IP 122 Expands Oregon Prescription Drug Program to allow all Oregonians without prescription coverage to enroll in the state's bulk purchasing program

    IP 40 HOPE amends the state constitution, and requires that by July 2009, the legislature develop an incremental plan to "ensure that every Oregon resident has access to effective and affordable health care as a fundamental right.” To do this, the legislature must consider ways to do the following:

    (a) Conserve and strengthen the existing health care system to the greatest extent possible; (b) Conserve and strengthen the existing system of providing health insurance as a benefit of employment; (c) Encourage individual responsibility for one's own health care; (d) Maximize the use of Medicaid, Medicare and other federal health care programs; (e) Encourage the efficient and effective use of health care expenditures; and (f) Improve the health of every Oregon resident.

    <hr/>

    All three of these initiatives are actively collecting signatures, and it's important to note that HOPE has a higher threshold to cross because it is constitutional, not statutory.

    It would be lovely for these campaigns to be able to depend solely on volunteers, but let's be serious. The fact is that most of us have day jobs. If you've had any serious contact with an IP campaign, then you know how much effort is involved in just getting the signatures to begin with - let alone marshalling the volunteer army it would take to do the work of paid gatherers.

    We have a chance to make real, fundamental changes to the way we view -and address- the entire issue of health care in Oregon, so please, do what you can to help collect signatures.

    For more informaton about the initiatives, contact information and links to their websites, go to: http://www.oregoniansforhealthsecurity.org/facts/links/ballotmeasures.cfm

  • (Show?)

    i am very hostile to initiative petitions these days. no one, it seems, knows how to write one so that it's not chock-full of unintended consequences. i don't sign any of them (except to legalize hemp; that's an easy one). i don't sign for health care or workers rights or anything i support because i don't trust these things not to explode. M5 and M37 will combine to crush Oregon more thoroughly than Grover Norquist could have hoped in his wildest wet dream. god knows what destruction well-intended Oregonians will foist on us through IPs. god save us from well-intentioned citizens.

    instead, we have to take back the House and then work with the Leg to produce decent and responsible legislation. the nice thing about laws pass thru the Leg: they can be fixed by the next Leg without the cries of "overthrowing the will of the people".

    (and is this a good place to announce my initiative drive for annual legislative sessions?)

  • Steve Rankin (unverified)
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    I'm following your state's "open primary" initiative drive with great interest and would like more details on the evidence that it won't make the November ballot.

    Louisiana, where most of my relatives live, is the only state that uses a similar such system for state and congressional elections. It's actually a general election that bypasses the nominating process. If you take away the parties' ability to perform their basic function of nominating candidates, what do you need political parties for?

    The Louisiana system is an extension of the old one-party (truly no-party) system, in which elections were decided in the Democratic primary, with a Democratic runoff if necessary.

    The top two vote-getters in LA's 1987 governor's race were both Democrats.

    The 1991 gubernatorial runoff featured a candidate who had been tried for bribery and an ex-Ku Klux Klansman.

    The 1995 gubernatorial runoff featured a white conservative Republican vs. a black liberal Democrat. (Now-U. S. Sen. Mary Landrieu had finished third.)

    The Oregon proposal is definitely unconstitutional in regard to congressional elections. In 1997, the U. S. Supreme Court ordered Louisiana to begin holding the first round of its congressional elections on the first Tuesday in November. (You may recall that the 2002 runoff between Democratic Sen. Landrieu and the Republican Suzanne Terrell was held in December.)

    The "top two" (as I prefer calling it, since it's not actually a "primary") requires the top two vote-getters to conduct two general election campaigns; this discourages candidates from running. And it makes it nearly impossible for independents and small-party candidates to be elected.

    If a small party's message is kept out of the final, deciding election, the party loses its main reason for existing. Is it any wonder that your state's small parties are fighting this monstrosity?

    When the two runoff candidates are from the same party: Not only is that party split, but all the other parties' loyal voters are effectively disenfranchised.

    I noted that there was recently a proposal for the Oregon Democratic Party to invite independents to vote in its primaries. In my view, both the major parties would be smart to begin inviting independents into their primaries.

    Party primaries versus the "top two" is a choice between a party system and a no-party system. I submit that a party system is superior.

    Steve Rankin Jackson, Mississippi

  • (Show?)

    Becky, I read your screed over at PK as well as the uberly conspiratorial bit over at Washblog.

    You made several claims without ever backing anything up. You can say the words "money laundering" over and over and over all you want. But just because you say it does not make it true. And since I know a little bit about what is going on I can tell you that your basic theory, upon which you have built your entire conspiracy theme, is false.

    To the contrary it is the folks over at Our Oregon that have been busted spreading false accusations down at the Sec. State. Meanwhile you would find that the people running the signature drives are actually very quick to turn in anyone they catch violating the law. Of course you won't hear the press talking about that.

    yip yip

  • Becky (unverified)
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    Ted, I don't know anything about a post at Washblog - never even heard of it before. I addressed your concerns, however, in a response to PanchoPdx on my own post at PK. Have a read and feel free to comment.

    As for the assertion that people running signature drives turn in law violators, perhaps they do, but it doesn't have a thing to do with other illegal activity and it doesn't mean they aren't selective about what they will and won't tolerate on the drive. Sizemore used to make that same claim all the time, and look what he was doing. If you don't know, I'll be glad to fill you in.

    People always say one thing and do another, and the worst of them usually have big, honest puppy eyes while they're lying to you. That's why we need watchdogs like Patty. Just to make sure.

  • (Show?)

    Becky, No not "perhaps they do." They do, there is no perhaps about it.

    I have run a couple of drives myself and been close to these other committees in the past. They do not "tolerate" illegal activity. I am not sure exactly what Sizemore did in the past, but if I remember correctly there was only one person who had pled guilty in that whole sordid affair and it was not Sizemore.

    Even if Sizemore were guilty would that make these other folks guilty of your charges? Not any more than the Teacher's Union in Washington State (who have had legal troubles of their own) would make Patty Wentz guilty. Eh?

    The Democrats who have admitted to election irregularities in King County Washington are surely related to the Democrats over at Our Oregon aren't they? Well of course not.

    So neither are the current committees to be lumped in with Bill even if Bill had admitted forgery (of course he has not).

    yip yip

  • Becky (unverified)
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    OK, so they don't tolerate illegal activity by their petitioners - what about unethical activity, or activity that violates the spirit of the law. You can't tell me they don't tolerate that. And then there is the whole problem of proper record-keeping by petitioners - a problem that makes a great cover for lawbreaking. Hmm, I wonder why Parker Bell and others won't produce anything other than a pile of paper scraps for the Court? I've seen how they keep their records. How are the campaigns going to produce their agent reports? Or will they? Accurate, honest reports are required by law - but they cannot be produced when petitioners aren't keeping accurate records. Oops. Is that being tolerated?

    I also personally know of many involved in the initiative process still today who have engaged in moving money around to hide the source of it (aka "money laundering"). They certainly tolerated that illegal activity. But, of course, they hae to because the other side is supposedly doing the same thing and if your side didn't do it, they'd lose, right? That's what Sizemore always said. Do you feel that way, too?

    As for Sizemore, ain't no way he'd ever admit to lawbreaking no matter what evidence you put in his face - his performance in court was breathtaking to all who knew what really happened. He's committed to his lies to the point you almost have to believe he believes them himself. And speaking of tolerating lawbreaking, his presence in the process is still being tolerated by all those doing conservative initiatives right now, isn't it? You guys have your heads completely in the sand about what happened at OTU. Go ahead and blame me, but that won't change the truth. Sooner or later, if you have a conscience and integrity, you will have to ostracize him, disassociate yourselves from the crooks back east, and fly straight. Unless, of course, you prefer to remain ignorant or blind to what is going on.

    Are the other folks guilty just because Sizemore is? Of course not. But that doesn't mean there isn't illegal activity going on associated with the campaign. Which is why I've been asking questions such as who wrote actually the measures? Were they provided to the local activists by organizations back east, or written from scratch by someone (who?) local? Did they come to their chief petitioners pre-funded? Where did that money originate? Or have the local campaigns had to negotiate with the organizations back east for that funding? Or has someone else (i.e., Sizemore) raised that funding or negotiated with the organizations back east to get it? Why not tell us about that process? How hands-on have the local people been in getting funding for the measures, and who have the hands-on people been? I know the organizations that have provided the funding to put the measures on the ballot and I know they have a predeliction for money laundering. I'm sure you believe they love grassroots activists and want to help everyone have a better life. I say that's BS and naive. So let's see some answers and then I'll quit asking questions. I know, no one is legally obligated to answer those questions. But if there's nothing to hide, then why not answer them?

  • Becky (unverified)
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    My apologies to Parker Bell for the above message. He hasn't had problems since 2004. I meant Tim Trickey and Brian Platt.

  • Mark Ellis (unverified)
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    FROM TODAY'S PORTLAND TRIBUNE

    Open-primary bill gives pause

    SOAPBOX: Consider long-term effects of shortsighted idea By MARK ELLIS Issue date: Fri, Jun 16, 2006 The Tribune

    It was a Sunday afternoon, typically a downtime at the dog park, but thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour had thinned the ranks of dutiful dog owners and their pets to almost nothing. There was one gentleman present who had no dog. Who had braved the weather that day, not with a leash and pooper-scooper in hand, but a petition and pen. He visited each dog owner in turn, attempting to gather signatures to get the Open Primary Initiative on the ballot for the November election. His talking points focused on the general apathy surrounding primary elections, the ostensibly unnecessary costs involved in holding a primary in which voters can only cast votes for those in their own parties and the stranglehold that closed primaries put on moderate candidates who don’t appeal to the polarized interests of the major parties. Wouldn’t it be better, he posited, to have the primary vote open, allowing for the crossing of party lines and then having the two top vote-getters go head-to-head in a general election runoff? What the petition gatherer was not bringing to the forefront of his pitch was that the measure, if enacted, could theoretically completely eliminate a major party from contention in a general election. Political scientists have surely run the numbers on this, and probably could say in a heartbeat if, in the history of Oregon’s elections, there has ever been a time when using such a system would have spelled doom for the hopes of any party. Theory aside, it is possible to crunch scenarios from the recent primary and conclude that it could happen. What if Ron Saxon, now the Republican candidate for governor, had only narrowly bested Kevin Mannix for the GOP nod, and their distant third-place finisher had siphoned off more percentage points? Given Mannix’s close race against Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2002, this was not an inconceivable outcome. What if the final GOP percentages were 40-39-21? On the other side of the aisle, it doesn’t take a herculean stretch, given what many Democrats think has been an undistinguished first term for Kulongoski, to imagine challenger Jim Hill doing much better than he did, with the final percentages on the blue side of the ticket clocking in at 49-41. Under this scenario, the Republicans would have been denied a voice in the general election. Should the generally left-leaning electorate in Oregon’s biggest cities manage to evolve their existing near-hegemony over Oregon politics, it is remote, but conceivable, that Republicans could be aced out of contention in many partisan general election races. Now turn the tables. What if this were red-state Kansas, and an open primary promised the same perennial exclusion of the Democratic Party? Open primary advocates say theirs is a nonpartisan quest, but it is worth a pause to wonder if they’d be out slamming the dog park turf on a Sunday afternoon if it meant ensuring that Saxton, Mannix and their conservative antecedents could potentially represent the entirety of Oregon’s electorate, in as close to perpetuity as politics gets. Further, the extinction of third-party candidates from “Top Two” elections is a foregone conclusion. The petition gatherer seemed to be encountering a good bit of skepticism and informed questioning that blustery day at the park. He got a couple of signatures and as many turn-downs, and was overheard to say that most people he approached just didn’t seem to give a darn. That’s a problem, for sure, but not one likely to be solved by eliminating choices, and the millions of Oregonian voices that could be silenced by this vaguely undemocratic dog of a bill. Portland writer Mark Ellis lives in Southwest Portland.

  • LT (unverified)
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    could theoretically completely eliminate a major party from contention in a general election.

    With only partisans allowed to vote, the 2004 primary results in House District 25 were

    Kim Thatcher 4042 votes Roger Pike 3525 votes Vic Backlund 2789 votes

    Was Kim Thatcher really a "Republican" candidate, or did she ride her CSE/Measure 30 activity into the Oregon House? Many people were very sad that Vic Backlund lost, but unless they'd been registered Republicans in Dist. 25 there wasn't much they could do about it.

    Suppose it had been an open primary and residents of the district could have voted for any of the 3 candidates. Backlund only lost Marion County by something like 225 votes. If the top 2 had turned out to be Backlund and Pike, that would have been one for each party, and it would have been a more intelligent general election campaign.

    Perhaps open primary is not the answer, perhaps nonpartisan legislature is the answer.

    But I don't accept the idea that parties should be preserved no matter what. Last time I looked, parties were not mentioned in the Constitution, and the popularity of open primary may come from too many legislators seeming to think and act as if their first allegiance was to party caucus, with constituents coming in second.

  • Steve Rankin (unverified)
    (Show?)

    You call it the "open primary;" I call it the "top two."

    On June 16, the Louisiana legislature passed a bill to restore party primaries for congressional elections. If, as expected, this bill becomes law, it will mean that NO states use the Top Two for congressional elections.

    Louisiana is the only state that uses the Top Two to elect all its state officials; Nebraska uses it to elect its legislature. If this is such a good idea, how come no other state uses the Top Two to elect any of its non-judicial state officials?

    Perhaps [the Top Two] is not the answer, perhaps nonpartisan legislature is the answer.

    The Top Two is a nonpartisan system-- whether party labels are put on the ballot or not.

    It's true that some of the founders said negative things about the concept of political parties. But the founding of the republic and the founding of political parties were almost concomitant, and nearly all of the founders participated in the party system. Whether any of us like it or not, political parties are here to stay.

    A citizen certainly has the right to be an independent. But a citizen does NOT have the right to force his fellow citizens to be independents, and that's essentially what the Top Two does.

    As the U. S. Supreme Court has said, "Representative democracy... is unimaginable without the ability of citizens to band together in promoting among the electorate candidates who espouse their political views."

    Steve Rankin Jackson, Mississippi

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