Go easy on initiative rules

Sometimes the ability to hold your nose is an important part of life in a democratic society, especially one that puts a high value on citizen participation. Thus new rules and restrictions on Oregon's initiative process should be enacted with a light hand and a tolerance for dealing with unpopular subjects.

A couple of measures in the Oregon Legislature would change the initiative process. They're sparked by an effort from Kevin Mannix to establish mandatory minimum sentences for certain property crimes. Mannix is a former Republican state legislator who has run for governor.

The major money for the effort comes from Loren Parks, a former Oregonian who lives in Nevada and has been a big supporter of Mannix's past political activities, including the successful Ballot Measure 11 campaign in 1994, establishing mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes. The new initiative would institute mandatory sentences of 14 to 36 months for such crimes as manufacturing drugs, identity theft, burglary and forgery. Voters can decide on that if and when the measure actually gets on a ballot.

But proposed changes in the initiative process itself are moving ahead. The House has passed a billwith Democrats voting in favor, Republicans against. It's now in the Senate.

The bill requires paid signature-gatherers to register with the secretary of state and undergo training via video. Petition sponsors would have to gather 1,000 signatures, instead of 25, to get a ballot title.

The latter requirement could be a valid exercise in setting an essential qualification, though the number seems high. The rest looks like a mild form of harassment mixed with sour grapes.

Efforts to influence public policy with big money do have a smell to them, especially when they come from out of state, though in the Mannix case, Parks at least has Oregon ties.

It's up to voters to peek behind the curtain to see whose initiative it really is and what it would do. It also means people have to put up with campaigns and public discussions they'd just as soon skip.

It's better to err on the side of making it too easy for initiatives to qualify, than making it too hard. Rules aimed at minimizing the impact of big money from out of state could also hurt Oregonians and their efforts.

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