In 29 years as an Oregon resident, I've voted on ballot measures that covered pretty much all of the most contentious issues on the planet. Abortion. Assisted suicide. Gay marriage. Mandatory sentences for serious crimes. Medical marijuana. Legalized gambling. Pornography and nude (gynecological) "dancing." The list goes on and on.
Out here we get to vote on everything. And with our spiffy vote-by-mail system, we get to fill out our indifferent spouses' and friends' ballots, too. All they have to do is sign. Even the dead people get to vote, which is a kind of egalitarian touch.
One of the worst aspects of the constant flow of policy choices being made directly by the voters is the depressingly low level of discourse that precedes most of the elections. Often the campaigns for and against ballot measures seem designed to mislead the electorate, or at least distract it from what's really at hand.
Today in the mail I received a ballot measure campaign flyer that ranks right up there with the most obfuscatory that I have seen over those nearly three decades:
Hmmmm, what can this ballot measure be about? Something to do with law? That's supposed to be a lawyer, right? (Nice tie.)
Let's flip it over to the back and see what it says there:
Still not many clues. Something about "ignoring economics" and an "entitlement program." Sounds pretty University of Chicago to me. That grocery guy Joe Gilliam is against it -- maybe it has to do with the bottle bill, I know he hates that. And new taxes! Uh oh. Those have been dirty words since the Gipper. Still, pretty mysterious...
But hey, wait a minute. This thing opens up into a four-pager. Wow, must have cost a pretty penny. Let's see what's inside:
Whoa! Disrespecting the constitution? Deliberately avoiding taxpayer protections? Must be something horrible. But gee, I still can't figure out what it actually does. The punchline must be on page 3. Let's turn over to there and check it out:
Is that Abraham Lincoln? Wow, more "entitlement" stuff. Plus, risk to taxpayers! Risk -- that sounds bad. And yikes! Pandora's Box! I thought she smoked soft pack.
Anyway, the fact that Measure 50 is all about a tobacco tax increase appears only once in this fine document, and you'll have to look really, really hard to find it. Indeed, the words "cigar," "cigarette," "snuff," or "pipe" can't be found anywhere in it. Fill out the business reply card -- maybe they'll write back and tell you what the ballot measure actually does.
It's only when you look at the fine print on the back that you might actually begin to sense the truth:
You go, Philip Morris! The same people who sold us "safe" cigarettes are now selling us "save our constitution." Are we that gullible?
Don't get me wrong. The whole "for the children" pitch for this tax increase royally turns me off. Up until today, I was only mildly in favor of Measure 50, and inclined to stand on the sidelines. But after reading this tripe, there's no question in my mind. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.