AMENDS CONSTITUTION TO ALLOW ELECTIONS TO BE POSTPONED IF STATE CANDIDATES DIE LATE IN THE CAMPAIGN.
What's the fuss? Under current law we could elect a dead person to office.
What's the fix? Postpone the election for that office if one of the major candidates doesn't have a pulse.
Here's the deal: This time of year, a lot of voters wish some of the politicians would just drop dead. Well, one of these years it's going to happen.
Before vote-by-mail, this wouldn't be such a big deal, as there would be time for political parties to nominate a new candidate before Election Day. But now, there's almost three weeks between the time ballots arrive in our mailboxes and when they're counted. What happens if some candidate dies during that time? No one knows for sure, but it seems that if the dead candidate wins in a fall election, they'd be able to hold office for two years, until the next general election.
Measure 31, referred to the ballot by lawmakers, would fix that. It would change the constitution to allow a fall election to be postponed should a major-party candidate for state office die within 30 days of Election Day. We realize that in some legislative districts having a cadaver in office would be an improvement, but we still think this measure is a good idea.
CHANGES THE CONSTITUTION TO TREAT MOBILE HOMES LIKE HOMES RATHER THAN CARS.
What's the fuss? Currently, revenues from mobile-home taxes and fees must be spent on highway projects, even though they spend about as much time on the road as the '71 Super Beetle your neighbor's kid has up on cinder blocks.
What's the fix? Let the money be funneled to a state agency that actually deals with homes, not cars.
Here's the deal: Why mobile homes are mentioned in the Oregon Constitution is beyond us, but there they are, parked in Section 3a, Article IX, which says that the taxes and fees collected from trailers are to be treated the same as those that come from RVs, campers and snowmobiles, which must be used for highway projects or parks. This measure, brought to you by the 2003 Legislature, would instead send those fees to the Department of Consumer and Business Services, which would also take over regulatory authority of trailers from the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division. We think this is a great idea and don't know why someone didn't come up with this bang-up solution years ago. And we're not alone: There's no organized opposition to the measure.
CHANGES OREGON'S MEDICAL-MARIJUANA LAW, INCREASING THE AMOUNT OF POT PATIENTS CAN POSSESS AND ALLOWING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF NON-PROFIT DISPENSARIES.
What's the fuss? Some medical-marijuana patients can't score enough weed.
What's the fix? Relax the regs.
Here's the deal: We'll be the first to admit (kind of hard not to, given our cover) that medical-marijuana advocates are an easy target for ridicule. But for some, marijuana is a safe and effective treatment.
That's why, in 1998, WW was one of the only major newspapers in the state to endorse the ballot measure that created Oregon's medical-marijuana system. The measure passed, and ever since, sick people with cooperative doctors have been allowed to grow and use "the medicine" to ease conditions including cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.
Back in '98, law enforcement predicted medical pot would fuel a cannabis catastrophe. Hate to say we told you so, but it hasn't happened. Instead, the experiment seems a qualified success. More than 10,000 patients and about 1,400 doctors have participated. The program even makes money for the state--it's running a $1 million surplus.
But medical pot's boosters say Oregon's law is flawed. It bans buying and selling marijuana; patients must grow their own or find a caregiver to grow it for them. That imposes a hardship on people who lack the skills or abilities (remember, a lot of them are sick) to grow dope. And its one-ounce limit, they say, makes the system impractical for some patients who need more.
Their solution: allow nonprofit, licensed dispensaries to sell medical marijuana to qualified patients. A dispensary could be a storefront in downtown Portland, or a farm outside Mist. In counties where no nonprofit stepped forward to run a dispensary, the county government would be required to start one.
The measure would also radically increase the amount of weed a patient could legally possess--up to six pounds, in fact. Another provision would allow naturopaths and nurse practitioners to sign up patients, which they now can't.
We're convinced of a couple things. One, M33's backers have correctly diagnosed some problems with the current system that should be fixed. Two, this measure is the wrong way to fix them.
Drug cops and DAs say allowing people to have six pounds of pot amounts to de facto legalization. Maybe they're right--whatever. The quantities involved don't really bother us. Measure 33's fatal flaw is the odd provision that could force, say, Harney County in Eastern Oregon to open its own publicly owned pot shop.
Though proponents say the system will pay for itself, it's hard to imagine strapped counties rushing to comply--and easy to imagine litigation aimed at forcing them to.
We're still all for medical marijuana. We just don't think this overly ambitious measure is the fix it needs.
SETS ASIDE HALF OF THE TILLAMOOK AND CLATSOP STATE FORESTS FOR RECREATION AND WILDLIFE PURPOSES.
What's the fuss? Our state forests are being run like a tree farm.
What's the fix? Let critters, hikers and campers have some forest to play in where the trees are still standing.
Here's the deal: If you want to understand the dynamics of state forest politics, all you need to do is look at what happened in June, when Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked the state Board of Forestry to protect the most fragile and important habitat in Oregon's state forests by creating permanent reserves that could not be clearcut.
The board's response to Kulongoski? A letter so noncommittal they might as well have bent over, dropped their pants and mooned him.
This result could not have been a surprise to Kulongoski. As part of a deal to get Republicans to drop their opposition to putting his friend Neil Goldschmidt on the state Board of Higher Education, Kulongoski had stacked the board, which oversees the Department of Forestry, with pro-timber members.
The seven-member board, which is legally limited to no more than three members with financial interests in logging, now has at least five. This is just one reason the Department of Forestry can no longer be trusted to manage the delicate ecosystems in state forests.
Documents show that the department has repeatedly steamrolled over the concerns of its own biologists--in order to yield the maximum dollars for county governments, public schools and the department's own budget (see "The Coast Is Clearcut," WW, March 6, 2002).
Measure 34 would ban cutting on half of the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests. There's no denying that this would hit state and local budgets and the economies of logging counties. But the impacts are being framed in a misleading way.
Official estimates peg the state loss at between $4 million and $10 million a year, while a few rural counties would lose, combined, roughly $18 million a year. Opponents also claim hundreds if not thousands of jobs would be lost.
These estimates refer to jobs and money that don't currently exist. Based on lofty future harvest projections, they reflect plans by counties and the state Department of Forestry to cash in on the large portions of the Tillamook and Clatsop forests that now approach harvest age.
Supporters of the measure say these losses could be offset with tourism based on the forests' largely untapped recreational opportunities. They also could be offset, we suspect, if Kulongoski were to finally close the loophole that lets the main timber cutter on state lands, Weyerhaeuser, export logs overseas--rather than provide local jobs.
The Department of Forestry argues that it has its own plan, one that refuses to permanently protect any significant part of its lands from clearcutting. It was adopted in 2001 over the objections of federal biologists and other experts, who found it dangerous and extreme--oddly enough, the same adjectives that opponents use to describe Measure 34.
AMENDS STATE CONSTITUTION TO LIMIT NONECONOMIC DAMAGES FOR VICTIMS IN MALPRACTICE CASES TO $500,000.
What's the fuss? Soaring malpractice insurance premiums are making doctors stop performing high-risk procedures and driving them to quit medicine or leave the state, particurlarly docs out in the sticks.
What's the fix? Limit the amount of non-economic damages for which a physician can be held liable.
Here's the deal: Oregon's docs are unhappy with their current lot, and they're pouring upwards of $6 million into this measure to try and get things swinging their way. Their gripe is this: Over the past five years, malpractice insurance rates in Oregon have skyrocketed--in some cases by over 200 percent. Physicians attribute this premium explosion to what they call "jackpot" lawsuits, where a plaintiff suing for malpractice can win an unlimited amount of money in punitive and "pain and suffering" damages.
So, the story goes, these "jackpots" make insurance companies jack up rates; then docs go out of business or quit, and we're all left with a half-stocked first-aid kit and a pair of pliers next time we're injured. These jackpot awards must be stopped, right?
The docs aren't short on doomsday predictions but are short on numbers to support their position. Malpractice rates have certainly gotten out of hand, but the doctors (including former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who supports the measure) haven't shown that this measure will solve a whole lot.
For one thing, it's clear that some doctors have quit and left communities in a lurch--like in Reedsport, where moms-to-be have to drive for an hour to find someone who'll deliver a baby. But they can't show data that say docs are fleeing the state en masse. In fact, Oregon Board of Medical Examiners stats show the number of doctors per capita in the state has actually gone up over the past half-decade. (These numbers don't track docs who quit practicing in Oregon but maintain a license, though.)
Supporters of the measure also lack good data, from this or any other state, to show that this sort of tort reform drives insurance rates down. Between 1994 and 1999 there was no cap in Oregon, and premiums declined. From 1999 on, premiums shot up, though there was no change in the cap's status.
In national terms, Oregon docs' average malpractice rates are exactly in the middle, at number 25. Everyone agrees that premiums across the board are too high, however, and that they particularly victimize rural communities that tend to be less lucrative for docs. Gov. Ted Kulongoski addressed this issue with a four-year program that subsidizes up to 80 percent of premiums for many rural doctors--a $40 million Band-Aid until someone finds a better solution.
We know it's not fair to make docs absorb such heavy costs, but the proponents of this measure have done a poor job of making their case. Rather than endorse this idea of limiting non-economic damages, we'd like to see some serious attention paid to reforming the insurance side of the equation. Insurance companies are the ones who have decided to double rates, and from what we've seen, they haven't given any explanation why. Even more worrisome, if this measure were to pass, they'd be under no obligation to lower premiums.
AMENDS THE CONSTITUTION TO DEFINE MARRIAGE AS BETWEEN ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN.
What's the fuss? The queer horde has finally infiltrated our most sacred institution, a sign that portends the fall of Western society.
What's the fix? Change the constitution to keep them from getting hitched.
Here's the deal: Steve Forbush and Candice Mercer met on the first night of new-student orientation at Lewis & Clark College in late August. The two chatted about where to buy cigarettes and hit it off from there. Two weeks later, they got married.
"We thought about it, and we decided that it was something we really wanted to do," Forbush later told the Pioneer Log, the college newspaper. "We just like, agreed upon it."
We wish the happy bride and groom luck. But with all due respect, if this lovestruck pair can have their 13-day relationship validated by the state of Oregon, why can't Barbara Bond and Katherine Martin, a gay couple who have spent 13 years together? We don't have an answer, and neither do the proponents of this measure.
They might say it's in the interest of children, but a "Yes on 36" vote doesn't protect kids at all. Advocates of this measure like to claim that children, generally, are best off with a mom and dad, rather than a mom and a mom. We're not convinced, but for the sake of argument, let's agree. What does M36 do then? Does it prevent lesbian couples from having kids? No. (Bond and Martin already have two.) Does it prevent gay men from adopting them? No. All it does is ensure that those men and women--those parents--can't unify under the law in the interest of their kids.
Measure 36 also isn't needed to keep public-school teachers from "promoting homosexuality" (if you haven't heard that one yet, you will), because schools aren't charged with promoting any sexual orientation. And its failure definitely won't force churches to marry gay couples or impose sanctions on them if they don't.
So what would Measure 36 accomplish? It would ensure that certain rights given to married couples won't be available to gay couples like Bond and Martin. And, while it's possible that the Legislature could extend some of those rights, it's more likely that conservative lawmakers would use the passage of this measure--the so-called will of the people--to argue against such a move.
But a "Yes on 36" vote is more than that; it's a powerful symbolic act. By voting yes, you'd be telling hundreds of thousands of gay Oregonians that they're fundamentally inferior. That their relationships are not as precious as your relationships. That for reasons you can't quite explain, gay Oregonians should be singled out in the state constitution as second-class citizens.
Yet we're convinced that's not what most Oregonians believe. The Yes on 36 campaign is not Measure 9 revisited. We may be wrong, but we sense the underlying emotion behind M36 supporters is not hate, but fear.
It's a fear, not at all unfounded, that the institution of marriage is in trouble. It's a fear, far less understandable to us, that a group of loving, committed couples like Bond and Martin are somehow a threat to our notion of families.
America has shown, time and time again, that those who oppose equal rights for all will be on the wrong side of history. Up until now, Oregon has refused to single out gays and lesbians for discrimination. This measure, which may seem so innocuous, puts us at risk of falling backward, of re-embracing the flawed notion of "separate but equal" in a state known for its brave and principled stands on civil rights.
So please, let's stop pretending that Bond and Martin will one day disappear if we ignore them for long enough, or that this fight for equal protection under the law isn't every bit as noble as the other civil-rights battles in our nation's history. A "Yes" vote on this measure is a vote for intolerance masquerading as reason. And for an Oregon we don't believe in.
REQUIRES GOVERNMENT TO DROP REGULATIONS OR PAY LANDOWNERS IF THOSE REGULATIONS HURT PROPERTY VALUES.
What's the fuss? Land-use rules sometimes affect property values.
What's the fix? Reimburse those landowners by making the rest of us pay.
Here's the deal: Four years ago, Oregonians were presented with a deceptively simple message: If the land you own is affected by land-use regulations, government should have to reimburse you, dollar for dollar, for the cost of these so-called "takings."
Voters approved Measure 7 because its supporters played down its true purpose: Because state and local governments couldn't afford to pay, they would be forced to drop most land-use planning. This would effectively demolish land-use laws designed for the common good--the same ones that protect us from urban sprawl and development anarchy.
Thankfully, courts struck down the new law in 2002. But today we are presented with Measure 37, known as "Son of 7" for its similarities to the previous measure. It is, if anything, more dangerous: Since the new measure is not a constitutional amendment, it would be harder to strike down in court.
The measure says that any time a new land-use regulation is enacted, any landowner whose property value is hurt can file a claim with the government--at which point they will be either reimbursed or exempted from the regulation. The measure is retroactive to the date you bought or inherited the land.
The people who stand to benefit most are those providing virtually all of this measure's campaign funding: timber owners who could escape any environmental regulations adopted after they bought the land, which in some cases was decades ago.
But its impacts will go much further than logging. Land-use planning and zoning will shift to a lot-by-lot basis. Your neighbor in Southeast Portland might be able to build a 7-Eleven on his property, though you could not. Some farmers just outside the urban growth boundary that rings Portland would suddenly be allowed to build subdivisions, while others would not.
According to the secretary of state's office, the measure could cost state and local governments $344 million a year in red tape alone--which does not include the staggering potential costs of litigation and payouts.
Most troubling would be the long-term effects. The measure would decimate outlying farm communities with urban-style development and sprawl while sapping Portland's vitality and quality of life with the insidious "edge city" effect that has torn the heart out of cities ranging from Hartford to Detroit.
All of which goes to say, pretty much everyone who knows anything about land use is opposing this measure. Among the most outspoken critics are 15 county farm bureaus, which aren't known for being radical fans of government regulation.
What's the fuss? The state-controlled rogue that provides most of the workers'-comp insurance in Oregon is running amok and threatening to monopolize the market.
What's the fix? Sell it.
Here's the deal: Great. Here we are, coming to the defense of the State Accident Insurance Fund, the publicly owned provider of workers'-compensation insurance whose history could have inspired a few episodes of The Sopranos.
That's right, we are backing an organization that:
*Paid former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt more than $1 million for services that remain undocumented.
* Failed to comply with court orders to provide public documents.
* Used thinly disguised kickbacks to co-opt everybody from Associated Oregon Industries (the state's leading business group) to organized labor.
* Generally acted more like the KGB than a state agency.
OK, SAIF is a problem. A big problem. But it's not the problem that Liberty Mutual, the sponsor of this measure and the only other significant provider of workers'-comp insurance in Oregon, says it is.
If this measure passed, the state would sell SAIF, which has hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves. The proceeds of the sale, which Liberty says could be between $500 million and $1 billion, would be put in a "rainy day" fund dedicated to education and other public purposes. (Whether such a diversion of proceeds is legal is far from clear: A 1981 legislative raid on SAIF's piggy bank later had to be repaid.) Voters will be hearing a lot about this potential rainy-day fund and all of its needy beneficiaries: kids, schools, seniors and--who knows?--maybe even puppies.
Liberty Mutual would step into the vacuum and take over a substantial portion of the workers'-compensation business in this state.
We might approve of this effort to "privatize" an industry and take it out of the public sector, except for one thing. Workers'-comp rates are currently low in Oregon, which gives this state one of its few empirically provable competitive advantages for attracting and retaining businesses. If abolishing SAIF isn't guaranteed to lower rates, what's in it for employers or employees? The answer is nothing.
We'd like to see this measure fail, but only by a little. That might prompt state leaders to keelhaul SAIF's board (Gov. Kulongoski's failure to demand their resignations is unconscionable) and hold the agency accountable for its sins. But don't mistake SAIF's lack of honesty and transparency for a lack of public benefit.
REPEALS MULTNOMAH COUNTY'S INCOME TAX.
What's the fuss? The temporary boost in local income taxes is killing us!
What's the fix: Repeal what we passed 18 months ago.
Here's the deal: Like many voters, we were jolted when we did our taxes. Sure, we endorsed the three-year, 1.25 percent income-tax surcharge in May 2003 and were gratified to see it pass by a 16-point margin. The way we saw it, the county--and particularly the schools--needed the $132 million per year it raised ($90 million going to the county's eight public school districts, and the balance going to county services, including public safety and programs for low-income and senior citizens). Still, we twitched a bit when the bill came due: We owed that much?
So we understand why some people want to repeal the tax after only one year. It doesn't help that, to many residents, Multnomah County Chair Diane Linn has become less popular than Ralph Nader in a room full of Florida Democrats. But the conditions that prompted us and the majority of voters to support the measure that created the county tax haven't changed. State tax revenues, which provide more than 75 percent of K-through-12 funding, are still in the toilet. And this tax provides a Band-Aid that averts lopping weeks off the school calendar or laying off hundreds of teachers. Local elected officials haven't made this any easier--Linn (there she is again), City Commissioner Randy Leonard and their brethren promised in 2003 that if voters supported a tax, they would work to contain Portland teachers' health-insurance costs. They waited until last week to do it.
But rather than punishing students, the mentally ill and senior citizens for that inexcusable delay, voters should direct their anger at the appropriate elected officials. Tax-basher Don McIntire's jihad against Portland Public Schools seems off base. The district spends far less than the state average on central administration, and it has shaved 1,200 employees from its payroll since 1990.
Sure, there's plenty of room for improvement--labor relations remain a joke, which reflects on both the board and the teachers' union, and the school district still owns far too much real estate. But there's no evidence that repealing this tax will cause the reform McIntire says he wants, and there's plenty of reason to think it will drive schools and county programs deeper into the mud.
SEVEN EASY STEPS TO CLEAN UP THE COUNTY CHARTER.
YES (to all seven)
What's the fuss? Twenty years ago, a misguided voter rebellion screwed with the county charter.
What's the fix? Seven local measures would help clean up the mess.
Here's the deal: Just because there's no formal opposition to these seven local measures and they don't portend any huge changes doesn't mean they're not important. Still, we'll breeze through them quickly. As recommended by the 15-member volunteer Charter Review Committee, who sat thanklessly through many, many meetings for the pleasure of enacting a handful of administrative changes, they are:
26-57 Removes inconsistencies in the current charter and amends it so that all elected officers in the county must receive a majority vote. Seems only fair to us.
26-58 Mandates that the county Salary Commission, which currently plays only an advisory role, would actually set the pay of county commissioners. This would eliminate the politically distasteful practice of elected county officials setting their own salaries with our money.
26-59 Eliminates the current county ban on employing a lobbyist to represent the county's interests in Salem and Washington, D.C. Every other county in Oregon is allowed to have one, so why put the county at a disadvantage in Salem and on Capitol Hill?
26-60 Repeals a charter provision that restricts county elected officials to two four-year terms. We're all for letting the voters choose to keep experienced local officials around. (Note to Diane Linn: Please don't think we're endorsing this one because we'd like to see you run again.)
26-61 Allows county elected officials to run for another office midterm without having to resign first. Why penalize ambition?
26-62 Reduces the term of Civil Service Commission members from six years to three years. Don't ask what they do; just give them a break.
26-63 Brings the county in line with state laws about what to do when a candidate dies, withdraws or becomes ineligible after the primary. Got a problem with that?