Ballot measures are energizing voters in Washington, Oregon
By Brooks Jackson/CNN
SEATTLE (October 16) -- The Northwestern United States is the land of initiatives in 1998.Of the 60-some issues on ballots next month across the nation, nearly one-third are in the political test tubes of Oregon and Washington.
In Seattle a group of volunteers is dialing for votes. In one night the supporters of a initiative to raise the minimum wage make up to 4,000 calls, pushing the ballot measure and hoping to get more Democrats to the polls.
On Initiative 200, the Democrats are on the defensive, as volunteer phoners are part of a $1 million campaign defending state hiring and contracting preferences favoring minorities and women.
"Initiative 200 would wipe out all the affirmative action and equal opportunity programs in our state," one caller told a voter.
Democratic Gov. Gary Locke has also weighed in, insisting in one television ad, "Initiative 200 is written to sound good, but it's misleading and full of hidden consequences."
The ambitious campaign against the measure includes 2,500 volunteers and is backed up with money from local corporations like Boeing, Starbucks and Microsoft.
Seattle City Council member Martha Choe said, "It's a heck of a lot bigger than my campaign was, I'll tell you that much. It's tremendous."
Meanwhile, the other side works to mobilize conservative voters to end preferences.
John Carlson, chairman of Initiative 200, speculated there is more voter excitement about ballot initiatives than about the candidates because "initiatives change things, and candidates don't always change things."
And experts say ballot measures draw voters to the polls.
Political Scientist David Olson said, "The initiatives turn out the base of the party's support, and ... measure 200, which deals with affirmative action, is intended to bolster the base of the Republican party."
Washington has other measures on the ballot. One bans certain types of abortions. Others would cut the state car tax and allow medical use of marijuana. There are six in all.
And neighboring Oregon has more than a dozen, the most of any state, including one aimed at the timber industry.
John Gage, Oregonians for Labor Intensive Forest Economics said, "The industry has a lot of control in the legislature, OK? So the only way for us to be fully effective on getting something like this passed is through a citizens' effort."
Proposition 64 would require that woodlot owners leave at least 70 trees per acre.
For owners like Clyde Ramsay, the initiative would only allow him to cut a few of his trees. "It's the worst one yet," Ramsay said. "It would put us out of business. Completely out of business."
Timber interests have spent $3 million so far fighting the measure. The "Harvest of Hopes" ad, paid for by the Healthy Forests Allegiance, tells voters,"Bureaucrats and lawyers will end up managing our forests."
In this fight, the timber industry is winning.
Pollster Tim Hibbitts said, "To be blunt, money beats no money. The 'no' side has a large amount of money. To my knowledge the 'yes' side has little or no money whatsoever."
Oregon voters often cast more votes for ballot measures than for candidates, even candidates for president. This year they're voting on medical use of marijuana and banning payroll withholding of political donations by state workers. National trends could start here.
Initiative & Referendum Institute President Dane Waters said, "There's a lot of national movements looking at these issues to see how the voters respond, to see what they're going to do in 2000 and beyond."
Ballot measures are often raw politics, with millions of dollars of special-interest money on display. But they're also direct democracy, and they're energizing the voters.