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Posts published in “Day: January 8, 2008”

Modest expectations

This is the season of elections and management of expectations: In politics, you're usually better off setting the bar a little low, then doing better. The Oregon legislative Democrats, hoping (along with a good many Republicans) to make the case for locking in annual Oregon legislative sessions, have a slightly more complex job. They need to set the bar low enough that they won't fail to jump it, but high enough that this session seems worth doing, and doing again two years from now.

The Democratic Senate and House agendas for the session starting next month generally seem to have about hit that midpoint. Nothing on either sheet is wildly ambitious or extravagant, and not much of it looks controversial or ideological (much less so than going into the 2007 session). Still, acting on the housing debacle seems a reasonably current topic for discussion, and one premature a year ago. Expanded agency oversight will seem a ministerial thing, but worth doing. And other items on the list too sound, if unexciting, then hard to argue with, in most cases on either side of the aisle.

That may have been as intended.

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.

Stopping you for no reason

When Washington Governor Chris Gregoire was explaining on Monday her rationale behind her new security checkpoint program, she pointed out that we already have security stops and checks at courthouses and airports. In many of those places, we do; and the proposed expansion of governmental stops and checks of citizens who are minding their own business and violating no law is one of the exact reasons we disapprove of them so much. Where will the quest for "safety" and "security" lead us next? How much more thoroughly will the Fourth Amendment be eviscerated in the name of keeping people safe?

Not that intoxicated driving, the intended target here, is a small thing; it is a substantial killer. But the heightened penalties and law enforcement watches for drunken drivers, and improved public awareness, have had positive effect: There's been a general decline in DUI over the last couple of decades. Much of what's been done has worked, and a variety of non-intrusive options not much use so far should be. Technology, from ignition locks to portable breathalyzers and beyond, not to mention improved efforts against alcoholism, can help further. When she said that "The fact of the matter is it's a different day than it was 20 years ago," she's right: The problem is less extreme than it was then, and we have much better options now than we did then.

The freedom to travel from place to place without being stopped by government authorities - absent some specific reason why you should be - is core and central to freedom in America. Every one of these generalized stops and checkpoints of people undermines that, a point courts generally have upheld over the years, including courts in Washington when this kind of idea was proposed in the last decade.