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The Oregonian — Editorials

Steve Duin

This election is so corrupt as to be pointless


When U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty declared that the language on the PUD ballot measures "is inherently misleading and hinders the conveyance of accurate information to voters," I wanted to scream, "Welcome to Oregon politics."

Inherently misleading? Designed to prevent accurate information from reaching the voters? That's your average initiative campaign in a nutshell. It is the essence of the media blitz put together by PGE and those folksy "citizens" -- the average salary of whom is what, $300,000 plus? -- who are against the "government takeover."

No surprise there. You know where PGE is coming from. The company's livelihood and Enron bonuses are at stake. You expect the utility to toe the line between disingenuous and dishonest as it incites property-tax hysteria.

But the voters -- denied accurate information and battered by bald-faced exaggerations -- have reason to expect more from Multnomah County and the courts.

Instead, they have ballot language that overstates the tax implications of the two measures by a factor of a mere 10,000. They have the county Elections Division, which proceeded with business as usual and mailed out 345,000 ballots knowing there were legal issues involving the language on the suckers.

And once Haggerty stepped forward with a remedy -- newspaper notices to counter "state-mandated language that is profoundly misleading" -- the county and state appealed his decision to the 9th Circuit, which promptly blocked Haggerty's order.

As a result, deceptive ballots have papered the landscape, the inevitable end of a process that has been so corrupted that the election is absolutely meaningless. We can reasonably surmise this is precisely what county officials intended, given that Commission Chairwoman Diane Linn and Commissioners Lisa Naito, Maria Rojo de Steffey and Lonnie Roberts signed an argument in the Voters' Pamphlet opposing PUD formation.

Haggerty is far too subtle in his opinions, but they still reveal the shenanigans involved in warding off the legal challenge to the ballot warning, which states, "This measure may cause property taxes to increase more than 3 percent."

In his Oct. 3 opinion, Haggerty said "the court questions the accuracy" of statements made by the attorneys for the anti-PUD crowd. In his Oct. 17 opinion, Haggerty takes issue with the "unusual timing" of mailing out the ballots before that day's crucial hearing, noting that "defendants informed the court that the mailing was not required until Tuesday, October 21."

Asked why the county didn't wait for Haggerty's ruling, John Kauffman, director of elections, said, "We just did what we normally do. All of us are relying on the attorneys' advice on this. At no time were we told to interrupt our schedule and to wait for any kind of ruling.

"I don't think voters in the past have been confused by the language."

Kauffman, in other words, is comfortable with the scenario described by Dan Meek, the lawyer and much of the energy behind the PUD measures: "Right on the ballot, within a fraction of an inch from where the voter marks yes or no, is a statement that the federal judge has found to be patently false and profoundly misleading. Can we have a fair election? Probably not."

At this late date, Haggerty, the PUD supporters and the voters have no recourse. Meek can only hope Portland's City Council, while watching this travesty unfold, will finally summon the resolve to confront PGE: "Only an immediate and credible threat of eminent domain is going to preserve the value of the assets for the local ratepayers."

To which city Commissioner Randy Leonard replied, "Watching what PGE and Enron is doing is helpful to us for the next step. We have a utility that's out of control. No one should be misled into thinking that a majority of the council isn't prepared to do what we have to do to acquire PGE from Enron."

Not a moment -- or a deceptive ballot measure -- too soon.

Steve Duin: 503-221-8597; Steveduin[AT]; 1320 S.W. Broadway, Portland, OR 97201


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