Voters torpedoed a proposed Home Rule Charter for Douglas County on Tuesday. As of 9 p.m., with most votes counted, the results were 24 percent voting “yes” to 76 percent voting “no” on Home Rule, according to unofficial results.
Douglas County election turnout was high, at 41.5 percent, compared with 29.4 percent statewide Tuesday. More than 30,000 Douglas County residents turned out for the vote. As of 10:38 p.m., the vote was 23,310 to 7,327 against Home Rule.
At a small gathering of Home Rule supporters at former commissioner candidate Victoria Hawks’s office in downtown Roseburg on Tuesday evening, the mood was grim, but defiant.
Home Rule supporter Stacey McLaughlin told the group they should be proud of the work they’d done against an opposition that poured money into the “no” campaign.
“They bought their way to success,” McLaughlin said.
Doug Robertson, chairman of the anti-Home Rule campaign said Tuesday night, there’s a reason the “yes” side couldn’t raise as much money as the “no” side.
“They were outspent because people stood up and said we don’t want any part of this. This is bad for the county, and we don’t want any part of it,” he said.
The Home Rule Charter proposed in Measure 10-159 would have restructured county government, replacing three paid commissioners with five unpaid commissioners and an appointed county manager.
Proponents of Home Rule said it would modernize county government, making it more like most city governments. Opponents said it would add a layer of bureaucracy and reduce accountability and transparency.
The issue became partly polarized on party lines after the Douglas County Republican Party announced its opposition to the measure. Timber and other business interests poured $140,000 into the campaign to defeat the measure, more than ten times the amount supporters collected.
“We gave it a good try,” said Home Rule petitioner Doug Hockett on hearing the results Tuesday night. “It’s hard for $12,000 of truth to compete against $140,000 worth of lies.”
The “no” on Home Rule side put signs up around the county, some charging “extreme environmentalists” were behind the measure, and others displaying Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin’s face. Hanlin opposed the measure because of a clause in the charter he thought would give the county commissioners power over which laws the sheriff enforces. The sheriff is an independently elected official.
Robertson said it took “a considerable effort by a lot of people to educate the public on just exactly what transitioning into the weakest form of county government in the state would mean to this county. Thanks to a lot of people and a lot of effort we got the message out, and thank goodness we did.”
He said community members didn’t like the Home Rule idea for a number of reasons. They supported the sheriff, for one thing. For another, many didn’t like the idea that the governor would have to select one of the new commissioners in order to make a quorum for the five-member board. And they wanted to maintain the commissioners’ influence over timber policy — something Home Rule opponents said just couldn’t happen with a part-time, all-volunteer board of commissioners.
Robertson, who served as a county commissioner for more than three decades, said he’s run nine campaigns, and even when he didn’t have an opponent, his vote totals weren’t as big as the “no” on Home Rule vote.
“I think this is a pretty big statement on the rejection of this kind of effort to basically take Douglas County’s voice out of play for federal forest issues, and all of the things that we’ve been involved in for so long,” he said. “This is a pretty resounding statement that Douglas County is right where we ought to be, right in the middle of these discussions.”
Supporters were cagey about who actually selected the Clatsop County charter as a model, and about who decided on the revisions to that model.
Those who turned up to the pro-Home Rule party Tuesday night were worried about the amount of money the opposition had spent. Hawks maintained some hope early on.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if all the people in the rural areas who don’t have a voice voted yes,” she said. “That’s all it would take.”
After the first results were posted online, the group began talking about the possibility of rewriting the charter and starting again.
Diana Larson, another supporter, felt both good and scared before the vote totals came in. She said a lot of money was spent on “misinformation and lies.”
“It’s just one of those things that’s wrong in our system,” she said.
McLaughlin said it was hard to get their message across to county residents.
“It’s very hard to change something when people don’t know something is wrong,” she said.
Hockett said he’s glad he had the chance to work on bringing something so important to the county’s voters.
“Win or lose I’m just glad I had the opportunity to work with such a great group of people,” Hockett said.