Supporters of a new anti-union ballot initiative turned in 1,484 signatures Aug. 5 to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
The initiative is dubbed the “Get Government Out of Politics Act,” by its authors. But “Get Public Employee Unions Out of Politics Act” might be a more accurate title.
Reached by phone, the initiative’s chief petitioner, Sandra Chapin, said its purpose is “to prevent public unions from taking money out of people’s checks to support political agendas.” The initiative would bar public employers from collecting union dues if any part goes toward political activities.
“All indications are that they are treating it seriously as a campaign,” said Scott Moore, spokesperson for Our Oregon, a union-backed ballot measure watchdog group. “It’s a direct attack on public employees, and it’s part of a nationwide effort to attack working families.”
The signatures were validated Aug. 5, but it could take several months for a ballot title to be certified. At that point, the initiative — currently known as “Petition 23” — would be approved to circulate, and to pay petitioners. To become a ballot measure on the November 2012 ballot, it will need 87,213 valid signatures from registered voters.
Chapin herself is a public employee — she’s an Applied Behavior Analysis assistant at High Desert Education Service District in Redmond, working with autistic students. In that job, she’s represented by the Oregon Education Association, the state’s biggest teachers union. At one time, Chapin said her union dues paid for political activities that she opposed. But she went through a process for objectors, and now has “Fair Share” employee status, which means she pays reduced dues that go only toward “representational” expenses.
Chapin was asked to serve as the initiative’s chief petitioner because of that stance, but she wouldn’t say who asked her, or who is backing the campaign, and she said she’s never met her fellow chief petitioner — retired Oregonian and anti-light-rail activist Mel Zucker.
Zucker, reached by phone, said former Oregonian editorial board member David Reinhard is a key figure in the effort, and is working full time on it.
The campaign address is a mailbox at downtown Portland Mailboxes etc. A message at the campaign phone number (971-258-9484), offered no additional information. Chapin said the campaign is paying circulators, but said she doesn’t know any details and doesn’t know who’s paying them. The Oregon Secretary of State’s campaign finance database lists a Get Government Out of Politics Petitioners Committee associated with the initiative. But the committee had reported no contributions or expenditures as of when this article went to press. Under Oregon law, the committee must report contributions and expenditures within 30 days. The group lists as its treasurer Carol Russell of Bandon, who has served on the Executive Board of the agribusiness lobby group Ag-PAC, and chairs the Oregon Cranberry Network.
Zucker said one figure who emphatically is not involved in this effort is Bill Sizemore.
“I don’t care what Bill Sizemore does,” Zucker said. “He is not affiliated with us. We can’t stand him.”
Sizemore, a perennial union foe, was the author of ballot measures that were very similar to Petition 23. Such proposals have sometimes been called “paycheck protection” by their backers, and “paycheck deception” by opponents. But whatever the label, the measures are intended to make it harder for public employee unions to gather political resources.
Voters rejected those measures in 1998, 2000, and 2008. And Sizemore is currently behind bars in Marion County for failure to file tax returns. But his associate Tim Rohrer, who took over the Sizemore signature gathering operation, is listed as chief petitioner on Petition 3, which is also aimed at the November 2012 ballot, and has been circulating since October 2010.
Moore, at Our Oregon, calls Petition 3 a “carbon copy” of Sizemore’s 2008 Ballot Measure 64.
So, incredibly, Oregon may witness two initiative campaigns for the 2012 season that are targeting public employee union political contributions. The two campaigns would presumably compete for funds from donors who want to limit political power of public employee unions.
“We’re watching them closely, as we do all of these measures,” Moore says.
Defend Oregon — the more campaign-oriented wing of Our Oregon — is gathering information about what petitions are being circulated and is calling on supporters to report sightings of signature gatherers here.
[UPDATE: Petition 23 was withdrawn by its sponsors on Aug. 30. The chief petitioners have not yet responded to phone messages from the Labor Press seeking explanation.]