|A look at Oregon’s campaigns shows why some critics say citizen ballot initiatives have been overtaken by politics as usual.|
Nineteen-year-old Will Chubb is brimming with great expectations. It’s a little after 10 on a Sunday morning, and Chubb has installed himself at the entrance to Powell’s, a bookstore here that swallows an entire block in a funky downtown neighborhood. Powell’s boasts 6,000 patrons a day—educated people, Chubb figures, with time on their hands on this sunny summer day. Perfect targets, in other words, for his pitch.
“Howdy. Are you a registered voter?”
Beanpole-tall at 6 feet 4 inches, a thin ponytail streaming down the length of his back, Chubb can’t be missed. Which is exactly the point. In his hand, he carries a clipboard holding a messy sheaf of petitions for a variety of “citizen initiatives.” Chubb’s mission: Persuade passersby to sign the petitions and officially ask the state to put the initiatives to a vote.
This form of direct democracy is not exclusive to Oregon. Twenty-four states have the citizen initiative, and some—Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington, in particular—give it a pretty good workout. But Oregon, which in 1904 became the first state to put questions on the ballot, is the king of initiatives. In the five general elections during the 1990s, it voted on 60 measures, more than any other state.
Chubb today is petitioning for five initiatives, including a measure to boost school funding. At first blush, he seems to be a descendant of turn-of-the-century populist farmers who imported the initiative from Sweden to wrench power from a legislature riddled with corruption and beholden to big business. The idea was to give the people a voice, empowering them to decide matters for themselves, free from the influence of big money or petty politics.
But then a young woman in sandals comes along. Looking over Chubb’s petitions, she asks, “When do these go on the ballot?” Suddenly, the wraparound smile that Chubb has worn all morning vanishes. He has no idea when the election is being held, even though the date—Nov. 7—is stamped on the petition he’s carrying.
In fact, he knows precious little about any of the measures he’s touting. A California native, he arrived in Portland just a few days ago for his first visit to the state. Rather than the embodiment of grassroots democracy he may appear to passersby, Chubb is actually a hired hand, making $7 an hour for a signature-gathering company headquartered in Southern California.
Welcome to politics, Oregon-style.
Here in Portland for much of this election year, dozens of Will Chubbs were fanned out across the city. Together, they collected 2 million signatures and qualified 18 initiatives, ensuring that Oregon’s ballot this fall will be the longest in the nation.
Now, as Oregon voters scramble to fill out their crowded, mail-in ballots by Nov. 7, reporters and pundits have been devising “what if it passes?” scenarios for each measure. But one thing is clear: When the dust settles and the state’s unusual vote-by-mail process is complete, education in Oregon may look nothing like it did before.
When the dust settles, education in Oregon may look nothing like what it did before.
Three initiatives promise either to cut taxes or cap state spending in ways that officials claim would cripple schools. Another would ban instruction encouraging or sanctioning homosexuality. And three more touch on pocketbook issues for educators, including a measure that would make Oregon the first state in the country to pay its teachers based on student performance.
This scene is being repeated in other states, albeit to a lesser degree. At least 20 of the more than 70 citizen initiatives on state ballots this year promise change for education. Some are garden-variety tax measures that would trim school budgets. But according to the Washington-based Initiative and Referendum Institute, at least 11 initiatives aim to rewrite education law.
Success at the polls would introduce vouchers to Michigan and California, increase teacher pay and reduce class sizes in Washington state, and do away with bilingual education in Arizona. With so much at stake, the National Education Association has amassed a hefty war chest. The union has given more than $7.5 million to its state affiliates to finance initiative campaigns, thanks to a dedicated dues increase approved this past summer. That’s only $2 million less than the union doled out in the last three election cycles combined. And it doesn’t even count the millions of dollars the union has separately directed to states with big ballot fights, including Michigan and Oregon.
Is this bumper crop of education initiatives a sign that the general public is eager to pitch in and fix schools? Some observers believe it is. But in the 1980s and ‘90s, special interests and millionaires with a cause increasingly turned to direct democracy to accomplish what they couldn’t get done in legislatures. This trend has led the Pulitzer Prize-winning political journalist David Broder and other critics to conclude that “faux populists” have simply found an easier and cheaper route to achieving their ends: winning ballot campaigns rather than winning over lawmakers.
The result, they say, is that voters are seeing more initiatives than ever before. “The initiative process threatens to challenge or even subvert the American system of government in the next few decades,” Broder, a reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, argues in his recent book, Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money.
|Special interests and millionaires with a cause have increasingly turned to direct democracy to accomplish what they couldn’t get done in legislatures.|
Some analysts point to California as evidence of what this trend can mean for schools. After seven successful ballot measures in the past dozen years, California’s school code looks to many education analysts like a movie screenplay that’s been worked over by too many script doctors.
“The initiative adds a wild-card factor to education reform,” says Michael Kirst, a co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, a research group based at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University. “These things come out of left field. You never know where they’re coming from or why.”
Broder’s book and the November elections have sparked fresh debate on the merits of the initiative process as a second, parallel track of lawmaking.
Proponents defend the initiative as a valuable legislative tool that allows the public to bypass lawmakers who refuse to take on controversial issues. Over the past 20 years, they say, ballot measures have sparked needed public debates on everything from taxes to bilingual education.
In response to Broder’s criticism, backers agree that more special interests are sinking more money into direct democracy than ever before. But the sins of the initiative process pale in comparison with those of the legislative process, they say. “It’s the legislature that is in crisis,” argues Paul Jacob, the head of U.S. Term Limits, a Washington-based organization that has been involved in more than 50 state-initiative campaigns.
Yet while its supporters see the initiative process as direct democracy, critics question whether there’s anything direct or democratic about it. Many scholars and political experts echo Broder’s critique and express concern that ballot measures threaten the representative-style democracy established by the Founding Fathers.
A close look at how ballot measures are conceived, drafted, and debated in Oregon raises further questions about the value of the initiative as a tool for crafting sound public policy. In Oregon, the courts threw out a quarter of the initiatives passed in the past decade, calling many of them unconstitutional. One reason may be that ballot measures get drafted and debated in the hothouse of a campaign. And as this year’s ballot extravaganza in Oregon shows, that’s an arena where sound bites and bumper-sticker slogans may hold more sway than reason and common sense.
The man who will dominate Oregon’s elections this fall is talking about bees. At KKGT radio, a 5,000-watt mom-and-pop station that broadcasts from a makeshift studio outside Portland, Bill Sizemore hunches over a desk, scanning news clippings spread before him.
Nothing’s going right this Monday morning. The show’s engineer is AWOL, so Sizemore and his co-host are laboring through two hours of drive-time radio with no commercials, no weather reports, no traffic updates, and no listener calls. At one point, Sizemore unspools a tale about a swarm of bees he encountered while working on a rail-tie fence in his yard.
Clearly, Sizemore is not your typical political power broker. Though tall, personable, articulate, and ruggedly handsome, he’s a failure as a politician, having lost the three local elections he’s jumped into. Two years ago, he was on the wrong end of the state’s most lopsided governor’s race in 50 years, capturing only 30 percent of the vote as the Republican nominee against incumbent Democrat John Kitzhaber. Instead, Sizemore, a 49-year-old father of five, part-time businessman, and full-time conservative gadfly, derives his clout from the initiative process.
‘We do things through the initiative process that the legislature is afraid to do.’
As the executive director of Oregon Taxpayers United, a group of conservative activists who banded together in 1993 after passing a tax-cap initiative, he focuses almost exclusively on putting measures on the ballot that call for sweeping change in government. “We do things through the initiative process that the legislature is afraid to do,” Sizemore says.
This year will test OTU. Sizemore wrote six of the 18 citizen initiatives that qualified for the Oregon ballot, and at a time when the national Republican standard-bearer, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, is waving the banner of “compassionate conservatism,” Sizemore is pushing an agenda that looks cribbed from former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Sizemore’s biggest assault on government is a plan to allow Oregonians to deduct their federal income tax payments when calculating their taxable income for state returns—a move that amounts to a $1 billion tax cut with big ramifications for schools. Sizemore also has filed several measures that would directly affect teachers. One, Measure 95, proposes a merit-pay plan that would base teachers’ salaries on whether students learn, a standard that many interpret to mean how they score on standardized tests. Another, Measure 98, would limit the ability of labor groups—including teachers’ unions—to raise political cash.
With each initiative, long before the first signature is gathered, Sizemore plays a behind-the-scenes game of chess. In Oregon, the state attorney general reviews every initiative before signatures may be gathered and attaches a “ballot title” summary of about 200 words. That title, Sizemore says, determines whether his initiative will pass or fail.
“One of the lessons that we have learned is that people don’t vote on your idea,” he explains. “They don’t vote on your measure. And they don’t vote on the concept of your measure. They vote on the attorney general’s description of your measure that appears as the ballot title. Most people never read your measure.”
In this, Oregon voters are no different from others. Focus groups conducted by Celinda Lake, a Washington-based pollster, suggest that American families spend an average of five minutes a week talking about politics—and probably even less hashing out their views of initiatives. “It’s amazing,” Lake says. “People who wouldn’t think of voting for president or senator without doing their homework will walk into the booth without their minds made up on a ballot question.”
|With each initiative, a behind-the-scenes game of chess takes place.|
The way people evaluate initiatives also differs from how they look at politicians. Voters in candidate elections are like beauty-contest judges; image—Bush’s folksy twang or Vice President Al Gore’s cowboy boots—can influence them as much as any policy proposal. Voters considering initiatives operate like jury members in a trial. They face an up-or-down decision—vote yes or no—and any “reasonable doubt” about a measure is enough to tip the scales.
Sizemore knows this well. If the attorney general attaches a ballot title to one of his initiatives that doesn’t use clean, simple language, Sizemore will rewrite the measure and refile it. He wants no legalese. No jargon. No language that will introduce “reasonable doubt.” Sometimes, he chucks the whole measure and starts from scratch.
This year’s Measure 98 has gone through just such a makeover. It targets the common practice among public- employee labor groups—including the Oregon teachers’ union—of funding political work with member dues collected via payroll deductions. The unions have the right to gather campaign contributions, Sizemore and others argue, but doing so through the dues-collection process dupes the rank and file by obscuring the political purpose of the money.
Measure 98 promises “paycheck protection” to union members with a ban on the mingling of dues and political contributions. It also would accomplish a longtime OTU goal: to cut off a key source of political cash for public-employee unions, which, in Sizemore’s worldview, are to blame for runaway government spending and higher taxes.
Before the 1996 elections, Sizemore wrote and filed at least 15 versions of a “paycheck protection” measure. All were constitutional amendments to prohibit unions from using payroll deductions to pay for lobbying, get-out-the-vote drives, and other political activities. With each measure filed, however, the attorney general—a Democrat at the time—attached a ballot title that Sizemore claims effectively sabotaged him. Some of the worst titles spoke of “new restrictions to employee union dues,” he says, but then never explained the old restrictions—a lapse bound to confuse voters.
Eventually, Sizemore gave up and set his sights on the 1998 elections. This time, he drafted an amendment that made no mention of unions; rather, he proposed banning any use of public funds for political purposes—a move that would prevent school officials from processing payroll deductions if the money went to union political coffers.
The revision turned his measure from a surgical strike against the unions into a scatter bomb that promised plenty of collateral damage. Critics argued that it would even prohibit Oregon from publishing the voters’ guide that’s mailed to residents each election. Still, the new language earned Sizemore a title he could live with. He sent his signature-gatherers into the field, and his paycheck-protection initiative soon took its place on the ballot.
Sizemore acknowledges that such political maneuvering in the drafting of a constitutional amendment is unseemly. But he says the blame lies with the state attorney general, who won’t describe his measures fairly. Ultimately, he contends, the politics that go into the crafting of his measure don’t matter. People vote based on the words on the page, and those words read the same before an election as they do after. That can’t be said of politicians, he maintains, who say one thing in campaigns and do another once they’re in office.
“The language is right there—nothing’s hidden,” he says. “You can have attorneys analyze it if you want, and you can generally tell exactly what a measure will do.”
In the end, Sizemore’s 1998 paycheck-protection measure lost, in large part because opponents effectively argued that it would gut the voters’ guide, which is considered sacred. This year, though, he is back with a revised initiative—Measure 98—and a better ballot title that he says is polling well.
Sizemore’s other big teacher-related initiative this year, the merit- pay proposal known as Measure 95, is posting disappointing poll numbers. It’s the first election he’s filed such an initiative, and the ballot title doesn’t read as cleanly as he’d like. “We’ll have to run a perfect campaign to pass that measure,” he concedes.
Win or lose, Measure 95 may help Sizemore. In past years, when he’s put up only one or two big measures, the Oregon Education Association has helped bankroll the fight against him. This year, with a merit- pay plan on the same ballot as paycheck-protection and tax-cut proposals, the OEA is fighting a multiflank war.
When asked if he put the merit-pay plan on the ballot simply to distract the union, Sizemore smiles broadly and leans back in his chair. He waits a long time before he answers.
“Each one of those measures stands on its own feet,” he says, finally. “I’ve heard it suggested that such a strategy exists, and it’s an interesting theory. It’s an interesting theory.”
There’s no shortage of Sizemore critics—or theories as to why he’s an initiative maven. Some say he’s a power-hungry egomaniac who writes ballot measures to play politician. And despite evidence that OTU enjoys grassroots support, officials with the teachers’ union claim he’s the henchman for a cabal of wealthy, right-wing extremists out to destroy public education. Still others say he’s in it for the money.
This last charge stems from the existence of a for-profit company that he opened three years ago to gather signatures for OTU initiatives. But Sizemore scoffs at charges that he’s making piles of cash from his signature-gathering business, I&R Petition Services. He says he founded I&R after OTU’s legal counsel grew concerned about the group’s legal responsibility for volunteer signature- gatherers. “The company hasn’t made money,” Sizemore maintains. As for his salary from I&R, he says only, “It has paid me a reasonable amount of money as a consulting fee.”
The idea that anyone should make money off the initiative process is controversial. Oregon banned the use of paid signature-gatherers from 1935 to 1983, but today, few initiatives in this or other states make the ballot if campaigns don’t contract out the work. As a result, the initiative process has become high-stakes poker: To get into the game in Oregon, you need roughly $100,000, the minimum that companies charge to qualify a measure. In California, the ante’s $1 million plus.
The initiative process has become high-stakes poker: To get into the game in Oregon, you need roughly $100,000.
At least a dozen national signature-gathering companies have sprung up in the past decade or so, according to initiative experts. One of the biggest is the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Progressive Campaigns Inc., which operates out of a dozen states and employs as many as 500 workers during peak times. In the past three years, the firm has collected 12 million signatures, according to founder and owner Angelo Paparella. The cost? Anywhere from 75 cents to $3.50 a pop.
Paparella was once a Ralph Nader lieutenant who helped pass the consumer activist’s 1988 California initiative cutting car-insurance rates, and his company counts many left-leaning campaigns as clients. But Progressive Campaigns also has helped qualify initiatives sponsored by conservatives, including California’s successful 1998 proposal aimed at eliminating bilingual education and the voucher measure that’s on the state ballot this year.
“You can’t run a business and base it strictly on ideological considerations,” Paparella explains. “First and foremost, we believe in the initiative process. It’s a healthy check on legislatures.”
Progressive Campaigns is pushing five initiatives in Oregon this year, and among its employees is Will Chubb, the 19- year-old working the customers at Powell’s bookstore.
After graduating from high school, Chubb had tried landscaping in his hometown of Kenwood, in California’s wine country. “That was hot work,” he says with a scowl. Then, one day, he ran into a buddy petitioning for Progressive Campaigns. The friend was making good money, so Chubb decided to check out the company. When he discovered it was working on an initiative to legalize medical marijuana, he threw down his shovel and picked up a clipboard. “I said, ‘Wow, medical marijuana. This is the team to be on,’ ” he recalls.
At Powell’s, the foot traffic is light, but that doesn’t faze Chubb. “A bad day may be when you get a lot of signatures but you don’t have any fun,” he says. At the top of his pile of petitions is the measure to increase school funding.
Its sponsor, Gov. Kitzhaber, has unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Republican-controlled legislature to put up money he believes schools need to help students meet standards set in core academic subjects. Frustrated, he took a page from Sizemore’s playbook and drafted an initiative for next week’s election to make such funding a constitutional mandate. The measure would also guarantee equity in state education spending.
If it seems odd that Kitzhaber, a politician, is sponsoring an initiative, the tool for the people to bypass politicians, that’s Oregon. “We essentially have two legislatures,” says Tricia Bozak, the political director for the Oregon Education Association, an NEA affiliate.
Like other “citizen” initiative authors, Kitzhaber signed up a political consultant to run his campaign. And he hired Progressive Campaigns to collect signatures.
Chubb, however, doesn’t know who the governor is. Kitzhaber in his State of the State Address in January spoke eloquently about the initiative: “It gives a child living in Coos Bay or Fossil the same educational opportunities as a child living in Lake Oswego or Beaverton.” But at Powell’s, Chubb sells it in simpler terms: “This is to make sure that money for public schools is distributed evenly throughout the state.”
The one-liner works fairly well. While many people stiff-arm Chubb, a few pause to read the school funding petition as well as the others. Some even demonstrate savvy about the initiative process. “These aren’t Sizemore’s initiatives, are they?” asks one woman. “I won’t sign anything from him.”
Still, there is clearly no danger of a town hall meeting breaking out on Powell’s portico. A tall woman in a print dress confesses that she is baffled by the governor’s measure. After scanning the petition, she asks Chubb, “I’m just signing it to put it on the ballot, right?”
“That’s right,” he assures her. “You can actually vote against it once it’s on the ballot.” She signs.
Another woman, a twentysomething with a blonde ponytail, listens to Chubb’s patter about distributing school money evenly and asks, “How’s it distributed now?”
Chubb answers haltingly, “I’m not really sure. I think it’s like it’s done in California.”
Few people challenge Chubb. But he’s had his share of run- ins. “A lot of people want to get into an argument right away,” Chubb says. “But it’s the golden rule of petitioning: Never upset anyone. What’s the point of it? It doesn’t serve anyone.”
|The use of mercenary signature-gatherers angers those who see the initiative process as an exercise in grassroots democracy.|
On one of Chubb’s first days petitioning in Oregon, someone gave him a hard time, demanding his driver’s license and declaring, “Why don’t you stay out of Oregon politics?” But the episode hardly flustered Chubb. “Any good cause is worth fighting for,” he says. “Look at World War II. What would have happened if Britain had stood alone?”
Such arguments anger those who see the initiative process as an exercise in grassroots politics. Brad Avakian, a civil rights lawyer and political activist who this year proposed a ballot measure to repeal the state’s 1-year-old charter school law, considers paid signature- gatherers a blight on the system. Working on the charter school measure with the Oregon School Employees Association, a union for janitors, secretaries, and other school employees, he insisted that the campaign put only volunteers into the field. The measure failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but Avakian says he’ll probably try again in 2002.
“Our mission is not only to get the signatures but to start educating people on the dangers of charters,” he says. “If we wanted to do something different, we’d have ponied up the money and hired the pros to just go out there and use their catch phrase and get the signature. But this is education as much as a legal effort to get law passed.
“The pros will probably say that if I really want to get a law passed, I’m wasting my time,” he adds. “But that’s the way it should be.”
One of Oregon’s consummate political pros is Roger Gray. An affable, fit-looking 55- year-old, Gray taught high school government for several years before beginning a long career in the political shops of the NEA’s Colorado, Washington, and Oregon affiliates. This year, as an independent consultant and strategist who specializes in ballot campaigns, he’s heading up the opposition to Sizemore’s paycheck-protection and merit-pay plans.
Gray’s battle this fall bears a resemblance to the fight that he spearheaded against Sizemore’s first paycheck- protection initiative, Measure 59, in 1998. That year, the opposition coalition organized by state labor groups spent $5.2 million, or nearly half the cash poured into all races in Oregon for statewide offices and the legislature combined.
Much of the money paid for advertising. Gray went on the air early, putting up radio ads in the spring that aimed to stir up trouble before Measure 59 even qualified. Without mentioning the initiative or Sizemore, the ads encouraged people to test whether signature-petitioners were Oregonians with questions like, “How do you pronounce Willamette?” A wrong answer, the ads declared, would suggest petitioners were hired hands who didn’t care about Oregon.
During the summer of 1998, Gray ordered polls on the measure and, using the results, set to work crafting the message that drove the anti-59 campaign. Message is critical to ballot races, as voters have no candidate, party platform, or other traditional political yardstick.
Among politicos, it’s conventional wisdom that opposition campaigns must describe ballot initiatives in terms of the “three C’s": confusing, controversial, and costly. Gray and his strategists tweaked that formula to come up with the “three U’s.” They would attack Sizemore’s plan as unfair, unnecessary, and underhanded.
Having settled on a message, Gray gathered his consultants together to design television and radio ads. He explains: “We generally sit down and say, ‘Let’s put 1,000 ideas on the wall, and let the pollster beat them up as they relate to how voters will react.’”
Polling, dial testing, and advertising blitzes are common tactics of modern politics. But now a new strategy is emerging: the counter-measure.
Once the ads were produced, Gray “dial tested” each one, asking focus groups to register approval or disapproval by turning a dial as images and words streamed by on a screen. The sophisticated technique helped Gray edit the ads according to what viewers liked and didn’t like, second by second. “If you’re going to put two-thirds or more of all the money you raise into ads,” he says, “you want to make sure those ads are as good as they can possibly be.”
Gray eventually ran five ads. One damned the measure as the work of an outsider, noting that Sizemore had been “bankrolled” by Grover Norquist, a nationally prominent, Washington-based anti-tax advocate. With images of the heads of the two conservatives bouncing across the screen, a narrator declared that Norquist was “a registered foreign lobbyist” who led “an extremist agenda to limit the voice of America’s working people.”
Polling, dial testing, and advertising blitzes are traditional tactics of modern political warfare. But Gray turned to one strategy that’s fairly new in ballot campaigns: the countermeasure. Under Oregon law, if two measures are approved with contradictory statutory effects, the one that wins more popular support at the polls goes into law.
Worried that Measure 59 might pass, Gray and the other leaders of the anti-Sizemore forces wrote and qualified an initiative of their own, Measure 62. It proposed to secure in the state constitution the “fundamental right” of Oregonians to use payroll deductions to collect political contributions. But to make the measure irresistible to voters, Gray packed it with a host of sweet-sounding campaign-finance reforms, including requirements for greater disclosure of campaign contributions.
In that way, the consultant built a fire wall against Sizemore: If Measure 59 passed, the unions could still stop it from going into law by passing Measure 62 with a higher vote count. “That’s why it was loaded with good things,” Gray says. “Maybe when you write initiatives, they should be loaded with good things. We didn’t feel bad about doing it that way.”
In the end, Gray and the unions would have prevailed even without Measure 62. A majority of voters rejected Sizemore’s Measure 59, though it lost by just 23,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast. Measure 62, meanwhile, was approved by 68 percent of voters.
Critics of Measure 62 claimed the unions recklessly monkeyed with the state’s constitution. Before the vote, Phil Keisling, a Democrat and then Oregon’s secretary of state, remarked: “On a very basic level, you have a fight over a collective-bargaining issue that has been elevated to a constitutional fight because of Measure 59.”
After the election, Sizemore and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the union-backed initiative in separate lawsuits, claiming it had deceived voters. The measure is still tied up in the courts and has not become law. If Sizemore’s retooled paycheck-protection measure passes next week, it will supersede the 1998 initiative and the court fight will be moot.
Despite the court battle, Gray says that nothing in Measure 62 is bad for Oregon. The unions, he says, believe in each of the campaign-finance reforms. Still, Gray acknowledges his qualms about the process, especially the perception that he tried to rewrite the state constitution—a document that ostensibly enshrines bedrock principles of governance—as part of an elaborate campaign gambit. But the initiative process, he argues, left him no choice.
“I’m an old political science teacher who believes that the constitution actually means something,” he says. “And now, all of a sudden, I’m forced by this process to go in and amend it with things like Measure 62 in order to play defense. It galls me. I hate it.”
This fall, Gray has assembled a formidable opposition to Sizemore’s Measure 98, his revamped paycheck-protection initiative. The coalition includes more than 200 unions, charities, and professional organizations—the biggest “no” campaign in Oregon history, Gray claims.
As the election nears, Gray is running about half a dozen ads with the “three U’s” message, but he’s also driving home the notion that Sizemore’s measures would cripple charities—the United Way, for example—that rely on payroll-deduction contributions.
Gray also is deploying television ads to run against the merit-pay proposal. One portrays the plan as a bureaucratic monster, with the state government creating a multimillion- dollar testing system to decide who gets raises and who doesn’t. Gray is also having fun with the fact that university professors would be covered by the plan.
“It’s ludicrous,” he says. “One of the one-liners we’re using around here is: If a professor at the University of Oregon was to find the cure for AIDS, we couldn’t give him a raise until we find out how his students tested.”
|Political consultant Roger Gray worries about playing politics with the state’s constitution.|
The Oregon Education Association and other unions are again fighting the tax-cut initiatives on the ballot, but Oregon businesses—including the computer giant Intel—are stepping up for the first time as part of the opposition campaign. Gray hopes this rare partnership between business and labor will endure past Nov. 7 and push the legislature next year to increase school funding. “That’s my best, most optimistic look at the year 2000,” he says.
Bill Sizemore, too, is optimistic. He’s counting on the noise from this fall’s political activity—the presidential election, hot congressional races, and so many ballot campaigns—to drown out the unions’ attacks and make it impossible for them to beat his paycheck-protection measure. “I frankly don’t think they can do it,” he says. “I’m going out on a limb to say this, but this idea is too good for them to defeat in this election.”
The merit-pay proposal will have a lot more trouble, he says. But that’s OK. It’s drawn interest from national organizations, interest that could translate to contributions and a second run in the 2002 elections should it fail next week.
“I will tell you this,” Sizemore says. “If this measure doesn’t pass, we will poll, we will find out why, and we’ll vote on it again.”