LAURITS HARVEY NANCE might ask you to sign an initiative petition over the coming weeks. One of the initiatives he's touting, called the Oregon Crimefighting Act, pushes for harsher sentences for felony sex offenders. The irony? Nance was himself convicted of felony sodomy in the first degree in 1990—a conviction for anal or oral sex, either forcibly or with a child under 12. In this case, the victim was Nance's daughter, who was under 12 at the time, according to court records.
"I know what he did," says Nance's employer, Ross Day—a right-wing lawyer running Salem-based petitioning firm Voice of the Electorate. "We have had extensive discussions with Mr. Nance and others. He has paid his debt to society. I feel comfortable with that, and I am willing to give him a second chance.
"It's just pathetic that Our Oregon has released this information," continues Day, referring to the nonprofit that released the background information on Nance and 18 other signature gatherers with criminal histories who are also working for him, last week. "They're scared to debate the issues, so they're going to go after these hard-working folks." Day set up Voice of the Electorate recently along with two nonprofits operating under the shared name of Common Sense for Oregon, with his ally, former right-wing gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix. Common Sense for Oregon has already filed 14 initiatives for possible consideration by Oregon voters next November, and Voice of the Electorate is also collecting signatures to force a January referendum on two tax hikes recently passed by the legislature—one aimed at big corporations, the other at people earning more than $250,000 a year.
Day and Mannix told the Oregonian earlier this month that they want to restore people's trust in the initiative system, following documented cases of signature fraud, and the jailing of Oregon's best-known initiative racketeer, Bill Sizemore.
Researchers at Our Oregon—a union-backed nonprofit that has focused on defeating right-wing initiative measures over recent years—say Day and Mannix may have set up a new company, but that 20 of their 40 signature gatherers worked for Sizemore. Eighteen of the circulators have criminal histories, 12 have multiple arrests, seven have theft convictions, two are convicted forgers, two, including Nance, are registered sex offenders, and there's even a serial recidivist stalker on the list.
"If Mannix and Day are really talking this up as a new era for the initiative system, why would they send people with such troubling criminal histories out to gather Oregonians' personal information?" says Scott Moore, a spokesman for the group and former Mercury news editor. "Oregon has the third highest unemployment in the country, and yet they couldn't find 40 signature gatherers who weren't registered sex offenders or free of criminal convictions?"
Despite Day's objections, Moore insists that the signature gatherers' background information is in the public interest.
Meanwhile Blue Oregon blogger Carla Axtman posted mugshots of some of the signature gatherers online last week, and says she has since been accused of "Karl Rove tactics" for doing so. "But Karl Rove makes stuff up," she says. "This is all true, and it's publicly available information."