The Oregon Ballot Initiative: Following the Money

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 19, 2008 1 min read
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I’ll pass on to you some tidbits of news about the money behind an initiative set to be put on the Oregon ballot in November that would limit English-as-a-second-language classes or native-language instruction for English-learners to two years. See my earlier post on the initiative.

Erik Sorensen, a spokesman for Causa, an Oregon immigrant-rights group opposed to the initiative, sent some links to help me find this information. Causa is calling the ballot initiative an “anti-ESL instruction initiative.” The Statesman Journal, published in Salem, Ore., has characterized it as “an initiative to end bilingual education.” The terminology used in the initiative is confusing, but it appears to be putting a cap of two years on all kinds of specialized instruction for ELLs.

The initiative has been backed with at least $123,000 from Loren Parks, a wealthy medical manufacturer, according to a Sept. 11, 2007 Oregonian article. Some other funders for the initiative are listed here. There are a number of contributions listed from Democracy Direct, which Mr. Sorensen says is a signature-gathering operation run by Bill Sizemore, who registered the ballot initiative with the state concerning ELL instruction.

Mr. Sizemore, who once lost a campaign to become Oregon’s governor, has run into some legal problems in how he funds ballot initiatives, according to a May 27 Associated Press article posted on the Web site of an Oregon T.V. station. The article says a judge found Mr. Sizemore in contempt of court because he violated an injunction against moving money around to fund initiative campaigns. The Northwest Labor Press gives additional information about Mr. Sizemore’s legal troubles.

I placed a telephone call yesterday to Mr. Sizemore and Russell Walker, another man who registered the initiative with the state, to ask why they’ve gotten involved in trying to change Oregon statutes concerning the education of ELLs, but I haven’t heard back from either of them yet.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.