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I am William S. U'ren and I am dead. I was once a big noise in Oregon politics, an activist back in the days when Republicans were called progressive and there was an actual Populist Party. The history books say I am largely responsible for things like the initiative, referendum and recall here, as well as the direct election of US Senators. I ran for governor, once, when William Howard Taft was the Republican president, and I lost. Then I retired from politics and, thirty years later, I died. And almost everything I accomplished has been turned on its head and against the very people it was meant to help. Enough is Enough in Oregon!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mend? Why not end? The Initiative in Oregon

Time to say die, Oregon.

Well, it may seem easy enough for me to say I'm willing to do that, but it's time for people in Oregon to "say die" in regard to the initiative and referendum (and throw in the recall, too).

But instead of facing the situation squarely, the City Club of Portland is putting a lot of effort into "Mending not Ending" this institution of mass democracy that has been taken over and is now rip snorting its way through Oregon's statutes, constitution and budgets just as the legislature does when the anti-middle class forces can get it to sit, stay and heel the way it could back in my day.

And you are wondering where the middle class went?

Money now buys and sells and places things on the ballot, and manipulates voters more and more and resources are shifted gradually from supporting and strengthening the middle class.

Look, I am responsible for the initiative in Oregon. I didn't invent it or even start it although sometimes people say I did. I was one of the leaders to implement it in Oregon and I will go to my grave regretting that.

OK, I didn't actually start regretting it until I was in my grave. But in my defense it didn't become the Frankenstein's monster I now urge you to kill until after I died.

As I have said: because, dollar for dollar, Oregonians (and Americans in general) are equal you in the middle class will never be the equal to the people who are behind most of the initiatives (or even political candidates), these days.

We Populists and our cousins in the Republican Party, the Progressives, thought we could beat them and put the farmers and those of us who would some day be called "cloth coat Republicans" in charge of government. But our experience makes abundantly clear that you will never beat them, you can only beat them back, temporarily, and then beat them back again when that needs to happen. It's like having forsythia planted outside. Keep the pruning shears handy--and sharp--or it will fill your yard.

The initiative is a perfect example of their ability to bind their victims with leash intended to control them. Originally intended to get around the lock that capital (in the form of the timber industry and the railroads) had on the legislature, it is now just one more tool in the box of pumping resources out of the middle class. Wealth now uses the initiative and the initiative delivers more wealth.

Follow the money.

Who funds most initiatives these days?

That you can look up. It's undeniable that initiatives are rarely funded by the middle class.

Who does it serve?

That you have to think about.

All that tax limitation stuff? Don't think about how many property owners got "tax relief." Think, rather, about the 100 "property owners" who got the most money from those limitations.

(It's like the "kicker" checks: don't think about the average amount of the kicker--demand to see who got the 100 largest kicker checks. "It's our money." Pul-eeze)

The primary beneficiaries weren't individual human beings, at least they weren't considered such prior to a certain line of US Supreme Court holdings that read the civil war amendments to apply to "super human" "citizens."

So, did the initiative serve the middle class regarding the tax limitations? No. This is one example of how the initiative has been used systematically destroy the middle class.

The crime initiatives? Help the middle class?

These caused a massive transfer of wealth from education and the social safety net to the people who build and sell things to a bloated prison system. And what has been the impact on the middle class of the dismantling of education and the social safety net?

(Don't forget--as has been said many times--Measure 11 caused crime to start going down in Oregon at least a year before it passed and in 49 states where it didn't apply. You can look it up.)

Follow the money.

I do not disagree with the thinking of those who are currently trying to reform the initiative system in Oregon. Republicans (and everyone else) in Oregon should read what they have to say and think about it and tell their friends about it.

And read what the Federalist Papers had to say about "democracy," while you're in the library (if the library in your community is still there--supporting and maintaining the strong middle class that is the base of freedom and capitalism).

These "mend not end" people are guilty only of timidity and pulling punches.

The only place they are wrong is in their conclusion.

Take it from me, from the "Father of the Initiative."

We Populists and Progressives were wrong. We didn't foresee paid petition circulation, we didn't foresee the 30 second ads and the "yes means no" titles and we really didn't foresee the ridiculous idea that "money is speech."

Their money will always bend it, so don't mend it--end it.

So, although you will never beat them, you can beat them back. And to maintain a wide and strong middle class--the base of the republic, any republic--you need to do that, over and over.

Put legislative power back in the imperfect but far better republican process of representative government. Money will usually win there, of course (at least as long as we have the "dollar for dollar" equality of "money is speech"), but it can no longer win as big, there, as it can on the playing fields of Sizemore. After all, if it could, why would it be out using the initiative process? If the people behind the Bill Sizemores of the world could use the legislature as well as they could back in the Gilded Age we would not even know his name.

If you think I don't have more to say about this you don't take into account the amount of time I have on my hands.

I am just getting warmed up.

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