Thursday, August 31, 2006

Guess What? It's 2008 Initiative Season Already!

If the absurdly chaotic and lawless spring petition gathering season wasn't enough torture-by-democracy for you, and the big state races are boring you to tears, perhaps you'd like to familiarize yourself with the already-approved circulation of two new measures for the 2008 ballot. Yes, that's righ--two years and three months before the next general election ballot, guys like Bill Sizemore are coming up with more simply brilliant ideas for our state.

Sizemore's latest umbrage is Petition 25, Prohibits Using Money Collected With Public Resources For Political Purpose; Requires Segregating Funds; Mandates Penalty. Penalizes Person, Entity For Using Funds Collected With "Public Resource" (Defined) For "Political Purpose" (Defined)

Like many of Sizemore's measures, this one rests itself on a simplistic but popular premise: dirty political work is taking place at the expense of taxpayer resources. No doubt there is--but there are in fact rules and guidelines in place that restrict the use of public resources for personal gain, including political gain.

But the big difference is that Sizemore leaves no wiggle room whatsoever for what might be considered a violation. If an action uses public resources--meaning employee time, equipment, buildings, supplies--and features some kind of political contribution, even for a nonprofit that in turn supports a campaign, and even if it was only an in-kind contribution, that's a violation. See how many legitimate, manifestly legal activities you can think of that would be banned under Petition 25. I'll help you:

  • Building a website for a candidate on library computers.
  • Accepting donations at a Sierra Club table set up in Pioneer Square, if they're collecting to help repeal Measure 37.
  • The US Postal Service is considered a public trust and quasi-public agency--so no mailed donations.
  • Using the electricity in the jury pool lounge to power the laptop that helps create a BlogAd for Mike Caudle.
  • Calling a donor on your personal cell phone while driving over the Sellwood Bridge.
  • Conducting union business using City of Portland computers.
Well shoot, that's already illegal, isn't it? Nope. As long as it's part of your duties as a member of a public employees union, in Portland you are allowed to conduct union business with public resources. I trust other cities and perhaps even the state have this exemption, which now makes it clear why Sizemore wants the law: it completely hamstrings union activity.

The other potential measure is now known as Petition 43, and has the added burden of being a constitutional measure, which requires over 100,000 signatures right now. But it's got a catchy title so far: Allows Regulation of Strip Clubs. I can already see the early spin on this one, too: "We just want to give localities control to regulate the strip clubs in their area to keep them away from kids." You may remember that the far Eastern town of Nyssa was taken all the way to the state Supreme Court to block their 4-foot rule at Miss Sally's Gentlemen's Club, and ultimately they lost. Because of the broad freedoms of expression granted in the Oregon Constitution, a locality cannot arbitrate the time and manner of those expressions, much as they might like to.

First of all, are you people INSANE? The speech/expressions codicile makes Oregon one of the freest damn states in the union. It goes across the political spectrum, from porn to campaign finance. As much as I think we could use limits on contributions, that's not the issue--and as long as money is considered speech at the federal level, I don't expect Oregon to say otherwise. (Which is why I'm ambivalent on 2006's Measure 44, to amend the constitution and allow contribution limits).

Let's accept the fact that nude dancing is legal, and some citizens want to pay to see it. Regular zoning codes can do all that's necessary to keep clubs in certain areas of town where children do not frequent. Why do some people consider our constitution so pliant and fit for petty changes? Do proponents really think the deliberate attempt to maximize freedoms was written back when with a wink and a nod to the prudes--"don't worry, we don't mean the bawdy vaudeville?"

The mechanism used to allow control of the clubs is alcohol regulation--which essentially means the club is held hostage to the review of its alcohol license, and if it doesn't toe the line...boom, there goes the liquor license. I've seen it used as a weapon back in ol' Virginny, more than once. But here's what makes this petition another one of the loopy ones: remember the Nyssa case I cited above? Miss Sally's didn't serve alcohol. They wouldn't even be threatened by loss of a license. And are they hurting for business as a dry joint? Ask Miss Sally, but I doubt it.

The more initiatives I'm exposed to, the more I come to agree with those whose advice is Just Say No whenever one comes up. You might miss a couple good ones, but you'll also avoid a whole outhouse full of shitty ones. Add two to the pile!