Petition This!

For better or worse, Oregonians love their initiative process. So far, 142 initiatives for the 2006 elections have landed at the Oregon Secretary of State—many of them already have signature gatherers on the street, trying to meet the July 7 deadline. Still others are awaiting approval before printing up signature sheets.

Already, the mid-term season looks like it’ll be a hot one, with taxes, campaign finance, and land-use reform set to stoke the fires of Oregon’s progressive vs. libertarian civil war. Here’s a rundown of the initiatives most likely to cause a shitstorm in 2006.

Land Use

When Judge Mary James ruled against Measure 37—which was designed to gut land-use laws—the political fallout began almost immediately, including a recall effort on James by the Constitution Party. Now, both sides of M37 are gearing up for a battle at the ballot box.

The group behind M37, Oregonians in Action, has filed numerous petition applications—some with hilariously descriptive names like “Hey Government: Keep Your Hands Off My Property.” So far, the group is only approved to circulate one of them, the “Government Can’t Steal My Property and Give it to a Developer Act.” Predictably, the proposed initiative would prohibit local governments in Oregon from condemning private property in order to give it to another private party.

Not to be left out of the debate, 1,000 Friends of Oregon—the land-use stalwarts who opposed M37—have jumped in with a handful of petition filings, although none have yet been approved for circulation. The initiatives have essentially three components: Forbidding governments from waiving land-use laws (à la M37) when doing so would reduce the value of neighbors’ properties; paying property owners double the “just compensation” if their land is condemned to be given to another private property; and paying owners of environmentally protected land a “stewardship compensation” in exchange for their agreement to conserve the land.

The Oregon Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the M37 case on January 10—even if it is struck down, 1,000 Friends wants to have a response that will appease “the public desire to have compensation” for land-use laws, according to legislative director Elon Hassan.

Taxes and Their Malcontents

Anti-tax group FreedomWorks, formerly known as Citizens for a Sound Economy, has filed numerous petitions—so far, only two are approved for circulation. The first would require Oregon to allow the same amount of deductions in state taxes that are allowed with federal taxes. The reduction in state tax revenue would reportedly slash services like education and public safety by $835 million in the first year.

FreedomWorks’ second petition in circulation would require that state appeals judges and Supreme Court justices be elected by district instead of statewide. The goal: To get judges from more conservative parts of the state on the bench and to make them “accountable to the people” of their districts—as opposed to being accountable to the rule of law.

Notably, the petitions from FreedomWorks and Oregonians in Action—as well as one other by anti-tax zealot Bill Sizemore—have come under fire from Our Oregon, which claims that the company circulating the petitions, Direct Democracy, violated state law by paying petitioners per signature instead of per hour. The claims are currently under investigation and could end up costing the organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Campaign Finance Reform

It’s a little ironic—the ultra-liberal free speech laws that allow for a lap dance on every Oregon street corner also give corporations the ability to spend as much as they want on campaigns (legally, money equals expression). But two initiative petitions are attempting to change this.

A group called Money is not Democracy is pushing two initiatives—one (Petition 8) that would amend the constitution to explicitly allow limits on campaign contributions, and a second one (Petition 37) that sets out the specific funding limits. Individual contributions to statewide races would be capped at $500, and local races—including state reps—would get a $100 contribution ceiling.

Petition 37 has an even more radical twist: Only individuals would be allowed to contribute to political candidates. While that might seem like a progressive idea, it’s got lefty groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and labor unions up in arms—after all, their contributions would be banned. The Our Oregon Coalition claims the proposed system would be the “strictest system” in the nation. They don’t mean that as a compliment.

Initiative sponsors say they’re right on schedule to collect enough signatures to qualify both for the November ballot.

Corporate Accountability and Fiscal Responsibility

Our Oregon is backing a slate of fiscal accountability initiatives, although the group hasn’t determined which initiatives, exactly, they’ll be pushing this year—right now, they’re lining up supporters. “It’s still early,” says Patty Wentz, the group’s communications chair.

Some of the options on the table include corporate accountability initiatives—zingers like “Shouldn’t Corporations Pay More Than $10 a Year in Taxes?” and “End Corporate Loopholes”—aimed at increasing state revenues by making businesses pay more taxes. Another initiative—a “Corporate Accountability Act”—would create a public database that details how much businesses are paying in federal and state taxes. Oregon would be the first state to require disclosure of private businesses’ tax info in such a transparent way; currently, it’s next to impossible to find this information.

Finally, two initiatives take aim at payday loan interest rates (capping them at 36 percent), and bars’ take on video lottery machines (lowering it to 18 percent).

None of these initiatives are ready for signatures yet, but business lobbying groups—like Associated Oregon Industries—aren’t waiting. They’ve already come out in opposition.

Other petition filings that will likely make it to the ballot box include two anti-choice initiatives (parental consent and an “unborn victims of violence” measure) and an expansion of Oregon’s health care coverage. Although there was some conjecture that an anti-gay measure would make the ballot, there are not yet any serious contenders.

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