Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Get Out the Vote-- and your Voters' Pamphlet

“Once again, it’s time for Oregon voters to make good on the bargain we made for living in a free country. It’s time to vote.”
- Bill Bradbury, Introduction to the Voters’ Pamphlet


Alright, ladies and gents: for months we have been fixated on the race for the White House and now it’s time to look closer to home. Don’t you have some state and local issues to think about? It’s easy to get swept up in the charisma and hero-worship of the presidential elections, but the less glamorous home state politicians and measures will be the choices that most directly affect you. So get your head out of the clouds and pick up that two-volume tome called The Voters’ Pamphlet.

Reason Number One why you should read it: Because your taxes paid for the Pamphlet’s publication and distribution. It’s good to have a look every now and then at what you paid for. No, really, Reason Number One is simply this—you should really know what’s what before deciding to vote. Or at least, have some idea of what you think is what.

Reason Number Two is a well-kept secret, but here it is: The Voters’ Pamphlet is funny. Not all-the-way-through funny, but parts of it certainly are, depending on your sense of humor. Over two nights I put aside my book of Haruki Murakami short stories and sacrificed a few extra hours of sleep so that I could get my ballot all inked in. And I have to say, I was not disappointed; there are some gems in those newsprint-paper pages.

Take for example the candidates statements. Only in a free society can some of these people actually stand up and take themselves seriously. Some candidates run on the platform of “I’m not him (or her)”, said pointing at the corrupt, scurrilous incumbent or shoo-in. Who knew so many nice looking people were really the villains they are being made out to be? Awesome inflammatory statements concerning Federal Real ID and our ability to buy groceries can be found on page 24 of Book Two. New World Order here we come!

The Voters’ Pamphlet also offers us a rare opportunity to laugh at ourselves. I like the homemaker who decided to pursue a job as a Congressional Representative because “I’m fed up”. That takes a lot of initiative. Most fed-up Oregonians I know grab a microbrew and turn on the Daily Show to laugh at all the crap they’re fed up with. So when someone gets pissed off enough to get off the couch, we have to admire her chutzpah and say “thank goodness it’s not me” and feel a little lazy and selfish and sane.

You can also find some rich one-liners. “My policy is: slavery bad – liberty good.” Notice that all of this is printed sans commas, which makes me want to say: “Grammar, bad—Grammar-check, good.” But it mostly reminds me of that whole “Me Tarzan – You Jane” thing. At least the guy has the good humor to look smug in his picture. While I agree that slavery is bad, reading further, human trafficking is not mentioned, nor is reparations for African Americans. Hmmm…and he wants to be State Attorney General? Of what, 1852? The guy has some—albeit, , not so humorous—good points, but the policy statement at the beginning left me scratching my head, waiting for some connecting dots. Perhaps a better statement would have been “My policy is: frivolous lawsuits and relying entirely on government to bail your ass out: bad – liberty and personal responsibility: awesome, dude!”

Not to be forgotten is the candidate for the Bureau of Labor and Industry, whose statement includes a rather lengthy plug for his fitness business, including a phone number and website. His platform is full of ideals, ideas, and vitriol against the incumbent. This makes for interesting reading, in a catty US Magazine sort of way.

Head into the Measures, which will simultaneously intrigue and give you a headache by the time you are done, most especially those introduced by that wily Bill Sizemore. Like so much bad writing, Sizemore’s measures lack precision and nuance, which puts him on my list for Most Reviled Authors for making me wade through this crap. If you detect a bit of disgust, let me just make clear that Measures 58, 59, 60, 63, and 64 are unpleasant reading, filled with vague descriptions and lots of doubletalk. I don’t like having hazy writing to pick apart election after election, especially 64, which we have voted on again and again and repeatedly said “no” to. While some of his measures do address problems that need better solutions than what’s been implemented so far, a bad solution is not necessarily a better solution. Change for the sake of change is not better.

But the arguments that follow his measures are too good to be true. Take, for example, the arguments in support of Measure 58. Most use the outdated acronym “ESL” (English as a Second Language). “ESL” has actually been replaced with “ELL”, an acronym for English Language Learners, an acknowledgement that many students are learning English as a third or fourth language. This makes me think that the writers of these arguments don’t actually have much knowledge of the teaching of English language learners. My very favorite argument in support of 58 can be found by page 46, authored by M. Dennis Moore, a pamphlet prankster who’s been subversively supporting asinine measures for nearly 20 years. Following the pages of dry, hard reading that are indicative of a Sizemore measure, Moore is a delight.

But Moore is outdone by a couple ironic “Arguments in Favor” that follow many of Sizemore’s measures, including one by Sizemore himself. In the pages of both Measures 60 and 64, you can find the almost tabloid question that asks “Was Bill Sizemore Railroaded?” and lays out a blow by blow account of the injustices done to Sizemore’s reputation via the viciously biased and corrupt justice system. This ad—I call it an ad because it not actually an argument in favor of anything but Bill Sizemore—was bought by Sizemore and appears twice. Way to use up the taxpayers money to make it all about you, Bill. Kind of antithetical to your supposed principals of putting measures on the ballot to save us money used for those wasteful educational and public services. A mass mailing would have been a far more upright measure to take to make Sizemore look like less of a jerk.

Add to that my Very Favorite Ironic “Argument in Favor” that appears in the pages of Measures 58, 59, and 63 that begins “Burying You in Voter’s Pamphlet Arguments” and denounces the opposition strictly because they obviously have “tons of money to spend” and are going to brainwash us with their variety of people saying the same things. Almost like it’s a conspiracy! I love it when people who actually think voters are stupid pretend to be informing them for their own good. “Please do not be impressed with their multitude of words or their emotional pleas”. Wow! This is my favorite for so many reasons. But the best line of all, what really makes me rock with laughter, is this: “You might want to consider this simple fact: Every argument in the voters’ pamphlet cost the state several thousand dollars to print and distribute than the ones making the arguments actually pay to have their statement included. Taxpayers are hugely subsidizing every argument, including this one.” And it’s signed by Tim Rohrer, Oregon Tax Payers United. Three times this appears, my friends. Three times. What’s not to love?

The Voters’ Pamphlet also has moments where it pays to read, read, and read some more. Being an independent voter and having signed the ballot initiative to Measure 65, I’m a bit wary and very disappointed. It looks good, really, but read the fine print. It’s going to cost the state a whole lot more, and destroys the chances of third party candidates actually getting on the ballot. The idea of an open primary is appealing, but to have our vote subsequently limited to a non-choice of “Top Two” is not the answer for so many of us and risks alienating rural Oregonians, who often vote for Republican or independent candidates. The inclusion of all Oregonians in the political process is vital to the well-being of the state as a whole and sends a message to those areas beyond Multnomah County and Salem that we can all move into the future together. Every voice in Oregon deserves to be heard. Let’s hold off until they are willing to put forth legislation that would allow open primaries and the inclusion of all parties and their chosen candidates in the general election.

But of all the measures, there’s nothing more interesting than a measure that resonates with one personally, as do the opposing measures, 57 and 61. I’ve been watching this one for a while. As a person who has had to clean up the mess, both financially and legally, of identity theft, I am interested in what steps would be taken to prevent this sort of crime. Like fraternal twins, at first glance the measures look like siblings. But really, they are more like cousins. 61 takes a “tough on crime” stance, while 57 is tough on getting people out of the penal system through rehab and imposes sanctions against those who refuse to take the help. Drug addiction is a primary cause of the property crimes that lead to incarceration, and solving the problem at its root is the best possible answer.

If you are interested in the money matters, here’s a little quick math: Measure 57 will cost a total of $268 million to implement for the first four years and $143+ million each year afterward. The new prison space will cost a total of $517 million, which includes both the principal and the interest, which is to be paid over 25 years. In contrast, the implementation of Measure 61 has a predicted totals of $361 million as the low cost and $532 million as the high for the first four years, and projects that yearly costs afterward will run between $161 million and $274 million for each year afterward. The cost of new prisons under this measure will be between $1.1 BILLION and 1.3 BILLION, before the interest of $709 million to $844 million, not to mention that the state will be required to pay local governments up to $19 million each year. In a nutshell, just in the first four years, Measure 61 will cost taxpayers $2,170,000,000 (yep, that’s TWO BILLION PLUS) and Measure 57 will cost us $775 million. Just to summarize, since I’m doing the math for you, Measure 61 will end up costing at least 2.8 times as much and doesn’t actually solve anything. Sorry to put the BILLIONS in all caps, but I find them exciting as I will never have even a million dollars, ever. In this economy, it’s worth asking ourselves the question of how much we want to spend on punishing people who commit non-violent crimes.

So, I wanted to introduce you to a scintillating little read and have ended up doing your grade 5 long division. You’ll find the chicken scratch on my pamphlet pages. But the point in all this is, as they say on Reading Rainbow, “Don’t take my word for it…” – read it yourself. Think for yourself. And get out there and vote. It’s your civic duty.

And if you don’t vote, don’t you dare let me hear you complain.

2 comments:

Jenika said...

Hazel, you are one very talented and incisive writer. Your blog should have been included in WW last week! You blew my mind, Girlfriend!

Jenika

Hazel Dodge said...

Well, golly gee, thanks!