So close. Yet so far. Word is that a single Democratic House member, who will remain nameless because so many would like to strangle him right now, refused to vote for a genuine Measure 37 fix.
[Update: He's no longer nameless, thanks to Peter Bray's post. It was an open secret, anyway.]
Thus yesterday, as I predicted, Republicans and Oregonians in Action were handed a major victory without having to fire a shot. At the very least, the Joint Land Use Fairness Committee should have passed the proposed Measure 37 reform bill so every legislator would have to vote up or down on it.
But no, the committee weenied out and added a ballot referral to the bill. Voters now will decide whether to fix the horribly evident flaws in Measure 37.
Why didn't the Democratic leadership force Republicans to vote against preserving farmland and preventing large subdivisions in groundwater limited areas? Beats me. Political incompetence is the best guess, according to more knowledgeable observers of the legislative scene than me.
It's deeply frustrating. 1000 Friends of Oregon and other defenders of this state's livability did a bad job of campaigning against Measure 37 in the first place. Now the best opportunity to reform Measure 37 has been lost.
Let's see: Democratic House of Representatives. Democratic Senate. Democratic Governor. You'd think this would have made passing a fix, an action favored by two-thirds of voters, pretty easy.
But no, the Democrat-dominated Land Use Fairness Committee spun its wheels for almost four months, trying to appease the unappeasable Republicans on the committee.
Eventually it became obvious that when Oregonians in Action and the Republican leadership (can you say "Wayne Scott"?) cracked the whip, all the Republicans on the committee were going to jump through the Keep Measure 37 Unchanged hoop.
When a House Democrat defected, the game was over. Typical. Democrats try to be collaborative nice guys who don't enforce party unity and get clobbered by a Republican united front. I don't like much about the Oregon Republican party, but at least they know how to play the legislative game.
The NW Republican blog is up at arms about this supposed attempt to repeal Measure 37. And I'm sure there will be plenty of outrage at the ballot referral expressed by property rights zealots in the state, such as Oregonians in Action.
However, I can virtually guarantee that they're breathing a sigh of relief right now. By a whisker they escaped having a Measure 37 reform bill passed into law next month.
Now claimants have eight months to acquire building permits and fire up bulldozers. Once their Measure 37 claims are vested, there's no turning them back, no matter whether the fix passes in November.
This morning I found Eric Stachon's (of 1000 Friends) quote in the Oregonian via Peter Bray's like-thinking "Oregon Democrats Fail at Measure 37 Reform!" post:
Measure 37 opponents, including planning and environmental groups, wanted legislators to resolve the issue themselves. Now, they say, claimants could rush to develop before the fall. If so, said Eric Stachon of 1000 Friends of Oregon, "it's going to prove our point — albeit at the expense of the land."
I respect and like Eric, but that's a galling comment. My wife and I, along with several dozen neighbors, have been fighting a 137 acre/43 home Measure 37 subdivision on nearby groundwater limited farmland.
If Leroy Laack gets final approval from Marion County to proceed with his plans, I can envision this subdivision being used as a "poster child" in campaign efforts to get the ballot referral passed. In my darker moments, I can even envision this being part of the game plan by Democrats on the Land Use Fairness Committee.
Let things get worse, then the voters will want to make things better. Well, Senators Prozanski and Macpherson, among others, that's a crappy way to play politics.
You had a chance to protect Oregon, and you blew it. There's a good chance your ballot referral will fail. Which means then you really will have blown it.
I believe I'm speaking for an awful lot of people who love this state and don't want to see it trashed by Measure 37 when I say:
Thanks for nothing.
[Update P.S.: If House Bill 3540 is amended somewhere along the remainder of the legislative process to remove the referral to voters, I will gladly put back all of the Legislature's Democratic members on my Christmas card list.
I hereby also promise to walk five times around the capitol (heck, maybe even 37 times) carrying a sign that says, "I was unfair to the Land Use Fairness Committee about their Measure 37 fix."
A photo of my repentance will be included with the aforementioned Christmas card. And I'll post it prominently on my blog.
Hey, isn't that motivation enough for a legislator or two (or more!) to change your mind(s) and endorse a Measure 37 fix that doesn't require voter approval?
Consider: if voters were confused about the impact of Measure 37, what makes anyone think they'll be able to understand a bill as complicated as HB 3540? The campaign for and against this fall will come down to simplistic buzz words again. Oregon doesn't need another divisive battle like that.
So legislators, do the right thing and take out the voter referral. You'll gain the respect of most Oregonians. Plus a most interesting Christmas card.]