The Oregonian Editorial Board Endorses the CIR
Published: Wednesday, May 26, 2011
To get through the day anymore is to withstand a blizzard of incoming information: from the Web, from electronic and print news providers, from handheld devices and chirping phones, from blaring billboards and drivetime radio, from the dancing teen in the sandwich outfit pointing the way to Subway.
Much of it is dismissable. But sneaking into the mix go surprising, sometimes persuasive advertisements for ballot initiatives with profound outcomes for the way life is lived: Oregon property taxes, sentencing of criminals, land use limitations, medical marijuana.
Knowing what's false from true can be as difficult to figure as seeing spam for spam in an email directory.
The Oregon House of Representatives this week threw its support behind a truth-telling pilot project that employs Oregon citizens to debate ballot measures for several days and then to report what the measures really mean. It wants the Citizen Initiative Review Commission, whose analysis of criminal sentencing and medical marijuana measures appeared last year in the voters' pamphlet, to become a permanent part of state government.
This is a good thing that deserves to win swift approval by the Oregon Senate.
Since transparency is the overriding goal, the commission comes cheap to taxpayers: All funding comes from nongovernment sources, and corporations and unions are barred from contributing. Read: This thing is bias-free as well as free.
Even so, this Oregon success story still could face a hard road ahead.
Some opponents worry such a commission represents growth in government, already too large and expensive and in need of shrinkage. Others warn their tentative support would evaporate the second any such commission costs even a dime of taxpayer money.
We get it. But this pilot already has proved its worth.
In a rigorous evaluation by researchers from the University of Washington, two citizen panels convened last year were found to have clearly and dispassionately parsed difficult Measure 73, which called for increased minimum sentences on certain repeated crimes; and Measure 74, which called for a stepped-up medical marijuana system. And it found that the panels' findings were consequential for Oregon's voters.
Voters who read the panels' findings on Measures 73 and 74 were less likely to support them, narrowing the margin of passage on Measure 73 and significantly expanding the majority of voters who defeated Measure 74.
Consequential is the key word, not to be confused with persuasive. Most voters who read the panels' findings deepened their deliberations before voting and discovered several unknowns, among them unadvertised public costs associated with adoption. Even so, most voters could not accurately recall the panels' preferences on the measures and said it didn't really matter.
That's good news, it turns out. It means the initiative reviews do not add another partisan voice to the maelstrom of election-year pitches. It means that voters learned of many things that otherwise would be lost in all the pre-election spin.
Oregon is alone among states in doing this, though others are watching closely.
We've been leaders before. Making the Citizens Initiative Review Commission as much a part of life as the initiative process is just another -- and one that walks a very high road. It will, with Senate approval, help citizens protect the democracy by being informed voters.
It won't hurt, meanwhile, to push back on so much of the white noise engulfing modern life.
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