This week I got to start getting my feet wet for my work with Healthy Democracy and the Citizens’ Initiative Review. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t totally understand what this process would even look like and I was grateful to hear Mariah’s enthusiasm for the process in the car ride to Portland. To help others understand what the CIR does, check out the video here:
Today was the day that the commissioners met to decide which ballot initiatives would benefit most from a citizens’ review. There were four measures that had collected enough signatures to qualify. Only two initiatives undergo a citizen review each ballot so narrowing the list from the four to two was a significant responsibility. The commission had established criteria to help them make the decision. As the commissioners spoke I began to understand more and more of what was at stake and how they had each come to be involved. I was fascinated with both the macro-process of doing democracy in this way AND with the micro-process of the meeting I was directly observing. I was struck with the magnitude of the decision that this group was charged with and the impact that it might have on Oregon’s future. Although the commission will not determine the outcome of the election, they definitely affect which issues get the benefit of intense citizen scrutiny. In doing so, considering the complexity of the issues, their potential impacts, and the persuasion and influence of parties for and against the issues were all critically important. I was fascinated watching the ways in which each commissioner contributed to the group’s collective decision and the ways that the chairman balanced the need for both structure and space/flexibility.
Aside from the substance of the meeting, there was an interesting mix of formality and informality in tone and process in the meeting. It was clear that the commissioners took the responsibility for selecting the two initiatives very seriously. They were also carefully diplomatic amongst themselves and clearly valued a dialogic process. That said, there was good-natured joking, flexibility, and commissioners wearing jeans and sandals. The combined effect made me incredibly grateful to live in Oregon and to be involved in this process.