My View: Voters are handed an illusion of choice

March 16th, 2016 - Portland Tribune

This short Oregon legislative session had a theme: Pass these bills or something worse awaits us on the ballot in November.

Most parents are familiar with the tactic. A child is offered two unappealing options, but given the choice they will accept the lesser of two evils. Although it’s not always easy, it usually works.

I feel like our Legislature is treating us like unruly toddlers.

It started with minimum wage. If we don’t have a reasonable compromise to raise the minimum wage, just wait to see what the voters pass in November. I’ve heard this argument from very reasonable people, who no doubt feel fatalistic about legislative and initiative petition outcomes.

Oregon already has the second-highest minimum wage in the country, tied to a carefully designed mechanism to raise the wage with inflation. It was $9.25 per hour, which most economists agree is healthy, and that it should be about 50 percent of the median wage.

Under the threat of ballot initiative to raise the minimum to $15 in just three years, the Legislature jumped into action to “save us” from reckless mob rule in November. The metro area minimum wage now will increase to $14.75 in six years, and other counties will cap at $13.50 and $12.50 in the same timeframe.

It’s better, right? Sure. You can brush your teeth and go to bed now, or you can play with your toys for 10 more minutes ... then brush your teeth and go to bed.

The difference is we’re adults, and the legislative and initiative process belongs to us. There is always a third option — voting no.

This theme came around again with the PGE/Pacific Power proposal to do away with coal in Oregon — which is a concept I support. But once again, it was pitched as “do it our way, or it will be worse as a ballot measure in November.”

Can’t we take our time to get it right? We rushed through this short legislative session offering “compromises” that end up being almost identical to the initiatives they are designed to prevent.

Supporters of the compromise will cite polling data to prove to us that the majority of Oregonians will storm the castle with pitchforks and torches in November if they don’t get their way. So we’re going to hand over a huge minimum wage hike, a new gross receipts tax (a hidden sales tax that doesn’t exempt food or medicine), and an expensive gesture to commit to alternative energy that may not reduce carbon but absolutely will raise electricity bills — all to keep these dangerous initiatives from a public vote.

But who are the legislative architects of compromise? They’re the ones propped up with campaign contributions from the same organizations pushing the measures. They’re joined in committee hearings by a handful of frustrated, no-voting Republicans whose minority presence is strictly ornamental.

Well, I’m not ready for bed yet, and I don’t think you should be either. I refuse to accept the illusion of choice offered to us by our elected leaders. If these ideas can’t be given the proper amount of time to consider in the Legislature, then we deserve the right to vote them down in November.

Oregonians deserve collaboration between parties — developing a thoughtful understanding of the issues and working jointly toward a solution that benefits us all.

Jeff Gudman is a Lake Oswego city councilor and a Republican candidate for state treasurer.