Political fight brewing over appellate judge election in Oregon

PORTLAND — A national conservative group has begun collecting signatures to force a statewide vote on how appellate judges should be elected, after a similar measure was rejected in 2002.

Judges for the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals are elected on a statewide basis.

The initiative campaign organized and financed by FreedomWorks would require the Legislature to divide the state into seven districts of equal population for electing Supreme Court justices.

For the Court of Appeals, the state would be divided into five districts, and two judges from each district would be elected.

FreedomWorks, based in Washington, D.C., supports tax limits, business deregulation and school vouchers.

The group received approval Aug. 1 to begin circulating petitions to put the judge-election measure on the November 2006 ballot.

The measure, which would require amending the Oregon Constitution, would give rural voters better representation, said Russ Walker, who directs FreedomWorks’ Oregon branch. But opponents say the initiative would only further politicize the courts by making it easier for agenda-driven lawyers to win a seat.