Initiative Petition 40 - English will be the Official Language in Oregon

All nations need a single, standard means of communication.  In America, that linguistic glue is English. Nothing encourages assimilation more than speaking a common language.  It would be ridiculous to have every state document printed in the nearly 140 different languages spoken in Oregon.  Unless there are compelling reasons, all official state business should be conducted in English.
The petition to make English the official language in Oregon was filed on April 2, 2015 as a statutory measure, requiring 88,184 verified signatures to be placed on the ballot in the November 2016 election for voters to decide whether to adopt or not.  The required 1,000 sponsorship signatures for the initiative to proceed were obtained and verification was completed on June 15, 2015.
The Chief Petitioners were Rep. Mike Nearman, Rep. Sal Esquivel, and Sen. Kim Thatcher. The Oregon Attorney General is empowered to write the ballot title for initiatives, and it was received on June 23, 2015.  The ballot title assigned was: “Requires government actions/communications in English (with specified exceptions), limits laws allowing non-English documents/services.” The public was given until July 8, 2015 to make comments on the ballot title.
The assigned ballot title was not satisfactory to the petition sponsors or to opponents of the measure. Opponents were represented by two Portland law firms.  Davis Wright Tremaine sent  objections in an 11-page letter on behalf of the ACLU, Asian and Pacific American Network of Oregon, and the Center for Intercultural Organizing.  Stoll Berne sent objections in a 7-page letter on behalf of Andrea Miller, Executive Director of CAUSA.  The result was that the Attorney General rewrote the ballot title, issuing it on July 23, 2015.  The new ballot title:  “Changes state/”subdivision” (undefined) laws regarding English/other-language use and requirements; exceptions; authorizes lawsuits.”
This garbled expression of the purpose and effect of the initiative was so unwieldy and misleading that initiative sponsors appealed it to the Oregon Supreme Court on August 7, 2015, causing a further delay in the initiative process. Unfortunately, the Court approved the cumbersome and non-enlightening ballot title without change on December 28, 2015.
Saddled with this edict, the sponsors could have no hope of success with the initiative.
As OFIR President Cynthia Kendoll pointed out in a press release of September 16, 2015, while the original ballot title was not as good as hoped, at least it was intelligible to the voters.  Of the new title, she said: “Nobody who reads the AG’s ballot description could possibly know that the underlying ballot proposal would make English the default language of government operations in Oregon, with common sense exceptions like protecting public health and safety, and allow Oregon to join the thirty-one other states who already have such laws on their books. … Obviously, Attorney General Rosenblum and the political class are afraid that a fair description of the initiative would result in voters passing the law.” 
One of the candidates in the 2016 Primary election, Dennis Richardson, candidate for Secretary of State, has brought the issue of citizens’ petitions into the campaign debate.  He addresses it on his website, saying:  “Dennis believes citizens have the right to petition their government. He’ll work to make the initiative process more transparent and citizen friendly. He’ll advocate for fair and non-partisan ballot titling by proposing a citizen’s commission on ballot titling, which would remove the process from partisan hands.”
The handling of citizens’ petitions is an important issue.  OFIR and other citizen groups have had problems in mounting initiatives and referenda because of apparent resistance from the Secretary of State and the Attorney General’s offices. The Secretary of State administers the process of filing the citizen measures, reviewing petition signatures, etc., and can use delays and other tactics to impede the process.  The Attorney General is empowered to write the ballot titles for initiatives and can slant the title to favor one side or the other.  (This year there are no choices within parties for the Attorney General’s office – there is only one Democrat running, Ellen Rosenblum, the incumbent, and Daniel Zene Crowe, Republican.)  Several issue-oriented groups have recently experienced difficulties as a result of unsatisfactory and slanted ballot titles. 
A fair and informative ballot title is essential because many voters are not knowledgeable about issues on the ballot; they depend on the words in the ballot title to inform themselves when voting.  The title is limited by law to only 15 words, so it must be carefully prepared to give a true picture of the proposal and its consequences.
If a group challenges the language of the title, this delays the process and reduces the time available for collecting signatures, which are due well before the election date as many thousands of signatures must be verified by the Secretary of State’s office before the measure is officially approved to go on the ballot. Then time is needed to include the measure in voter pamphlets, on ballots, etc.  If activists accept the skewed ballot title, they face severe problems of public misunderstanding and failure of the measure.   Thus incumbent Secretaries of State and Attorneys General can and do cripple the efforts of citizen activists with whom they disagree.  Candidate Richardson addresses these problems.