Ballot measure follies, an Oregon specialty

Here in Oregon, we're big on ballot measures. We put all kinds of questions up for public votes, and we make it relatively easy for anybody to dream a measure up and whip it onto the ballot. 

It sounded good in eighth grade civics class, but in practice it often turns into a hot mess. Looking at the headlines over the past week, you see the sorts of mischief that are created when Oregon voters take matters into their own hands.

* * * * *

Take Measure 113, passed last November. It disqualifies from office state legislators who walk out on their duties in protest. Everyone's in agreement that it covers those who fail to attend, "without permission or excuse, ten or more legislative floor sessions called to transact business during a regular or special legislative session."  But among the questions about the measure is when the disqualification takes effect. 

For example, a number of Republican representatives knowingly violated this rule by staying away from floor sessions in the regular term of the Legislature just concluded. Under Measure 113, they are disqualified from holding office as a senator or representative for one term. But which term? The term that starts in January 2025? Or the term that starts in January 2027?

The sentence that was added to the state constitution is pretty clear that for a representative, who by law serves a two-year term, the qualification won't take effect until the term that starts in 2027. Here is what it says:

Failure to attend, without permission or excuse, ten or more legislative floor sessions called to transact business during a regular or special legislative session shall be deemed disorderly behavior and shall disqualify the member from holding office as a Senator or Representative for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.

It's the last 13 words that answer the question. The disqualification is "for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed." The walkout characters in the House are all in office for a term that is completed on Deember 31, 2024. And so for them, "the election after the member's current term is completed" isn't until November 2026, and the term following that election begins in January of 2027. That's the term they're disqualified from. Right?

Not so fast. Today the secretary of state, LaVonne Griffin-Valade, said that she reads the sentence differently, and that the disqualification starts with the term that begins in January 2025. Her reading interprets the sentence as if the words "following the election" weren't in it. Her version is as if the sentence said that failure to attend "shall disqualify the member from holding office as a Senator or Representative for the term after the member’s current term is completed." That isn't what it says.

So where is LGV getting her seemingly crazy idea? Well, both the ballot title and the ballot summary for Measure 113 support her interpretation. Here's the sentence in the ballot summary, with the key words in italics:

Under measure, legislator who engages in 'disorderly behavior' through unexcused absences is disqualified from serving as a Senator or Representative for the term following the end of the legislator’s current term.

And here's what the ballot title said:

Result of 'Yes' Vote: 'Yes' vote disqualifies legislators with ten unexcused absences from legislative floor sessions from holding office as legislator for term following current term of office.

And so what should control, the plain meaning of the sentence that was actually added to the Constitution, or the contradicting language in the ballot title and summary? The courts will soon decide, with the Oregon Supreme Court being the ultimate arbiter. If I were the judge, the plain language of the Constitution would prevail, but I'm not. With the current Oregon judiciary, I'd bet on whatever result they think will make the smallest waves.

Even if LGV is right about what the measure says, additional arguments can be made, and will be made, against it – about whether it's kosher, for example, under the federal constitution. But it's quite a testament to the Oregon ballot measure process that we can't even figure out what the dang thing says, much less whether it's constitutional.

* * * * *

Then there's Measure 110 from 2020, the howlingly misguided proposition that decriminalized street drugs and sealed Portland's fate as a dead city. There isn't too much doubt about what it says, but there's overwhelming public sentiment that it was a bad idea. When the New York Times tells you, twice in a week, that you screwed up by enacting an unworkable pipedream, you know you screwed up.

Or at least, you should. But not our lovely legislature, which says it's "improving" 110 but in fact is simply doubling down on it with minor cosmetics. Today we learn what they did in the most recent session. The phrase "hill of beans" comes to mind:

Among the bills signed into law is House Bill 2513, which the governor says “strengthens” Measure 110 — a voter-approved law decriminalizing small amounts of drugs like cocaine, heroin and meth in favor of addiction treatment centers. The bill increases staffing and aims to speed up the process to get funding out the door. The measure also “centralizes” a support hotline to connect people to addiction treatment services.

Kotek also signed House Bill 2395, which expands access to opioid reversal medications – such as Narcan and naloxone – by allowing law enforcement, first responders, teachers and school administrators to store and administer the medication.

Additionally, Senate Bill 1043 requires hospitals, sobering and detox facilities to provide two doses of overdose reversal medication to patients once they are released.

Senate Bill 238 requires the Oregon Health Authority, State Board of Education and the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission to develop school curricula to teach students about the dangers of synthetic opioids. Kotek also approved a bill creating a fund for the 988 crisis hotline and another bill to establish the Task Force on Alcohol Pricing and Addiction Services – studying addiction treatment and the cost of alcohol addiction treatment to the state.

And that's it for another two years, folks. Enjoy! Here, have a coupla Narcans.

Where is the ballot measure to repeal that turkey? Somebody, please help.

* * * * *

Here in Portland, they're still trying to implement the over-the-top police accountability measure, 26-217, which passed when we were all high on Covid and George Floyd. Stick it to The Man! The voters voted to institute a much tougher civilian review board, rolling in a budget of $13 million a year, with the details to be ironed out by a "blue ribbon" commission.

Uh oh, "blue ribbon" commissions in Portland tend to be populated by box-checking know-nothings, most of whom are kids who see their own personal political futures in whatever crazy scheme they come up with. And sure enough, what they're talking about for the new police review board is as crazy as what a similar collection of personally ambitious goofballs concocted for the new city charter.

The group proposes a 33-member board, for instance, an unusually large size for a decision-making panel... Another unusual idea: Each of the 33 board members could be paid up to $7,400 annually and provided free mental health care....

Ten percent of the board’s overall budget, the commission recommends, should be spent on board members. That could include child and dependent care, therapy and personal security.

The board would hire a director, and the commission recommends that the new bureau have up to 56 staff. Staff would conduct investigations (it’s not yet determined how much involvement the board would have in investigations itself) and present findings to panels of the board (with larger panels for cases involving deadly force) that determine a verdict and associated discipline.

I actually voted for the ballot measure, on the theory that the Portland cops deserved a good square kick in the tuchis. But 33 board members, 56 staff, day care, bodyguards? My God, where do I sign to repeal this one, too?

* * * * *

Then there's good old Measure 114, restricting sales of machine guns. That one was well-drafted, it made sense, and it passed in November. Where is it? Tied up by some judge in Greater Idaho.

Did the legislature do anything to help it along? Not really. Of several bills floating around on gun control, just part of one was enacted. 

The only part of House Bill 2005 to make it into law, will be the component banning “ghost guns,” 3-D printed firearms without serial numbers that are assembled at home and can be easily purchased online.

Whoopdee doo.

* * * * *

In recent years, I've come to the conclusion that most ballot measures are bad news. I vote no except in the most compelling of circumstances. And even when a seemingly good one passes, I don't expect much to come of it. Around here, real progress is a scarce commodity. 


  1. All a product of people voting while under the influance!

    1. Like that old Bloom County comic - I think it was Steve Dallas going to the polls. A little 'hic' and maybe a 'tee hee' and then a loud exclamation "My God, what have I done?!"

    2. I found the comic!

  2. I wish the post that mentioned an 8th civics class would embarrass the authors and sponsors of these proposals. But, shallow thinking never gets exposed in their activist circle.

  3. I think to celebrate and promote the use of Narcan, they need a peppy little dance number as a public service ad> Hey let's all do the Narcan Can. As for the new Police Review board> talk about pigs... Slurp, slurp come and get your snout in the good ole guvment trough

  4. "Some judge in greater Idaho", is the Hon. Robert Raschio, graduate of that far-right law school, U. of Oregon, and appointed by fascist Kate Brown, after thorough vetting by the Democratic establishment. If he sat in the sacred Willamette Valley, would the geographic slur come so easily?


Post a Comment

The platform used for this blog is awfully wonky when it comes to comments. It may work for you, it may not. It's a Google thing, and beyond my control. Apologies if you can't get through. You can email me a comment at, and if it's appropriate, I can post it here for you.