The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group hosted an informative ballot measure forum on Monday evening in Room 296 of Smith Memorial Student Union. Several students from Portland State University attended the forum and were given the opportunity to debate on four particular ballot measures.
The program started with an introduction by Michael Bunsen, OSPIRG youth vote project coordinator, who organized the event for the benefit of answering potential queries and concerns from students.
The forum encouraged audience participation in a “debate style” format, as was advertised by OSPIRG prior to the event. Speakers representing both sides of issues directly affecting students were allotted a two-minute time slot to make their point clear.
The basic idea of the forum was to allow students to gain an increased educational and conceptual idea of what they will be voting for.
Measure 27 was the first issue addressed at the podium. Karl Zehr from the Oregon Concerned Citizens for Safe Foods Alliance was present to handle questions from the audience.
Measure 27 advocates marking genetically altered food on the packaging to allow consumers to know what they are buying.
Students posed a variety of questions on topics ranging from the effect of the measure on restaurants, food prices, consumer consumption and health hazards of genetically modified food products.
While the students were unanimous in voicing their opinion of choosing not to consume genetically modified products, they were quick to point out to fellow debaters that the real issue of the measure is to eventually allow the consumer the choice of available products and not to point out the purported evils of corporate agendas.
Measure 25 was the next issue on the agenda. Under this ballot measure, minimum wage in the state of Oregon would increase to $6.90 from the present $6.50.
Advocates for the measure say it will reduce poverty, while its opponents argue that there will be a direct increase in job losses and inflation.
Phil Donovan, campaign manager for the Coalition to Raise the Minimum Wage and Bill Perry from Save Oregon Jobs stood for and against the measure, respectively. They fielded a continuous barrage of questions from the student audience for their allotted half-hour slot.
Donovan considers this measure not a comprehensive solution to the issue of poverty but an opportunity for people coming off welfare programs to have a chance to increase their standard of living. Perry argued that Oregon had the highest minimum wage along with the highest unemployment rate, an economic liability.
In the question-and-answer session, students questioned the basis for advocating this increase in minimum wage.
Donovan offered the Consumer Price Index and the creation of a small, predictable increase of income for employers and employees alike in creating a superior standard of living.
The discussion flowed into Measure 17, which would reduce the minimum age for holding state office in the Oregon Senate and the Legislature from 21 to 18.
Dennis Tuuri, executive director of the Parent Education Association and Jake Oken-Berg from the Yes on 17 Committee were available to present their views for and against the measure.
Tuuri introduced his stance as primarily biblical along with common sense.
“There is a difference between participation in voting and participation in holding office,” he said.
Oken-Berg stated two factors for his support of the measure: consistency and fairness. Eighteen-year-olds are allowed to run for the office of mayor in a city, for attorney general, for superintendent of schools, etc., but not for Senate and government.
His second point was the opportunity for 18-year-olds to voice their opinions, bringing fresh and independent ideas.
“Every 18-year-old should be allowed the right to run and let the voters decide on whether he or she is a fit candidate,” Oken-Berg said.
Several members of the audience raised the point that if 18-year-old individuals have the right to hold state offices, then why not allow them to run for president and other governmental offices?
Oken-Berg fielded this question with the assurance that he did not advocate the measure to raise the age requirement because he saw a distinct difference between both sides. While one was purely for administrative purposes, where viewpoints could be debated with several other members, the other was a high-responsibility, executive job requiring important individual decisions.
Measure 23 was the last topic addressed at length by the forum. This measure provides for a universal health-care system for all legal residents of Oregon. The measure has a $20 billion operational cost and will result in a raise in taxes.
Dan Isaacson, campaign manager for Health Care for All Oregonians and Peggy Anet from Oregonians Against Unhealthy Taxes presented their views on this measure in much the same manner as the previous speakers.
Isaacson admitted that there were cost controls involved but in the long run it would prove beneficial to residents of Oregon to have health care readily available.
Anet agreed that the guaranteed free health care is an attractive concept but that there are several negative implications attached. She said that the program is a massive undertaking that would cut into the budgets of K-12 and higher education programs. In addition, projected revenues showed a maximum of $2 billion as opposed to costs of the previously mentioned $20 billion.
Students addressed the issue of where naturopathic medicine would fall under this health-care system, and wanted to know what would and would not be covered.
Isaacson stated that it would depend on the family physician to verify whether the treatment was necessary and within possible means, at which point the treatment would be covered.
“You can’t have a set budget by promising unlimited health care so long as it is within practitioner’s budget,” Anet rebutted.
Another concern raised was the question of whether free health care would create an influx of people into the state of Oregon.
Isaacson contended that residency requirements would hold this influx in place.
Anet called the scenario “anecdotal” and said it “undermines projected cost savings.”
“Maintaining a bifurcating system is not going to decrease administrative costs” she said.
Having discussed Measure 23, the program concluded with an informal discussion among students of the merits, demerits, opinions, facts and rumors of other proposals and ballot measures.