May 2, 2008 Volume 109 Number 9

Union foe Sizemore poised for comeback

Longtime union foe Bill Sizemore appears poised to make a comeback this year.

Sizemore — the most prolific user of Oregon’s ballot initiative process — is a perennial backer of proposals to limit union political influence, cut state income taxes for the wealthy, and base school teacher pay on student test scores. Voters have rejected nearly all of his ballot measures, but with the financial backing of several conservative millionaires, Sizemore continues to return his proposals to the ballot — proposals that cost unions money and effort to defeat.

Sizemore was out of commission for a few years after a Multnomah County circuit court jury in 2002 found his groups guilty of a pattern of fraud and forgery. Sizemore’s groups were ordered to pay $2.5 million damages to the plaintiffs — the Oregon Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon.

In 2003, after lawyers for the union plaintiffs demonstrated that Sizemore had continued the same practices the jury had condemned, Judge Jerome LaBarre issued an injunction dissolving his organizations and restricting how he could handle money for ballot measure campaigns for five years.

Those prohibitions are due to expire soon, and in any case, Sizemore has come up with ways to evade the judge’s order — as well as a 2007 law passed by the Oregon Legislature to stop abuses in the initiative process.

Sizemore has been working to put six initiatives on the November 2008 ballot. They would:

  • Remove limits on the state income tax deduction for federal income taxes paid by individuals. [This would benefit the highest-income tax payers and deplete state government of revenues that fund education, public safety, and other priorities. Voters have rejected it before.]
  • Prohibit teaching public school students in languages other than English for more than two years.
  • Base teacher pay raises and job security on classroom performance, as measured by standardized tests. [Teachers unions have fought this successfully before, persuading voters that it’s a draconian proposal that would force teachers to teach to the test, and drive good teachers away from low-income schools where students don’t test as well.]
  • Allow up to $35,000 a year in improvements to property without a building permit.
  • Prohibit public employee union members from using paycheck deduction to contribute to their unions’ political campaigns.
  • Require a legislative super-majority to make laws take effect immediately upon the signature of the governor.

From June 2007 to January 2008, Sizemore turned in signatures for the first five of these ballot measures. That might be enough to qualify the initiatives for the ballot, but the secretary of state hasn’t verified the signatures yet. Sizemore has been asked to provide payroll records to prove the signatures were gathered in compliance with a ballot measure that banned paying signature gatherers by the signature. Sizemore has challenged that in court, and has refused to turn over the payroll records. The Secretary of State’s office notified Sizemore that his ballot measure committees are prohibited from obtaining further signatures until the records are turned in.

Meanwhile, the union lawsuit against Sizemore remains unsettled. Sizemore appealed the jury verdict and got damages reduced by the Oregon Court of Appeals in October 2006, but the case is now before the Oregon Supreme Court.

And on April 18, Sizemore was back in court for the second time for contempt of court proceedings. Lawyers for the union plaintiffs presented evidence that Sizemore has continued to violate the judge’s order by the way he handles money as chief petitioner for a stalled ballot measure campaign last year, and by creating a sham organization in Nevada to launder political contributions.

Judge Janice Wilson set a May 27 date to announce her decision in the contempt of court case; Sizemore could face fine or jail time, though the latter is unlikely.

To date, Sizemore has paid only $125,000 to OEA and AFT to reimburse them for attorney fees.


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