Professor discusses power to change Oregon

“Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say, ‘This is my community and it’s my responsibility to make it better,’” Dr. Jackson Miller, associate professor of communication arts, said in his lecture.

He concluded his lecture about the initiative and referendum system with this powerful quotation of former Oregon governor Tom McCall on Oct. 13.

In the lecture, Miller presented the historical milestone of the system, where he notes its strengths and weaknesses.

He also presented the system’s process, contemporary issues and potential 2012 initiatives.

The system was known as “Oregon System,” because Oregon was the first state in the U.S. to carry out election voting on initiatives in 1904.

Since then, many measures were proposed and voted on by Oregonians to bring changes to the community on a legislative level. Some of these measures  included the banning or legalization of homosexual marriage and the use of medical marijuana.

However, these changes did not come easily.

Miller said people are more likely to vote to “maintain the status quo,” but he believed this direct democracy encourages citizens to be more aware of politics.

It also helps push issues that officials may be reluctant to discuss.

An example of these issues is the allowing of assisted suicide, where the officials hesitated to enact the passed measure and proceeded to put it back for voting as referendum before it was then passed again.

The process also has its weaknesses, however.

Miller said the process may give advocacy groups the ability to influence the political system and some measures passed can have the possibility of creating a lawsuit.

For example, when the measure on land-use laws was passed, a number of lawsuits were filed by descendants of landowners against the state government. The landowners’ descendants believed they had the right to reclaim the compensations to their ancestors.

There was much discussion about the system’s weaknesses that followed in the Q-and-A session, where Miller also admitted the system lacks some safeguard measures that other states have, like budget control or authentication of all signatures collected for each measure.

This was the reason why the lecture was held—to raise the awareness of the initiative system, which, as Miller mentioned, was not covered in the education system.

Miller said he hoped that the lecture would make the audience further discuss the topic and think about their power to shape the community.

As for Linfield students, Miller believed that they, like the rest of the Oregonians, are not well-informed enough about the system.

He advised that students, as individual voters, read as much as possible, such as written reports, editorials of different newspapers or voter’s guide by the league of women voters.

Cassie Wong/
Staff writer
Cassie Wong can be reached at

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