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Public Safety Needs (Un)Serious Help

November 19th, 2009 by dk

I admire Bill Sizemore. He brings a certain evil genius to his ballot measures. He acknowledges and even celebrates the gamesmanship involved.
Smart, good-hearted, powerful people won’t play the game the way Sizemore does because they don’t want to appear unserious. Sizemore doesn’t care how he looks. He wants to win. When his opponents refuse to dignify his proposals with a full-throated response, they contribute to his success. Losing with dignity is still a loss.
When it comes to passing a ballot measure that increases taxes in any way for any purpose, Lane County has lost 13 straight. So what will the Citizen Advocates for Public Safety (CAPS) do if they determine there isn’t enough money to pay for adequate law enforcement, treatment programs, and related efforts to reduce crime across the county?
I’m not suggesting that CAPS co-chairs Dave Frohnmayer and Jean Tate try to think like Bill Sizemore if they must craft a ballot measure that increases funding for public safety. I’ll do it for them.
Recommend to the Lane County commissioners that they put before voters not one ballot measure, but two.
The first measure will have to ask for money. When it comes to public safety, we should remember that the working poor and the socially vulnerable have suffered more for the inadequacies of the system, so any tax considered should ask less or nothing of them. They’ve already paid. It may be a vacation home tax or a millionaire’s tax or a restaurant tax or a who-knows-what tax.
Now we get to the gamesmanship that B.S. indulges in so well. Follow that measure with this one: “Shall Lane County consider the voting patterns of the ballot measure above when allocating its limited public safety funds across Lane County’s 83 voter precincts?”
Some voters don’t want more public safety funding because they live in what they believe is (so far) a safe neighborhood, or they have dogs and guns that they trust more than badges, or because they find the criminals more sympathetic than law enforcement. Well and good. Let them vote their conscience.
But it’s time we exposed those who vote no for funding measures and then complain when the dog catcher isn’t available on Sundays.
A “no” vote on the second measure would force tacit admission that this voter prefers not to connect cause and effect. Some would label such people “anarchists.” The cause of their funding vote should not lead to the effect of more or less public safety funding in their neighborhood.
This plan won’t quite expose those who vote one way and then act another, but it will expose where most of them live. Every voter is entitled to his or her privacy. Any choice expressed on a ballot is a protected element of individual freedom. It can and should be kept private.
But vote totals for each precinct, on the other hand, are freely available to anyone who cares to look. Each precinct in Lane County has a couple thousand active voters. Trends are easy to spot. South Eugene voters like taxes. Rural voters don’t.
The imprecision of the precinct vote totals is what gives the ballot measure its evil charm. Too often we consider our vote such a private matter that we keep our opinions to ourselves. In this case, the specter of neighborhoods receiving public safety services according to their vote totals would change that. Neighbors will lobby one another because their collective vote might matter in tangible ways.
Voters will hear about the miseries we accept because parole officers are overworked, jail beds are in short supply, or response times are stretched to dangerous lengths — not from TV ads, but from their neighbors. The stories will be swapped like Christmas cookies.
Of course, if the funding measure passes, everyone will be required to pay, regardless of their precinct’s totals, because the vote of each individual is a protected privacy. That’s where the evil part of the genius comes in. Only the losers will know who they are, unless they lobbied their neighbors against the funding measure and it passed anyway.
Go now and do your serious work, Dave and Jean. You can tell everyone this wasn’t your idea.
Don Kahle ( has done work in Eugene since 1995 — some serious, some not. He was president of the City Club of Eugene in 2002. He published Comic News until 2005. He writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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