OUR OREGON SHIRKS ITS DUTY TO VOTERS

From The Statesman Journal:

Oregon’s public-employee unions are trying to sabotage voters’ understanding of the initiative process. That’s the one conclusion we can draw from Our Oregon’s unwillingness to participate in a weeklong citizen review of the group’s initiative on the November ballot. Our Oregon, which is financed by public-employee unions, is sponsoring Measure 85. It would eliminate the so-called corporate income tax “kicker” — a refund to corporations when their combined state income taxes exceed the state’s projections by 2 percent or more — and direct that money to public schools. The kicker for individual Oregonian taxpayers would not be affected.

Measure 85 might be a good idea. But it’s disappointing that Our Oregon refused to spend this week with citizens who are meeting at the Salem Conference Center to evaluate the pros and cons of the initiative.

Those 24 rank-and-file Oregonians were selected at random but chosen to reflect the state’s demographics. They are participating in the Citizens’ Initiative Review, hearing from independent experts along with supporters and opponents of the measure. Their sessions are public and their conclusions will be included in the Oregon Voters Pamphlet for the Nov. 6 general election. A similar panel will meet Aug. 20-24 in Portland to consider Measure 82, which would allow a private, non-tribal casino in the metro area.

What could be more grassroots, more Oregon-ish than the Citizens’ Initiative Review? It’s financed through grants, not tax dollars; and it fits with Oregon’s pioneering use of initiative process.

Except Our Oregon won’t participate this week.

Instead, the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission had to seek other proponents, so as to have as balanced a presentation as possible.

Our Oregon’s spokesman cited the time commitment involved — which could be a credible rationale — and said it wasn’t a good use of campaign resources.

But the other excuses defied logic. Consider just these two: 1) that the citizens review gives equal weight and equal validity to both sides, and 2) that the 2010 election outcome didn’t correspond with what that year’s citizen review had recommended, thereby implying the process was ineffective and irrelevant.

Well, duh.

For the first point, that’s exactly the role of the citizens — to look at both sides impartially, recognizing that the opponents of Measure 85 could have as good a case as the proponents. Maybe that is what Our Oregon is afraid of.

As for the second point, it’s equally disingenuous. Voters make up their own minds. A straw poll among 24 citizens during the summer is not a predictor of the outcome in November.

Meanwhile, Our Oregon says it will meet with newspaper editorial boards this fall to discuss Measure 85 — including the Statesman Journal. Yet election outcomes and newspaper endorsements often conflict. For example, in May’s state Democratic primary for attorney general, most newspapers, including the Statesman Journal, endorsed Dwight Holton; but Ellen Rosenblum won handily.

Historically, voters agree with the SJ Editorial Board about two-thirds of the time; voters’ independence and the board’s willingness to buck conventional wisdom both are good things.

We, and Our Oregon, believe newspaper endorsements have a valuable role in informing voters.

So does the Citizens’ Initiative Review.

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