Abortion, Immigration Opponents Say They Will Have Ballot Measures In November

Jul 7, 2018
Originally published on July 9, 2018 8:56 am

Supporters of controversial initiatives on abortion and immigration hope to qualify for the November ballot in Oregon after they turned in the last of their petition signatures before the Friday afternoon deadline.

The two initiatives – which seek to ban state funding for abortion and to overturn Oregon’s sanctuary state law – could take place on the ballot next to two tax-related measures that have already qualified.

The sanctuary and abortion campaigns were both mostly grassroots efforts that scrambled to collect enough signatures, and there’s some doubt whether they will end up with enough to qualify.

“I feel pretty good,” said Jeff Jimerson, a chief sponsor of the anti-abortion initiative. “But you know nothing is guaranteed until all is said and done.”

Both measures have drawn widespread opposition and are expected to face well-organized opposition campaigns if they do go before voters. They come at a time when both issues are in the national spotlight.

President Donald Trump has made a crackdown on immigration — both legal and illegal — a centerpiece of his administration. And the retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy could lead to a new majority on the court that seeks to overturn the Roe vs. Wade ruling declaring that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

A coalition of Oregon abortion-rights groups said that if the measure makes the ballot, they expect Oregonians to reject it — just as they deep-sixed five previous anti-abortion measures over the last four decades.

“The individuals behind this proposed measure are out of step with Oregon voters, who strongly believe each of us should have access to the full range of reproductive health care,” said a statement from the coalition, named “No Cuts to Care.”

Jimerson’s measure is largely aimed at cutting off state funds for abortions for low-income women. Oregon is one of 17 states that provide this coverage. In addition, the initiative could cut off abortion coverage in public employee health insurance plans.

Jimerson’s group turned in what it claimed was just over 141,000 signatures. That’s a margin of about 20 percent above the 117,578 valid signatures required for the proposed constitutional amendment. Well-funded initiative campaigns generally shoot for a much higher cushion to ensure a spot on the ballot.

The anti-sanctuary measure appears to have a bigger cushion. Backers turned in what they said were just over 110,000 signatures, a margin of about 25 percent over the threshold required for statutory changes.

Cynthia Kendoll, president of Oregonians For Immigration Reform, said her group attracted an outpouring of support from voters seeking tighter controls on immigration. For Oregon “to have a law forbidding law enforcement from working with federal immigration authorities seems really, really silly,” she said.

Opponents described it as an “anti-immigrant ballot measure” that would overturn a 1987 law that has long protected Oregonians from unfair racial profiling.  

Andrea Williams, executive director of Causa, an immigrants rights group, said in a statement that no one “should have to live in fear that doing basic things like going to work or school or reporting a crime to police could result in harassment or their families being torn apart.”

State elections officials have until Aug. 6 to decide whether the initiatives have enough valid signatures. In addition, officials are looking at a flurry of complaints filed against three of the measures charging that they have violated several laws regulating petitioning and campaign finance.

The abortion and sanctuary measures are both facing probes, as is a measure that would require a three-fifths vote of the Legislature for all tax and fee increases.

State Elections Director Steve Trout said his office has to move ahead with signature verification while those investigations are ongoing. Potentially, he said, a court could decide to strike a measure from the ballot or, if it’s after the ballot is finalized, to order that the votes on a measure not be counted.

Backers of all three measures say they are confident they will survive any legal challenges.

The other tax measure headed to the ballot would amend the state constitution to prohibit new taxes on the sale of groceries. The measure was financed by major grocery chains that want to head off additional attempts to impose a gross receipts tax on their businesses.

The petition deadline came just one day after Gov. Kate Brown announced she had brokered a deal to keep one initiative off the ballot. Leaders of two public employee unions announced they were dropping a measure requiring large corporations to release information on how much they paid in state taxes, as well as other information about their workforce and their salaries.

Nike, the state’s largest home-grown company, complained that the disclosures would put them at a competitive disadvantage.  

The unions said they would focus their money on opposing the two tax measures and would be joined by some business opposition – reportedly including Nike.

Shaun Jillions, a lobbyist representing the Oregon Association of Realtors, said he expected broad business support for the tax measure requiring a three-fifths vote despite Nike’s apparent opposition.

“Nike has a history of cutting its own deals,” said Jillions.

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