UPDATE: These are our 2008 endorsements. If you're looking for 2012 endorsements, click over here!
You're just days away from filling in a little bubble next to the words "Barack Obama" on an official ballot, thereby assisting in the demise of the Bush administration. (Note to supporters of John McCain: Obama's name on the ballot will not be "That One." Sorry.)
But don't just stop at casting your vote for Obama! Crammed into that long ballot about to land in your mailbox are ballot measures that could blast holes in the state's budget, along with races with the potential to make Oregon's legislature so solidly blue that we may even see crazy things like tax system and health care (!) reforms in Salem next year. There's also a chance to pick the fifth member of Portland City Council, and two-thirds of the Multnomah County Commission. Plus! Elephants, school kids, and Portland Community College are begging for your money.
To make your civic duty as painless as possible, we've spent hours and hours interviewing candidates and people on both sides of the issues to help you make the best choices. But if the info here—and the bonus info at portlandmercury.com—isn't sufficient to help you decide, then join us at Backspace on Thursday, October 23, at 7 pm, for our Big Ballot Bash with the Bus Project. Bring your ballot, grab a drink, quiz candidates, and confer with experts (or Joe Six-Pack readers)—then vote.
The Mercury's Editorial Board is Matt Davis, Wm. Steven Humphrey, Sarah Mirk, and Amy J. Ruiz. — We only endorse in contested races.
United States President and Vice President
VOTE FOR BARACK OBAMA and JOE BIDEN
Don't get us wrong: We're excited about who Barack Obama is and what he represents. But we're also stoked about what he's not: a grumpy old man with spotty little doll's hands who has voted with Bush 90 percent of the time, who plans to tax health care benefits for the first time in our nation's history, and who is advised on foreign policy by his good friend the war criminal, Henry Kissinger. There are plenty of positive reasons to vote for "that one," but there are just as many great reasons to stay the hell away from John McCain. Like the fact that he could die next year, handing the country over to the least qualified (not to mention pro-life and evangelical Christian) vice-presidential candidate in the history of the country, a woman who is currently under ethics investigation in Alaska. With a Republican ticket so thoroughly irredeemable and increasingly smear-hungry and desperate, who even needs to mention the economy, health care, withdrawal from Iraq, diplomacy, gay rights, and energy reform at this point? Not us. Vote Obama.
United States Senator
VOTE FOR JEFF MERKLEY
We were less than impressed with Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley this spring, when Portland attorney and political activist Steve Novick ran circles around him during the primary. Both men were more than qualified to be a US Senator, but we went with Novick, noting that his feisty attitude and sharp wit would be excellent weapons in the battle to unseat incumbent Senator Gordon Smith.
Merkley won the nomination, thanks to strong support outside of Portland. Now he has our backing, too, thanks to his relentless dogging of Smith's record—like McCain, the incumbent has voted for Bush's policies 90 percent of the time—as well as Merkley's unwavering support for hard-working middle-class families, and his wonkish attention to detail (you should have seen the graph he drew on our white board, comparing the enormous federal debt with our Gross Domestic Product, as he explained the problems he had with the recent "rescue" package). As if Merkley's agenda of accessible healthcare and ending the war weren't great enough, consider this: Sending Merkley to DC will also boost the senate democratic majority, which will help make President Obama's agenda a reality. Merkley deserves your vote.
Representative in Congress, 3rd District
VOTE FOR EARL BLUMENAUER
Quite honestly, you couldn't create a better representative for Portland's ultra-progressive core, from Blumenauer's unending support for bikes and public transit to his innovative views on the future of energy (hello, solar and wind). Hell, just this month, he was calling for equity for average homeowners during the bailout hullabaloo. In DC, he may be rewarded for all of his hard work on transportation issues with a slot in Obama's cabinet (our fingers are crossed!). But here in Portland, Blumenauer is treated to tense endorsement meetings against Republican Delia Lopez, a woman who had absolutely no problem going on and on and on about her own personal tax avoidance and her flat opposition to everything from the bailout to a cap-and-trade system, but who struggled to tell us what she'd actually do in congress. We're sorry we put you through that, Earl. It's democracy. (Meanwhile, the Pacific Green Party's Michael Meo was a no-show.) But Blumenauer shined, talking up a fair cap-and-trade system, the danger of inaction on climate change, and how moving away from a carbon-dependent economy is an "opportunity" for sustainably minded places like Oregon. Vote for him.
VOTE FOR JOHN KROGER
John Kroger is possibly the most exciting attorney general candidate that Oregon has ever known. Riding into town from New York to beat a shoulda-been-a-shoo-in opponent in the Democratic primary, he's since managed to secure the Republican nomination as well. Two of his opponents—Walt Brown of the Pacific Green Party and J. Ashlee Albies of the Working Families Party—both bring important perspectives to the race, while the Constitution Party's James Leuenberger thinks a smart solution to the bailout would be if Oregon had never opened any banks (it's what the founding fathers would have wanted, he says).
But Kroger's plans to prosecute environmental criminals and push for better drug treatment across the state could be transformative for Oregon. And the fact that he's prosecuted mafia bosses and Enron crooks, not to mention served as a Marine, should give us confidence in his ability to deliver. He's going to kick Oregon's ass. Vote for him.
Secretary of State
VOTE FOR KATE BROWN
As secretary of state, Kate Brown will be required to set aside her party affiliation and work across party lines to audit state agencies and oversee Oregon's elections. Her Republican opponent, Rick Dancer, is a former Eugene anchorman with an imposing voice—and enchantingly large, emotively gesticulating hands—who has criticized Brown, a veteran of the state legislature, for being too partisan for the office. Brown—whose hands are smaller, it's true—says her history of cooperating with Republicans in Salem makes her ideal for the job. Torn as we are, because Dancer is really quite the shiver-inducer, we tend to agree with her, and are impressed with her record as a leader in the state legislature (an experience Dancer lacks). Meanwhile, Pacific Green Party candidate Seth Woolley would ban all paid signature gathering to combat voter initiative fraud, an idea we would like Brown to consider should she win the office. Vote for her.
VOTE FOR ALLEN ALLEY
Allen Alley is a Republican—but this time? That's okay. Despite the letter next to his name, he's smart and has a venture capitalist and business background that will mean sharp new ideas at the state treasury. Besides, fiscally he breaks with party lines, favoring policies of tighter credit and regulation. It's good to have someone in office who can talk money and sense to both sides of the aisle, and Alley has forged effective partnerships before: Last year, while working in Governor Ted Kulongoski's office, Alley helped convince businesses to contribute their "kicker" tax rebates to the state's Rainy Day Fund. His main opponent, Democrat Ben Westlund, is a highly competent legislator, and one we hope to see in a statewide office someday—but he's better suited for the governor or secretary of state's office than the treasurer's. Vote for Alley.
VOTE FOR TOBIAS READ
Tobias Read wouldn't come into the Mercury's office to chat. Something about things being very busy at Nike....
It's too bad. We love talking about things like stabilizing revenue, fixing our health care system, addressing climate change, and funding higher education—all things Read mentions in his campaign materials.
Lucky for Read, his Republican opponent blew us off, too. So what the heck: Vote for Read. And maybe he'll find time for us in his schedule next time around.
VOTE FOR MITCH GREENLICK
Mitch Greenlick, a "progressive moderate Democrat"—he's progressive on social issues, and "I also care about economic development and jobs"—is going to be a key leader in next year's push for health care reform. Greenlick, whose career in health care included starting Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research, he chairs the House Health Care Committee, and talked extensively in our interview about his ideas to pay for the uninsured via cost shifting elsewhere in the health care system.
He's also a no-nonsense realist, calling "the myth of too-high taxes... pure bullshit," and floating the idea of merging OHSU and PSU to create a world-class institution. We agree on both counts.
Meanwhile, Greenlick's opponent Jim Ellison was a hoot. We'd like to get a beer with him sometime, and keep debating whether or not global warming is real (Greenlick should come along, too—he does a great job calling bull on Ellison's more egregious claims). A former Democrat and pharmaceutical sales guy who became a Republican because "Clinton was a liar," Ellison landed in the general after convincing a few dozen friends and neighbors to write him in during the primary. He added an interesting element to our interview, but he doesn't hold a candle to Greenlick when it comes to legislating. Vote for Greenlick.
VOTE FOR LARRY GALIZIO
A teacher at PCC Sylvania, incumbent Larry Galizio is passionate about education. He led the charge to increase Head Start and K-12 funding during the last legislative session. Now, his eye is on higher ed: He notes that Oregon ranks dismally low in "public investment in higher education," a situation that Galizio calls "not only wrong, but stupid." Sure, he'll have a helluva time finding extra cash in Salem next year, but Galizio pledges to keep pushing. When asked about his other priorities, Galizio was the only one who mentioned initiative reform. His idea? To move toward an indirect initiative system, where citizen's ideas are churned through public hearings before they're either adopted outright or sent to the ballot. Sounds like a genius idea (and one that Bill Sizemore will no doubt try to repeal via a ballot measure).
Galizio's opponent, Tony Marino, is a former radio talk show host who now runs his own marketing company (Galizio tagged him as a spammer). Marino's biggest reason for running is a claim that Galizio isn't connected to his district. Based on what we saw from Galizio, it seems he knows and represents his district well. Vote for Galizio.
VOTE FOR MARY NOLAN
Mary Nolan wants to go back to Salem for a fifth term as a representative. There, as co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, she wields considerable power as she ensures that government is spending money wisely. She also notes that there's "work yet to be done" in education, on the environment, and on civil liberties (read: protecting a woman's right to choose, and safeguarding domestic partnerships and non-discrimination laws). And her district—encompassing downtown and Southwest Portland—is in need of more affordable housing, another issue she'll keep an eye on.
Nolan has two opponents: Republican Steve Oppenheim, co-owner of Hippo Hardware, and Jay Ellefson, a nurse and Libertarian. Oppenheim has voted for Nolan the last four times, doesn't have a beef with her, and notes that he's a "liberal Oregon Republican" who helped found OSPIRG. Ellefson, who had the guts to argue his pro-life position to the two staunchly pro-choice women on our editorial board, isn't a good fit for the district. Send Nolan back to Salem.
VOTE FOR CHRIS GARRETT
Halfway through our interview, we had to ask Chris Garrett's opponent, Steve Griffith, why he was a Republican. Until that point, the two attorneys—from rival firms—had largely agreed on everything. And Griffith is the guy that another Democratic legislative candidate pegged as "the only one who doesn't know he's a Democrat." Griffith pointed to his refusal to sign a no-new-taxes pledge, and stressed that he didn't want Oregon to become a one-party state.
Garrett, meanwhile, is a moderate Democrat who wants to focus on education, environmental preservation, and expanding access to affordable health care. He'd vote to kill the kicker entirely, in the name of stronger state finances. And he'd like to broach the topic of a sales tax.
While a progressive voice like Griffith's would be valuable in the minority Republican caucus, we'd rather have Garrett take a seat in the majority and strengthen it. Vote for Garrett.
VOTE FOR CAROLYN TOMEI
Carolyn Tomei has a "tax break book" in her Salem office, an inch-and-a-half thick tome listing every tax break the Oregon legislature has granted. Some of those, she says, don't have a sunset clause, but should. She'll look toward rolling some of those back as a way to build up a Rainy Day Fund and carry the state through a bumpy economy.
As chair of the Human Services and Women's Wellness Committee, Tomei has an important role to play next year, making sure human services get through an economic downturn intact. One more thing we like about her: She's got "serious questions" about the Columbia River Crossing project, asking why she would want to "be facilitating people driving back and forth to work" over bigger priorities, like light rail.
Her Republican opponent, Randy Uchytil, was a no show in our offices, and in the voter's guide. Vote for Tomei.
VOTE FOR JULES KOPEL-BAILEY
Jules Kopel-Bailey intimidates us, between his already-extensive resume (stints at Princeton, in Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's office, and currently an economist at ECONorthwest) and his whip-smart outlook on how to solve Oregon's most pressing problems. Climate change? Kopel-Bailey talks about a finding a way to leverage private capital to make it easy for people to up the energy efficiency of their home. Affordable housing? He's ready to stand up to the real estate industry and push for a real estate transfer tax. The Columbia River Crossing? He's not sure why "voters in Medford have to be bailing out Clark County for 20 years of bad planning."
His opponent, Pacific Green Party candidate Chris Extine, is politically aligned with his ultra-progressive district—and he's a teacher, to boot! But given the choice, we're going with super-genius Kopel-Bailey.
VOTE FOR MICHAEL DEMBROW Like most of the Ds who walked through our door, Dembrow ticked off priorities of reforming the health care system and funding education. He also spoke about labor and human rights, pointing to his lengthy background as president of PCC's faculty union (he teaches English at PCC Cascade). With a district in Northeast Portland, Dembrow is also acutely aware of the need to find a reliable source of funding for affordable housing. He says he'll push for that, and continue to advocate for smart growth, plus health care reform.
Dembrow's opponent is the always-kooky Jim Karlock, a curmudgeonly guy who thinks our progressive land use policy is sending us to hell in a hand basket. A dense hand basket, with an urban growth boundary, and public transit. We like that hand basket. Vote for Dembrow.
VOTE FOR NICK KAHL
Republican Karen Minnis is finally leaving the state legislature, after years of wreaking havoc. In the run to replace her, Democrat Nick Kahl is the stronger choice. A young, energetic law student who adores his district, Kahl promises to keep an eye on socio-economic issues that impact the folks he'll represent. Like—you guessed it!—health care.
His opponent, Republican John Nelsen, didn't want to talk to us. Vote for Kahl.
VOTE FOR GREG MATTHEWS
Greg Matthews is a firefighter. Come on! A firefighter! How could you not vote for a firefighter? A moderate Democrat who lists getting tough on immigration as one of his priorities, he'll also address the kinds of things we care more about, like health care and funding schools.
His opponent, John Lim, is not a firefighter. Vote for Matthews.
VOTE FOR BRENT BARTON
Brent Barton's facing an uphill battle, trying to unseat Republican incumbent Linda Flores. A litigator at Perkins Coie who's on the board of the Oregon Bus Project, Barton would be a better fit for his district than Flores (who can't even keep her family's finances in order, as evidenced by a mailer she just sent out to her district). Flores voted against expanding children's health care, creating a Rainy Day Fund, protecting consumers from bad mortgages, and increasing education funding. And that was all just in the past year!
Barton says he's "fed up with things" under Flores' reign, and is looking forward to a productive 2009 session. In 2007, he says, legislators plucked the low-hanging fruit—see the things Flores voted against, above—and now needs to reach higher. He's got a "list in my desk of statutes I'd love to change," including the way wills are administered in Oregon. He's also game to tackle health care, and excited about the "opportunity" that global warming presents. And did we mention that he's adorable? Vote for Barton.
VOTE FOR SUZANNE VANORMAN
Suzanne VanOrman is fighting Matt "The Law" Lindland for the house seat being vacated by Patti Smith. VanOrman has been executive director of the Mid-Columbia Children's Council for 22 years, which has expanded extracurricular services for kids throughout the district. A competent businesswoman, she is running against a two-time Olympic medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling, who now runs a gym in Eagle Creek. When we met him, Lindland had just returned from a mixed martial arts engagement in Tokyo, without a scratch on him. While soft spoken throughout the interview, he left us with the distinct impression that he's meant for fighting, not politics. Admitting he decided to run for office when he saw the seat might go uncontested, we admire his guts. But vote for "the nice old lady" (his description, not ours).
VOTE FOR MARK HASS
Incumbent Mark Hass has a reputation for speaking out about Oregon's crazy tax structure. In a year where that issue just might have some momentum (see Ginny Burdick, below), Hass—and his years of experience in Salem—will be an asset in the state senate. His role on the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee makes him ready to tackle the rough economic road ahead.
His opponent, Lisa Michaels, didn't return our calls. Vote for Hass.
VOTE FOR GINNY BURDICK
Ginny Burdick will champion tax reform as chairwoman of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee, if reelected, she says. A gun control activist who got state law changed to stop gun sales without background checks at gun shows, Burdick is tenacious and grounded in her approach to pushing for controversial policy—she learned to shoot, for example, and had to convince gun retailers to back her in order to win the gun control fight. At a time when Oregon needs to look hard at alternate sources of revenue, we hope Burdick can convince Oregonians of the need for, say, a freaking sales tax, already. The idea is a dream, of course, with the state being notoriously conservative on taxation policy. But Burdick's close relationships with the business community and her background in communications persuade us she's the right person to have those tough conversations. And at least her heart is in the right place. Her opponent, real estate attorney John Wight, has an answering machine that says, "This is the Wight house," but he either never checks it, or was too busy watching The West Wing to return our calls.
VOTE FOR LAURIE MONNES ANDERSON
Laurie Monnes Anderson has done time in both the state house and senate, and she's seeking another senate term. There, she's the chair of the Health Policy and Public Affairs Committee—an excellent role for this nurse with a background in public health (she finds herself being asked about rashes and other ailments as she's out knocking on doors in her district).
Back in Salem, she plans to revisit the children's health insurance plan that failed at the ballot last year. "The policy is still good," Monnes Anderson points out, and it'll be her job to figure out how to fund it without a tobacco tax. She'll also push on issues important to her east county district, like safety on the MAX and controversial land use (read: casinos).
Her opponent, Dave Kim, was a no show. But he's been hitting Monnes Anderson hard on taxes ("We're being very fiscally responsible," she responds). Vote for Monnes Anderson.
Bureau of Labor and Industries
VOTE FOR BRAD AVAKIAN
Brad Avakian took over as Oregon's labor commissioner in March following the departure of its six-year steward, Dan Gardner (Gardner became a Washington lobbyist). Avakian, appointed to the job by Governor Ted Kulongoski, is a Democratic senator and former civil rights attorney practicing workers' compensation law, giving him a solid grounding in workplace issues. Avakian's opponents, Pavel Goberman, a Libertarian Russian fitness instructor who once ran for state senator promising to reduce health care spending by recommending wider use of his Get Fit! video, and Mark Welyczko, a security practitioner with a union background, are not considered to be mounting serious opposition. Avakian deserves your vote.
VOTE FOR BOB SKIPPER
Bob Skipper came back after 14 years of retirement last July to take over as sheriff following Bernie Giusto's departure. Skipper has been the sheriff before, and has spent the time since he returned trying to restore morale, discipline, and sound management practices among the once mutinous corrections staff. Skipper plans to make more management changes to the department if elected in the fall, he says. His opponent, Sergeant Muhammad Ra'oof, is arguing for new blood at the top, and we're impressed with his dedication to the department and enthusiasm for cooperating with other agencies to improve skills training for the county's inmates. But with the department in such a mess following the departure of Giusto—there have been problems with sick leave abuse and inmate supervision, not to mention scathing reports on jail conditions by the district attorney's office—we're of the belief that Skipper's earnest experience and seasoned judgment are what the department needs right now. Skipper drove Bobby Kennedy around when the former presidential candidate came to Portland, for example. Beat that, Ra'oof! Kidding. But vote for Skipper.
Commissioner, District 3
VOTE FOR MIKE DELMAN
We asked Mike Delman's opponent, Judy Shiprack, what she loved to teach, back when she was in the English department at Jefferson High School in the '70s. James Fenimore Cooper she said—but the students struggled with the early 19th century work. "We ended up watching a lot of movies," Shiprack told us, either delivering a horrible joke, or exemplifying the sort of unfocused, uncreative style she'd also bring to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. Then there's her, um, keen business sense: She tried to justify the poor performance of one of her real estate developments in Old Town—one on which she still owes taxpayers $1.8 million—on the continued existence of Blanchet House, a social service agency across the street that she didn't think would be around much longer. Hmm.
Mike Delman, on the other hand, is a temperamental guy who nearly decked Matt Davis during our primary endorsement interview. He's calmed down considerably since May, and is a more polished candidate, one who plans to prioritize health care and public safety. For example: He'd like to reopen neighborhood health clinics to reduce pressure on hospital ERs, and he'll push to finally open Wapato as both a jail and a treatment center. He'll also look for cost savings in the perpetually strapped county budget (one Delman idea: utilizing Zipcar for the county fleet, which he estimates could save $1.5 million, based on a similar move by the City of Portland). Bonus: He has experience navigating county politics, thanks to the 13 years he's put in there, in roles like chief of staff to former Commissioner Gary Hansen and intergovernmental affairs coordinator at the sheriff's office. Vote for Delman.
Commissioner, District 4
VOTE FOR CARLA PILUSO
Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso says it's the county's job to look after the needy and the naughty, and can claim a career's experience doing both. Beyond her day job, Piluso has served as chair of the Multnomah County Commission on Children, Families, and Community and is on the board of several other community organizations. Her opponent, Diane McKeel, is executive director of the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce, and says she would adopt a partnership approach to solving the county's problems. But we're inclined to think Piluso has been doing that already, and for the past several years. Piluso is also committed to mental health services, saying social services are more important than opening the Wapato Jail, given the county's limited budget. We think that demonstrates sound judgment, and she deserves your vote.
East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District
Director, At Large 1
VOTE FOR RICK TILL
Director, At Large 2
VOTE FOR PETER FINLEY FRY
What's the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District? Hell if we know. But we looked it up: The agency works "toward keeping water clean, conserving water, and keeping soil healthy."
In the first slot, Rick Till's two opponents have impressive conservation resumes, but we're inclined to endorse Till because he has energetic ambitions to promote the district's education and outreach programs (which could mean we'll know lots more about this agency next time around). He also has the support of the other conservation district directors he'll be working with.
For the other slot, land-use consultant Peter Finley Fry is registered at city hall as a lobbyist for the Tonkin auto dealerships, and once gave one of Erik Sten's staffers 500 pounds of manure. He may be an insider's insider, but he has more experience in conservation issues than his opponent, tax consultant and perennial candidate Ron McCarty. Vote for Till and Finley Fry.
CITY OF PORTLAND
Commissioner, Position No. 1
VOTE FOR AMANDA FRITZ
We've had a tumultuous relationship with Amanda Fritz. Two years ago, we wrote a gushing endorsement of her in the race against incumbent Dan Saltzman, calling her "the epitome of what Voter-Owned Elections is all about," and noting her "passion for the city's inner workings" and an ability to "draw newly engaged citizens into the political fold."
But we didn't endorse her in the primary this spring. After keeping tabs on her since 2006, we grew concerned that she'd be an obstructionist. We envisioned a Commissioner Fritz who would grind city hall to a halt while she collected community input and obsessed over minute details, in lieu of taking charge.
We've come to realize that we were wrong about Fritz. What can come across as nit-picky devotion to process is actually her biggest strength in disguise: Fritz is intensely principled. She knows exactly what she stands for and what she'd like to do as a city commissioner—ensure basic services for every city neighborhood, see to it that all corners of the city are treated equally, and follow up on city actions to see if they're working as planned. Will she ask tough questions? Absolutely. Will she hold things up for the sake of excessive process? We don't think so. We've come to see her strong and clear values as an asset, a focused lens through which she'll efficiently assess both broad city projects and budget line items, before arriving at the right decision for the city as a whole. And then she'll see that it gets done. Frankly, now that we've figured out Fritz, we're excited to unleash her on the council (and especially on Commissioner Randy Leonard; Fritz's future office shares a door with Leonard's, and we're giddy over the idea that she'll barge through it regularly, to insist he back up his schemes with facts, figures, and transparency).
Fritz's opponent, Charles Lewis, is a community leader who's made an indelibly positive mark on North and Northeast Portland through his nonprofit, Ethos. But when it comes to public policy and political leadership, he's still green. Where Fritz has had a consistent message, Lewis has swayed with polls and the political winds—it's not hard to imagine him getting blown over by the four more-seasoned council members.
Fritz is more than ready to take on city hall, and we're ready to get behind her 100 percent. Vote for her.
VOTE YES: 54: Amends Constitution: Standardizes voting eligibility for school board elections with other state and local elections.
This is a simple housekeeping measure that allows 18-year-olds to vote in school board elections. That's a no-brainer. Vote yes.
VOTE YES: 55: Amends Constitution: Changes operative date of redistricting plans; allows affected legislators to finish term in original district.
Another housekeeping measure, one that lets legislators finish their term if redistricting boots them out of their original district. Vote yes.
VOTE YES: 56: Amends Constitution: Provides that May and November property tax elections are decided by majority of voters voting.
The way things work now, if, say, Multnomah County wants to ask voters to raise their taxes to support libraries, simply getting a majority of voters to say yes isn't enough. Unless they ask in the November election during even numbered years, tax-increase proponents also have to cross their fingers and hope more than 50 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, in order for that majority of yes votes to count for anything. This has meant that 169 proposals from 1997 to 2007—from school funding to library levies—have won popular support at the polls, but withered for lack of voter turnout.
We don't think it's fair that absent voters are effectively saying no to these tax proposals without lifting a finger. This measure simplifies the system: What the voters say goes in all May and November elections, regardless of how many bother to fill out a ballot. Vote yes, so your future votes on tax measures truly count.
VOTE YES: 57: Increases sentences for drug trafficking, theft against elderly, and specified repeat property and identity theft crimes; requires addiction treatment for certain offenders.
The state legislature took one look at Kevin Mannix's budget-wrecking Measure 61 and created the saner, more productive "tough on crime" Measure 57 as an alternative. M57 creates harsher penalties for identity theft and property crimes and also provides funding for a serious drug treatment program for Oregon. If a majority of Oregonians votes yes on both Measures 57 and 61 (and polls show they will), the state will enact the measure with the most yes votes. This doesn't make much sense and maybe isn't even legal, but hey, what's new in American politics? The point is, you should vote for Measure 57 even if prison spending makes you queasy because at least it promotes rehab—and your grin-and-bear-it support is crucial to ensuring that Mannix's measure (more on that one later) dies. But don't take our word for it: John Kroger convinced us that this isn't simply a "lesser of two evils" measure, explaining that the drug treatment program it contains is exactly the kind he would have asked for once he takes up the attorney general post. He's a smart guy, and we trust his judgment: Vote for M57.
VOTE NO: 58: Prohibits teaching public school students in a language other than English for more than two years.
This Bill Sizemore measure mandates a two-year cap on "English immersion" for public school English as Second Language (ESL) students. According to Sizemore, the point is to ensure that kids are proficient in English after a year or two of assistance, and schools stop wasting resources. Meanwhile, "English immersion" is undefined and has teachers scratching their heads, because 85 percent of ESL students in Oregon are already taught in English. The other 15 percent includes some kids with learning disabilities who need more time and support to learn a new language. The PTA and groups that have experience teaching fear this measure's anti-immigrant appeal will wind up knocking out support for those struggling students. While we agree that it's important for kids to be fluent in English, we don't think schools need a new hoop to jump through. Vote no.
VOTE NO: 59: Creates an unlimited deduction for federal income taxes on individual taxpayers' Oregon income-tax returns.
Bill Sizemore is selling this measure as one that will stop the state from "taxing your taxes." It's clever rhetoric that paints a picture of double taxation, but that's an oversimplication of the tax structure. The truth is, the state is straight up basing your taxes on your income, minus a small deduction for some of your federal taxes. Voting for this measure could slash $2.4 billion in state funding for education, public safety, and health care, by allowing Oregon's richest taxpayers to deduct an unlimited amount of their federal tax amount from their state taxes (Sizemore argues that the impact will be less). The deduction limit, right now, is $5,600; opponents say 78 percent of us won't see any tax break from it (Sizemore says he probably won't, either). It may be selfish of us, but we're going to pass on this one. Vote no.
VOTE YES: 60: Teacher "classroom performance," not seniority, determines pay raises; "most qualified" teachers retained, regardless of seniority,
Measure 60 would tie teachers' pay to unspecified "classroom performance"—a standard that Sizemore points out is up to the legislature or even local communities and school districts to hash out (and the standards could hammer out provisions for cost-of-living increases). While the measure could be burdensome if it leads to more standardized tests (and therefore fewer teachers willing to take on the toughest assignments in low-income areas where students historically score lower), we're more optimistic. Sure, many of us have unresolved authority issues with our former teachers. But we think Sizemore has a good point on this one: The best and brightest teachers are the ones who should be rewarded, whether they're the best because they've been around the longest, or because they're working their tails off. We trust school districts to come up with a fair way to evaluate their teachers. Vote yes.
VOTE NO: 61: Creates mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain theft, identity theft, forgery, drug, and burglary crimes.
By mandating three-year prison terms for first-time drug offenders, this measure dangerously ignores the importance of judicial flexibility. It also turns addicts into inmates, rather than offering them rehab to turn their lives around. The measure is also exorbitantly expensive: Building new prisons to house all the first-time inmates could drop a $2 billion bomb on the already-strapped state budget. Chief petitioner Kevin Mannix says the state can avoid costs by sending inmates to mobile prison work camps. Let's vote for M57—and rehab—instead of resurrecting the chain gang. Vote no on 61.
VOTE NO: 62: Amends Constitution: Allocates 15 percent of lottery proceeds to public safety fund for crime prevention, investigation, and prosecution.
This measure, sponsored by Mannix, proposes diverting 15 percent of the state lottery's proceeds to law enforcement. Mannix has been pitching the measure to build a "CSI lab" in Oregon, but even law enforcement agrees that the money's not needed. Mannix also plans to take the money from the state schools fund, to the tune of $200 million every two years—money that currently pays for teachers. We think the best way to keep crime down is to fund education, so kids stay focused and don't drift into trouble in the first place. Vote no on this measure.
VOTE NO: 63: Exempts specified property owners from building permit requirements for improvements valued at/under $35,000.
Another Sizemore measure, Measure 63 allows property owners to perform up to $35,000 a year in renovations without getting permits or safety inspections. There may be something romantic about being able to do what you want with your property without getting approval from "The Man"—but $35,000 can build some dangerous changes. If it was just a matter of endangering the property owner, that would be one thing, but what about renters, or—as opponents point out—firefighters and EMTs, who come into an emergency situation with serious and unknown structural threats? Sizemore likes to say he got the idea for this measure by standing in a Home Depot parking lot and watching all the people come out with supplies to renovate their houses. He figured they didn't get permits—so why not just do away with the laws that require them? Thank God he doesn't have a habit of hanging out in bar parking lots at 2 am, or else we'd have a measure that legalizes drunken driving. Vote no.
VOTE NO: 64: Penalizes person, entity for using funds collected with "public resource" (defined) for "political purpose" (defined).
Another measure sponsored by Sizemore, Measure 64 seeks to bar public employees from funding unions, charities, and other organizations with voluntary deductions from their paychecks. It would also prohibit community organizations like Basic Rights Oregon from raising money in public buildings like the convention center, because they use that cash for political activities. Oregonians have already voted against a similar measure in 1998 and twice in 2000, but Sizemore is persistent. We understand his (less cynical) motivation: He argues for a separation of government and politicking, like we advocate for a division between church and state. But the true government involvement here is so minimal—tapping a button in the payroll system—we're happy to overlook it. Which leaves Sizemore's other motivation—to knock the stool out from under unions and their affiliates. Vote no.
VOTE NO: 65: Changes general election nomination processes for major/minor party, independent candidates for most partisan offices.
We like proponent Phil Keisling's instincts: He wants more people (like unaffiliated voters) to have a say in the primary election (where you currently have to pick a party and stick with it when you choose primary election candidates). He also makes an interesting case that the age of party nominees should be over. And his proposed "top-two" primary system would certainly make for more interesting general election races in places like Portland's 42nd Legislative District, a district that leans so heavily toward one party that under the current system, the game's effectively over at the primary.
But as much as we'd like to see longer races between, say, Jules Kopel-Bailey and Regan Gray, we're concerned with the potential consequences of Keisling's new system. In races like the 42nd, it will likely mean far more money in politics, as candidates effectively run a general election campaign during the primary, spending gobs of money to reach a broad base of people. Then the top two will have to do it all over again for the November election. And in more competitive and swing districts, we're concerned that candidates will leave their party-driven ideals behind, and instead run toward the boring, moderate middle. Finally, the already marginalized minor parties will likely get tossed out in the primary election, well before the masses start to pay attention.
And one more thing: Unaffiliated voters aren't currently shut out of the primary, as Keisling insists. They've chosen not to affiliate with a party, and they can choose to affiliate, even temporarily, whenever they'd like. When it comes down to it, that's the point of a primary—parties choosing their best candidate to put forward. While not perfect, it's a system that's served us well. Vote no on this measure to keep our current system.
VOTE YES: 26-96: Bonds to protect animal health and safety; conserve, recycle water.
They should really call this the "hippo shit levy." Hippos at the Oregon Zoo are stuck in rather filthy, shit-filled confines built 50 years ago. It's immoral to keep animals in outdated, inhumane conditions and this levy invests in desperately needed new facilities where they can receive state-of-the-art vet care. If you don't think it's worth nine cents out of every $1,000 in property tax to replace some seriously sad cages (including one for the new baby elephant, you jerk), consider that the levy's upgrades will save 11 million gallons of water a year. Vote for it.
PORTLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE
VOTE YES: 26-95: Portland Community College bonds to update, expand local educational facilities.
Did you know that Portland Community College does gobs of workforce training, graduates more high school students than all the area high schools combined, and serves 86,000 students each year? Neither did we. But PCC is undeniably an asset, and they're deserving of our support—all $374 million of it. This bond would go to pay for a tight list of needed capital improvements, like expanding the Teaching and Learning Center at the Cascade Campus in N Portland, renovating the science labs at Sylvania in SW Portland, and beginning to turn the newest facility in SE Portland into a "comprehensive campus" with a library, science labs, and welding, automotive, and technology-driven programs. PCC already does great things for our city; this bond will help them do more. Vote for it.
CITY OF PORTLAND MEASURE
VOTE YES: 26-94: Renew five-year levy for Children's Investment Fund.
This levy renews the one passed in 2002 that pumps property tax money—about $5 a month from the average Portlander—into highly successful but chronically under-funded programs for needy kids. Does funding after-school mentoring and child abuse intervention work sound like it's worth $5 a month to you? If you're reluctant to remove a single Lincoln from your wallet during the global economic collapse, remember that child abuse increases during down economic times and children who suffer abuse at home are more likely to wind up in jail down the road. Vote yes.