Judge Finds Oregon Secretary Of State Improperly Rejected Ballot Measures

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Jan. 17, 2020 12:39 a.m.

A Marion County judge has found that Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno improperly rejected two ballot measures aimed at reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

After a hearing Thursday, Circuit Court Judge David Leith ruled that initiative petitions 48 and 49 meet a constitutional requirement that they deal with a single subject – contrary to a finding Clarno made in December.


The ruling means the two proposals will be allowed to move forward as advocates hoped. Both petitions would require Oregon to transition to carbon-free sources of electricity by 2045, but contain slight differences in their approach. They are seen as a backstop that environmental groups would turn to, if lawmakers fail to pass climate change legislation this year.

Related: Oregon Secretary Of State Bev Clarno Rejects Clean Energy Proposals


“The judge’s ruling clears the way for strong climate action in Oregon this year, one way or another — whether at the ballot, in the legislature, with executive power, or some combination of all of them,” said Renew Oregon Executive Director Tera Hurst, one of two plaintiffs in the suit.

The decision is the latest twist in an ongoing drama over Clarno’s interpretation of the state’s constitution, and her scrutiny of proposed ballot measures. Since November, Clarno has used a strict reading of a constitutional requirement that proposed ballot measures deal with “one subject only” to reject five ballot measures being pushed by environmental groups.

In the case of IPs 48 and 49, Clarno agreed with opponents who argued the proposals were overbroad because of provisions requiring that construction projects related to the new energy standards pay a prevailing wage, offer benefits and meet a number of other benchmarks.

Clarno’s rationale has been criticized by a growing number of groups, who contend the secretary is abusing her authority to tip the scales for her political allies. Clarno’s office has dismissed those claims. When the state’s Department of Justice declined to defend the secretary’s position, she contracted with well-paid outside attorneys to do so.

The most recent decision also differs with the opinion of a separate Marion County judge, Daniel Wren, who in November found that Clarno was within her rights to toss three unrelated ballot measures related to forestry policies. That ruling is under appeal.

A spokeswoman for Clarno’s office could not be reached Thursday about the decision on initiative petitions 48 and 49. One of Clarno’s attorneys, former Oregon Supreme Court Judge W. Michael Gillette, said he expects the secretary to file an appeal.