Friday, November 24, 2006

The Sizemore Screw

There's a solid and reasonable argument to be made against ballot initiatives.

In what appears to me to be one of the more well done pieces, Western Oregon University Prez John Minahan lays it down:

We need to recognize that there is a new form of nobility among us that's as dangerous as the kings and nobility of old. This new nobility consists of a wealthy few who use their money to bankroll initiatives designed to perpetuate their wealth or power or to advance narrow social causes.

This new nobility is dangerous for several reasons. First, by moving initiatives directly to the ballot, special interests are able to bypass the Legislature and the kind of public political debate that makes for good laws. They're often willing to spend millions of dollars to avoid the elected legislative process.

A second danger is less obvious. All of us have personal special interests -- ideas or causes that we care deeply about but that may not be shared by the majority of the rest of us. Sometimes individual initiatives match our private religious, social or financial interests. By supporting such initiatives merely because they fit with our private view of how Oregon should be, we help short-circuit the obligation citizens have to submit to the majority rule of "each by all the rest." The new nobility, with our unintended help, can make it appear that they are acting for the will of the majority on any individual special-interest initiative -- if we let them.

Another danger is that initiatives tend to feed political and social intolerance. Democracy depends on reasoned debate so that opposing ideas and causes can be weighed. Public debate requires each of us to tolerate the expression of ideas to which we may be personally opposed. Initiative writers and supporters escape the obligation to debate openly. Signing one's name to an initiative petition presented by a paid signature gatherer in front of a shopping mall without much discussion is not democracy. Indeed, it's closer to being the opposite of democracy.

Democracy only works when we have a reasoned and open debate in society. Otherwise we become little more than underlings to the robber baron class who can easily afford to market their ideology rather than debate it.

According to the folks at Our Oregon, there are 52 new ballot initiatives that are actively filed for 2008. Forteen of those initiatives are approved already for circulation. Of the 52 that are filed, 25 include Bill Sizemore as a petitioner.

As Minahan notes, Sizemore is rarely (if ever) held to account for these initatives. He's under no obligation to debate them with the public because he hires people to sign the initiatives. He doesn't have to. Its perfectly legal for him to do this.

Bill Sizemore's ideology plays to the ugliest and worst sides of people. He panders to people's pocket books--and makes money the highest priority. Sizemore sees taxation as a scourge rather than the dues we pay to live in a civilized society. Yet Sizemore gets away with it because he can--and he drags many Oregonians along with him down this trail of cowardly sickness that dismisses the very basic values this nation was founded upon.

25 initiatives. And I'm willing to bet he's not done. Bill Sizemore gets paid to screw his state..and his fellow citizens...with these ideologically driven initiatives. As long as we keep allowing it to go on, he'll keep right on doing it too.