Within a few days Oregon voters will find general election ballots in their mailboxes. In addition to races for governor, congress, the Oregon Legislature and county commission, they must decide 10 statewide ballot measures.
As state representative for Lake Oswego and nearby areas, I'm running for re-election. But I'm also focusing on the ballot measures, because some of them could seriously harm Oregon's ability to cope with the challenges we face.
Measure 40 would require that the judges on Oregon's Supreme Court and Court of Appeals reside in, and be elected from, separate districts. There are worse measures on the ballot this year, but this one deserves more attention than it has received so far.
Under Measure 40 the state would be divided into seven Supreme Court districts, one for each member of the highest court. It would be divided into five Court of Appeals districts, each of which would have two members on the lower appellate court. Only the voters of a district would participate in elections to its judge positions.
The public doesn't understand the job of appellate courts very well. These courts take appeals from parties who have lost in a trial and decide whether the trial judge made an error in applying the constitution, a statute, or the common law.
Our appellate courts don't pass laws. They interpret them.
Measure 40 is based on the faulty notion that a judge should represent the views of just one part of the state. We already have a representative branch of government - it's called the Legislature. Ninety legislators are elected from every part of the state to bring the views of their districts to the making of Oregon's laws.
Appellate judges serve as wise elders, deciding what the law means. To do their job right, they need to be insulated from the pressure of special interests.
The founding fathers of the United States felt so strongly about this that they provided for federal judges to be appointed for life. In Oregon our appellate judges serve six-year terms and go before all Oregon voters when they seek reelection. This encourages them to interpret the law as they believe is right for all Oregonians.
No groundswell of popular opinion brought Measure 40 to the ballot. Like most other initiatives, paid signature gatherers passed the petitions.
Furthermore, the campaign to pass it has been financed almost entirely by a handful of wealthy individuals or the companies they own. These money men appear bent on politicizing the decisions made by our appellate courts.
If they succeed with Measure 40, we may see challengers with a political agenda running against incumbent judges in their districts, financed by these same contributors. But even if there is no overt challenge, the backers of the measure will accomplish their goal if they cause judges to decide cases differently based on how the residents of their district might react.
Oregon has many real problems. But the way we select our appellate judges is not one of them. Oregon voters should send a clear message on Measure 40 - vote no.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38.