Today the Willamette University College of Law sponsored a debate between two alumni who are on opposite sides of Oregon's Measure 49. Ralph Bloemers of the Crag Law Center ("Yes") handily beat Ross Day of Oregonians in Action ("No).
And I'm not saying that just because Ralph is representing our neighborhood's Keep Our Water Safe committee, which is fighting a Measure 37 subdivision that threatens to dry up area wells and springs.
As a good debater and attorney should, Ralph founded his arguments on facts. Ross, on the other hand, dissembled quite a bit. Apparently he couldn't come up with enough factual reasons to support Measure 37 and oppose Measure 49, so the truth got shaded.
To Ross' credit, when the question and answer period started he saw my hand waving halfway up the rows in the law school classroom and called on me. He knew that the Hines' (Laurel was sitting next to me) are fervent Measure 49 supporters, but welcomed a critical question.
Which, mine was. But I started off with a comment.
Ross had said that the Measure 49 ballot title had been written by supporters of the legislation, as if that was something nefarious. He also said that this had never been done before, which isn't true.
I pointed out to him, as I did on a "Measure 49 ballot title is accurate and legal" blog post, that it's been common for the legislature to write the ballot title on measures that are referred to the voters.
Ross repeated that it was the "supporters" of the measure who wrote the ballot title. Yes, I replied, those supporters happened to be the democratically elected Democratic majority in the 2007 legislature. Not exactly a band of renegade rabble rousers – which, however, pretty well describes the Oregonians in Action bunch that foisted Measure 37 on Oregonians.
Ross Day was one of the OIA attorneys who wrote Measure 37. This law is recognized as being poorly written. For example, the bunch who couldn't draft legislation right managed to word it so that transferability of Measure 37 development rights isn't allowed (according to an Attorney General's opinion and court cases), though they thought it would be.
Yet somehow Ross tried to claim that he now was an expert on the legal language in Measure 49. I doubt that, just as I doubted his statement that the Measure 49 ballot title wouldn't have survived judicial scrutiny if the legislature hadn't written it.
Funny. I'm not an attorney. But I seemed to know more than he did about the lawsuit OIA filed in federal court challenging the ballot title. The lawsuit was dismissed, so the ballot title did indeed survive judicial scrutiny.
That was just one of Ross' many misstatements that led me to call Ralph Bloemers the debate winner. Here's another, which was stimulated by the question that followed my comment.
Partly on behalf of a person who couldn't attend the debate, but wanted this question asked, I told Ross that Measure 37 gives special treatment to those who invest in real estate. Why, I said, should a real estate investment that's affected by a government regulation be treated differently than a stock, bond, commodity, or other sort of investment?
This is one of my favorite criticisms of Measure 37. It shouldn't be a guarantee to get rich.
Investing is risky. Changes in government policies is a risk that every investor faces. Real estate investors shouldn't be able to ask taxpayers for millions of dollars to reimburse them for an investment that didn't make them as rich as they expected, when nobody else can do this.
I told Ross that the payday loan industry basically was shut down by the 2007 Oregon legislature when it put a 36% cap on interest rates that used to be over 300%. I asked Ross why Oregonians in Action didn't consider this to be a "taking" that deserves compensation from the public coffers.
His answer was real bad, legally. Ross said that property rights is in the constitution, so it is fitting that real estate investors get special treatment under Measure 37.
Ralph Bloemers jumped on this misunderstanding of the constitution. He correctly pointed out that the government has to take complete physical possession of property before it is considered a "taking" worthy of compensation.
Why, Ralph asked, was Measure 37 proposed to the voters if the constitution already prohibited government from regulating the use of property without compensating the owner?
Game, set, and match to Bloemers! I don't even know if Ross Day scored a debate point.
I do give him credit, though, for repeatedly urging the audience (mostly law students) to vote – no matter how they felt about Measure 49. That was excellent advice.
My wife, Laurel, got in a comment also. Ross had repeated the OIA shtick about how Measure 49 was passed out of the legislature without any public input, no hearings, behind closed doors, blah, blah, blah.
Laurel said that she attended many of the public hearings that led up to House Bill 3540 (which became Measure 49). Those went on for hours. Several times another hearing had to be scheduled the next day because so many people has signed up to testify and they couldn't all be heard – even with a two minute limit on testimony.
She told Ross the truth: that just about everything that could be said about Measure 37 and the need to fix it had been uttered, repeatedly, by members of the public prior to the drafting of HB 3540. The Land Use Fairness Committee didn't see the need to go over the same ground by having a hearing on the Measure 49 legislation.
Maybe that would have been a good idea. Maybe not.
Regardless, Measure 49 now is our one and only chance to restore fairness to Oregon's land use system. So vote "Yes" if you haven't yet opened your mail-in ballot. Now.