Time was, I would sign anybody's petition for any reason. A scraggly kid dealing petitions like blackjack cards would hit me up in Pioneer Courthouse Square, and I was more than happy to oblige with a signature, or 10. It doesn't hurt to put these things on the ballot, I thought. Common sense can duke it out in the voting booth. Give the people a chance to decide! Besides, Joe here is making a buck with every signature. That's a whole lot better than spare-changing me from the sidewalk.Then came the November 2000 election and I started working for the No on 92 and 98 campaigns. I worked my ass off fighting two measures that I probably helped put on the ballot in the first place. Next time around, as the signature gatherers begin to congregate in Pioneer Square, I have a few choice words prepared:

"You know that dollar per signature you're earning?" I'll say. "Did you know that dollar probably comes from a right-winger who makes your annual salary every week, and who just wants a fat tax break at the expense of your clean air and water, health care, and education? Huh?!"

And the kid will raise his eyebrows and say, "Are you going to sign this or not?"

But I've spent one too many nights editing Voters' Pamphlet statements to stop there. "This initiative you're peddling? It stinks," is what I'll say. "Bill Sizemore submitted this initiative to the Secretary of State's office 20 times to get this alluring ballot title. And now, advocates who work to further working-class issues will have to drop everything for six months and pour millions of dollars into convincing voters that these laws are the opposite of what they seem. Does your mother know what you do for a living?"

"Last year," I'll say, "Oregonians spent over $7 million working against just five of those 26 ballot measures. That's $7 million that could have supported candidates who would have worked for affordable tuition and decent wages, dammit! Instead, Measure 7 has passed and you and I will be paying landowners billions of dollars to not dump toxic sludge on their property. How's that for a return on your dollar per signature?"

Joe will look around. "Whatever, man." And he will move on. There's a fresh MAX train full of passengers that will sign without giving any lip.