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An initiative election, of sorts

Okay, it’s only an election for club members – not any kind of reasonable public sampling – but we’ll still be interested come January 11 when the members of the Portland City Club have their say about the initiative process in Oregon.

Our guess is that a lot of Oregonians are conflicted about it. On one hand, initiatives and the other associated direct democracy measures marking their centennials in the state around these times are proud reminders of how the people in the state really can and do take charge at times when their elected officials can’t or won’t. But many of them doubtless get tired of the crud (and we’ll acknowledge that opinions vary as to which measures so qualify) they make their way through on the ballots. We also suspect a lot of Oregonians would come up with a short list when asked how many and which initiatives have actually had a seriously beneficial effect for the state.

The new report and proposal out of a Portland City Club study group doesn’t propose anything wildly drastic; it doesn’t reach for the third rail of, say, ending initiatives. But it would rein them in somewhat. And it points out that the concerns are not new: It cited a 1996 report calling for procedural changes, almost none of which materialized.

The ideas in the new one are generally modest. At least one seems like a no-brainer. In many states, an amendment to the state’s core document – the constitution – requires assent from both legislature and the voters. A simple majority of voters can do that in Oregon, making it easier (as we saw last year) to raise a tax through constitutional amendment than through the legislature – an outcome almost everyone should see as perverse. The new report suggests that at least 60% of voters should have to agree to a constitutional amendment. (We’d argue it should be higher than that, but the direction seems right.)

Whether any of this goes any further than it did in 1996 isn’t clear. But public concern about the ballot process probably is higher now than it was then, and the City Club’s vote on endorsing the report on January 11 might amount to a larger push. The environment may be a changing, just a bit.

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