Measure 73 is more smoke and mirrors on the fear front

by Erika Spaet, Guest Columnist

Do you consider yourself to be a foolish person? I certainly don’t. But that’s what tough-on-crime forces in this state think we are: dumb. By using scare tactics, inaccurate information and millions of out-of-state dollars, political agenda-setters have put forward — and passed — regressive public safety ballot measures, and now more than ever, we need to be smarter voters.

The most notable public safety ballot measure is Measure 11. As you know, Measure 11 created mandatory-minimum sentences for 21 crimes in Oregon and exponentially increased our prison population and corrections spending. It was crafted by Oregon politician Kevin Mannix and funded by out-of-state donor Loren Parks.

And now Mannix is at it again. Why? To gain political power. His latest effort, Measure 73, is designed to sucker-punch the public by using fear- mongering tactics that tap into the public’s desire to be safe.

Oregon adopted the ballot measure system in 1902 as a way of giving voters more direct representation in state policy. Since then, Oregon has used the initiative system more than almost any state. It’s even called the “Oregon System.” It’s the same system that got Oregon women the right to vote and gave Oregon workers the eight-hour day. But in the latter 20th century, the system started to be abused. Now, politicos with cash-lined pockets can put things on the ballot — without any public support — that play on public fear and prejudice.

Measure 73 is an excellent example of a public safety ballot measure that would impose a detrimental policy on Oregon’s public safety system — and its economy. The measure would require mandatory-minimum sentences of 25 years for select repeat sex offense convictions and mandatory incarceration for repeat drunk-driving offenses. These two crimes have nothing to do with one another, but there aren’t many voters who, upon first glance at the measure, wouldn’t cry “Yes! Lock ‘em up!”

Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of Measure 73 Kevin Mannix’s latest quest for political relevancy. It’s plain bad policy, and I urge Oregonians to vote no on Measure 73.

First of all, it’s an unfunded mandate. Oregon is facing a $3.5 billion shortfall, and Measure 73 has no planned funding source. It would cost a projected $60 million per biennium, taking money away from important services, like treatment and programs for seniors and the disabled, that have been cut too much already.

Disturbingly, kids would get caught up in the harsh sentences of Measure 73. The measure is so poorly crafted that kids as young as 15 could be given mandatory 25-year sentences for sexting. Sexting is a problem, but it doesn’t require extreme prison sentences.

Finally, Measure 73 is the wrong solution for what are serious problems. It doesn’t address the cause of either sexual assault or drunk driving, nor does it treat the problem. Services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence go largely underfunded in Oregon. Last year, almost 20,000 requests for emergency shelter for victims of violence were denied due to a lack of funding. That’s 20,000 people that needed a safe place to stay but who couldn’t get it. Kevin Mannix didn’t bother asking advocates and service providers what would make their clients safer. In fact, coalitions of organizations that provide services to survivors of violence have come out against Measure 73.

There are a lot of messages flying around out there. Proponents of Measure 73 say Measure 73 is only for the “worst of the worst” repeat offenders. This just isn’t true. Because of the way the court system works, a person as young as 15 can find themselves before a judge for the first time and subject to these sentences. Proponents also say that when it comes to funding, it’s the state’s responsibility to keep us safe. It’s about priorities. I’d agree—it is about priorities.

But do we really want to prioritize incarceration, which doesn’t make us safer, over education, treatment and services to victims, all things that do make us safer?

Now, I could paint you a picture of what could be the horrible effects of Measure 73, but I won’t — I don’t want to scare you. That’s Kevin Mannix’s job. Let me instead paint the picture for what kind of community I want.

I want to live in a state where we treat kids like kids and where survivors of violence have a safe place to sleep at night away from their abusers. I want to live in a state where people struggling in addiction have the support and resources they need to be safe and find a way out of their disease. I want to live in a state where people in prison can live with dignity and where we support them to be successful once they’re out. And I want to live in a state where our laws are thoughtfully crafted, voters are educated on the issues, and where the richest person doesn’t necessarily win. That’s the Oregon I want.

Measure 73 is just one of the many “tough-on-crime” ballot measures Oregonians have been forced to consider, and Oregon deserves better. We deserve smart, thoughtful policies that address the root causes of crime and violence and provide services to people who survive that violence.

This is my charge to you today. Learn what the measures are about, ask critical questions and when it comes to Measure 73, vote no. You’re not foolish, I’m not foolish, and we can’t let ourselves be fooled anymore by tough-on-crime ballot measures.

Erika Spaet is a volunteer with Partnership for Safety and Justice in Oregon, which advocates on issues regarding public safety and the criminal justice system.

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