UPDATE: These are our 2007 election endorsements. The Mercury's 2012 election voting guide is here!
You know that ballot that arrived in your mailbox a few days ago? That means there's an election coming. Soon, in fact. The last day for ballots to be turned in is Tuesday, November 6, so don't drag ass! In order to expedite your vote-casting speed, here's a handy guide that will tell you exactly how to vote. No need to spend precious hours poring over the Voters' Pamphlet, trying to make sense of legalese that lawyers can't even understand. Instead, just take our word for it. We've never let you down before, have we?
Ballot Measure 49
Modifies Measure 37; Clarifies Right to Build Homes; Limits Large Developments; Protects Farms, Forests, Groundwater.
Put aside the focus group-tested campaign messages and simplistic television commercials—here's an easy way to figure out how you should vote on a complicated ballot measure: Find out who's putting up the money for both sides. Of course, there are plenty of ballot measures that can be separated from their donors—ideas that are so great or so terrible that it really doesn't matter who's paying for either side. But, in general, if you know who's investing their money in a measure campaign, you can make an educated guess about their motives. Once you know their motives, you can see if they match your values and your vision for the future of the state, and then vote accordingly. Rarely has this been more true than with both of this election's statewide ballot measures.
Measure 49 aims to amend 2004's Measure 37, which required local and state governments to compensate landowners for losses in property value due to land-use regulations. Since cash-strapped cities and counties had no money to pay for these claims, their only option was to waive those land-use regulations.
In other words, decades-old land-use laws—the smart growth planning laws that kept Oregon from being swallowed by the same strip malls and subdivisions that have overtaken the rest of the country—became largely ineffective... and completely unenforceable.
M49 pulls back the reins on that crazy situation, blocking commercial and industrial developments (mines, factories, malls, etc.) in protected areas, but still allowing individual property owners to build up to three houses on their land—and up to 10 houses in certain situations.
For us, that's a reasonable compromise, balancing Oregon's famous libertarian streak with the need to protect the environment, open spaces, and water supplies. The measure's language is horribly complicated, but, as we said earlier, you only need to know who's funding both sides to know what Measure 49's effects would be.
So who's funding the opposition? It's largely timber companies, like Seneca Jones and Stimson Lumber and numerous others. More significantly, though, half of the funding for the Stop 49 campaign has come from people who have filed claims under Measure 37. According to Democracy Reform Oregon, Measure 49's opponents have filed a half-billion (that's billion, with a "b") dollars worth of land-use claims that would disappear if the measure passes. Crass self-interest much?
If Measure 49 was truly about protecting the retirement funds of sad old ladies, as the opponents would have us believe, we might have more sympathy. But the numbers don't lie. Timber companies stand to transform large chunks of protected Oregon land into mediocre suburban hell—the same kind of hell most of us moved here to escape—if Measure 37 is allowed to remain on the books unchanged.
The Yes on 49 side isn't without its own self-interested funding. Along with enviro groups, vineyards have provided much of the funding for the measure, since it's difficult to grow wine grapes and attract tourists in areas surrounded by subdivisions. The question for voters is, whose self-interests best serve the state?
If there's one thing we know about land-use laws in Oregon, this fight will continue to drag on for years, no matter which side wins. But by voting Yes on 49, Oregonians will ensure that the negative effects of widespread development can be kept at bay—at least for now.
Vote Yes on Measure 49.
Amends Constitution: Dedicates Funds to Provide Health Care for Children, Fund Tobacco Prevention, Through Increased Tobacco Tax.
We agree with the tobacco industry on one thing: We're not thrilled that a cigarette tax is going to be included in the Oregon Constitution. Ideally, constitutions are where the rights of citizens are enshrined, the form of government is described in detail, and a lot of other really important-sounding things are outlined.
But, sad as it might be, Oregon's constitution is filled with seemingly bizarre clauses—some of which were in the original document (like a ban on dueling), and others which were later added by Oregon voters (taxing mobile homes, for instance). That silly state of affairs isn't going to change soon—unless R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris heed our call to fund a Constitutional Convention—and we can hardly think of a more worthy reason to amend the constitution than to add a tobacco tax to pay for children's health care.
Of course, even if you agree that children of low-income families deserve access to health care (and if you don't, you're a monster), there are troubling questions about taxing smokers to pay for it. Why pick on smokers, when the legislature could have found any number of ways to pay for it? Simple: State and federal governments are already subsidizing public health care costs associated with smokers—to the tune of several dollars per pack. Measure 50 is a way to recoup those costs, albeit an indirect way. Plus, let's face it, smokers are assholes (us included), and an easy target for a consumption tax.
There are other problems as well, such as the wisdom of tying children's health care to smoking. As the cost per pack increases (by 84 cents), people will smoke less, pulling money from the program. Ideally, though, the lower overall public health costs from that reduction in smoking will lead to additional funds being available to offset the lost revenue.
Perhaps it's apparent, but our opinion on Measure 50 is mixed. The problems with the measure, though, have less to do with the people who wrote it than with an impossible political environment. Republicans in the state legislature blocked Democrats' efforts to fund children's health care, requiring it to be referred as a constitutional amendment. But, more than anything, the fact that such a tortuous process had to be undertaken reveals the inhumanity of a society that willfully neglects the health needs of its children.
(Measure 50 also gives us asshole smokers another convenient excuse to not quit—we're smoking for the children!)
As we've said for months, Measure 50 may not be perfect, but there aren't any better ideas out there. Universal health care? Don't hold your breath.
Vote Yes on Measure 50.
Amends Charter: Changes Fire and Police Disability Members' Medical Benefits.
A year ago, Portland residents voted to amend the city's Fire and Police Disability and Retirement system, which handles pensions and disability payments for police officers and fire fighters. Measure 26-93 fixes one itty-bitty, if somewhat complicated, part of that system.
Currently, if an officer or firefighter is injured on the job, they receive health coverage for that injury while they're on disability leave. If they remain on disability leave until they retire, their coverage continues during retirement—but if they return to work before they retire, they lose coverage for their injury after retirement.
It's a hooey system that encourages—hell, practically requires—employees to stay on disability leave, even if they're capable of returning to work in a different capacity. If they return to work, like most of us expect them to if we're paying their salary, they're penalized after retiring—at the possible expense of their health.
Measure 26-93 would change that rule, extending health coverage for on-the-job injuries beyond retirement even if an employee returns to the job.
There's a reason why there's no organized opposition to the measure—and no, it's not because everyone is bored to tears by it. Before city council referred it to the ballot, they negotiated the language of the measure, ensuring wide support.
Vote Yes on Measure 26-93.