FreedomWorks, led in Oregon by Keizer resident Russ Walker, is emerging as the state’s new ballot-measure powerhouse on the right.
Walker is pushing three major initiatives for the 2006 ballot: a strict state-spending cap, crimping union spending on politics, and making it easier to elect rural and conservative judges to the state’s two highest courts.
“It’s a response to the lack of action we feel we get from the Oregon Legislature and the governor’s office,” Walker said. “I think that’s the reason you see many conservative organizations using the ballot measure.”
FreedomWorks, with its national ties and ample treasury, is more formidable than past Oregon groups using the ballot box to advance conservative causes. The three initiatives all revive past proposals by ballot-measure activists Bill Sizemore and Don McIntire that made it to the ballot but failed to pass, in part because of lack of money for a vigorous campaign.
McIntire, the chief force behind Oregon’s first successful tax-cutting initiative, Measure 5 in 1990, said he’s dropping his own spending limitation for the November 2006 ballot, although he filed his proposal first and has been working on the idea for a decade.
“I would not have the power to compete with their resources,” McIntire said of FreedomWorks. “Go for it, boys. I’m dropping out.”
“They’re clearly deferring to him because he has the national resources behind him,” said Chuck Sheketoff, the leader of the progressive Oregon Center for Public Policy in Silverton.
FreedomWorks is “calling the shots,” said Sheketoff, who closely monitors Walker’s group. “They’ve got the resources. What they go with is what’s going to happen.”
Walker’s clout grew exponentially after he led the successful 2004 campaign to overturn the $1.2 billion tax package known as Measure 30. He emerged from that with 130,000 names and addresses of people signing petitions to overturn the measure and financial backing from a cadre of well-heeled conservatives who once backed McIntire’s and Sizemore’s measures.
The Oregon chapter of FreedomWorks — formerly called Citizens for a Sound Economy — has grown to 30,000 members, Walker said.
“It’s about a two-thirds increase over what we had before Measure 30,” he said.
Walker also pulled off what some saw as a political upset in the 2004 GOP primary, helping Kim Thatcher beat incumbent Rep. Vic Backlund, R-Keizer, in retaliation for Backlund’s support of the tax package.
The judges’ initiative is the farthest along, with signature-gatherers already circulating petitions.
“We feel confident that we’ll have the dollars to run the judicial piece,” Walker said. He already has funding commitments not only for gathering signatures, but for the follow-up campaign, Walker said.
That measure requires Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges to be elected by geographic districts.
Those judges now are elected statewide, and Walker contends that it results in too many Portland liberals getting onto the court.
Walker still is awaiting an appealing ballot title, the summary that appears before voters, before pursuing one of several versions of his spending-limit initiative.
“We know that a spending limitation is good for controlling the appetite and growth of state government,” he said.
He described the third measure, which restricts unions’ political fund raising, as a lower priority than the other two. His organization may work on that campaign with two local lawmakers who are co-sponsors, Rep. Jeff Kropf, R-Sublimity and Thatcher, R-Keizer.
“They filed that under our request,” he said. “As lawmakers, they make good primary spokespeople for the issue.”