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Proposed Ballot Measures Take Aim At Democratic Political Establishment In Oregon

Dave Blanchard

Conservative activists in Oregon are close to qualifying two initiatives that could put new curbs on the state’s Democratic-leaning political establishment.

One measure would limit the use of emergency clauses in legislation, while the other would put new limits on the release of voters’ personal data.

While neither of these issues is likely to be on the minds of average voters, they could have an important impact on politics in the state.

Supporters say they’re trying to empower voters by putting new limits on politicians. Opponents, meanwhile, say it’s an attempt by conservatives to stop progressive legislation.

“We really see these as anti-democracy measures that are really designed to roll back Oregon’s progress on important issues,” said Andrea Miller, executive director of Causa. The immigrant rights group is part of a coalition opposing both proposed ballot measures.

Jason Williams, executive director of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, said he’s not taking aim at either the right or left in the state. His group is the chief backer of the measures, and he said he wants to protect both voter privacy and the initiative and referendum system.

“That’s an important part of our direct democracy here,” he said.

Here’s a summary of the two measures:

Williams said he is worried that the release of some voter data can lead to ID theft. And he said many voters simply want to keep private when they wanted.

Opponents, however, think the measures are aimed at progressives. The curb on emergency clauses could have the impact of stalling several bills passed by the Democratic majority in the Legislature.

Among recent bills containing emergency clauses: a 2015 measure requiring universal background checks on gun sales and a 2016 measure raising the minimum wage.

Groups allied with Democrats are also widely believed to run the most extensive voter canvassing operations in the state. So, they’d be more affected if they weren’t able to quickly find out if someone had turned in their ballot.

The groups lining up on both sides of the measure also take on an ideological cast.

The taxpayer association has long promoted strict limits on taxes and spending. Williams founded the group in 2000 with the late Don McIntire, chief sponsor of the landmark Measure 5 property tax limit passed by voters in 1990. So far, the group has spent more than $750,000 gathering signatures for the two measures.

Almost all of the money has come from the taxpayer’s association nonprofit and from a Virginia-based nonprofit, Citizens in Charge, which has the mission of promoting the initiative system. Williams and Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge, say the money has come from numerous donors that they did not name.

Our Oregon, which is made up of several labor unions and other left-of-center groups, is organizing an opposition campaign to the two measures. Our Oregon also organized the campaign in favor of the year’s biggest ballot measure, IP 28. That initiative would raise taxes on corporations with Oregon sales of more than $25 million a year.

Both supporters and opponents said the voter privacy initiative appears it will have enough signatures to make the ballot. It has until July 8 and so far has turned in about 104,000 signatures. It needs 88,104 valid signatures from registered voters.

The measure dealing with emergency clauses appears to be a closer call. Williams said he is unsure whether his group will have the 117,578 signatures needed by July 8 to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment. So far it has turned in 131,000, Williams said.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.