Oregon Legislative Professionalism: The Impact of Political Culture

by Brandon Sheldon

Reformers began advocating for the initiative and referendum in the 1880’s, for reasons that to them were as plain as day. In 1883 the Oregon Vidette and Antimonopolist, a newspaper for the “producing and industrial classes,” proposed legislation that would “defend a citizen’s rights against injustice by powerful corporations.”[i] The authors believed, with ample reason, that Oregon politics were controlled by implacable monied interests who bribed and otherwise influenced state legislators. This secret and corrupt form of governance made Oregon politics well nigh impervious to the popular will. Direct democracy, reformers believed, would change all that once “the lawmaking power” was in “the hands of the people,” asserted William U’Rhen, its most devoted advocate “we could get anything we wanted.”[ii] [iii] The initiative and referendum system is a clear example of how Oregon’s political culture has shaped the professionalization of the legislature. We as Oregonians don’t want “monied interests” controlling the way our politics should be handled and the initiative and referendum system ensures that all voters are involved in many legislative decisions. The ideas of political actors in other states also dictate how their legislature can respond to issues and how capably they can legislate.Read More »