"I" is for Initiative

An unorthodox A to Z guide to the ballot measures that made it

You think this year's batch of initiatives, which were approved for the ballot this month, lacks sizzle?

It's true, we don't have explosive measures like assisted suicide, gay rights and cougar killing, which heated up campaigns in recent years. But November's ballot contains a few firecrackers nonetheless.

Five of the 11 measures on the ballot are likely to draw national attention.

The vote-by-mail and adoptee-rights measures are the first of their kind in the country. The dueling union measures will bring out the big guns of organized labor. The clear-cut ban will be watched by tree huggers and tree cutters from here to Maine. And pot advocates say Oregon's decriminalization measure is arguably the most important marijuana-related referendum in the country.

Adoptees? Trees? Marijuana? You might be thinking the November ballot will be about little more than electoral anarchy. And it's true--ballot measures have increasingly been concocted to appeal to niche markets. That's what makes them so exciting--and so confusing.

To help you make sense of this seemingly random crazy quilt, we present an unorthodox A-to-Z guide to the ballot measures.

The Lineup

Seeks to repeal 1997 law that recriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. (S)

Gives adopted people age 21 and over who were born in Oregon access to their original birth certificates without consent from either birth parent. (S)

Prohibits the state from helping groups
collect political donations through union
paycheck deductions. (C)

Requires that all statewide elections are
conducted by mail balloting only. (S)

Sets minimum sentences for certain crimes and increases sentences for repeat offenders. (S)

Strengthens contribution-disclosure regulations for ballot measures and protects public employee unions from using paycheck deductions as a legal means of fund-raising. (C)

Requires two-thirds of voters to vote yes on measures that mandate a two-thirds voter turnout. (C)

Stops clear-cutting and restricts the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides by logging companies. (S)

Allows citizens to challenge rules created by state agencies by petitioning legislators. (C)

Sets aside 15 percent of all lottery revenues for parks and wildlife habitat protection. (C)

Allows people with certain illnesses to cultivate and possess small amounts of marijuana, if their doctor recommends it. (S)




A is for AstroTurf
Forget the notion that ballot measures are a grassroots affair. Oregon's initiative process looks more like the fake stuff. Moneyed special interests dominate the landscape. This year, more than $2 million was spent collecting signatures.

Much of that money came from a small circle of contributors: Five individuals spent $455,000, almost single-handedly bankrolling four of the 11 measures. Public employee unions were entirely responsible for two more, forking over $700,000. Individual organizations made contributions of at least $50,000 to two other campaigns. "This is a business accessible mostly to people with money and power," says political consultant Mark Wiener.


B is for Bastards
Bastard Nation, actually--a national organization you'll be hearing more about. Its mission is to allow adults who were adopted to have access to their original birth certificates so they can answer life's most important questions: "What's your name? Who's your daddy?"

So far, adoptees--and adoptee-rights activists--have had a hard time getting answers. Only two states allow adoptees unencumbered access to their birth certificates. Many require the permission of the birth parents. Legislative efforts to open access in other states have failed. In Oregon, adoptees are trying something new: For the first time anywhere, citizens have brought an initiative to the ballot (Measure 58) that will give adoptees the right to see their original birth certificate, no questions asked.

C is for Castrated
That's how judges will feel if Measure 61 passes. It's yet another tough-as-nails initiative crafted by former state Rep. Kevin Mannix and Crime Victims United that would limit judicial discretion.

In 1994, Mannix and company concocted Measure 11, which mandated long sentences for certain major crimes. This time, they're trying to clobber even petty car thieves.

Measure 61 establishes minimum sentences of 14 months for many crimes. The measure also requires crooks to serve an additional year for a prior conviction, two years for two prior convictions and three years for three prior convictions. Judges will have some discretion in the 14-month sentence (i.e., they may be able to send some folks to work release or put them on probation, depending on the crime) but no choice on the one-, two- and three-year sentence enhancements pegged to prior convictions.

Even Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk isn't singing this measure's praises. "We need help on property crimes, obviously," he says, "but I'm not sure this initiative is the answer."

D is for Dire Straits
This year, $2 million has been spent getting initiatives on the ballot, and by November, millions more will have been spent on campaigns.

Talk about money for nothing.

In 1996, $4 million was spent getting 16 initiatives on the ballot, and $26 million was spent on ballot-measure campaigns, including $5 million by the tobacco industry. In the end, only four of the 16 measures passed.

The state Supreme Court threw one out; another was so flawed that the Legislature rewrote it and sent it back to voters.

Only two remain standing--hikes in the minimum wage and in the tobacco tax.

E is for Extreme
Whichever side you choose in Oregon's ongoing debate over timber practices, you have to concede one thing: Measure 64 is extreme. With its requirement that loggers leave standing no fewer than 70 trees per acre on any state or private forest land, it goes further than any effort of its kind nationwide to explicitly ban clear-cutting. Oregon Forest Industry Council president Tim Wigley says that if passed, the measure would do away with the timber industry in Oregon and result in a $75 million decrease in state and local timber tax revenues.

State analysts say Wigley isn't just blowing smoke. Four top state officials, including Secretary of State Phil Keisling and State Treasurer Jim Hill, recently approved a report that forecasted a 60 percent reduction in harvest volumes under the measure.

F is for Flying Solo
Two of the 11 measures that made the ballot have been little more than one-person shows.

Aloha medical equipment manufacturer Loren Parks provided $85,000 for the property crimes measure (Measure 61), or 83 percent of its total funding.

Adoptee-rights activist Helen Hill loaned the campaign for open birth records $89,000, or 94 percent of its financing. The Nehalem art teacher says the money is a loan from the estate of her adoptive father, who found out when he was 60 years old that he was adopted. Hill has already found her birth parents, but she's committed to the cause to make the process easier for other adoptees.

G is for Good Riddance
Everybody sing:

"Na, na, na, na

Na, na, na, na

Hey, hey,


Lon Mabon and the OCA spent $184,000 collecting signatures for anti-gay and anti-abortion initiatives. They fell short on both. Ding-dong.

H is for Hungary
You may not be able to find it on a map, but you can be sure that this tiny nation is influencing Oregon politics. New York financier and gazillionaire George Soros was born there and remembers vividly its repressive regime. As a result, he's campaigning against what he considers America's version of repression--the War on Drugs. In California and Arizona, Soros' fat bankroll translated into successful efforts to legalize medical marijuana. In Oregon, he joined forces with University of Phoenix founder John Sperling and Ohio insurance executive Peter Lewis, who together helped pony up $280,000 to put two marijuana-related measures on the ballot.

Measure 67 would allow people with certain illnesses to use pot as treatment, with their doctor's permission. Measure 57 is a citizen referendum that decriminalizes possession of less than an ounce.

Expect to see more money flow from Soros, according to Measure 57 campaign manager Todd Olson.

I is for Imitators
Forget the hype about the vaunted "Oregon System." Oregon wasn't the first state to use the initiative system. Farmers in South Dakota came in first--they started using this purportedly populist tool in 1898. The folks in Utah were second in 1900. Oregon ran a close third, authorizing the initiative process in 1902.

Today, 24 states use initiative and referendum, and only seven of them are east of the Mississippi.

J is for Joint
Smoke a joint and you could take a trip to the joint. That's what Measure 57 is about. It asks voters to decide whether to recriminalize simple possession of small amounts of the green buds.

If it weren't for some wimpiness on the part of Gov. John Kitzhaber, this measure might never have reached the ballot.

For the last 25 years, possession of less than an ounce of pot hasn't been a crime--instead, it's the equivalent of a really expensive traffic violation. But last year, the Republican legislators decided to put the governor to a test by passing a bill to recriminalize pot. This way, they could force the jeans-wearing, guitar-playing guv to crack down on pot smokers; if he didn't, and instead vetoed the bill, he'd be handing the Republicans a soft-on-drugs club to use against him in the next election. The governor buckled.

"He chickened out," says Olson, who worked for Rep. George Eighmey in the '97 Legislature. Now Olson is in charge of the Campaign That Didn't Have To Be: the referendum to repeal the recriminalization.

K is for Kafkaesque
Lost in a world of existential angst, Measure 63 is hopelessly absorbed in the initiative process itself.

In order to understand this Byzantine plot, you'll need a bit of history: A 1996 measure from Bill Sizemore makes it tougher to raise taxes. In certain elections, not only does a bond measure have to win a majority of votes, but it must do so in an election in which at least 50 percent of the registered voters turn out. The result is that people who don't show up in effect cast a "no" vote.

Sizemore has another initiative in mind for 1999 that would up that number to 66 percent, making it even tougher to raise revenues. In other words, two-thirds of a district's voters--or a super majority--must turn out at the polls in order to pass new tax levies.

Measure 63--financed by public employee unions--is designed to head Sizemore off at the pass. It requires that any future initiative that mandates a two-thirds turnout (Sizemore's proposed 1999 measure) must receive a two-thirds vote in order to pass.

If Sizemore were smart, he would have proposed a measure this year to require a 75 percent turnout for any measure mandating a two-thirds majority vote.

L is for Lilliputians
Moneyed special interests have come to dominate Oregon's initiative process. Occasionally, however, the little guys can manage to sneak a measure onto the ballot.

The anti-clear-cutting effort is one example. Enviros went door-to-door collecting donations so that their signature gatherers could be paid for their work. Their recent campaign-finance report shows they funded the signature-gathering effort with mostly $50 and $100 contributions; only one donor gave more than $1,000.

Vote-by-mail is another. Although the campaign did spend $100,000 trying to round up support, it's the only initiative among the 11 that did not actually pay petitioners to collect signatures.

M is for Moonshine
That's what Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Noelle envisions when he hears about medical marijuana, which would be legal under Measure 67. "When you talk about legalizing home-grown marijuana that could be any potency," he says, "this is the equivalent of legalizing moonshine and trying to say that's medicine."

Supporters of Measure 67, such as retired internist Rick Bayer, the measure's chief sponsor, say it's nothing of the sort. Unlike still-brewed hooch, marijuana can be helpful to many ill people, particularly those undergoing chemotherapy or wasting away from AIDS. Besides, Bayer says, this measure has safeguards that make it entirely different from the initiative that created controversy in California when it allowed storefront distribution to folks who might not even be sick.

N is for Nuclear War
If there's a measure on the November ballot likely to spark the election equivalent of nuclear war--a barrage of noisy, toxic and expensive campaign ads--it's Bill Sizemore's Measure 59. The measure aims to hinder public employee unions from collecting political contributions from their members via automatic payroll deduction. As it stands, the state bureaucracy administers the payroll deduction for the union, thus doing the union's political fund-raising work. Sizemore's measure would force unions to do it themselves by, for example, sending out a bill to members each month requesting money for support of union causes and political candidates. Labor activists say the measure unfairly targets union political activism and would erect an unfair barrier. (A measure in California which targeted unions by requiring members to give a yearly OK to political contributions lost in June after organized labor spent $20 million to defeat it.) Oregon AFL-CIO director Irv Fletcher says labor might spend as much as $5 million battling Sizemore's measure--a record amount in Oregon. If that's not enough, unions have come up with an added deterrent. They raised more than $600,000 for their own Measure 62. Euphemistically dubbed "Open and Fair Elections," the measure would--among other things--guarantee the unions' right to have automatic payroll deduction for political purposes.

O is for Orthodontist
That's what Oregonians will need in order to straighten out state agencies if Measure 65 passes. Its sponsor, Oregonians in Action, a land-use group that represents small rural property owners, claims that state agencies--particularly the Land Conservation and Development Commission, but also such agencies as the one that runs the Oregon Health Plan--have too much power. For example, the agencies have gone ahead and--gasp--crafted their own rules! Then they get to enforce them!

Under Measure 65, if 25,000 citizens sign a petition (that's about one-third of the amount this year's crop needed to get on the ballot) the agency will have to justify its rules in front of the Legislature. If the Legislature isn't satisfied, the rule dies. The agency is permitted to come back for a second try, but if it strikes out again, the agency loses its authority to adopt rules on that subject in the future. The rule that is likely to be challenged first if this measure passes is the one that requires farms to produce $80,000 in income before a dwelling can be built on the property.

Imagine the hold politics will have on the daily workings of this state. Imagine the chilling effect this measure will have on state agencies. Imagine the size of the braces needed to straighten this mess out.

P is for Progressive
So as not to be labeled hopeless cranks, we'll mention a few good initiatives. The passage of physician-assisted suicide in 1994 put Oregon voters on the cutting edge. Oregon voters have also used the initiative process to advance social causes, such as women's right to vote (approved in 1912) and a minimum-wage hike (1996).

Q is for Quagmire
How's this for strange? Under Oregon's system, two measures that are diametrical opposites can get on the ballot.

That's the case with Measures 62 and 59 (see "N").

Sizemore's anti-public-employee measure, 59, prohibits the use of tax dollars for political purposes. The target is public employee unions that use the state payroll deduction system to fund labor movement causes.

Measure 62 would guarantee the unions' right to do this.

So what happens in the unlikely event that they both pass? We have a voter-mandated contradiction. Who breaks the stalemate? "Do not pass go," says Bill Lunch, an Oregon State University professor and a political analyst for Oregon Public Broadcasting. "Go directly to the Supreme Court."

R is for Royalty
Oregon's elite must have a thing for greenery and gills. Nike boss Phil Knight forked over $50,000 for Measure 66, which requires 15 percent of all lottery proceeds to be dedicated to parks and salmon. Sixteen other donors each gave $5,000 or more to the signature-gathering effort. Overall, just 20 donors coughed up 89 percent of the total spending on the effort.

Though their plan to save parks and salmon may be noble, it rests on the backs of the poor: Lottery revenues come disproportionately from lower-income folks.

Even more troubling is that schools and county governments rely on lottery proceeds for their funding. This measure could make a dent in their budgets.

S is for Slam Dunk
Vote-by-mail looks like the closest thing in this election to a slam dunk. Polls show that more than 75 percent of Oregon voters support the concept behind Measure 60, which would require all statewide elections to be conducted through mail balloting. And why not? It's likely to increase turnout and cut costs of elections. More important, it lacks organized opposition--so far.

T is for Twist
Believe it or not, some Republicans are thankful that environmentalists put an anti-clear-cutting and a pro-salmon measure on the ballot. That's because the measures are likely to galvanize rural Oregonians and increase GOP turnout. And boy, could they use the boost. If Republican turnout isn't high, they could lose their slim (three-seat) majority in the House. This year, candidates for state rep can't expect much help at the top of the ticket. They've got gubernatorial disaster Bill Sizemore and unknown U.S. Senate candidate John Lim. "Rural people who make a living from natural resource extraction...feel themselves to be under siege," says political analyst Lunch. "That probably is relatively good news for Republicans."

U is for UFOs
Unidentified Financial Origins, that is. Do you know who's paying that petition circulator? Under current law, Oregonians can't find out who's really behind initiative campaigns until all the signatures have been collected and the measures have qualified for the ballot. If the law were otherwise, would November look any different? For example, would people be less inclined to sign an "open and fair election" petition if they knew it was funded entirely by public employees (Measure 62)? Would they put pen to paper so promptly for a property crimes petition knowing it was bankrolled by conservative eccentric Loren Parks (Measure 61)?

One initiative on the ballot, Measure 62, seeks to fix this problem. It would require that petition sponsors disclose their sugar daddies on a monthly basis. We'd like more frequent, loophole-free disclosure than this measure requires, but it's a start.

V is for Viagra
Testosterone levels evidently were up on the signature-signing trail this summer. Shouting matches between rival petitioners at the Stadium Fred Meyer were reported, while tears and fisticuffs broke out at other petition-signing sites. There are even rumors about the use of mace. The heated rivals? Supporters of Measure 59 (Sizemore's shot at public employee unions) and Measure 62 (the union response).

W is for Weird
How's this for weird? An editorial in the July 3 issue of The Business Journal supported Measure 64. That's the anti-clear-cutting measure that, as the timber industry sees it, would shut down Oregon's logging business. It's not often that the BJ bashes big business. BJ editor Dan Cook, who has since received scathing letters of protest from the Oregon Forest Industries Council, makes no apologies. "I can't believe people still support clear-cutting," he told WW. "No industry has any right to pollute the environment." Then again, maybe it's not so strange: Cook used to edit an alternative newsweekly in Pittsburgh.

X is for Xenophobes
According to Dane Waters, a Washington, D.C., initiative and referendum activist, Oregonians are xenophobes. Since 1983, state law has required petition circulators to be registered Oregon voters. Back then, the lawmakers were responding to a system that appeared to be increasingly dominated by paid mercenaries.

The system is still fueled by big money, but Waters has a good point. High-powered lobbyists don't have to be registered voters. Ditto for phone bankers and campaign contributors. Not even the chief petitioner, who actually sponsors the measure, has to meet that standard.

Waters says he has plans to file a lawsuit to get the offending statute off the books.

Given the success of similar lawsuits in Nebraska and Colorado, Waters has a good chance of winning.

Y is for Yikes

You think the initiative process is an instrument for progressive democracy? Not if it gets in the wrong hands.

Shortly after World War I, Oregonians passed a Ku Klux Klan-sponsored measure to make it a crime for parents not to send their children to public school. Their targets were Catholics.

In 1988, Oregon voters approved a measure that repealed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from discriminating against gays in employment.

It could be worse--we could be California. Thanks in part to a variety of costly initiatives, California's budget deficit has grown to more than $7 billion. The school system, once among the best, is now on the bottom in terms of per-pupil spending.

And let's not forget: Napoleon made himself an emperor through a referendum, and Hitler used the tool to become dictator of the Third Reich.

Z is for Zonked
Turnout among young Oregonians may get a boost from two pro-pot measures. WW's own survey of 100 18-to-34-year-olds found that relaxation of drug laws was a top priority for 14 percent of respondents. The question is whether these people will be too relaxed themselves to vote. "These issues have youthful appeal, but I don't know if they will motivate people not inclined to vote," says Portland political consultant Wiener. "Some of these people wouldn't vote if you stuck a firecracker up their nose."

--Maureen O'Hagan, Bob Young,
Josh Feit and Patty Wentz
contributed to this story.


originally published July 22, 1998