Over the weekend, a legion of liberals ascended the road to Mt. Hood to attend the Oregon Bus Project's three-day "Rebooting Democracy" confab—part pep rally, part informational session on upcoming progressive ballot measures.
Throughout the weekend, backers of 11 separate ballot initiatives tried to rally support for their causes. Using a fairly complicated voting process, the attendees selected measures they would support, pledging to either donate $50, three hours of time, or the collection of 20 signatures.
Curiously, though, one of the most active attendees was perhaps the conference's only registered Republican—State Senator Ben Westlund (Bend). Westlund, who made a lot of Democratic friends (and a lot of conservative GOP enemies) last year by spearheading the fight for same-sex civil unions, was pushing a slate of initiatives, which he dubbed a "Policy-Palooza of Progressive Initiatives." Among them were initiatives he's already filed with the state: a plan for a non-partisan, open primary, and initiatives that would expand health care to the uninsured. Surprisingly, two of his proposals won in the internal voting—beating progressive mainstays like Our Oregon and the SEIU.
The Apollo Program, on which Westlund would be a chief petitioner, received the most support. The only initiative plan discussed over the weekend that hasn't yet been filed with the state, Apollo is actually a series of measures that would set standards for biofuels and renewable energy production, while at the same time expand bond money for environmentally friendly energy projects.
Westlund's HOPE for Oregon Families initiative, which would establish access to health care as a constitutional right and is already circulating petitions, came in second place.
Westlund won't be up for reelection until 2008, but there is already talk that Republican leadership will run a more conservative candidate against him in the primary.
"I've pissed them off so many times," he said at the conference. "I pretty much always expect them to run someone against me."
Appearing at a lefty conference pushing a slate of progressive initiatives probably won't help him win back any of his conservative voters. But, if the rumors are true, Westlund may be considering a run for governor as an independent, and the Bus Project may have helped him kick off his campaign.