The State of Oregon – Very Progressive

EUGENE, ORE.–The buttons here read “Keep Oregon Oregon.” They need no further explanation to Oregonians. Many of the state’s residents do not want California-style sprawl and one-sided development. Former Gov. Tom McCall made national news a few years ago when he invited outsiders to visit Oregon but not to stay too long.

Oregon deserves to receive national attention in a more impressive way. The state has been FIRST in so much progressive legislation and citizen action that the other 49 states could benefit from the diffusion of the Oregonian experience.

Historically, Oregonians are entitled to some degree of pride. The direct democracy tools of initiative, referendum and recall now in the constitutions of more than 20 stateswere forged in Oregon early in this century. Direct election of U.S. senators came first in this state, too.

More recently in the ’70s, Oregon was the first to use highway trust funds to create bicycle and pedestrian paths, the first to ban fluorocarbon aerosols, the first to enact a bottle bill to recycle containers and reduce litter. It also is a leader in state and local land use planning.

While weighing the intensity of citizen activity is inescapably relative, one cannot but be impressed with the refreshing determination of people here to make their own public decisions directly. Initiative petitions to place proposals on the local and state ballot seem to be circulating everywhere. Instead of shaking hands, citizens are apt to ask people to sign petitions.

Now circulating for positions on the statewide ballot are petitions limiting nuclear power, banning certain aerial spraying of herbicides and concerning more than three dozen other issues. Some elected politicians, who do not like being circumvented by such referenda, are complaining about ballot clutter. But citizen groups believe that getting more than 55,000 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot,: reflects community support that qualifies for a vote. In how many other states would there be a controversy over too MANY citizeninitiatives?

In the fall of 1970, college students in Oregon rebounded against the decline in morale on campuses after the Kent State and Cambodian tragedies and formed the first student-funded Public Interest Research Group. There now are similar groups in more than two dozen states. The Oregon student group (it is called OSPIRG) spawned the well-known organization–One Thousand Friends of Oregon–which has won major victories using the state’s pioneering land-use laws.

But it is in the area of energy efficiency and renewable energy that the greatest ferment is evident. Portland’s weatherization program probably is the strongest in the nation. All over the state, people are moving to establish public utility districts to achieve local control over electric utilities and access to low-cost federal hydro-power.

The recent election of new members to the Eugene Water and Electric Board resulted in withdrawal of the board from involvement in the Trojan nuclear plant. Instead, the board has started an ambitious renewable energy production effort composed of cogeneration, wood-waste, wind, small hydro, geothermal and conservation.

The great anthropologist Margaret Mead used to say the competition between cities and between states over progressive goals would help mightily to motivate people. I suggest that Oregonians challenge other states to catch up with their scale of civic dedication by a bus tour through 49 states to convey that the Oregonian way can become contagious. For if Oregon can export its civic models, who knows? Fewer people may be emigrating to this green, wooded land by the Pacific.

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