Albany Democratic-Herald –
Oregon voters will face just five statewide ballot issues in the November election, the lowest number in nearly four decades and a surprising development in a state that in recent years hasn’t been shy about pushing initiatives onto the ballot.
In a recent editorial, we speculated about the reasons behind the decline; at the time we wrote that, four measures had qualified for the ballot. Shortly after that, Measure 106, a constitutional amendment that would ban public funds from being spent on abortions in Oregon, became the fifth measure to earn a slot on the ballot.
All five measures take on hot-button issues in Oregon, and at least four of them likely will draw plenty of attention in the fall campaign. (The exception likely will be Measure 102, which would allow local governments to issue bonds to pay for affordable housing projects that involve nonprofits or other nongovernmental entities. Our guess is that measure is unlikely to be particularly controversial.)
That won’t be the case for the other ballot measures. In addition to the abortion issue, consider these:
• Measure 103 is a constitutional amendment that would bar new taxes on groceries, including food and soda, as well as freeze the state’s corporate minimum tax for supermarkets.
• Measure 104 is a constitutional amendment that would require a three-fifths supermajority for legislation that raises revenue through changes in tax exemptions, credits and deductions.
• Measure 105 would overturn the 1987 sanctuary law that prohibits state and local police from enforcing immigration law if a person’s only violation is being in the country illegally.
These all are questions that voters will need to consider carefully. But, still, it’s easier to do that for five state measures than it is for, say, 26 measures, the load that voters faced in the 2000 election.
Since our initial editorial appeared, other political observers have weighed in on the reasons why this Oregon ballot is so light on initiatives. Some have mentioned, as we did, the various changes in signature-gathering procedures that have tended to make it more difficult to get initiatives on the ballot. We don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing: It should be hard to get an initiative on the ballot, just like it should be hard to get a bill passed by the Legislature. (We often forget that a vital role for the Legislature is to stop bad ideas from becoming law; you can assess for yourself how successful Oregon’s Legislature has been at that task.)
Other longtime political observers, such as former Secretary of State Phil Keisling, argue that voters are simply burned out on initiatives. “The biggest thing, I think, is fatigue,” Keisling told The Oregonian, and we suspect there’s a measure of truth to that.
The Oregonian story pointed to another factor we hadn’t considered: Money that used to be spent on ballot measures is flowing instead to legislative candidates. In 2016, the newspaper noted, more than $11 million was spent on legislative races. (It works out to about $150,000 per race, a lot of cash for a state that prides itself on its citizen Legislature.)
The Oregonian also noted that some of the conservative activists who helped spearhead initiative campaigns have been on the political sidelines in recent years.
The relatively small number of initiatives on the ballot isn’t a bad thing: For one thing, it gives voters a fighting chance to consider each of the measures with greater care.
And, truth be told, many of the more complicated matters that used to be presented as ballot measures should be the province of legislators, who have the time and resources to more carefully examine complex issues during their sessions in Salem. But there’s a flip side to that: If the Legislature fails to act on the vital questions facing Oregon, this current ebb tide in statewide ballot measures likely will be short-lived.