My View: Let voters decide who gets driver's license
In 1902, Oregonians approved an amendment to their state Constitution giving rank-and-file voters the power of referendum — the ability to seek to put bills passed by state lawmakers directly before their fellow citizens for a vote.
Today, however, Oregon's Legislature — the very institution the referendum was designed to curb — stands ready to dismiss a decision those citizens made via referendum barely four years ago.
Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, has introduced House Bill 2015 to offer driving privileges to illegal immigrants. If approved by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Kate Brown, the bill will nullify the overwhelming mandate against those privileges that Oregonians delivered in 2014 via Ballot Measure 88, a citizen-initiated referendum.
The Legislature's Democrats are solidly behind the bill; as they outnumber Republicans 38-to-22 in the House and 18-to-12 in the Senate, its passage appears certain.
Rather than approve House Bill 2015 and send it to the governor, however, lawmakers should refer it to a vote of the people.
For the reason why, consider some recent history. In April 2013, the House voted 38-to-20 and the Senate 20-to-7 to pass Senate Bill 833, which would have offered four-year driver cards to illegal immigrants. On May Day of that year, then-Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the bill.
Over the next four months, Oregonians opposed to its enactment collected the signatures of more than 70,000 registered voters. In doing so, they succeeded in referring the bill to the November 2014 ballot as Ballot Measure 88, to be approved or rejected by their fellow Oregonians.
Over the next year, driver cards' supporters and opponents inundated rank-and-file Oregonians with information and arguments.
The result? On Election Day, voters rejected illegal-immigrant driver cards by the same 2-to-1 margin by which their legislators had approved them.
On this issue, then, our state's system of direct, citizen-initiated democracy manifested a yawning chasm between Oregonians and its lawmakers.
Today, it appears, that chasm remains.
Late last month, Zogby Analytics released the results of a poll, conducted March 18 and 19, of 500 likely Oregon voters. Its major findings:
• 63% oppose, and 30% support, granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. This is virtually identical to the outcome of Ballot Measure 88: 66% against driver cards, and 34% in favor.
• 68.4% believe the Legislature "must respect the decisions made by the voters through the ballot initiative process." Only 18.7% believe the Legislature should enact policies "that have been previously overturned by the voters."
Given this, should voters' rejection of illegal-immigrant driving privileges now be cast aside — by the very lawmakers, indeed, the voters rebuked for approving those privileges in the first place?
Legislative Democrats premise their support of House Bill 2015 on the same criteria they did a half-decade ago: that illegal-immigrant driving privileges will enhance road safety and enable "Oregonians" (their euphemism for foreigners here illegally) to travel more easily to work, school and church.
If they have confidence in these arguments, they should have the courage — the Zogby poll notwithstanding — to introduce them in the court of public opinion and to make their case directly to voters.
If, however, the Legislature and governor enact the bill outright — knowing full well it will negate the mandate against illegal-immigrant driving privileges their constituents delivered but four years ago — they will betray Oregon's system of direct, citizen-initiated democracy and demonstrate contempt for the judgment of the people they are elected to represent. This will compromise the credibility and, indeed, legitimacy of our state's government.
Responsible citizens should step forward, defend government by the people, and demand that the Legislature refer House Bill 2015 to a vote of rank-and-file Oregonians.
Richard F. LaMountain, a former vice president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, was a chief sponsor of 2014's Ballot Measure 88. He lives in Cedar Mill.