Enshrines health care as a right in the Oregon Constitution
We went round and round on this measure, which was a referendum from the Legislature on party lines. On the one hand, nearly all Oregonians have some form of health insurance, and most who don’t are eligible for Medicaid through the Oregon Health Plan. If this measure passes, it would not provide health care to anybody who lacks it now. Nor, backers insist, is it a stealth tool for moving the state toward what many progressives want: single-payer health care like the Brits and Canadians have. No, they insist, Measure 111 is primarily a statement of principle, one that Democrats led by late state Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) pushed for 15 years.
We’re leery of governance by bumper sticker. In 2001, after four years of study and deliberation, the Legislature passed into law a concept called the Quality Education Model. The QEM produces a calculation every two years of what it would cost to fully fund K-12 schools. Lawmakers have never come close to allocating that number.
So why do we support amending the constitution to add what amounts to an empty promise? We believe the state constitution is exactly where principles that underlie everything in our society should be stated—in bright lines, even if they are aspirational. When the framers of the Declaration of Independence wrote “all men are created equal,” they knew it wasn’t true in practice but they hoped it someday would be. Those words acted as a guidepost through centuries of progress toward making them true.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long to get everyone insured. Vote yes.
Removes language allowing slavery from the Oregon Constitution
In Oregon, to paraphrase ol’ Bill Faulkner, the racist past isn’t dead—it’s not even past. Exhibit A: The state constitution still sanctions slavery or indentured servitude, if it’s used to punish a crime. It’s obnoxious that such language still stands in our foundational document. Worse, it’s dangerous: State prison inmates report stories of guards justifying poor treatment because the constitution says incarcerated people can be slaves.
If there’s a silver lining to this sorry saga, it’s that people who’ve spent time behind bars led the campaign to remove this language, with an assist from Willamette University students. The sole opposition comes from Oregon sheriffs who fear it will eliminate inmate work crews. The courts will have to decide that—but the measure still allows community service as part of a prison sentence. The change is absurdly overdue. Vote yes.
Amends the Oregon Constitution to prevent lawmakers with 10 unexcused absences from being reelected.
Oregon Republicans in both chambers have repeatedly blocked legislation in recent sessions by walking off the job. Such walkouts deprive Democrats of the two-thirds attendance required for a quorum and have killed important climate and gun control bills, among many others.
We don’t like walkouts (which, it’s worth noting, Democrats employed in Oregon in 2001 and, more recently, in Texas), but this measure offers the wrong solution. It would prohibit any lawmaker deemed to have 10 unexcused absences in a single session from winning reelection.
One minor quibble: The definition of “excused absence” is subjective and open to abuse. Democrats promoting this bill assure us that neither party would twist it for political gain. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that’s true.
The more substantive problems are three: First, the measure arbitrarily disenfranchises voters in districts where members choose to walk out. It should be up to those voters, rather than leadership of the rival political party, to decide who represents any given district.
Second, the sanction may be years removed from the offense. For example, a state senator elected this year could simply refuse to show up for work for the next four years. The measure prohibits such a senator from winning reelection—but not until 2026.
Our most significant objection: The vast majority of states don’t face walkout disruptions because, in 45 states, the quorum requirement is one-half of all members. That means if one party holds a majority, which is almost always the case, its members, simply by showing up, guarantee a quorum.
The simple, elegant solution to Oregon walkouts would have been to propose amending the constitution to lower the quorum threshold to one-half. In our interview, proponents acknowledged as much but said it didn’t poll as well.
The Oregon Constitution is meant to be a statement of principles and fundamental laws, not a chalkboard subject to erasure and tinkering when one party’s agenda fails. The frontier justice proposed by this measure is nearly guaranteed to further alienate the party out of power. We dare any Democrat to walk into a public meeting in any county east of the Cascades and explain why their suffrage should be taken away because the representatives they elected won’t play ball with Portland liberals.
Democrats are correct that walkouts are a real problem. This is a fake solution. Vote no.
Requires gun permits and bans high-capacity magazines
Rising gun violence has communities across Portland on edge. Over the past three years, shootings have tripled. Cops are finding record numbers of guns on the street.
A state of emergency declared by Mayor Ted Wheeler this summer is only beginning to slow the gunfire. As of September, shootings in 2022 were on track to outpace last year’s.
Oregon already has fairly progressive gun laws, but an interfaith group wants the state to go further. Lift Every Voice Oregon launched a campaign last year to get gun control on the ballot. It succeeded—a rarity for an all-volunteer signature drive.
The result is Measure 114. If passed, it would ban the sale of large-capacity magazines, like the one used by the shooter who killed two people, then himself, at a Bend Safeway in August. It would also require a permit to purchase a gun. The process would be administered by the Oregon State Police, and applicants would be required to be fingerprinted, complete a safety training course, and pay a fee.
It isn’t radical to think that guns ought to be regulated like cars. Oregon would join 14 other states that have already implemented a licensing system. These are common-sense improvements—if not solutions—to a broken system.
The limit on large-capacity magazines is long overdue and similarly common across the country. Studies have shown that a similar federal ban, in place for a decade until it was repealed in 2004, was effective in reducing gun violence.
That said, the decision to endorse this measure wasn’t a given. For the law to work, it needs buy-in from local governments and the state. The permitting process would continue to rely on the Oregon State Police to conduct background checks, a process that is already backlogged.
It’s also going to require the creation of new gun safety courses across the state, which would not be cheap. Processing permits alone would cost local governments around $30 million annually, according to the Oregon secretary of state.
Still, the law is worth it. “If you’re saying it’s not good enough, you’re saying the amount of carnage in Portland is acceptable,” says Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel. He’s right. The inaction of leaders to address Portland homicides is shameful. The parishioners who gathered signatures for this measure did something. Now it’s your turn. Vote yes.
Portland Community College bond
Community colleges offer a solution for Oregon’s labor shortage: workforce training for people looking to advance their careers—or enter a new one. Perhaps that’s why Portland Community College, with around 50,000 students, is the largest higher education institution in the state. And it serves the people who most need a leg up. According to one recent survey, 63% of the college’s students were experiencing food insecurity.
To do this, PCC relies on taxpayers who have periodically approved bond measures to fund the school’s capital costs.
This year, the college is making its biggest request from county taxpayers yet: a $450 million bond measure that would fund new hybrid learning technology, deferred maintenance like roof repairs, and the reconstruction of several buildings at the Rock Creek and Sylvania campuses. The measure is designed to come at no additional cost to taxpayers. Rates would remain the same, around $95 a year for a property assessed at $250,000.
To make that math work, planners had to make some difficult choices. They had to cut renovations to Mt. Tabor Hall and a new public services building at Cascade. The school’s lead construction planner, Rebecca Ocken, says it has a billion dollars in unmet need. Still, we’re confident the college made the right choices. It has been creative with its capital expenditures in the past, such as when it renovated a vacant supermarket to create its Southeast campus at Division Street and 82nd Avenue.
Opponents note that PCC’s enrollment has been down in recent years. But this is because community college attendance tends to drop when the economy is good. “It’s cyclical,” explains PCC board chair Tiffani Penson. It’s in times like these, with a recession looming and help-wanted signs on every storefront, that community colleges are most needed. Vote yes.
Metro parks levy
Metro, the regional government that includes Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, owns 18,000 acres of parks and greenspaces. It bought most of that property with a series of capital bond measures. Those bonds allow only the purchase of land—the money cannot be used for upkeep.
Beginning in 2013, Metro asked voters for five-year levies to provide operating funds to manage and improve the agency’s portfolio of greenspaces, which includes large parcels, such as Oxbow and Blue Lake parks and Chehalem Ridge, and dozens of smaller oases amid the tri-county sprawl. More than 2.5 million people visit Metro’s lands every year, to hike, bike, fish, camp and relax. In a region whose population has grown steadily over time and is projected to continue growing, access to nature is a vital amenity and one that voters have consistently shown they want to pay for with their property taxes.
This measure would replace a five-year levy that is expiring and raise about $99 million over the next five years. Metro would use the money for park personnel, trail maintenance, better access for park users with disabilities, and other projects required to make greenspaces welcoming, accessible and safe for the public. It would cost a home assessed at $250,000 about $24 a year (the average assessed home value in Multnomah County last year was $257,000). Since the measure is a renewal of an existing levy, property taxes would not go up if it passes.
It might be tempting as the economy teeters on the brink of recession to reject such a tax, but the massive backlog of unfunded maintenance in Portland city parks—and on city streets, for that matter—shows the folly of failing to take care of valuable assets. Give Metro the money.
Expands Portland City Council; creates multimember districts; changes form of voting
Almost everyone agrees it’s time for Portland to scrap its unique form of government.
Portlanders have lost confidence in City Hall. The streets are chaotic. Housing is in short supply, in part because the permitting process is slow and marred by bureaus that act like independent fiefdoms.
Rarely has the appetite for change been stronger. But a volunteer committee tasked with the once-a-decade job of reviewing the city charter did its surgery with a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel.
Rather than focusing on the most effective way to streamline and professionalize city services, the 20-member Charter Commission proposed a novel government structure untested in any other city in America.
Portland would lurch from one form of government that no other large city uses—the commission form, with elected officials overseeing the management of bureaus—to another that no other large city uses.
Wheels already exist. We don’t need to reinvent them.
This measure reaches far beyond addressing city government’s most glaring shortcomings and fails to achieve its stated goals. As a result, we recommend Portlanders vote no and demand better results from the leaders they’ve elected—including charter reform worth supporting.
The changes now put before voters would place bureau oversight in the hands of a single city administrator, hired by the mayor and approved by the City Council. Rather than four commissioners elected at large, the measure creates four geographic districts, each with three council members. Those members would work on policy rather than oversee bureaus. The mayor would no longer be a member of the council and would vote only in the case of ties. Finally, the measure replaces the current first-past-the-post system of electing candidates with an unusual form of ranked-choice voting called “single transferrable vote.”
We favor bureaus run by professional managers. And adding more members to the council and electing them by geographic district mirrors the practice of peer cities and would undoubtedly lead to more inclusivity.
But the proposal inexplicably calls for three members per district—which dilutes responsibility—and couples that misguided idea with a form of voting that we worry would reduce voter confidence.
No one can predict how multimember districts paired with ranked-choice voting would turn out. Under the measure, candidates would need only 25% of the vote to get elected—and could reach that threshold even if they receive fewer than one-quarter of first-choice votes because of how votes are redistributed in the counting process.
We fear we could end up with City Council members who are unqualified and have little genuine support. Worse, we believe this system would make it impossible to dislodge a poorly performing officeholder because the 25% threshold is so low.
It is telling that the measure’s supporters continue to struggle to get their story straight on how many votes a candidate would actually need to obtain a council seat (they’ve said anywhere from 25% to about one-third). If they have such a hard time with the math, imagine how voters would feel.
We also note with alarm that, under this proposal, the mayor would have little more authority than is now the case under the city’s weak mayor system. The mayor would have limited authority over the city administrator except to hire and fire. In other words, the most powerful figure in Portland City Hall would not be directly elected by voters and would have few checks on their actions from elected officials.
One of the principal criticisms of Portland’s current government is that no one is clearly in charge. This proposal would offer no greater clarity. In fact, it’s likely to increase the confusion.
We also wonder how much of our civic dysfunction stems from the lack of effectiveness among our current city commissioners. While our form of government is certainly flawed, our mayor and City Council fail to do what their predecessors have done: count to three and pass sound policies.
And while it’s tempting to view any change as an improvement when current conditions are so miserable, that’s the same logic that leads people into bad relationships and to sign contracts without reading the fine print. We don’t believe introducing a system whose consequences we have no way of predicting is a smarter choice than sticking with the familiar, if undesirable, status quo.
Multnomah County Charter Amendments
The Multnomah County Charter Review Committee meets every six years to tweak the county’s governing document, its charter. This year, the committee proposed seven changes. Unlike the city of Portland Charter Commission, county volunteers decided to present each concept to voters separately.
Makes county charter language gender neutral
We think this is an easy, reasonable change that would help make constituents feel more included.
Extends voting rights to non-citizen residents
This measure would extend the right to vote to “non-citizens,” a term the measure does not define. Charter commission documents make clear, however, that the commission’s intent is expansive.
If approved, undocumented residents might be allowed to vote in future county elections—but attorneys for the county aren’t sure it would be legal. The best argument for this idea: Undocumented Oregonians pay taxes and are affected by county government actions.
But extending voting rights to undocumented residents would also create a public record of undocumented residents. That would have been a disastrous public document under the Trump administration. And the benefit simply wouldn’t outweigh the risk: Such new voters wouldn’t be allowed to vote in statewide or federal races—they’d only get to vote for county candidates and measures, which isn’t much of a prize. (It would also require county elections officials to devise a separate category of ballots.)
At a time when election integrity is a matter of such contention, we don’t think adding a new category of voters whose identity and legal residency might be disputed is a good idea. It feels less like a fully formed proposal and more like a provocation. Leading Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and former House Speaker Tina Kotek, agree: Both told WW they were skeptical of the idea.
This endorsement has been expanded to clarify that the measure includes all non-citizens, not just those who may be undocumented.
Switches to instant runoff ranked-choice voting for county offices in 2026
We believe this form of ranked-choice voting—where voters rank their preferences on a list and second-choice votes are tallied if one’s first choice doesn’t make the cut—gives voters more breadth of choice in whom they elect. This voting method, which would eliminate runoff elections in county races, is gaining steam across the United States and is now used in more than 50 cities. And unlike the more convoluted version of ranked-choice voting the city Charter Commission recommended, only one candidate would be elected per ballot rather than multiple candidates. It’s still a winner-take-all system, but one that values consensus a little more than the current method. That’s a modest improvement. We’ll take it.
Mandates two jail visits a year by county commissioners
We’re unconvinced of the tangible benefit of this amendment, and it strikes us as performative rather than substantive. While transparency and inspections of carceral facilities are critical, adding one visit per year on top of the one state law currently requires of commissioners would add little value. The county auditor has proposed the formation of an independent review panel to monitor jail operations—that would be a much better idea.
Establishes county ombudsperson
Ombudspeople investigate constituents’ questions and grievances. They help keep government honest and accountable—and we think the move is long overdue. County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk made a strong case for this addition: She says citizen complaints flood her office that go uninvestigated because there’s no ombudsperson. “We don’t look at individual cases in audits, we’re looking at systems,” McGuirk says. An ombudsperson “would be an impartial advocate for fair and just government.” Evidence that it makes elected officials nervous: Right before the Charter Review Committee voted to send this measure to the ballot, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson wrote letters opposing it. We think a stronger watchdog would do them good.
Guarantees county auditor access to internal county documents
An auditor’s job is to hold government programs, departments and elected leaders accountable. But to do so, auditors need unfettered access to documents. That hasn’t always happened. County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk says, for example, that officials in the troubled Joint Office of Homeless Services stonewalled her team, as did the even longer troubled Department of Animal Services. This measure shouldn’t be necessary but it is. Vote yes.
Amends Charter Review Committee qualifications
This proposal would extend the length of time the committee meets, from 11 to 18 months. And rather than state lawmakers selecting committee members from their districts, the Multnomah County chair would choose all members (subject to confirmation by the board of commissioners). That unnecessarily gives more authority to a position that already wields enormous power. The measure would also strike a requirement to include minority party voices. Diverse representation is critical to a democratic process. Vote no.