Mixed Blessing 

Measure 49 Passes, Measure 50 Loses

For as long as many Oregonians can remember, progressive ballot measures have been, if not nonexistent, losing propositions from the word go. Instead, progressives have long found themselves on the defensive, spending millions of dollars and immeasurable political capital to beat conservative ballot measures. This year, though, thanks to two referrals from a newly Democratic-controlled legislature, proved the exception—the results, though, were decidedly mixed.

Measure 49 (M49), the measure that fixes disastrous Measure 37, was winning by a healthy margin on election night.

At the Measure 49 victory party—held at the Kennedy School in Northeast Portland—land-use reform supporters were grooving to a live jazz band (of course) and middle-age environmentalists were practically moshing in excitement over the returns, which were good.

As the first returns rolled in just after 8 pm, Measure 49 was ahead by a comfortable margin, a smashing 76 percent to 22 percent in Multnomah County, and 66 to 33 percent statewide (by 10 pm, it had tightened to 61 to 39). The numbers were strong enough that Measure 49's success was virtually ensured. Before the hour was out, politicians, including Governor Ted Kulongoski, began making victory speeches. Candidates for office—citywide and statewide—made the rounds of the room, hoping to capitalize on the victory.

Jeff Merkley, Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives and a candidate for US Senate, called M49's victory a "collaboration between urban and rural areas of Oregon."

"If Measure 49 hadn't passed, we'd have urban sprawl like every other state that has failed to enact smart planning regulations," he said.

But it could have been even worse—if M49 had failed, it would have been the third time that Oregon voters had voted definitively against land regulations, first with Measure 7 in 2000, and then with Measure 37 in 2004. A third defeat would have been difficult for land-use activists to recover from. Clearly, M49 supporters had reason to celebrate.

The mood was decidedly different at the Benson Hotel, where Measure 50 supporters—those in favor of a cigarette tax to pay for statewide children's health care—seemed annoyed that Governor Kulongoski took to the mic early to give a concession speech, the overall theme of which was "we lost the battle, but we will win that war." (Indeed, at the end of the night, the measure was losing 60 to 40.)

"We're going to win this in the long run," Kulongoski told the crowd. "This is the first round. I believe that all Oregonians believe that children are entitled to health care."

The governor spoke about the amazing amount "each vote cost the tobacco industry,"—$22 per vote, as last reported."

Kulongoski, of course, invoked the children, who were on the scene at the Benson party: "This doesn't mean Oregonians don't want health care for kids," he says. But with Measure 50 tanking, what's Plan B to take care of the state's kids? According to folks at the party—who conceded that a constitutional measure wasn't the right way to go, and that they needed the support of additional Democrats to ensure victory—the plan is to bring the fight for statewide children's health care back to the legislature in 2009, even if the solution doesn't involve taxing Big Tobacco.

More from Kulongoski: "The tobacco industry won this battle, but they will not win the war. We're fighting for the future of the children of this state. Join with me to find a solution to find health care for every child in this state."

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