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Voters know what they want

In the aftermath of the election that concluded a week ago today, we are hearing sour-grape explanations for both the defeat of Ballot Measure 50 and the passage of Measure 49. For those on the losing end of Measure 50, which would have raised cigarette taxes by 84.5 cents per pack, the voters’ rejection was all about tobacco companies and the $12 million they spent to fight the tax increase. At the same time, there is another group of depressed activists who have their own theory about why Measure 49 — which rewrote Measure 37, the 2004 property-rights initiative — was approved by voters. These avid opponents of Measure 49 have congregated around the argument that the measure passed primarily because it was loaded by Democrats in the Legislature with a one-sided and misleading ballot title. We have no doubt that both factors — money and a seemingly biased ballot title — influenced the outcome of both Measures 49 and 50. But we would offer an alternative explanation for what happened Tuesday: The voters actually knew what they were doing. Voters make rational choices Oregonians, who often can be frustratingly independent and even contradictory in their wishes, also possess an innate voting wisdom. Perhaps what they objected to most about the proposed cigarette tax was the fact that it would have been enshrined in the Oregon Constitution — an unfortunate flaw that even supporters of the tax, including us, had to acknowledge. Similarly, we believe that voters passed Measure 49 because they recognized that Measure 37 had gone too far in allowing the opportunity for a rash of inappropriate development on farm and forest lands. Yes, some voters may have been seduced by an innocuous ballot title that didn’t fully describe the measure’s effects. But most people who go to the trouble to vote in an off-year election will do enough research to understand the issues. And we believe the majority viewed Measure 49 as a correction to Measure 37. Both issues require further work Regardless of why voters made their choices Nov. 6, the real question facing the state and its citizens is where do we go from here on these two critical issues. We haven’t changed our minds about the need to provide health coverage for more than 100,000 Oregon children who don’t have it. We also still believe that the state should do whatever it can to discourage smoking — including raising cigarette taxes. Comprehensive land use reform is needed as well. It’s possible — perhaps even likely — that Measure 49 will take Oregon too far in the direction of restricting private property rights of individuals. That’s why the Legislature cannot pat itself on the back and say this matter is concluded. When lawmakers meet in February, they must immediately restore funding for the Big Look Task Force and allow it to complete its recommendations to the 2009 Legislature regarding ways to update Oregon’s 35-year-old system of statewide land use planning. If legislators fail to address these larger land use questions, they should fully expect to face another series of battles at the ballot box. And Oregon voters, with all their reasonableness, will continue to look for the balance that the Legislature has failed to achieve in the past.