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Don McIntire's fiery voice will be missed

It was startling, and sad, to hear on Friday that Don McIntire — the tax-cutting king of Oregon — had died.

McIntire was only 74 and at our last encounter was still filled with the anti-government fire that drove him 22 years ago to lead the campaign that permanently changed Oregon’s system of taxation.

McIntire, a longtime Gresham resident, will be remembered — either fondly or unforgivingly — for his leadership on 1990’s Measure 5. No ballot measure before or since has done more to reshape government financing in this state. Measure 5 didn’t just put a cap on property taxes. It also put the Legislature in charge of statewide school funding, which previously had been primarily a local responsibility. And it spawned a series of anti-tax measures to follow.

Some people view McIntire only through this prism, as the anti-tax, anti-government guy who either saved the homeowner from oppressive property taxes, or who caused lasting damage to government services in Oregon.

But there was much more to McIntire than Measure 5. He was a cigar-smoking, jazz-loving raconteur who would willingly engage anyone in a debate about the role of government. Unlike carefully scripted politicians who actually get elected to office, McIntire always said exactly what he believed, and as a libertarian, his belief was that government was something to be contained, reduced and eliminated wherever possible.

We should hasten to say that we often disagreed with McIntire, but he was also larger-then-life proof that you don’t have to agree with someone in order to like and respect him. McIntire was extremely intelligent and frankly fun to argue with. But most important, he wasn’t phony. He had a philosophy that guided his public life, and the activities he engaged in supported that philosophy — whether he was getting paid or not.

McIntire was also a link to another era in Oregon politics, before the initiative process was taken over by moneyed interests that want to advance singular causes for either personal or political advantage. In many respects, Measure 5 was one of the last of the great grassroots initiatives, in the tradition of initiatives that came before but not after. McIntire and his friend and mentor Tom Dennehy attempted similar property tax limitations before 1990, only to fall short either in signature gathering or at the ballot box.

In 1990, they used mostly volunteers to gather the signatures, and then they succeeded in passing the measure in the face of doom-and-gloom predictions from government officials.

We’re not sure whether, on the whole, Measure 5 has been completely good or bad for Oregon. But we do know that McIntire and Dennehy were sincere when they would talk about elderly homeowners whose property taxes were rising without regard to their incomes and their capacity to pay.

McIntire was often portrayed as a heartless budget cutter, but he wasn’t driven by cruelty. Rather, he was guided by an unwavering personal ideology that kept bringing him back into the fray. We won’t miss all of his ideas, but we will miss the person who produced them and who was always willing to discuss them at whatever length necessary.



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