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From Elephants To Jails, Wide Range Of Issues Face Oregon Counties

OPB | May 20, 2014 12:55 p.m. | Updated: May 20, 2014 2:31 p.m.

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Let’s just say it, shall we: Most of the local measures that voters across Oregon will consider this primary season are not going to rock anyone’s world.

There’s the Multnomah County measure to transfer control of the local water and sewer district to an elected board — not exactly the stuff of intrigue. And House of Cards is unlikely to include a plot twist about Morrow County’s renewal of taxes for general operations.

But that doesn’t mean that county ballots this election season are devoid of all drama and backstories.

Take, for example, Clatsop County’s measure to ban bullhooks, electric prods and whips on performing elephants, felines and primates. Who knew that Astoria had such a problem with rogue circus masters? Or that this isn’t the first time the issue has surfaced in the county?

A similar initiative was voted down there just two years ago.

The measure is being sponsored by a group of animal rights activists in the community, who point to documented cases of animal abuse by major traveling circuses, including Ringling Brothers.

Meanwhile, in Southern Oregon, money is pouring in on both sides of what is shaping up to be among the most closely-watched issues of the season — whether to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Jackson and Josephine counties. If the ban passes, it could easily spread to other communities up and down the Pacific Coast, which is partly why biotech firms have dumped so much money into the opposition campaign. Thousands of dollars have come in from farm bureaus from states around the country, from Colorado to Minnesota to Texas, but the biggest donations rolled in around the beginning of April, including $183,294.10 from the Monsanto Corporation, and $129,647.05 from DuPont Pioneer.

That’s huge money for a local measure campaign, let alone one outside of the state’s major metro area, where ad buys on TV can add up quickly.

Supporters are no slouches, either, though their donations are not quite as sizable. Well-known organic food company Nature’s Path has kicked in $7,500 and all-natural cleaning products firm Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps kicked in $25,000.

Several other counties will take up public safety related measures, all of which take direct aim at the pocketbook; in Columbia County, just outside of Portland, voters will consider a three-year local option levy to keep their jail open.

If the levy fails, the sheriff there has made it clear that the jail will close, and beds would have to be rented from Polk County for the county’s 10 worst offenders. (As the crow flies, it is not that far between the two counties, but by car it’s at least an hour and 45 minutes, via Portland.)

Similar public safety levies are on the ballot in Deschutes County (for fire and emergency management services), Polk County (also for emergency services) and Linn County, where a four-year levy would go toward reopening a wing of the local jail.

Mopping up:

A few counties vote on whether or not to support cultural/educational institutions, like Klamath County’s five-year levy for museum services, and votes in Jackson and Josephine County to form special library districts, after years of shoestring operations for local libraries there.

And several counties, including Klamath and Curry Counties, will vote on whether to give voters the power to design their own county government structures, with Union County voters considering whether their commissioners should be elected on a nonpartisan basis.

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