Oregon law is clear. When lawmakers or private citizens refer measures to a vote of the people, the language must be “concise and impartial,” “simple and understandable.” For as long as we can remember, coming up with the handful of words the law allows in clear, impartial language has been the task of the Secretary of State’s Office.
That changed in 2017. The Legislature’s Democrats, worried that voters might reject a tax on health insurance and hospitals, took over the task of writing both title and explanation. The result? The new taxes of Measure 101 were called “assessments.”
Having been successful in 2017, Democrats are poised to use the same tactic, not once, but twice during the current legislative session. They want to make health care a constitutional right, and they want to give municipalities the right to issue bonds for affordable housing.
Voters would have the final say on both because they’re constitutional amendments, but it’s clear the Legislature’s Democrats are worried one or both might fail. We say that because they propose to create a committee to write ballot titles and language for both, a la Measure 101. Their so-called “bipartisan” committee would be made up of four Democrats and two Republicans. It’s more hyperpartisan than bipartisan.
If the Legislature’s Democrats believe both ideas are great, why do they not believe the people of Oregon will understand that? Why, in other words, create a process that allows them to rig the system in their favor? They’d serve Oregonians better if they left such matters to the Secretary of State’s Office, where they belong.