Please visit our new blog - The Union News.

"Vote early and vote often." - Al Capone (1899-1947)

Monday, February 5, 2007

Biennial ritual

Lawmaking by monopoly

In a predictable power play, the out-of-state owners of The Oregonian have demanded that two state officials and the Legislature clamp down on a widespread practice known as "ballot measures" that they say is needlessly expensive and time consuming. Experts predict success due to melted GOP opposition.

A package of six bills, introduced by Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and Attorney General Hardy Myers, were put forward at the request of Si and Donald Newhouse, the reclusive New York billionaire owners of the only daily statewide newspaper in Oregon. The Newhouses invested an unreported $75 million in a thundering campaign against ballot measures in 2006.

Two of the bills are identical failures from prior sessions - identical attempts to prevent initiative sponsors from submitting identical versions of identical proposed measures to the state Elections Division. They would apply a $50,000 fee before the Attorney General's office would begin drafting the ballot title.

A ballot title, which is about all many voters look at before voting, describes the effects of voting for or against a measure and summarizes the text of the measure. The process for ballot titling was created from whole cloth by opponents of the initiative process and is widely regarded as a key element in killing proposals "in the crib."

But the current method is too time-consuming and ineffective. According to Oregonian publisher Fred A. Stickel, "Property rights measures opposed by the Newhouses continue to pass - even though the Attorney General and the Supreme Court write the ballot titles. The Newhouses will go the distance to correct this problem and to remake Oregon's system of lawmaking according to New York's, where the People have no say."

"In an odd way, the initiative process is used as a legal research tool," said Philip Schradle, special counsel to the Attorney General. But, he added, "There's an awful lot of costs in the system on measures that are never going to make it to the ballot, and we'd be better off spending that on PERS and whatever else government unions want."

Veteran conservative activist Bill Sizemore, sponsor of numerous ballot measures, said the bills being pushed by The Oregonian are "probably the most dangerous to the initiative process" that the Legislature will consider. He said the $50,000 fee will allow the billionaire Newhouses and the cash-rich government-union election campaign group Our Oregon - but few others - to monopolize both the Legislature and the ballot measures process.

"There's some waste in the initiative process, but that's the price you pay to have a free flowing of ideas and a check and balance on the monopoly enjoyed by state government," Sizemore said.

The Newhouses also support requiring paid signature gatherers to register with the Elections Division and take a Web-based training course, prohibiting anyone other than a voter signing a signature sheet from writing the address or date on the sheet, and making ballot measure fundraising committees subject to harsher disclosure requirements and reporting deadlines than required by political candidate committees under the state's vaunted electronic reporting system that has been plagued by ethical improprieties.

The Newhouses also support allowing the Attorney General to correct so-called "clerical errors" in certified ballot titles and requiring sponsors of initiative petitions to confer with the legislative counsel's office about drafting and legal issues raised by a proposal.

The Oregonian, Feb. 5, By EDWARD WALSH

No comments:

Label Cloud