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October 22nd, 2003 The Nose | The Nose
 

Measuring democracy by the hour.

     
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The Nose made the mistake of betting on the Cubs and the BoSox the week before his property-tax bill arrived. He needed some extra scratch. And he needed it fast.

Flipping through the daily paper's classified ads, in 7-point type, was the answer to his prayers:

The Nose was thrilled. He's always loved Oregon's quirky idea that regular citizens should be able to turn their good ideas into laws or prevent lawmakers' bad ideas from being implemented. Even better, last year voters passed a law banning the per-

signature bounties that had been paid to signature gatherers (a.k.a. circulators) and which had created an incentive for fraud.

Here was a chance to further the cause of democracy and keep the tax man at bay. Soon, he was on the phone with Tracy, who ran him through the basics.

The Legislature just passed
a big tax increase, Tracy ex-plained, and his circulators are collecting the signatures needed to refer it to the ballot next.

The Nose is all for direct democracy, but what about the paycheck?

Tracy walked him through the ban on signature bounties, which, he assured the Nose, will soon be declared unconstitutional. But until then, he has to live with it. "We wish we could pay per signature, but we cannot," Tracy lamented. "We pay per hour. Everybody gets a minimum of $10 per hour."

The higher wages, he explained, stem from pay raises based, in part, on the number of signatures you turn in.

Tracy said that you're expected to get "a minimum of 15" signatures an hour. If you do better, you get paid more. "If you're doing 30 or more, you get 20 bucks an hour," he said, while "20 to 29 is $15 an hour."

The top pay, he said, was reserved for those who show the ability to gather a lot of signatures on two measures simultaneously.

The Nose was confused. Voters passed Measure 26, which promised circulators wouldn't be paid per signature. But here was Tracy explaining that if the Nose worked four hours and collected 65 signatures, he'd get 40 bucks, but if he collected 85 signatures, he'd walk away with $60.

The Nose tracked down a

state administrative rule (165-014-0260), which confirms that Oregon law clearly "bans the practice of paying circulators...if the basis for payment is the number of signatures obtained. This means that payment cannot be made on a per-signature basis."

Isn't Tracy breaking the law?

Well, maybe not. The rule also allows "adjusting salaries prospectively relative to a circulator's productivity, and paying discretionary bonuses based on reliability, longevity and productivity."

The Nose remembers the promise that this newspaper, and other advocates of Measure 26, made in advocating its passage: an end to circulators being paid based on the number of signatures they gathered.

They were wrong. Tracy and his pals seem to walked right up to the line drawn by Measure 26, and legally spat right in voters' faces.

That's why the Nose won't be signing up with Tracy to avoid foreclosure; he's got his money on the Marlins.

 
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