This fall, Portland voters have the chance to consider five new ordinances and nine changes to the charter. Some have nearly universal support: the proposals to purge gender-specific references from the charter, for example, as well as the proposals to enact a land acknowledgment honoring Native people, a municipal ethics commission and the long-postponed Clean Elections proposal.

The 14 ballot questions that Enough is Enough wants Portland voters to reject Nov. 8 include five citizen-initiated referendums; eight questions proposed by the charter commission, and a question the City Council is initiating for a charter amendment that would incorporate gender-neutral language into the city charter. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

However, a new group, Enough is Enough, has launched an effort to defeat every question on the municipal ballot. That campaign is led by, among others, Nicholas Mavodones, a public official who earned respect in his decades of service on the school board, on Portland City Council and as mayor.

When a campaign arises from frustration rather than thoughtful public policy, voters should beware.

The ballot questions voters will consider each completed a lengthy process designed to weed out frivolous proposals or those with no support. Eight charter amendments have been in the works for over a year, many of which were unanimously approved by the duly elected Portland Charter Commission in a lengthy process that included about 100 public hearings. One amendment was proposed by Mayor Kate Snyder.

The five ordinances also qualified through a legal process. Each was supported by 1,500 signatures from voters, and was subject to public hearings and consideration by the council. Notably, the signature requirement is substantial – 20 times the signatures that City Council candidates must obtain to appear on the ballot.

An indiscriminate attack on all citizen initiatives and charter amendments is unwarranted, especially considering that nine of these ballot questions were triggered by the City Council itself. Among the council members who voted to launch the charter amendment process was the person now leading the opposition.


It is easy for longtime denizens of City Hall to wage a blanket campaign against every ballot measure on the grounds that they are too numerous, that “governing by initiative” is inherently flawed or that they represent an implied criticism of past or present officials.

But generations of democracy advocates fought for the right to be heard. Through blood, sweat and tears, they secured the power not only to choose our elected officials, but to vote directly on important policy questions where elected officials have failed to take action or where proponents think it important to obtain a mandate directly from the voters.

The ballot question campaign provides the most important vetting of all. These proposals now must stand up to public scrutiny as each and every voter in Portland gets their chance to weigh in. Some will likely pass, while others may not. But having come this far, they all should receive consideration on their merits. That debate can enrich democracy and clarify governing at the local level.

There is no substitute for the hard work of considering the merits of each proposal. Democracy can be frustrating. It is a participatory sport, not for the faint-hearted. To now throw out all charter commission recommendations and all citizen initiatives without considering their merits diminishes the role of voters.

In 20 years working on ballot questions and as an elected lawmaker, I know the limits of both the initiative process and the legislative process. I’ve seen deeply flawed bills enacted at the state level with little attention to the will of the voters.

I’ve also seen pro-democracy measures passed by citizen initiative that would never have survived the gauntlet of lobbyists, insiders and incumbent legislators in the State House.

The broadside attack on all ballot questions is not about the merits of the proposals or the wisdom of the proponents. It is not even a critique of the process itself. Ultimately, it reflects distrust of the voters and their ability to choose. It is ironic that Mavodones, elected so often by Portland voters, would be associated with this approach.

Anyone who believes the initiative process is broken can work to improve it, as others have who came before. Because this is a democracy, everyone has that right. Rather than an indiscriminate attack on all ballot questions, it would be far better to do the hard work of explaining why voters should – or should not – approve each on its merits.

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