New website works for direct democracy
Is Democracy dying? The November issue of Atlantic magazine wonders "...how far has the country rolled down the road to autocracy." And "will American democracy survive?" This got me wondering if democracy could be in danger here.
Maybe. In 2016 the Oregon Legislature and the governor enacted legislation ignoring local home-rule charters requiring a vote on annexations applications. If November ballot Measure 103 (grocery-tax amendment) wins it will bypass local control. In 2017 the Oregon City Commission ignored our Home Rule Charter popular vote requirement for annexation.
What happened? Senate Bill 1573 of 2016, sponsored by the Oregon Home Builders Association, allows any property owner to annex to any home-rule
city just by saying, "I want in." Whoops, we got pre-empted! The Legislature stole our vote.
Democracy got hit again when the Oregon City City Commission — by a 4-1 vote — accepted a "three times voter rejected" annexation proposal in the Park Place neighborhood, bypassing the people. Your constitutional right to vote sidelined by the City Commission.
Are more property annexation applications coming? Yes. Will we get to vote? Probably not, unless a suit filed by two city governments and the League of Oregon Cities prevails in court. Will democracy live on or is democracy dying?
In November we'll vote on State Measure 103, a proposed constitutional amendment called "no tax on groceries" and guess what? It's not really about future governments threatening taxes on our food, it's a Trojan Horse attack of preemption on local voter control! It's the beverage industry answer to a Multnomah County tax on sugar in soda pop. Measure 103 is an attack on home rule apparently to protect corporate profits.
American Heart Association lobbyist Christina Bodamer says: "Oregon has a long history of successful policymaking at the local level. Measure 103 removes local control to enact public health policies, such as sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, products which are particularly harmful to the health of our children."
Whether you agree or not with the health strategy, local voters should have the right to decide what's right for their community, except in some matters purposely reserved State control (crime and punishment for example). Ironically, backers of Measure 103 are using our direct-democracy right of petition, to dump direct democracy!
Thanks to William S. U'Ren who lived in Oregon City from 1890 until 1912, (dubbed the father of the "Oregon System") we have the right of petition, referendum, recall and home rule. We should be alert to special interests (or governments) trying to handcuff voter choice.
For the first 45 years of government in Oregon, citizens of a city had to travel, hat in hand, to Salem and ask permission to execute almost any governmental business. But then, voters rebelled and amended the Oregon Constitution at the urging of U'Ren and friends, and for the last 115 years many cities have operated under home-rule charters making their own decisions.
U'Ren was driven to action by events in an era of very bad government involving special interests and manipulation of state legislative sessions. He became nationally known as the leader in the western states for promotion of direct democracy. There's a plaque dedicated to him at the Clackamas County Courthouse. But now here we go again, special interests attempting to drive another stake in the heart of direct democracy. Will they succeed? Can we protect the Oregon City legacy of William U'Ren?
Some of us would like "to give it a go" and fight pre-emption and defend direct democracy any way we can. To that end, we have formed a nonpartisan, non-tribal website for fact-gathering and possible actions. We've named it "Defending Home Rule and Direct Democracy" (homerule.org) open to all who would like to answer the question about democracy dying with a big fat NO.
Hopefully, home-rule.org will function like a New England town hall or a Swiss village where some towns still assemble in the town square to debate and vote with hand raising signals in an old European direct democracy style election called "Landsgemeinde." Our "town hall" is set to take place on the worldwide network, open to anyone with an electronic address. No fees. Just an obligation to participate with information, debate and take action as we agree to in countering anti-direct democracy actions when proposed by national, state or local governments and special interests.
It takes lots of people working together for democracy to function. Unfortunately, governments seem not to respond to a couple of voters. Most governments will respond to informed voters in significant numbers. Join up and we can meet at home-rule.org and share thoughts about Measure 103, voter annexation, local government actions and other threats to direct democracy.
John Williams is an Oregon City resident.