This guest comment by Ann Kneeland appeared in The Register-Guard, March 28th, 2018.
On March 7, Circuit Court Judge Karsten Rasmussen ruled to keep the Freedom from Aerial Spraying of Herbicides Bill of Rights Charter Amendment off the ballot in Lane County. The judge’s decision is yet another canary in the coal mine singing out that, under the current system of law, we the people have little power to protect the health, safety and welfare of our communities and natural environment.
Can you hear the canary choir?
On March 13, a Register Guard editorial, “A recipe for frustration,” presented welcome recognition of the legalized hurdles that cripple the people’s initiative powers. This sentiment is appreciated, but the proposed solution — that chief petitioners simply need to be more informed of and compliant with “an authoritative opinion” — is sorely misguided.
Let’s step back. In 1902, the Oregon Legislature put before the people a constitutional amendment recognizing the initiative and referendum powers that authorize the people to write and pass “legislation of every character.” With the passage of that amendment, the people became a legislative force equal in lawmaking authority to the Legislature.
Can you feel the democratic power in that? Well, so could the people in positions of power who cringed at the thought of the people writing and passing their own laws, taking grassroots action to address issues that our elected representatives would not.
So, even as the revelry around the “Oregon System” of direct democracy spread, the Legislature and judiciary began to diminish the people’s initiative powers. With subsequent constitutional amendments, preemptive statutes, and judicial opinions, the initiative power in Oregon has been progressively neutered. MORE…