Retired local middle-school teacher is ‘part of the democratic process’

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

By Jim Moore / The Daily Courier

Kay Ogden said being selected for one of Oregon’s historic new citizen initiative review commissions made her feel as if she had won the lottery.

“I saw it as an opportunity to be part of the democratic process,” the Grants Pass resident said.

She joined 23 other registered Oregon voters in Portland for five days in August. The diverse panel dissected the pros and cons of Measure 82 on the Nov. 6 ballot. Their comments are featured in the State Voters’ Pamphlet.

Measure 82 would amend the state constitution to allow private, non-tribal casinos in Oregon. Although they succeeded in getting it on the ballot, supporters have ceased their campaign.
But that’s another story.

Ogden’s story began last summer when she received a letter from Healthy Democracy Oregon informing her that she was one of 10,000 randomly selected voters in the state. She was asked whether she would spare five days to join other voters in sorting through a ballot measure.

The retired middle-school teacher, who spent three decades working for the Three Rivers School District, had to act fast.

“I didn’t have much time to think about it because we had just got home from a trip,” Ogden said. That was on a Friday, and the letter was part of a passel of mail waiting to be picked up.

“I had to decide by Monday,” she said, but it was an easy decision, considering the momentous nature of the invitation.

Healthy Democracy Oregon is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose goal is to strengthen citizen ownership of the ballot initiative process and its integrity. That group oversees the citizen initiative review commissions.

The first two commissions convened this summer.

Each commission included 24 voters from across the state who learned about and publicly evaluated a ballot measure. Healthy Democracy strived to balance the demographics to fairly represent a cross-section of the state’s electorate.

Ogden was impressed with the diversity of her fellow panel members, who ranged in age from retired to a girl who had just recently graduated high school and registered to vote, but had yet to cast her first ballot.

“A fun thing was to see the young people get involved,” Ogden said.

She was also impressed by the group’s objectivity. “Most people came in with an open mind,” she said.

Their assignment, as they saw it, was to present the measure in language that would make sure voters understood exactly what it would do, and knew it would amend the state constitution.

The panelists were moderated by two women who “kept us on task,” Ogden said.

The panel not only analyzed and discussed the measure, but listened to arguments by advocates and opponents.

And lest any of the panelists forget the significance of their effort, observers from places such as Colorado and California dropped by to see how the groundbreaking effort worked. “There were a lot of people watching that whole process,” Ogden said.

She said the exercise was thorough, nerve-wracking and, in the end, nobody could escape without saying yes or no. “On the fourth day we had to pick a side and we weren’t allowed not to pick,” she said.

The Voters’ Pamphlet shows that 17 members of Ogden’s panel opposed Measure 82 and seven were in favor.

Ogden was one of the 17, but if she hadn’t participated in the panel, her vote might have been different.

“It really surprised me because I changed my mind,” she said. “I went in supporting it, but in the end, I didn’t feel it was really going to benefit Southern Oregon.”

Voters can benefit from the work done by Ogden and other panelists by reading their comments in the Voters’ Pamphlet.

Ogden will tell you she benefited as well. “It was a great experience. It was so educational.”