Eugene Weekly : Cover Story : 10.16.08


2008 Election Endorsements
EW’s choices in selected measures and contested races

One of the biggest challenges for progressives in this election is getting voters who are excited about the presidential race to pay attention to the candidates and issues farther down the ballot. This election could be a turning point not only nationally, but also statewide and here in Lane County. Local items on the ballot often reflect national issues. And sometimes the most powerful changes in our society come from the bottom up. 

At a Glance
EW’s choices in measures and contested races

• President of the U.S.

• U.S. Senate.

• Secretary of State

• State Treasurer

• Labor Commissioner

• House District 7

• Mayor of Eugene

• North County Commission

• Eugene Measure 20-137
4J local option levy — YES

• Eugene Measure 20-142
LCC five-year bond — YES

• Eugene Measure 20-145
bond to fix streets — YES

• Eugene Measure 20-146
police auditor  — YES

• Oregon Measure 54
voting eligibility — YES

• Oregon Measure 55
redistricting rules — YES

• Oregon Measure 56
eliminates double majority — YES

• Oregon Measure 57
prison terms, drug treatment —  YES

• Oregon Measure 58
“English immersion” — NO

• Oregon Measure 59
Big tax break for the rich — NO

• Oregon Measure 60
links teacher pay, performance — NO

• Oregon Measure 61
mandatory prison sentences — NO

• Oregon Measure 62
lottery dollars for crime — NO

• Oregon Measure 63
building permits — NO

• Oregon Measure 64
public money and politics — NO

• Oregon Measure 65
top-two primary election — NO

Here are our selected picks for contested races and issues in the Nov. 4 general election. We urge those of you who can vote to take the candidates and issues seriously and do your homework. This is arguably the most important election in decades. If you are too young, undocumented or are otherwise unable to vote, you can still have an impact on this election by getting educated, talking about the issues, helping out with campaigns and urging others to mark and mail their ballots. 

• President of the U.S. — BARACK OBAMA 

This is probably the most important vote we’ll ever cast. We support Obama because he is so cool, calm and intelligent, rare qualities in the leadership of this rattled country; because he is elitely qualified to repair relations with the rest of the world; because he has proven his administrative talents in assembling and inspiring an amazing campaign team; because he denounced the corrupt war against Iraq from the beginning; and because he and Michelle are genuinely warm and accessible human beings enjoying ice cream at 19th and Agate or working out at the DAC. A yes vote for Barack Obama is an affirmation of democracy as it should be in America.

• U.S. Senate — JEFF MERKLEY

 At election time, Gordon Smith is scrambling to distance himself from an unpopular president. But Smith has a voting record supporting George Bush on the Iraq War and corporate tax breaks and recently praised John McCain and his VP choice of Sarah Palin. Smith is trying to cloud his unpopular positions with a barrage of slimy, irrelevant TV attack ads funded by big timber and corporate interests. But Merkley’s stands for withdrawing from Iraq, reducing global warming, protecting forests and salmon, cutting corporate welfare, supporting reproductive choice and providing health insurance are clearly far better in sync with Democratic Oregon.

• Secretary of State — KATE BROWN

This important position has been a jumping off point to the governorship for several politicians, and this race provides another obvious choice. Democrat and former Oregon Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown has 17 years of political experience in the Oregon Legislature, a background in law and a history of working on finance and ethics issues. Pacific Green Party’s candidate Seth Woolley, a software engineer who favors preference voting and keeping third party candidates on the ballot, lacks political experience and savvy (he says he wants to ban paid ballot-signature gatherers, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado ban 20 years ago). Former KEZI news anchor Rick Dancer, the Republican nominee, says he wants to make the office non-partisan, which is not a bad idea since the secretary of state oversees elections and sometimes redistricting. But his concern for fairness is ironic. His own ethics were questioned when he used his last KEZI broadcast as a journalist to stump for his political run. With his good looks and lack of political experience, he’s the Sarah Palin of this race. Kate Brown, who has a proven track record on ethics, elections and working across party lines, is our pick.

• State Treasurer — BEN WESTLUND

We’ve always liked Ben Westlund, the former bull semen salesman who has evolved during his time in public life from Republican to moderately progressive Democrat. In the Legislature he irked conservatives by supporting keeping part of the corporate tax kicker, going after predatory lenders and advocating for renewable energy. He asks good questions, and he’s known for attention to detail. Unlike Allen Alley, his Republican opponent, Westlund understands that the office of state treasurer is more than being a glorified bean counter. The treasurer has a role in affecting legislation and economic policy, and we like Westlund’s ideas about investing in renewable energy resources as a way to ensure the state’s economic future.   

• Mayor of Eugene — KITTY PIERCY  

 Jim Torrey, a pro-Bush, pro-war, anti-abortion, failed Republican candidate for the state Senate, is spending a record half-million dollars in developer and gravel pit money to unseat Democrat Mayor Kitty Piercy. Torrey, a former highway billboard salesman, would pay back his big donors with urban sprawl and environmental destruction. Torrey refuses to say how he would pay for his big spending plans for cops and potholes. The anti-oversight police union is one of his biggest campaign contributors. While Torrey promises divisive, destructive partisanship, Piercy has sought collaboration and compromise in her effort to be a mayor for all Eugene. Piercy has worked hard to clean up the pits downtown, fix city streets and establish police accountability. Piercy’s Sustainable Business Initiative is already establishing Eugene as an attractive place for tomorrow’s high paying green jobs. Vote for a mayor for all Eugene, not for a Republican for all Eugene’s developers.

• North County Commission — ROB HANDY 

 Bobby Green is spending buckets of developer, timber and gravel pit cash on Republican political consultants in a desperate attempt to hold on to his seat. If reelected, Green will continue to arrogantly serve these special interests with anti-environmental votes and subsidies while trying to impose regressive taxes on everyone else to pay for it. Rob Handy, a longtime neighborhood activist and advocate of public accountability, the environment and livability, would serve the interests of the thousands of hands he’s shaken in the district. Handy offers Lane County government the change it has long needed.

Eugene Measure 20-137:  4J local option levy — YES

This measure would renew the expiring five-year levy that funds about 10 percent of the Eugene school budget. The levy has repeatedly passed by wide margins in the past. Not renewing it could force 4J to lay off about 170 teachers, crowding overly overcrowded classrooms to absurd levels. To reduce existing classroom crowding, the city of Eugene should also pass a local progressive income tax and give the money to schools. Unlike the city property tax levy for schools, an income tax would not run afoul of Measure 5. 

Eugene Measure 20-142: LCC five-year bond — YES

 This $83 million measure would authorize the sale of bonds to finance much-needed repairs and upgrades at Lane at a time when enrollment is climbing rapidly while state support has been lagging for years. LCC’s economic impact on our county is huge. Some 36,000 students take credit and noncredit classes at Lane each year, training a skilled workforce that drives our economy. Modernizing LCC is one of the best investments we can make in our county’s future prosperity. 

Eugene Measure 20-145: Eugene bond to fix streets — YES

If your money’s tight, vote for the 4J and LCC measures first. Education is a much higher priority than asphalt. This $36 million tax increase over five years would pump needed money into street repairs, but it has its flaws. It unfairly taxes everyone for street damage caused largely by truck traffic and big box urban sprawl. Older streets in south Eugene are in much worse shape, but a big chunk of the money will be spent on relatively smooth, newer streets in north and west Eugene in an effort to buy votes. A big chunk will also go for projects to increase truck and car capacity. Bikes are 8 percent of traffic but get only 1 percent of the money. If this measure fails, the council should come back with a proposal that fixes these flaws.    

Eugene Measure 20-146:  police auditor  — YES

 This unopposed housekeeping measure protects voter intent. The measure amends the charter to fix faulty language in the 2005 ballot measure for an independent police auditor that passed by a wide margin. The language is changed from the council “is” authorized or “may” authorize the creation of an independent police auditor to “shall” authorize. The change is necessary to protect voter intent for police oversight from the possibility of future political meddling.

Oregon Measure 54:  voting eligibility — YES

This housekeeping measure would clean up voter eligibility language in the Oregon Constitution that violates the U.S. Constitution. The state Constitution requires voters in school district elections to be 21 years old, residents of the district for six months and able to pass a literacy test. This measure would eliminate these old requirements that are unenforceable under the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

Oregon Measure 55:  redistricting rules — YES

 This commonsense housekeeping measure allows legislators to continue to serve their constituents for the remainder of their term if their district boundaries are changed after the U.S. Census. As it stands now, redistricted legislators are sometimes reassigned to districts that didn’t elect them, which makes little sense.

Oregon Measure 56:  eliminates double majority — YES

 If this measure passes, “elections are decided by majority of voters voting,” as the ballot title states. Huh? Doesn’t this happen already? Not under poorly written previous measures allowing people who don’t bother to vote to effectively be counted as no votes on tax measures. Measure 56 would remove that “double majority” requirement for May and November elections and restore democracy in Oregon. 

Oregon Measure 57:  prison sentences, drug treatment —  YES

This referral from the Legislature increases sentences for drug trafficking, theft against elderly, and specific repeat property and identity theft crimes; and requires addiction treatment for certain offenders. We are reluctant to support any measure increasing sentences, thus increasing prisons and their costs to this already over-prisoned state. But we are eager for funds for effective drug treatment, and this is the only place on this ballot to get those funds. The legislature referred M57 to head off M61, yet another Kevin Mannix nightmare which would build even more prisons without any funds for treatment. John Kroger, Oregon’s newly elected attorney general, a former prosecutor with progressive politics, calls  Measure 57 the “only measure on the ballot that is both tough and smart.”

Oregon Measure 58: “English immersion” — NO

This Bill Sizemore-sponsored legislation would alter the instruction of students who are English language learners. It would require that these students be placed in English immersion classes for a brief period of time. “After one to two years, English language learners will be mainstreamed, regardless of whether they are English proficient,” reads the bill. That’s not the way to treat refugee and immigrant children, who can, with proper instruction, become bilingual or multilingual members of a diverse — and globalized — economy. As the coalition group Parents and Teachers Know Better puts it, Measure 58 “would take away local control” and “impose a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching our kids.” We don’t need a thinly disguised anti-immigrant bill taking away choices from the educators who know best how to work with a vulnerable population of students.

Oregon Measure 59: big tax break for the rich — NO

 By increasing deductions, this measure would take a billion dollars a year out of state school, health care and public safety funding to give millionaires a huge tax break. The wealthiest 1 percent of Oregon households would get about half of the total tax break. Meanwhile, the poor would get nothing, and the average tax break for middle-income families would be just $2, according to an Oregon Center for Public Policy analysis. That’s unfair.

Oregon Measure 60:  links teacher pay, performance — NO

Sounds compelling at first, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be paid based on performance? Yet the Sizemore-sponsored bill would likely measure teacher performance with standardized tests for students, tests that don’t take into account a school’s demographics or number of students with learning disabilities (and that would cost school districts an estimated $30 million to $60 million a year). Yes, let’s be sure to punish the teachers who take on challenging assignments by paying them less when their students don’t perform as well, and let’s be sure to punish the students with more teaching to the test and less time for creativity and instruction in critical thinking or problem solving. Oh, and let’s add another unfunded mandate to the financial burdens on our schools. Wait a second. Let’s not.

Oregon Measure 61:  mandatory prison sentences — NO

Creates mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain theft, identity theft, forgery, drug and burglary crimes. An outrageous proposal funded primarily by out-of-state sources, this would cost Oregon an additional $400 million every two years for incarceration, not including the cost for new prisons. No drug treatment funds are included. But some misguided Oregonians will vote for this initiative, which is why it is important for the rest of us to vote against it and to support M57, the Legislature’s better alternative.

Oregon Measure 62: lottery dollars for crime — NO

Amends the constitution. Allocates 15 percent of lottery proceeds to public safety fund for crime prevention, investigation, prosecution. This is a no-brainer coming from Kevin Mannix and Loren Parks. It would take $159 million away from K-12 education and give it primarily to sheriffs, prosecutors and state police. Oregon cannot responsibly go in that direction.

Oregon Measure 63: building permits — NO

Allowing residential projects under $35,000 to be built without permits or safety inspections will allow anyone with a hammer and a saw to build, wire and plumb an extra bedroom, porch or garage, regardless of safety issues, setbacks, etc., inviting lawsuits and potentially contributing to neighborhood blight. The measure would also drain city and county planning department coffers. And who would check to see if a project ends up costing more than $35,000? Home projects can end up costing twice as much as planned. This is just another ill-advised, anti-government attempt at deregulation.

Oregon Measure 64:
public money and politics — NO

 Bill Sizemore is back again with another version of the same ballot measure he’s put out there twice before. This measure would ban the use of payroll deductions for political purposes; it would also prevent the use of publicly owned buildings for meetings where contributions were collected for or against candidates for public office or ballot measures. A lengthy list of charities, community advocates and labor organizations, from the Oregon Humane Society to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, opposes this measure. Opponents say this measure would silence the voices of firefighters, teachers, nurses and charities, but has a loophole for lobbyists. The measure would prevent employees from using payroll to do things like make a monthly deduction to a food bank, and it would put an end to things like food drives at schools and libraries. Measure 64 purports to fix a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

Oregon Measure 65:
top-two primary election — NO

This measure would have all candidates in Oregon run together on the same primary ballot. The top two voter-getters would advance to the general election, regardless of party. “Qualified” candidates would be listed by party affiliation and party endorsement, but the rules for party qualification are so stringent as to eliminate all minor political parties in Oregon from participating. And by taking away the power of the major political parties to vet and select their candidates, phony Republicans could end up on the ballot as Democrats, and vice-versa, just to confuse voters. Louisiana has tried a similar top-two system with negative unintended consequences: too many candidates on the ballot and extremists advancing to the general election. There are better ways to reform our election system, such as instant runoff voting, currently enjoying success in San Francisco and elsewhere.           


Election Day is November 4. Every Ballot Counts!







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