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Northwest News Network

Yogi Berra Would Love This Year's Oregon Ballot

Chief petitioner Anthony Johnson prepares boxes of signatures to submit to the Oregon Secretary of State's office in Salem.
Chief petitioner Anthony Johnson prepares boxes of signatures to submit to the Oregon Secretary of State's office in Salem.

It's like deja vu all over again for Oregon voters this year. And it's not just because John Kitzhaber is making his fourth run for governor.

Chief petitioner Anthony Johnson prepares boxes of signatures to submit to the Oregon Secretary of State's office in Salem.
Credit Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network
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File photo. Measure 91 chief petitioner Anthony Johnson prepares to drop off initiative signatures at the state capitol in June.

Three of the measures on this year's ballot are making repeat appearances after voters rejected similar versions in the recent past. Oregon voters have already voted on recreational marijuana, a top-two primary, and labeling genetically engineered foods.

So what's different this time? For one thing: More money.

That's true for all three of this year's repeat ballot measures. Supporters have a much bigger stash of cash to work with this time around. But Anna Richter Taylor of Gallatin Public Affairs in Portland said that won't lead to an automatic victory.

"Someone who's run a ballot measure before should listen to the voters and learn lessons about why the voters said no the first time,” she said.

Lessons learned

The pro-marijuana campaign did just that. Portland attorney Bradley Steinman helped write the initiative that became Measure 91. He said the failed pot legalization attempt two years ago was far too permissive.

"It was the marijuana community. People that loved cannabis,” Steinman said. “‘We should be able to grow wherever we want to, however we want to. Free marijuana, no taxes.’"

He said this year's version should appeal more to voters who don't use pot. It provides more state oversight. A 1986 marijuana legalization measure also failed in Oregon.

Changing times

But that brings up another reason why backers of formerly failed measures hold out hope: the passage of time.

In 2002, Oregon voters turned down a measure that would require labels on genetically engineered foods. But former EPA scientist Ray Seidler says a lot has happened in the field of genetic engineering since then.

"Can you imagine the amount of science that has come out in the last 12 years?” Seidler asked. “That's a long time. It's more than a decade."

Seidler backs Measure 92 on this year's ballot. It would require food manufacturers and retailers to label genetically engineered foods.

More cynical voters

Also in the re-run camp is Measure 90. It would create a nonpartisan primary for all candidates. The top two would advance to the general election, regardless of party. It's strikingly similar to a 2008 initiative that barely got one-third of the vote.

"What's changed is not so much the measure but what's changed is increasing voter cynicism, increasing dysfunction particularly at the federal level with government shutdowns,” said Jim Kelly, the man behind this year's effort.

Kelly pointed out that the percentage of Oregon voters who aren't registered with a major party has risen each election cycle in the past six years. He thinks that will work in his favor.

Of course, some ideas have appeared many times on the Oregon ballot with little to show. Think sales tax. But the sponsors of this year's three re-run measures hope this time, Oregon voters will be more receptive.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network