SALEM — While statewide attention is focused on controversial ballot measures, many Oregon voters face local decisions on issues that go above and beyond core public services.
A total of 104 city and county measures are on ballots across the state Nov. 6.
They range from whether the Astoria School District should raise $70 million for school improvements to whether to allow chickens and rabbits inside Lafayette city limits.
Many local measures on the ballot this year reflect the state’s humming economy, according to Jim Moore, a political scientist and director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University.
“The ballot measures that are out there now tend to be, ‘Economic life is fine for most of us, let’s try to make it better with these ballot measures,’” Moore said. “…It’s also a good time to take your three-year levies to the voters for school districts and things like that. Economic anxiety is low in a relatively good economy, whereas these things are really hard to pass if there’s a recession and people are worried about their jobs.”
For example, in booming Portland, voters will consider imposing a 1 percent surcharge on large companies to fund renewable and efficient energy projects and jobs.
But in a roundabout way, some measures continue to mirror deeper economic challenges in rural Oregon.
While a county museum might to some seem like a fluffy cause to pay for with bond money, supporters of this year’s Klamath County “heritage district” bond, which supports the county museum, have sought to fund the museum that way because the county can’t.
The county slashed its budget for the museum in 2010. Voters responded by keeping the museum afloat with bonds approved in 2011 and 2014. They need to be renewed again.
Richard Touslee, interim president of the Klamath County Historical Society, said he expects the bond — 5 cents on every $1,000 of assessed property value — will pass again.
“The cost is not exactly overburdening, in addition to any cost taxpayers have to pay for any variety of things,” Touslee said. “It is an addition, but a very small addition, and we think from what the public gets, we think they get great value.”
In the border city of Ontario, voters are considering whether to lift a 2015 ban on cannabis retailers. It’s one of 25 cannabis-related measures on the ballot in cities and counties.
Supporters of the cannabis measure in Ontario are making an economic argument: they say tax revenues could be a boon for the city, which went through significant budget cuts this year.
“Whether it passes or not, there’s going to be cannabis in Ontario,” said Dave Eyler, a chief petitioner for the measure. “You might as well make some money off it.”
Not all of the cannabis measures are lifting local bans on pot, which Oregon voted to legalize in 2014. In Turner, for example, voters will consider banning new cannabis businesses, while in Culver, voters are being asked whether to prohibit marijuana businesses altogether.
Voters in Umatilla, Baker, Douglas, Klamath, Lincoln, Linn, Lake and Columbia counties will consider measures that would prevent each county from using local resources to enforce state or federal laws that would infringe on gun rights granted by the Second Amendment.
The Wheeler, Coos, Curry and Wallowa county commissions already have directly implemented such laws.
Meanwhile, measures in Union and Jackson counties would expand the definition of a firearm to include accessories and ammunition, and would ban enforcement of laws restricting possession of firearms, accessories and ammunition that are deemed “unconstitutional” by a county sheriff.
The spate of measures to protect Second Amendment privileges is in part a reaction to efforts elsewhere in the state to restrict gun ownership.
Petitioners tried and failed to get two gun safety measures on the state ballot this year. One would have restricted the sale of certain types of semiautomatic firearms in Oregon, and the other would have restricted the transfer of firearms and how they’re stored and secured.
Kenneth Wisdom, a log yard operations manager who lives in La Grande, is the chief petitioner of the Union County measure and said that those petitions, as well as other state laws, prompted his local gun measure.
Wisdom said state law that prohibits state employees from carrying weapons in the workplace — unless carrying a weapon is a part of that employee’s assigned duties — as a catalyst for the measure.
“There’s just been so many gun restrictive laws that is wrong, that you never know what’s coming next,” Wisdom said. “And so we’ve all decided that it was time to just secure our counties at this point and move on.”
Moore, the political scientist, said those efforts can be compared to a spate of local measures in the early 1990s to ban public money from being spent to “promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality.”
“It’s not really going to change anything, it’s more to express an opinion,” Moore said. “It’s not like the Second Amendment is going to be interpreted differently because one county voted one way and another county voted another way.”
Reporter Claire Withycombe: [email protected] or 503-385-4903. Withycombe is a reporter for the East Oregonian working for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group, and Salem Reporter. Malheur Enterprise editor Les Zaitz leads the capital team.