Sizemore initiative lawsuit tossed out

SALEM - It's official. Bill Sizemore's anti-union "paycheck deception" initiative won't be on the ballot this November. Marion County Judge Don Dickey on Aug. 28 dismissed a lawsuit filed by Sizemore to reinstate his failed Initiative 18 - and he denied the Oregon Taxpayers United executive director's request for a preliminary injunction, which would have compelled organized labor to move forward with a campaign to defeat it.

Sizemore claimed election officials improperly disqualified signatures for his initiative. The proposal fell 532 signatures short of the 89,048 needed to qualify for the ballot.

The Oregon AFL-CIO said Sizemore and his attorney "appeared to be grasping at straws" in their attempt to reinstate I-18, a petition that would have required unions to obtain annual authorization cards from members before using their payroll deductions for political purposes.

Oregonians have voted against similar measures three times in the last decade.

Sizemore's attorney, Eric Winters, called to the witness stand two chief petitioners who, like Sizemore, failed to qualify their own initiatives to the ballot. The witnesses complained of unfair treatment by county elections officials. But, as they described their involvement in the signature-checking process, it became clear that they all had ample opportunity to contest disputed signatures during the verification process, the AFL-CIO said.

Advocates for term limits and a campaign finance reform initiative described how they reviewed and challenged signatures determined by county elections officers to be invalid but never looked twice at signatures determined to be valid.

Jeannie Berg, executive director of the Voter Education Project, stated in an affidavit that county elections officers go to extra lengths to validate signatures even when they first appear to be invalid. But signatures that appear to be valid upon first examination are never reviewed thereafter.

The Voter Education Project is a union-backed watchdog group that has been observing the questionable signature-gathering practices of petitioners. The group submitted complaints with the secretary of state against six petitioners alleging forgery and/or misrepresentation. VEP presented its findings to the elections division, which in turn ruled that not enough valid signatures had been collected on I-18 to qualify for the ballot.

Sizemore then filed a lawsuit to overturn the secretary of state's ruling.

From the testimony of Berg and the witnesses called by Sizemore, Sizemore's earlier characterization of "hand-to-hand combat" in county elections offices appear to create an additional rationale for the judge to reject Sizemore's lawsuit, the AFL-CIO said. That's because both proponents and opponents of a number of initiatives had every opportunity to research, contest and challenge disputed signatures prior to the secretary of states deadline for announcing a final number of qualifying or disqualifying initiatives on Aug. 4.

"What I heard were arguments to replay the game after the buzzer had sounded just because they failed to win," said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt. "This appears to be a case of loser's remorse."

The Oregon AFL-CIO intervened in the lawsuit together with Service Employees Local 503 and Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and both Nesbitt and Berg submitted affidavits to support the secretary of state's disqualification of I-18.

For the most part, Sizemore's witnesses were not impressive, the AFL-CIO said. At one point, a key witness who had conducted a review of sample signatures for Sizemore couldn't remember the petition number for one of the initiatives. Sizemore tried to prompt the witness from the back of the courtroom, which caused the judge to admonish Sizemore's attorney for making hand signals to his witness.

At the annual convention of the Oregon Building and Construction Trades Council Aug. 21-23, Paul Phillips, president of PacWest Communications, told delegates that Sizemore's days as executive director of OTU are numbered.

"Sizemore will not win that (initiative petition) lawsuit," Phillips predicted. He also pointed to a racketeering lawsuit Sizemore faces this month brought by the Oregon Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Phillips said Sizemore was "ripped" at a recent meeting of OTU funders. "They're lining up to take his place. There is a lot of money to be made in these anti-labor, anti-government campaigns," he said. "It's not a philosophical thing ... this is a money thing."

According to Phillips, among the possible successors at OTU are anti-tax activist Don McIntire or Larry George, executive director of the property rights group Oregonians In Action.

Nesbitt told the NW Labor Press that he wouldn't be surprised to see Sizemore leave the state by the end of the year.

"I predict by the end of the year he will have moved to Montana and be growing a beard," Nesbitt said. (Editor's Note: Portions of this article are from the Oregon AFL-CIO Weekly Report.)

September 6, 2002 issue

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