Did the Oregon Legislature outfox itself in the recent election, or is someone pulling a fast one on the voters?
When Keven Mannix, who sponsored Measure 11 fourteen years ago, raised enough signatures to put another mandatory sentencing law on the ballot, Democrats in the legislature thought they had a clever way of foiling his initiative. They drafted a less expensive measure with the same intent of locking up meth dealers, identity thieves and others committing property crimes, only not so many of them.
Mannix’s baby, Measure 61, was estimated to cost as much as $797 million over the next five years, plus forcing Oregon to float bonds of over $1 billion to build more prisons. The legislature’s alternative, Measure 57, would have cost around $400 million over the next five years and required the state to borrow $314 million for prison construction. It also promises some drug treatment for inmates.
Property and drug-related crimes are on a lot of citizens’ minds, most likely because of sensationalized television news reports. Actually, property crimes have been declining for the past several years. So with the economy tumbling like a wounded duck, with the Oregon Health Plan on short rations, with both public and higher education grossly underfunded, I opposed both of these measures. A lot of people did. The Oregonian’s editorial page came out against the measures. A City Club research study concluded that neither measure was in the best interest of the state.
An unusual thing happened when the City Club’s research committee presented its report to the members assembled at a Friday forum luncheon. A motion was made to substitute a minority report that opposed 61 but urged adoption of 57. Some of the speakers spoke glowingly of 57, but others argued that although both measures were a waste of money, 57 was a lesser waste of money. They predicted both measures would pass, so it was crucial that 57 garner more votes than 61, because the measure with the most votes would be the one implemented.
I asked people at the club, some of whom are far more connected politically than I am, what the polls revealed. Everyone assured me that polling showed both measures winning by big margins, with 61 somewhat ahead. But no one could give me specific numbers. Over the next few weeks, I kept asking for poll numbers and all I ever heard was “they’re both going to pass easily, so vote for 57.”
Usually, I turn my ballot in early, but not this year. I kept waffling between following my principles and going along with the tactics of the legislature. Finally, on the Monday before the election, I held my nose and voted for 57—and against 61.
The election results come in and guess what? Measure 57 passes big time. Measure 61? Down the tubes. Yes, by a slim margin, but it lost. So now the state has to pay for this boondoggle, while funding for education and health care dwindles ever more.
Measure 57 won by 374,000 votes out of over 1.6 million cast. I wonder how many of those votes came from people like me, who reluctantly voted for the lesser of two evils. I suppose a survey could be taken to find out. Since the tactical argument was pervasive, it’s very likely that the majority for Measure 57 came from people who were opposed to it, but voted for it to keep Measure 61 from going into effect.
If that’s the case, it seems the legislature screwed up—and screwed us taxpayers royally.