Failed Oregon ballot measures make comebacks
SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- The looming election season looks to bring a bit of deja vu to anyone who's spent some time voting in Oregon.
In the last three decades voters have decided against legalizing marijuana, building a new casino near Portland and banning gillnet fishing on the Columbia River. Variations on those ideas are among at least a half-dozen that appear to be on track to qualify for the ballot in November, and their proponents are hoping for a better outcome this time around.
Ballot measure advocates are rushing to collect last-minute signatures and turn in petition sheets to the secretary of state's office before a deadline Friday.
Elections officials have until August 5 to verify names and decide which initiatives have enough valid signatures to make it onto the November ballot. So far, only one initiative has been officially certified for the ballot -- a measure sought by real estate agents that would prohibit transfer taxes on the sale of property.
Two Lake Oswego businessmen and a Canadian investment firm are trying again with a proposal to build Oregon's first nontribal casino, despite a firm rejection at the ballot box just two years.
This time around, the proponents have opened the door to other nontribal casinos, restricted how close they can be to tribal casinos and tweaked the method of sharing gambling earnings with schools.
The casino proposal is actually two measures -- a constitutional amendment creating a process of establishing nontribal casinos, and a separate law authorizing the specific casino at the former Multnomah Kennel Club dog track in Wood Village, just east of Portland. The track is the same site where Bruce Studer, Matt Rossman and Clairvest Investment Group Inc., of Toronto proposed building two years ago.
Despite the similarities, proponents reject comparisons to the failed 2010 measure.
"This development and its benefits to schools and the economy has never been fully introduced to the voters," said Anna Richter-Taylor, a spokeswoman for the project.
Oregon's tribal casinos have opposed the new project, saying it would benefit private investors and create significant competition for gambling dollars that currently support services for Native Americans.
The new casino would be on the edge of the Portland metro area, far closer to Oregon's largest population center than the nearest existing casino, Spirit Mountain, about 40 miles southwest of downtown Portland.
Another measure is re-emerging after far more time. Opponents of gillnet fishing say they have enough signatures for a ballot measure to ban the practice on the Columbia River. Conservation groups and the sport-fishing industry have tried unsuccessfully to convince the Legislature to outlaw the practice.
Gillnets trap fish by their gills and are used by commercial fishers harvesting hatchery salmon. Critics say the nets are indiscriminate and inevitably kill other fish and wildlife.
"The problem with gillnets is that they not only get targeted hatchery fish, but they also get those threatened and endangered species we're trying to protect," said Eric Stachon, a spokesman for the ballot measure proponents.
Gillnetters warn that the measure would destroy their livelihood and decimate against the commercial fishing industry. Opponents also say the measure would drive gillnetters to the Washington side of the Columbia.
Voters last weighed in on gillnet fishing in 1992, rejecting a measure that would have limited fish harvests on the Lower Columbia to the most selective means possible.
A proposal to legalize marijuana could also make the ballot, more than 25 years after 74 percent of voters rejected the idea in 1986.
Two separate measures have been circulated and both have collected thousands of signatures. But Bob Wolfe, chief petitioner of one proposal, said his signatures are being invalidated at an unexpectedly high rate and his measure probably won't qualify for the ballot.
Paul Stanford, a longtime marijuana legalization advocate who is pushing a separate petition, said his Cannabis Tax Act is on track to qualify, even with a higher-than-usual rejection rate for signatures.
Voters will also decide on two other measures that were referred to the ballot by the Legislature. One would amend the constitution to fix some grammatical errors and clarify that Oregon is divided into three "branches" of government, instead of the executive, legislative and judicial "departments." The other would create emergency powers for the governor and the Legislature if there's a major catastrophe such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)