Old habits apparently die hard. Two years ago, Enron set a new benchmark for corporate swindling when they gutted pension funds and outright lied to shareholders. Now it seems as if PGE, Enron's corporate lapdog, has learned from its master.

In the campaign to halt the formation of a people's utility district (PUD), PGE has been ruthless and, at times, dishonest about what a publicly owned utility would mean to Portland. On ballot measures, PUD opponents stated that Measures 26-51 and 26-52 could jack up property taxes more than three percent. Problem is, that figure exaggerated the actual impact by a factor of 10,000!

A federal judge called PGE's campaign "profoundly misleading" and ordered them to run advertisements in the Oregonian admitting to their misleading statements. (That order was halted last Tuesday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It is important to note that the ruling does not favor PGE; it simply says the matter needs to be examined further.) Clearly, however, voters can take from this smoke-and-mirror trick that PGE does not play fair. Which, in itself, should be an indication about how to vote on November 4: Against PGE.

In spite of scare tactics by the measures' opponents, publicly held utilities are common--and even practical. Currently, one-fourth of the state's utilities are publicly owned. On average, those utility users enjoy lower rates. (Conversely, last year, PGE's rates topped all other utility rates in the state.)

More to the point, what the ballot measure will do has been wildly blown out of proportion. If successful, wooly haired hippies will not storm corporate boardrooms like they are overrunning the Bastille. Instead the true purpose and effect is merely to take an exploratory step into options for our electricity providers.

Here's the deal: Measures 26-51 and 26-52 are what's called "threshold questions." Voting yes on 26-51 forms a PUD. Ultimately, the PUD hopes to buy PGE's assets, like its wires and poles. But that's further down the road.

Voting yes on 26-52 authorizes a minor, one-time property tax levy--about 50 cents for a $150,000 home. Ultimately, the $127,000 raised by 26-52 will fund a study to be conducted by an engineering firm. The study will look at the feasibility for a takeover. That's it!

Yes, the referendum will put pressure on PGE--but that's good. In a tactic entirely unrelated to the current ballot measure, city hall has been flirting with the idea of buying out PGE. Passage of the ballot measures will show PGE that they're not invulnerable and will force them to sell--a move that PGE has been steadfastly resisting.

And if you need another reason to vote "YES" for PUD: The downtown Portland Business Alliance opposes it.

Adding to the oddity of this ballot measure is that during this same election we're being asked to choose the PUD members--even though it doesn't exist yet. Like California's recall ballot which asked voters to simultaneously decide whether to recall the governor and decide who should be the next governor, the election for the five-person PUD asks voters to assume there will be a PUD. Our fantasy populist league for electrical justice includes:

* Dave Mazza is the top choice. Editor of The Portland Alliance and member of countless progressive organizations, Mazza's has long been a sane and reasonable voice for the liberal community in town.

* Xander Patterson is another solid candidate. An elected and reputable member of East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, he also co-chairs the Pacific Green Party of Oregon.

* Jim Robison is a smarty-pants with a strong track record working with energy and natural resource organizations.

* David Covington has served in the trenches, working as Leadman Lineman for PGE. He seems to sincerely want to be a voice for employees.

Unfortunately there really is no strong fifth contender: Settle for either Fillard Rhyne or Nancy Newell.