It can look like 143 dreary pages of technical jargon. But between the covers of the Voter’s Pamphlet sent out to Oregon voters last week, lies the future of our lives in this state.
Any single ballot can change the law. “We are all aware of situations where a handful of votes made a huge difference in the outcome of an election,” says Robin Wisdom, President of the Oregon League of Women Voters. “We in Oregon may not be electing a U.S. Senator or a governor this year, but we are still electing U.S. Representatives, and there are any number of state and local races where our voices matter.”
Typically, voters approach a ballot from “the top down,” casting their vote for a Presidential candidate, perhaps weighing in on several lesser issues and abandoning the rest to chance. But Ms. Wisdom and the League of Women Voters encourages all citizens to be active and involved in every part of the voter ballots. The League is a nonpartisan group that does not support or oppose any candidates, but advocates for voter education and participation.
Election watchers identify two State Representative races as particularly close this November. One is for the 22nd District incumbent Betty Komp (D) against challenger Kathy LeCompte (R,) and the other is the 19th District, in which Claudia Kyle (D) takes on Kevin Cameron, the Republican who has held the position since 2005 (see our interview with Kyle in this issue.)
The Secretary of State contest between Kate Brown (D) and Knute Buehler (R,)
can be said to represent a difference of perspective on voters themselves. Though officially in favor of Oregon’s current mail-in ballot system, Buehler has been strongly critical, saying it may lead to fraud.
On the other hand, Brown has consistently defended Oregon’s system and has voiced dismay at the increased difficulty voters have had in other states because of new, strict ID requirements for those who want to vote.
Ballot measures can have a huge impact. Some interesting ones are:
Measure 79 which inserts language into the constitution that new real estate transfer taxes are prohibited. The measure, is already literally Oregon law, and though supporters claim it is a way to bring relief to small businesses and farms, opponents consider it a cynical, preemptive move by wealthy interests to prevent future tax sources before they are imposed.
Another effort made by business to amend the constitution is the combination of Measures 82 & 83, the “casino measures.”
If passed, these would allow private ownership of casinos, and are framed by proponents as a way to bring jobs to Oregon. However, the measures are essentially a way for out-of-state moneyed interests to use the ballot to purchase a business
opportunity. Opposed by former Governors Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski, the measures reverse an agreement made with Native Americans in the past, and lock private casinos into the constitution.
Measure 84 phases out inheritance taxes on the very wealthiest of Oregonians.
Labeled “The Death Tax Phase-Out Tax,” it poses itself as a means of preventing hardworking small businesspeople and small farmers from losing what they have earned. It would mean, however, merely a tax break for millionaires.
Family-owned farms worth up to $7.5 million already pay no inheritance taxes; the measure would cut the inheritance of those even larger than this to zero and would impose harsh cutbacks to schools, health care and social services.
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization takes positions on several of the 2012 ballot measures based on recommendations from their Action committee. According to Petra S. Berger, President of the Marion & Polk County League of Women Voters, measures the LWVOR support are:
Measure 77 “which allows the Governor to declare “catastrophic disaster”(defined); requires legislative session; and authorizes suspending specified constitutional spending restrictions. The LWVOR supports this measure because it will allow the Governor legally to declare a catastrophic disaster and immediately implement and fund critically needed recovery efforts and to call the Legislature into session;
Measure 78 which changes constitutional language describing governmental system of separation of powers; makes grammatical and spelling changes. The LWVOR supports this referral from the Legislature to clean up language and to make it clear that there are 3 branches of government.
Measure 85, which allocates any Corporate Income/Excise Tax “Kicker” refund to additionally fund K through 12 Public Education. League support is based on the LWVOR’s previously established position of adequately funding public education.”
Each vote on the above measures, and on every issue in the 143-page pamphlet now lying on the kitchen table – can mean significant changes for Oregon. Berger reminds us that voters must be vigilant. “We in Oregon are… affected by the ‘new age’ of political communication, the use of media by candidates, and the role of money in politics,” she says. In the face of this new environment, Berger believes that the effort of voters to educate themselves is necessary for full citizen participation in government and in their own future.