Yesterday I listened to the Kremer and Abrams talk show on KXL. The conservative member of the duo, Rob Kremer, was frothing at the mouth about how 61% of the voters had voted for Measure 37 and now a single judge had struck it down, thereby thwarting the will of the people.
Outrageous, fulminated Kremer. He thought Judge Mary James should be recalled. Yeah, that would teach a lesson to judges who have the temerity to be independent and exercise their duty to uphold the constitution. Rob, do you recall the notion of “checks and balances” from your high school civics class?
Sometimes the will of the majority usurps the rights of a minority. It didn’t matter how many people were in favor of slavery, denying women the right to vote, or keeping schools segregated. Society eventually came to see that each of these policies was unfair.
Just as Measure 37 was. Exempting some owners from land use laws just because their property has been under family ownership for a long time is patently unfair. As I’ve noted before, my wife and I live in a groundwater limited area where you have to jump through a lot of hydrogeological hoops if you want to build a house on anything less than five acres.
But a nearby Measure 37 claim sought to put 80 homes on 215 acres of farmland. The claimants didn’t think they should have to comply with a Marion County ordinance that protects existing wells in groundwater limited areas. How fair is that? Everyone should have to play by the same rules when the game is keeping wells from going dry.
Further, it’s obvious that Oregon voters didn’t know what they were voting for when they marked “yes” next to Measure 37 in 2004. Laurel did a lot of calling before the election and she found that most people knew very little about this initiative. Here’s what a recent poll of Oregonians found:
More than two-thirds said growth management makes Oregon a more desirable place to live. Respondents strongly favored public planning over market-based decisions and wanted to protect land for future needs instead of using it now for homes and businesses.So how does this mesh with the fact that Measure 37 passed handily? Answer: voters were deceived by misleading Oregonians in Action advertising. All they saw was poor Dorothy English, an elderly lady who couldn’t build on her land. They didn’t see the reality of Measure 37: irreplaceable farmland being bulldozed for subdivisions.
I believe in listening to the will of the people. However, Oregon’s initiative process is a terrible way of putting our ear to the civic ground. A dull rumble of Yay or Nay is all that can be heard after a vote is taken, not the crisp, clear guidance of a genuinely informed citizenry.
Lastly, how about the hypocrisy of right-wing talk radio? “Damn that activist judge who overturned the voter-approved Measure 37!” echoes over the airwaves.
But why wasn’t there a similar outraged cry when the Supreme Court recently held a hearing on the Bush Administration’s attempt to overturn Oregon’s voter-approved assisted suicide law?
On the front page of today’s Salem Statesman-Journal was a story that said a national poll has found that 64% of the public and 62% of physicians said that “physicians should be given the right to dispense prescriptions by patients to end their life.”
Assisted suicide is a much simpler issue to understand than land use planning. I’m quite confident that the will of the voters is to allow people to die with dignity. I’m not at all confident that Oregon voters want to allow selected property owners to do whatever they want with their land, regardless of the effects on the environment and their neighbors.