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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Measure 37 Agonistes

Oregon's epic battle against the will of the people
Agreement eludes lawmakers, Big Labor turns up the heat

Si Newhouse, out-of-state billionaire owner of The Oregonian and ardent opponent of others' property rights, has a message for Oregon legislators: you are running out of time to overturn Oregon's twice-approved property rights restoration initiative, Measure 37. No-growth advocates like newspaper editors dismiss ordinary Oregonians as 'greedy', and their will as 'wrong-minded.'

Six-month deadlines are coming due for county action on applications filed in December that open the door to investment and local tax-base growth that has been stunted by 37 years of stifling land-use regulation.

Landowners who have properly filed claims that have already been approved by counties have been left hanging, since the Legislature threatens to take away their opportunity to build - even though they have obeyed the letter of the law. With hope for a bipartisan repeal effort fading, government union leaders now say that Newhouse will have to ante up even more 'political cover' with increasingly strident anti-M37 news and opinion 'coverage' before they can coddle together a repeal majority.

"We're running out of time," said Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego. "We need to put something together that will attract a sufficient number of votes."

Individual rights - like property rights - have been this session's most contentious issues, with competing calls to socialize, or collectivize, most individual rights that Oregonians have come to take for granted.

Voters ousted Republicans in 2006, giving Oregon the most bright-line Labor governments in the nation. Labor gives people two options: join the union or go away. Officials in eight counties say they welcome M37 and tax-base growth. All the other Oregon counties, like the state Legislature itself, are locked up by Labor and are lobbying the legislature for M37 repeal.

M37 claimants have invested too much time and energy to be strung along, said land-use attorney Jim Zupancic, who founded Measure 37 Claimants for Fairness. "People who are in the process right now are wondering," he said. "It's difficult to decide what you should be doing when the rules might change."

Legislators say that violating property-rights restoration has been tricky. Democrats had to create and stack a 10-member Land Use Un-Fairness Committee and bar expert Republicans from participating.

Early proposals to freeze claims during negotiations crumbled. More recently, a nominally-bipartisan work group led by ex-AFL-CIO president Tim Nesbitt, who now runs Gov. Kulongoski's office. Nesbitt claims they got close to agreement after weeks of private debate, but in fact, members clashed over details. And they grew even farther apart last week, when Democrats rolled out their own proposal with even more differences.

Committee members will formally debate for the first time tonight. Discussions are likely to be tense, judging by recent barbs traded everywhere from news releases to the Senate floor. One committee member, Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, said the panel should have given negotiated changes as a group. "There's no need to have a crisis here," said George, a longtime property rights advocate. "Yet, for some reason, we're sitting here with this deadline coming up."

The committee's Democratic co-chairmen, Macpherson and Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene, said they prefer a wholesale Measure 37 repeal to a piecemeal approach. They anticipate voting on something to send to the full Legislature next week. "The sooner Labor gets its way, the better," Prozanski said. "It will give certainty for everyone."

The Oregonian, Apr. 19, By LAURA OPPENHEIMER

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