An Oregon experiment in citizen government
A new law in Oregon that puts a citizen review panel in charge of breaking through political spin. It could be a first step in making better policy decisions.
Daily, it seems, we watch as our democracy slips into an increasingly divisive panic attack.Skip to next paragraph
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Republicans, we’re told, hate Democrats. Democrats, we’re told, hate Republicans. Accountability in our political system seems as tenuous as the economic recovery: Tea Partier, Wall Street Occupier, or none of the above, we all know something's amiss.
Yet as it is, we have a tradition of successful self-governance more than 230 years in the making. Full of beauty, opportunity, and deep scars, our democracy continues as a grand experiment. Rights have been expanded, greater access to the disenfranchised has been afforded, and our democratic institutions endure.
But we seem to be heading towards a political culture where anything goes – claims go unchecked, questions go unasked, and talking points are simply repeated again and again. The choice, however, between playing political games and governing well is ultimately ours: We are the "self" in "self- governance."
The Citizens' Initiative Review puts 24 randomly selected voters into a fair public hearing to listen to campaigners, learn the issues, and sort out fact from fiction on ballot measures.
What would it be like to have balanced panels of voters publicly weigh in on the most controversial problems of our time? What would it look like to have a fair public review of the really tough issues, like health care policy, immigration, and financial regulation? And what if lawmakers were even to request this kind of input to help in their own decision-making, building greater citizen deliberation into how we 'do' democracy?
In Oregon, citizens have just taken a major step toward changing the game. In July 2011, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law a bill that institutionalizes a new form of citizen deliberation as part of our election process. The Citizens' Initiative Review (CIR) is an exercise in deliberative democracy. It puts 24 randomly selected voters into a fair public hearing to listen to campaigners, learn the issues, and separate fact from fiction on ballot measures.
The authenticity of this approach comes from the simple fact that these panels of voters have no vested interest in the outcome of a CIR. Like a jury, the idea is to perform a public service.
For each measure on the ballot, a different panel of 24 voters sorts through the political spin and then summarizes its findings for the voting public to use as they choose on election day.
The authenticity of this approach comes from the simple fact that these panels of voters have no vested interest in the outcome of a CIR. Like a jury, the idea is to perform a public service. Unlike a jury, there are no litigators structuring testimony and calling witnesses – the panel of everyday voters drives the process along.