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A few words from the Editor March 2004

The dust had hardly settled before every pundit with some air time or ink started offering up reasons for the defeat of Measure 30. Voters are tired of being asked for money. Voters perceived that government is still full of fat. And then there’s my personal favorite: Voters were angered by Diane Linn offering county workers “snow days.”

Now, I’m no fan of Diane Linn. It may be ironic that someone who has been less than worker-friendly — remember her efforts to outsource the library janitors? — is being invited to the auto de fe for offering workers snow days. But to seriously suggest that a statewide ballot measure collapsed due to a contretemps by our county chair goes too, even for our personality-obsessed society.

Which is not to say some personalities shouldn’t be held accountable. Our bowling governor, for instance, showed a capacity for political cowardice only recently exceeded by his trip to Iraq and the pro-Bush publicity he helped generate. He made it no secret that he wouldn’t be expending a single political chit to see Measure 30 passed.

Then there were the spawn of Don McIntire and Bill Sizemore (remember him?) who helped set up and knock down the package. Russ Walker and others of his ilk clearly played a role in delivering the “no” vote last month — including delivering “progressive” Multnomah County into the “no” column.

Some blame also needs to go to the disorganized and mostly disengaged “Yes on 30” campaign. With the exception of organized labor, which mobilized its resources to turn out the vote, the rest of the campaign seemed to have checked out. This may be no smoking gun, but I did find it curious that this was the first election in which I wasn’t contacted — no mail, no doorhanger, no phone calls, nada.

Of course, the real culprits for the Measure 30 defeat are to be found much higher up the political food chain.

According to the contribution and expenditure reports filed by the political actions committees that opposed Measure 30, over $959,287 was raised to defeat the budget balancing measure. Three PACs — Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy, Oregon Family Council PAC and the Taxpayer Defense Fund — were responsible for nearly 90 percent of that figure. When we look behind the facades of those PAC, we find the usual suspects from the Right who have been working their agenda for over two decades in this state. There’s Wes Lematta and his CIA-linked Columbia Helicopters. Jeld-Wen, Inc., the folks who gave us workfare in Oregon, put up $55,100. Seneca Sawmill, a company that helped fund two recall efforts against Gov. Barbara Roberts tossed in $75,100. Some comfort could be found in the absence of Shilo Inn owner Mark Hemstreet, whose financial collapse removed him from this reactionary roundtable.
These are the fat boys who are plugged into the military-industrial-homeland security complex upon which they depend. They may not be the upper echelons of the elites, but they represent the lower orders willing to slug it out in the trenches to keep the wealth gap growing and power securely in the hands of the top 5 percent in this country.

When I was communications director for Oregon Public Employees Union, I used to describe this war on working people as a three-rail bank shot. The first rail represented the wedge issues that raise questions about how tax dollars are being spent. Next, with people inflammed over “welfare mothers” and overpaid state workers, came initiatives that undermine the tax base, starving government agencies. The third rail represented the reaction from a public further frustrated when government becomes even less efficient due to lack of funds. Finally, the ball rolls into the pocket that lets you privatize lucrative government operations and shut down those that get in the way.

The elites have been using that gambit with all the confidence of your best pool hall hustlers. It worked throughout the 1990s and it worked again in February with the defeat of Measure 30.

As we ratchet down to meet another series of cutbacks, it becomes even more difficult to bounce back because many of the tools upon which we rely — public information, regulatory agencies and legal redress — are vanishing.

The defeat of Measure 30 is part of a much larger movement to control us. It has been playing out through “structural adjustments” in the developing world and has now come home to roost. We can take a page from our sisters and brothers who have been fighting these trends for decades. We can accept that the best way to fight globalization is at home. We can organize and mobilize in the streets and at the ballot box. We can stop treating our politics like a lifestyle and recognize it is a struggle to survive. If that sounds too hard, there’s always Diane Linn to blame.




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Last Updated: April 3, 2004