Our Oregon, a group funded largely by public-employee unions, has sent Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson a clear message: We don't like your plan to make it easier for Oregon voters to be heard.
Richardson had proposed new rules that would make it more straightforward to get initiative petitions on the ballot. Our Oregon filed a lawsuit to stop the rule change. And so Richardson has stopped his new rules from going into effect and asked the Oregon Legislature make it clear the rule change is legal by writing it into law.
It's a good switch in tactics from Richardson to ensure his proposed changes withstand any legal challenge. But because the short, off-year legislative sessions were supposed to be for critical legislative matters, any change in the law should wait for the 2019 legislative session.
Richardson's rule change affects when would-be petitioners can start gathering signatures to get an initiative on the ballot. The way it works now is people can submit a proposed ballot measure to the Secretary of State's Office. But before they can gather the needed signatures to actually put the initiative on the ballot, the state attorney general must write a ballot title, a summary of what a "yes" and "no" vote would do and a longer summary about the initiative. Voters get the final say on any initiative at the ballot box.
Groups that want to slow or stifle an initiative can challenge the language used by the attorney general. Petitioners can't start gathering signatures to even get a chance to put an initiative on the ballot until after those legal challenges are resolved. Richardson's rule change would allow petition gatherers to start gathering signatures even if challenges to the attorney general's language were still in court. Voters still get the final say on voting an initiative up or down.
It's understandable why Our Oregon, supported in part by unions, doesn't want Richardson's change in rules. Ballot measures have been used in the past to put limits on state taxes, which indirectly limit the number of public employees and their pay.
A Legislature controlled by Democrats seems unlikely to be eager to comply with Richardson's request to change the rules, because unions are an important constituent. But legislators are elected to serve the entire state. They should make the change to ensure it's easier for Oregonians to be heard.