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Kennedy School of Government

Case Program

C16-94-1235.0

Public Conversations and Legislative Deliberations:
Oregon’s Governor Barbara Roberts Takes on Fiscal Reform
When Democrat Barbara Roberts became the first woman governor of Oregon in 1991, she expected
to face challenges never confronted by her predecessors. Her first and immediate challenge,
however, was a new version of a traditional gubernatorial responsibility: resolving a state fiscal
crisis. At the same time they had elected her, Oregon voters had passed a stringent cap on local
property taxes, coupled with a requirement that state aid for local school districts make up for lost
local revenue. The combination threatened fiscal havoc at all levels of government.
Roberts, a former local school board member and state legislator, had leaned, in her campaign,
toward using a state sales tax—long eschewed in Oregon—as a tool to bring budgets into balance.
But as she confronted the responsibilities of office, Roberts signaled a new tack. She would seek to
establish a statewide conversation through “electronic” town meetings—video conferences linking
Roberts and localities. She aimed to reach a consensus about how the state should deal with its
fiscal conundrum. Such an approach, she believed, would allow voters to share information,
confront their problems together and reach a greater “comfort level” about potential solutions. She
believed, too, that such shared decision-making would be a much-needed departure from a
traditional “male-style” of leadership.
As Roberts began this approach to governance, she had to hope that it would help her find a way to
deal with a state legislature led by a seasoned Republican house speaker, voters who had
consistently rejected new taxes and an electorate that had chosen her despite doubts about her
fiscal acumen. She believed that a leader who listened first but then was “willing to tell the truth”
could succeed.

This case was written by David Eddy Spicer for David King, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the John F.
Kennedy School of Government, with funding from the Institute of Politics, Harvard University, and the Parker
Gilbert Montgomery Endowment for Public Policy. (0294)
Copyright © 1994 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission
to reproduce materials, call 617-495-9523, fax 617-495-8878, email cp_sales@harvard.edu, or write the Case
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Grass-roots Activist to Gubernatorial Candidate
Barbara Roberts launched her political career as a result of a practical impulse: the need to find
educational programs for her autistic son at a time when the state had no offerings for children
with special needs. Roberts, a single mother at the time and great-great-granddaughter of
pioneers, became a “one-woman lobbying organization” according to a newspaper profile. “I
basically took on all of the special interests of education and won,” Roberts claimed.1 “If you want
there to be a parade,” Roberts said in summing up her motivation to enter politics, “you had better
be prepared to build a float, then ride on that float.”2
Roberts’ parade route took her from school board member to county commissioner to two-term
state representative of a Portland district. Along the way, Roberts married state Senator Frank
Roberts, a long-time Portland Democrat. At the beginning of her second term in the House in
1983, her Democratic colleagues chose her as the first woman majority leader. She successfully ran
a “come-from-behind” campaign for Secretary of State the following year, telling a reporter upon
her election, “One day I’d like to be governor.” Her chance to fulfill that vision would come
several years later in 1990, after an easy re-election as Secretary of State in 1988.
By the late 1980s, Roberts was one among a growing number of women who held important
positions throughout state government. Over a quarter of the members of the state legislature were
women, placing Oregon 12th in the nation for its proportion of women lawmakers. Many held
powerful committee assignments, including chairs of the revenue committees in both houses.
Preceding Roberts, several other women had already blazed trails to state-wide elective office, most
notably Republican Norma Paulus, who served two terms as Secretary of State and one term as
lieutenant governor before running for governor in 1986 and losing, Paulus believes, primarily
because of voters’ negative attitudes towards a woman gubernatorial candidate.

Retail Politics at Wholesale Prices
By 1990, the year Roberts launched her campaign and a year in which women were running for
governor or lieutenant governor in 20 of the 36 states holding gubernatorial elections, the public
appeared more willing than ever to accept a woman in the state’s highest elective office. Polling
done during the 1986 campaign gave Paulus a 15 point deficit due to gender alone. But that spread
had dwindled to 5 percent in 1990, “within the statistical margin of error,” according to Patricia
McCaig, who managed the Roberts campaign before serving as the governor’s chief-of-staff.
Crucial to the public’s perception of Roberts’ as a leader, Roberts and her strategists believed, was
not simply a particular stance on key issues but her ability to take a well-defined position and hold
to it. “The real political landscape has been accountability, telling it like it is, and the belief that

1Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 1991, p. 10.
2Oregonian, February 17, 1991, p. L1.

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voters will accept you if they have a sense of who you are and what you stand for even if they
don’t agree with you,”3 McCaig told a reporter shortly before the November election.
During the campaign, Roberts made headlines by taking a controversial position against the timber
industry in the debate about whether certain parts of the state’s vast national forest should be held
pristine as habitat for the endangered spotted owl or logged to ease the economic suffering of
timber companies. Although “(p)eople thought I was dead … (that) I could not win the election
talking about [the timber industry’s decline],” Roberts said, “I went right into the mills and talked
with the workers. I went right into timber rallies and talked with people. And I told
environmental groups never to be smug when people are losing their jobs and their homes and
their livelihood.”4 “It was the piece many editorial boards used to credit her with leadership,”
McCaig told the Washington Post.5
Some among the public appeared eager for the “passion and commitment” she evinced,
particularly in a state “small enough that you can retail your politics,” as a veteran pollster said of
Roberts’ approach.6 Pulling ahead of an opponent who had maintained a large lead until late in
the race and who had outspent her 2:1, Roberts drew heavy support from the Portland area, helped
by Republican women who crossed party lines. She won with 46 percent of the vote, against
Attorney General David Frohnmayer’s 39 percent. Charisma and geography were not the sole
determinants of the race, however; Roberts was aided by a conservative independent candidate
who drew 13 percent of the vote, a portion many believed would have otherwise gone to
Frohnmayer.7

Oregon’s “Split Personality”
What one newspaper labeled the “split personality” of Oregon politics seemed especially evident at
the polls in November 1990. The same Oregonians who elected a liberal Democratic governor
whose campaign called for $360 million in new social programs also passed the property tax cap
ballot initiative known as Measure 5 whose backers called for drastic reductions in the state’s
existing services. In addition, the voters broke a twenty-year Democratic hold on the state’s House
of Representatives, handing Republicans control of the body charged by the state’s constitution
with originating all revenue measures. Given the effects of Measure 5 and the fact that many
Republicans ran on a platform of reducing the size and cost of government, Roberts, a reporter

3Washington Post, October 31, 1990. p. D3.
4Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 1991. p. 10.
5ibid.
6San Francisco Chronicle, November 15, 1990, p. A18.
7New York Times, August 22, 1991, p. B11.

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commented, would have the difficult task of seeing whether “new ideas could exist on a severe
financial diet.”8
The diet that voters forced on their government arose at a time of rapid change both in Oregon’s
economy and its demographics. With a total population approaching 3 million in the early 1990s,
Oregon averaged 5,800 newcomers a month, many of whom were young families with school-age
children. Real-estate values soared, as did the need for schools and other services. At the same
time, the state’s economy was in flux, with the traditional job base in timber and manufacturing
crumbling and average personal income lagging below the national average. Government
spending remained close to the median, but Oregonians found themselves in the top quarter of
states in terms of taxes as a percentage of personal income. As property assessments rapidly
inflated and pocketbooks grew thin overall, the property tax cap measure gained enough popular
support to pass by a slim margin on the third try in ten years.
Property taxes provided local governments with their sole source of support for both education
and their own operations; education alone consumed close to two-thirds of local tax revenues. (See
Exhibit 1.) To give school districts time to adapt to the new fiscal picture, Measure 5 allowed local
governments to draw down from the state’s general fund to assure that school funding remained
level as the measure incrementally scaled back the maximum property tax rate through the mid1990s.9
In 1991-1993, the first biennial budget cycle of Measure 5’s implementation,10 the portion of the
general fund devoted to local education was expected to rise to 37 percent, requiring a 15 percent
reduction in other areas to maintain a balanced budget. Once the measure was fully implemented
in the 1995-1997 biennium, forecasts predicted that all education programs would absorb as much
as three-quarters of the general fund budget. (See Exhibit 2.) The post-Measure 5 future, according
to the monthly Oregon Business, was bleak. Unless an antidote of some sort were found, the
Measure would bring about “the closure of colleges and prisons, elimination of social services and
health care for some poor people, and less support for local schools.”11 Such drastic reductions,
Roberts said, would “cripple Oregon and put it permanently on the economic back burner.”12

8ibid.
9Even before Measure 5, the state's general fund, maintained primarily by the state’s personal income tax,
devoted nearly a quarter of its budget to supplementing local support for elementary and secondary
education. The remainder paid for higher education and all other state services.
10The state budget ran for two years, mirroring the legislative cycle. The legislature was not full-time, but
convened each odd-numbered year for approximately six months beginning in January.
11Oregon Business, March, 1992, v. 15, no. 3, sec. 1, p. 18.
12Christian Science Monitor, January 22, 1991. p. 7.

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The Easy Out
Roberts’ first option to contain the damage posed by Measure 5 was to raise “replacement
revenue,” which for many was a political anagram of “sales tax.” With property taxes already
capped and the state income tax perceived as burdensome, the obvious source of new revenue was
a tax commonplace in other states. Only a handful of states, Oregon among them, had neither local
nor state sales taxes, but judging from the mood in the state capitol as the 1991 legislative session
opened, Oregon would soon remove itself from their number.
Politicians of both parties were putting their shoulders behind a push for the first-ever sales tax. In
the 1990 gubernatorial campaign, both Roberts and her Republican opponent, neither of whom
backed Measure 5, supported a five percent sales tax to go toward public education and alleviate
the burden on local property taxes. Following the passage of the measure, the governor-elect
appeared to be laying the groundwork for a sales tax. She revised her campaign budget, producing
a Measure 5 version before her inauguration that called for the elimination of 1,570 state jobs and
scaled back many social services. In her inaugural address, she painted 1991 as a year of “dire
budget shortfalls and human suffering,” according to one newspaper’s account.13 Alluding to the
proposed budget cuts, she told the Eugene-Register-Guard, “More people will die because of what
we have done here.”14 Even an influential Republican, Rep. Tony Van Vliet, co-chair of the joint
Ways and Means committee, appeared ready to concede. “I’ve turned over a lot of rocks,” said
Van Vliet to the Seattle Times, “and I haven’t found anything better than a sales tax.”15
Yet, only three months after the inauguration, the words “sales tax” were no longer part of the
governor’s vocabulary. In March 1991, the middle of the legislative session, Roberts announced
that the Legislature should not try to find a replacement tax for Measure 5, telling the Oregonian
that voters were “not yet in a mood to accept a new tax.”16 The mood the voters were in,
according to Roberts, was “too cynical and too angry and too frustrated … to accept anything a
politician told them about what tax reform was going to do.”17
To exacerbate suspicions among the electorate, many Oregonians had yet to see any savings from
Measure 5. The first step in rate reduction planned for the 1991-1993 biennium was offset for most
by the continuing rapid inflation of assessed home values and consequent steep increases in
property taxes. Furthermore, the 1991 legislature, predicted to be a “crisis session” due to the
13Oregonian, February 24, 1992. p. B7.
14Wall Street Journal, April 20,1992. p. A12.
15Seattle Times, May 21, 1991, p. A1.
16Oregonian, June 11, 1991, p. B4.
17Washington Post, April 10, 1992, p. A3.

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burden of Measure 5, was in the process of approving “increased user fees, increased state salaries,
increased state employment and increased state spending,” which led one newspaper to conclude
that the state along with local governments and their school districts were “as fat and sassy as
ever.”18 Even to those in the state capitol, the legislature appeared like a dieter on a binge—
repentant yet unable to modify its behavior. The House Minority Leader, Democrat Peter
Courtney, lamented to a reporter, “We have no credibility at all, and it’s our own fault.”19

The Long and Winding Road
While some in the legislature discussed initiating a referendum to gauge support for a sales tax,
Roberts struck out on a radically different course that intended to bypass the legislature altogether
and bring the question of the state’s future directly before the “ultimate decision-makers”—the
voters. Based on her years of experience in the state House, Roberts knew that no matter what
happened in the capitol, the voters “would have their say.” Oregon was among the first states to
institute ballot and referendum legislation in the early part of the century, and the strength of that
tradition ensured that every tax package, no matter how it was conceived, eventually ended up
before the voters. Eight times since the 1930s various tax proposals including sales taxes had
appeared on the ballot for public vetting, and eight times the public thumb had turned to the
ground. The most recent attempt came in 1985 when a tax proposal, backed by a Republican
governor and a legislature controlled by Democrats, was rejected by over three-quarters of the
electorate.
The public’s refusal to consider new taxes stemmed, according to Roberts, from their distrust of
government. “The real stumbling block to successful tax reform has been a lack of belief on the
part of the voters that it was necessary or fair,” says Patricia McCaig. “They had not been included
enough in the process.”
Together with McCaig, the one person who, Roberts had once said, “has the ability to weigh in on
almost every decision I make,”20 the governor began to lay out a strategy in the spring of 1991 to
restore the confidence of voters in that political process and build consensus towards some yet to
be determined solution. They planned to ask the voters “to join together in deciding what
government services are most essential and how to pay for them.”21 Roberts envisioned “an oldfashioned barn-raising … a massive grass-roots dialogue” that would put the governor face-to-face
18The Oregon economy proved more resilient than anticipated despite the national recession. Revised
state revenue projections revealed the budget shortfall would amount to one-quarter of the figure Roberts
announced earlier, a gap the legislature expected to close with “fairly painless program cuts and legislative
changes.” [Wall Street Journal, April 20, 1992, p. A12. ]
19Seattle Times, November 24, 1991, p. A17.
20Oregonian, June 2, 1991, p. L1.
21Christian Science Monitor, October 2, 1991, p. 9.

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with her constituents and lead to a fundamental re-evaluation of Oregon’s “inequitable,
ramshackle tax system” from local property taxes on up. “I want to be able to say,” Roberts told an
audience of community and business leaders in April 1991, “This is what Oregonians told us they
want for their state. This is their vision for Oregon.”22
The strategy promised to mirror Roberts’ gubernatorial bid by capitalizing on her reputation for
“straightforward” talk and her ability to “connect” with voters. McCaig says, “We chose to use
listening as a device … to reestablish some sort of relationship and contact with the voters that
wasn’t manipulative, that wasn’t selling, that allowed for people to express their discontent.”
Roberts elaborated:
People are willing to hear bad news—they hear enough of
it at home. When we politicians try to protect them from
bad news, and feed them lots of pap and worry about our
re-election more than anything else, the result is mistrust.
A lot of today’s cynicism and mistrust will go away if
you’re straightforward with people.23
Both Roberts and McCaig knew that such an approach was risky and controversial. Because of
their decision, as McCaig says, “to step back a little bit, to use listening as a device …” rather than a
“militaristic, gung-ho, load-up-the-jeeps-and-follow-me-wherever-I’m-going” approach, they
realized they were running counter to popular expectations of the way leaders should behave.
Specifically, Roberts would not be selling a pre-existing plan, the approach all her predecessors had
taken. In a press release outlining her goals, her staff wrote:
Rather than confront voters with a packaged tax proposal
promoted through a media blitz, we will take time to
construct a measure that pays for the services Oregonians
want, that satisfies their demands, and that gives them the
assurances they need.24
Because of her experience in the legislature, the governor also decided to defy traditional
expectations by circumventing the legislative route that all other tax plans in Oregon had trod on
their way to defeat. The only way to come up with a “fair” tax plan, one palatable to the general
public, was to “do so outside of [that] legislative process,” according to McCaig, who accused
“special interests within the legislative process” of spoiling any possibility of popular approval.
While the legislature as a whole would not be involved in the public assessment of state services

22Oregonian, July 3, 1992, p. C1.
23Oregonian, February 24, 1992, p. B7.
24Weeks, Edward C. et al., Citizen Participation in Policy Formation: A Review of Governor Roberts’
Conversation with Oregon. (Eugene, Oregon: University of Oregon, 1992). p. 33.

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and the tax structure that paid for them, individual legislators were encouraged to participate as
“any other public entity,” says McCaig.
To limit the involvement of the legislature seemed especially crucial in light of the upcoming
legislative elections of November 1992. Roberts knew she would have to have a solution in hand
by the fall of 1992 in order to craft a budget for the two-year budget cycle beginning in 1993. She
believed that involving the legislature during a major campaign season would likely embroil any
effort in the political posturing and one-ups-manship that seemed especially prevalent when seats
were at stake. This would be especially true for the kinds of measures she hoped to put forward,
ones that involved a fundamental re-appraisal of the tax structure.
In a round-about way, some observers credited the prospect of the 1992 legislative elections with
an odd reversal of affinities towards the governor. The House Minority Leader, Democrat Peter
Courtney, anxious about how the public would view his party’s initiatives come 1992, questioned
whether public consensus would be strong enough to build a successful plan. The Republican
Speaker of the House, Larry Campbell, whom the press described as a “large, imposing man whose
voice and strong hand with the gavel send a message that he is in charge,”25 commented after
learning of Roberts’ approach, “The governor is going to provide the leadership.”26 Some took the
remark as an expression of openness towards a new revenue solution; others heard in it a desire to
let Democrats fall on their own sword.
Whatever Campbell’s motives, his stance appeared important for Roberts. As Speaker of the
Republican-controlled House, he was the gatekeeper for any tax package Roberts hoped to put
before the people. Despite Roberts’ exclusion of the legislature from the development of the plan,
she would still need legislative approval to place her proposal on the ballot. Because Roberts
wanted to steer clear of the November 1992 general election with the “white noise” of legislative
campaigns, not to mention the presidential campaign, she planned to ask the legislature to put
whatever measure arose from the public process on a separate September ballot. To secure a
September date in a year during which the legislature did not convene, Roberts would have to call
a special session before the end of July 1992, at which point she hoped, popular consensus about
the need for tax reform would propel her package through the House and Senate without
legislative meddling. “They didn’t have to endorse it or not endorse it,” explains McCaig, “All
they had to do was pass it on to the voters.”

The Conversation Begins
Through the summer and into the fall of 1991, the governor’s staff planned and carried out “A
Conversation with Oregon,” a massive campaign that aimed to put before tens of thousands of
Oregonians the same issues with which the governor grappled. The conversation planned to focus

25Oregonian, January 5, 1993, p. B4.
26Oregonian, July 3, 1992, p. C1.

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attention on “the most critical questions Oregon faces: What kind of future do we want for our
state? What level of public service do we want and need? And, finally, how are we going to
provide those services?”27 The public’s incentive to answer such questions arose from what
Roberts and her staff termed the “basic assumptions” of their strategy:
First, that the vast majority of Oregonians share these
underlying goals of the state: a strong, diverse economy; a
well-educated citizenry; vital communities and a healthy
environment.
Second, that Oregonians are willing to pay for services to
achieve those goals if they are convinced that their money
is well spent and that taxes are raised fairly.
Third, that Oregonians want to talk over the tax structure
to pay for those services, and that they need information
to make informed choices.28
To reassure voters that the Conversation was not simply an effort to raise taxes and emphasize her
commitment to a leaner, less costly government, the governor created a 13-member Task Force on
State Government. Comprised primarily of business leaders, the task force was charged with
reviewing all executive-branch programs and recommending ways of streamlining operations.
The Conversation itself kicked off in September 1991 with rallies at six different locations around
the state. The rallies attracted “overflow” audiences, totaling some 5,300 people, many of whom
were recruited to form the army of volunteers that the governor would need to carry out her plan.
As a prelude to the governor’s discussion with “normal voters,” volunteers fanned out across the
state in October to interview 2,500 community leaders—”people who play an active role in civic life
… asking about their attitudes about public services, Oregon’s future and the tax system.”29
The community leaders’ responses were then used to inform the agenda of what McCaig called
“the heart of the conversation,” a series of “electronic” community meetings relying on a satellite
video network to beam the governor live to small groups across the state. These meetings,
according to McCaig, allowed the governor “to deal with [participants] one on one, or as close as
you could get to one on one.”
The electronic sessions, occurring over a four-week period in November, relied on the state’s
recently-developed educational network, Ed-Net, which made it possible for the governor to
appear concurrently on video screens at as many as thirty different sites through satellite “downlinks.” The arrangement also allowed two-way audio among the groups and between the groups

27Weeks, et al., p. 2.
28ibid.
29Weeks, et al., p. 35.

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and the governor. The meetings included a presentation by the governor on the sources and uses
of local and state tax dollars, followed by local discussion of the “critical questions” facing the state.
The evening concluded with an “interactive” exchange between the governor and participants, as
well as among different sites.
Organizing the various aspects of the Conversation, particularly scheduling the Ed-Net sessions,
proved more challenging than the governor’s staff had anticipated. “We figured this would be
harder than the governor’s race to put on,” Roberts told a reporter, “And it is.”30 Invitation to
participate in Conversation sessions went out to 80,000 voters whose names were drawn randomly
from a list compiled by county election officials.31 Eventually, the staff was only able to organize
sessions for 10,000 people, half of the number they hoped to include. However, many more than
could be accommodated expressed interest. “The participants are out there. The problem is us,”
McCaig lamented to the Oregonian mid-way through the schedule. The sessions themselves
included as few as four to as many as 30 participants at any particular site. “We aimed for the
normal voter,” Roberts told the Oregonian, “Too often we politicians don’t trust ordinary citizens,
and they don’t trust us. But I figure if you give people good, accurate information, they’ll make
good decisions for the future of the state.”32
To gauge the effect of the sessions, the governor’s staff chose to hire a public opinion firm to design
and analyze a one-page exit questionnaire. (See Exhibit 3.) At the close of each meeting,
participants were asked to answer four multiple choice questions, the first two of which probed
their overall satisfaction with government spending and the tax system. The third question asked
participants to choose among three possible and non-exclusive courses of action that could help
the state meet the exigencies of Measure 5, including providing fewer government services,
increasing government efficiency, and restructuring Oregon’s tax system to provide more money.
The final question simply asked if the tax system was in need of change—yes or no.
The governor’s staff used the results of the exit questionnaires to sum up what they called the
“discussion” phase of the Conversation. The most striking finding, according to the headline of a
news release by the governor’s office in mid-December, was that: “Citizens demand efficiency
before tax restructuring.” The news release went on to spell out that “nine out of 10 [participants]
think state government should become more efficient as part of its response to Measure 5 …” and
“three out of four … said they would consider restructuring the tax system to maintain government
services” but only if they saw evidence of efficiencies first. The release quoted the governor’s
reaction:
30Oregonian, November 19, 1991, p. B4.
31County officials pulled together names of all those who had voted in the previous three primary and
general elections.
32Oregonian, February 24, 1992, p. B7.

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I talked with 10,000 Oregonians, and I listened to them.
They learned more about how state government works,
and I learned about what they expect from government.
They have sent a clear message: We in government must
do our job better. That will be the starting point for my
efforts.

State of the State
The results of the Conversation took their first important form in the governor’s January 1992
“State of the State Address.” She used the occasion to announce a new focus for her efforts—for
the next several months she would concentrate on “restructuring and efficiencies” in response to
what she had heard as the Conversation’s principal message. Roberts told her audience:
In many other states, political leaders are being dragged
kicking and screaming into change. They are caught by
surprise in the painful chaos and are unable to set a clear
course for their future. I don’t intend to let that happen
here. I’m going to lead Oregon through the change.33
Aided by 250 recommendations from the Task Force she had convened earlier, she announced in
her speech the reorganization of several state agencies and elimination of 4,000 out of a total 40,000
state positions,34 including roughly one out of four administrative positions overall. Roberts
realized that such dramatic reductions put her at odds with some of those that formed her core
support in the election, most notably public employees. “I can’t worry about public turf now,” she
told a reporter, “Some people said only a liberal Democratic governor could get away with this. I
say only a one-term liberal Democratic governor can get away with it.”35
Roberts also emphasized that efficiency alone would not be enough to fit the Procrustean bed of
Measure 5. “I can reduce inefficiency. I can build in accountability. I can reduce mismanagement.
…” Roberts told an audience of business leaders following her January speech, “Can I reduce the
cost? I don’t think so. I can save a million here and a million there. But I don’t think the basic cost
of government is going to go down in Oregon. That’s just the flat reality of it.”36

Moving Towards a Tax Plan

33Weeks, et al., p. 63.
34This total did not include employees of the state legislature, judiciary, or universities. Their inclusion
brought the total state work force to 52,000.
35Oregonian, February 24, 1992, p. B7.
36Oregon Business, March 1992, p. 22.

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After moving through the initial “discussion” phase of the Conversation and then shifting her
efforts to reduce the cost of government, the governor was once again faced with the prospect of
raising the tax issue. McCaig dubbed this next part of the Conversation “The Nod,” during which
the governor needed to gain approval for her cost-cutting efforts and, by implication, garner
agreement to close the remaining gap with some type of tax fix, one that might include a decrease
in some taxes counter-balanced with an increase in others—and, although she never spoke the
words, the introduction of a state sales tax.
“The Nod” was not so much the “electronic town-hall” the first part of the Conversation had tried
to create, but old-style stumping. The governor made multiple, personal appearances around the
state in two separate tours. The audiences were larger than those of the Conversation’s individual
Ed-Net sessions, and included the same representative voters, those “who had already spent time
and energy with us” according to McCaig. While the governor’s schedule had the feel of a
campaign, she was not rallying voters around a particular proposal. Instead, she stayed in the
“listening” mode of the earlier phase of the Conversation—presenting facts, asking questions, and
soliciting responses from her audience. Fred Miller, director of the Oregon Executive Department,
emphasized to a reporter in March 1992, “Our approach right now is not to talk (new) taxes, but to
judge the support for them.”37 Even after the first round of appearances, Roberts still did not
believe the moment was ripe to release a tax package, telling the press that the “education process
seems to be working slowly … Oregonians aren’t ready yet to approve tax changes.” Nonetheless,
Roberts said, she detected “glacial movement” in that direction.38

Feedback
Although the governor felt the time had not yet arrived, she came under increasing criticism from
the media, disenchanted voters, and legislators of both parties the longer she waited to release her
proposals. The Conversation, at least in its early stages, had been generally well-received by the
press, particularly the September 1991 “overflow” rallies which had made headlines across the
state. Press interest was also high during the Ed-Net meetings, with over 300 articles appearing in
local and state-wide papers during the sessions. 39

37Oregon Business, March, 1992, v. 15, n. 3, sec. 1, p. 18.
38Washington Post, April 10, 1992, p. A3.
39The slant of the articles generally fell on either side of the geographic boundary of Roberts’ support.
While the Portland-based Oregonian, long a proponent of raising taxes, backed the Conversation as “an
unprecedented approach to educate the public about state services and how they are funded,” many papers
outside of metropolitan Oregon believed the Conversation to be at least biased toward higher taxes and at
worst an expensive “con job,” a means of building support for the sales tax the governor had promised
only the year before.

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As the Conversation evolved into the Nod, the governor could no longer sustain the high level of
media interest that the Ed-Net sessions had generated. Prof. Edward C. Weeks, who conducted a
study of the Conversation for the University of Oregon, says, “It just dropped off the radar after
(the State of the State Address). Media people just weren’t thinking that much about it.” With no
specific tax plan in sight by late spring, even the papers that had initially supported the approach
became more skeptical. Increasingly, the governor was criticized for her lack of leadership in not
facing the state’s budget problems head on and coming forward with her own plan. “Why doesn’t
she just take a poll because that would be a whole lot cheaper than running through the whole
rigmarole again,”40 commented an Oregonian columnist. “Some states have a governor,” David
Sarasohn, associate editor of the Oregonian wrote, “Oregon has a weatherperson.”41
Moreover, few lawmakers chose to become part of the public process, Despite “daily contact” that
a legislative liaison on the Conversation staff maintained with legislators to inform them about the
progress of the Conversation, few responded. “Only two or three of them chose to participate or
attend any one of the meetings in any way, shape, or form,” says McCaig. “They got every mailing
that we sent out on the conversation.” However, McCaig surmises, they were waiting for the
governor or her chief of staff to reach out to them directly. That call never came, according to
McCaig, who had earned a reputation for playing the “heavy” in the governor’s dealings with the
legislature.
To add to the hurdles facing Roberts in the spring of 1992, her approval ratings were slipping even
as she toured the state to gauge support for a tax overhaul. An Oregonian poll revealed that 55
percent of the voters “disapproved of the way she was doing her job” and 58 percent specifically
disagreed with her response to the impact of Measure 5. The newspaper called the poll results,
“the most dismal posted by an Oregon governor in recent history.”42 The governor still
maintained, however, that “Oregonians … realize that no single leader will be able to satisfy
everyone. They may not agree with me on every issue, but they know I will tell them the truth.”
Of more immediate concern to Roberts was the handiwork of a small but increasingly vocal group
of voters. What one newspaper termed the state’s “first serious gubernatorial recall effort,” fueled
by timber interests angered with Roberts’ opposition to federal timber sales in the habitat of the
spotted owl, had narrowly failed to garner enough signatures by a deadline in May 1992 to get a
recall on the November ballot.43 The organizers immediately announced they were beginning a
second drive, this time with more resources and better mailing lists. An Oregonian poll showed

40Oregonian, June 10, 1992, p. B1.
41as quoted in Wall Street Journal, April 20, 1992, p. A12.
42Oregonian, April 10, 1992, p. D1.
43The effort had fallen 4,800 names short of the 166,928 (15 percent or Oregon's registered voters)
necessary to put a recall on the ballot.

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that overall support for a recall was not yet sufficient to force the governor from office—a third of
the voters backed the drive— but enough of a “reservoir of unhappiness” existed, as one pollster
put it, for the petition to force a recall vote to succeed. The governor’s staff believed she would
survive a recall, but feared that such a battle at this critical juncture would drain their own energies
and further diffuse public focus from the task of crafting a response to Measure 5.

The Final Round
In mid-June, Roberts wrapped up her nine-month effort to involve the public in the political
process with a final round of appearances in half a dozen cities and towns throughout the state, a
prelude to the release of the tax package. With only six weeks to go before the July 29 legislative
deadline for a September ballot, Roberts told a reporter that she had no “secret plan in her pocket,”
but the topics in these final meetings included a handful of specific tax reforms, among which was
the introduction of a sales tax.
After completing the Conversation’s final meeting on Friday, June 19, Roberts turned to the
“special interests” over that weekend, making her first plea for support of her yet-to-be-released
package to lobbyists and representatives of organized labor, business, and trade associations.
On Tuesday, June 23, with details of her plan still kept carefully guarded, Roberts called for a oneday special session of the legislature to convene July 1, only one week later. She specified a singleday session because she wanted the legislature merely to refer her tax package to the people
without change. “I’m asking the Legislature to allow me to take my plan directly to the people,”
Roberts told the Oregonian.44 “I’m willing to take all the heat. I’ve never given them an easier way
to put a tax package on the ballot in an election year.”45

Announcing the Plan
Roberts publicly unveiled the plan on Thursday, June 25, calling it “the most major change in the
tax structure in the history of Oregon.” The plan had weights and counter-weights: as expected, it
included a 3.5 percent sales tax on goods, but coupled with the new tax came a reduction in the
state’s personal income tax, particularly for middle and low-income residents. The plan also called
for a more rapid phase-in of Measure 5’s property tax limits and a temporary cap on the annual
growth of assessments “to provide relief more quickly”; the loss of revenue those steps entailed
would be offset by a “split-roll” tax assessing commercial properties at a higher rate than homeowners. Ultimately, the plan was expected to yield nearly one billion over the coming two years,
or about 85 percent of the losses the state government would otherwise incur under Measure 5.
Reception of the plan was mixed, the Oregonian reported, with some calling it a “mishmash” and
others “bold and comprehensive.” The sharpest criticism came from business groups, including
the influential Associated Oregon Industries, because of the split-roll tax and the highest praise

44Oregonian, June 27, 1992, p. D1.
45Oregonian, June 19, 1992, p. C1.

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from public employee groups, local governments, and school officials.46 But in the waning days of
June with the special session only days away, the governor and her staff found themselves most
concerned with the reception their plan would receive in the Republican-controlled House, their
bill’s first stop on its journey through the legislature and back to the people.

The Special Session
Roberts and McCaig wanted to leave the legislature as little time as possible to make substantive
changes in the plan, asking that members “review the proposals for technical deficiencies only and
not … tamper with the policy underpinnings.” With a strong Democratic majority in the Senate,
Roberts had little doubt that senators would heed her word. The House was a far closer call. At
least publicly, House Speaker Larry Campbell still appeared willing to leave the contents of the
plan untouched. Campbell, with whom Roberts had weathered many partisan battles, had already
declared his willingness to consider a sales tax “under the right circumstances.”47 Rather than take
a stance, he was urging his “folks to make independent judgments.”
Those judgments, in general, were harsh, harking back not only to the perceived injury of being
excluded from the development of the package but also to the insult of being asked to review the
entire proposal in a handful of days—only “to find the typos,” according to House Majority
Leader, Republican Greg Walden. Even House Minority Leader Courtney had few words of solace
for the governor. For lack of solid support from Democratic as well as Republican members,
Courtney told a reporter, “I’m still concerned that this could get out of control and go longer than
we want it to.” Courtney and others were particularly surprised that Roberts had not lined up
support for her measure in advance of convening the special session. “Such uncertainty is
unusual,” reported the Oregonian, “Often the results of special sessions are worked out beforehand,
leaving only the formality of the vote to the official meeting of the chambers.”48 Courtney added,
“I love Fourth of July fireworks. I just don’t want them to last the whole month.”49
Over the weekend of June 27 and 28, a joint gathering of the House and Senate revenue committees
convened to consider the tax package. Their approval was necessary before the measure passed to
the floor of the House, and committee members generally acknowledged they would not obstruct
the bill’s progress despite several members’ reservations about its contents. Although the joint
committee asked Roberts to change significant elements of the plan, she resisted. McCaig

46Oregonian, June 26, 1992, p. A1.
47Wall Street Journal, April 20, 1992, A12.
48Oregonian, July 1, 1992, p. A1.
49Oregonian, June 25, 1992, p. A18.

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emphasized, “It’s a balanced and reasoned plan. If you start pulling pieces out, you can damage
the integrity of the plan as a whole.”50

“The 49-Day Gap”
While the Joint Revenue Committee yielded to the governor on the substance of her bill, they
passed it on to the House with one critical change, deleting mention of the governor’s desired
September 15 date for a public vote on the package. Debate between the legislature and the
governor over the date was proving to be more contentious than any other aspect of the governor’s
package of reforms.
While many in the legislature preferred to hold the vote in the November general election, the
governor remained just as attached to the September date as she was to the policy underpinnings
of her plan. “It would be disastrous to wait until November. I will do everything I can to prevent
it,”51 Roberts said. Roberts stated her primary concern was for adequate time to complete the
1993-1995 budget. Moreover, she feared that her plan would be lost in the clamor of the
presidential, U.S. Senate and other campaigns.
In a further effort to draw attention to her forthcoming plan, Roberts also specified that she wanted
a “mail-in” ballot, the first-ever in Oregon. The mail-in ballots, she believed, would not only
increase turnout but would also give voters a chance to review the contents of her proposal
carefully before making a decision. “This was the first opportunity to hand every Oregonian a
ballot and say, ‘Here’s your tax future, what do you say?’”52 she said.
Even before the release of her tax package, both House Speaker Campbell and Senate President
John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, had come out in favor of a November election date. Kitzhaber muted
his criticism of the September date as the special session approached. Campbell, however, made
the date a central part of all his comments about the plan to the press, claiming that the November
election would not only be cheaper, but that a September election might raise voter suspicion that
“we’re trying to pull a fast one” by holding the election so soon.53 Campbell also questioned the
governor’s assumption that it would raise turn-out, saying that the governor was trying to get “a
more favorable slice of the pie.” “Could it be that only special-interest voters vote in special
elections?” he asked a reporter.54 Campbell’s position hardened as the special session approached.
50Oregonian, June 28, 1992, p. C1.
51Oregonian, June 19, 1992, p. C1.
52Oregonian, July 5, 1992, p. C1.
53Oregonian, June 24, 1992, p. A12.
54Oregonian, June 26, 1992. p. A17.

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With only a few days remaining, the Speaker told the press, “I’m there as long as the November
date is there. If it’s gone, I’m gone.”55

High Noon
At 10 a.m. on July 1, the anniversary of the day Measure 5’s cuts first went into effect, the Oregon
legislature convened in special session to consider the governor’s tax package. Throughout the
morning, Roberts had been on the phone with legislators opposed to her bill and had succeeded in
turning some votes around. While the House began its discussion of the plan, McCaig and Roberts
met for an “upbeat strategy session.” They both knew the vote was close, and they reasoned they
would lose the House vote on the first go-round. But they believed they might have enough votes
to carry the bill in a call for reconsideration, once several members reversed their votes. As many
as eight legislators had insisted on voting against the plan to register their displeasure with certain
parts but then promised they would “stand behind their governor” on a second pass. In midafternoon, as expected, the House voted against Roberts’ plan 26-33.
As the day progressed, the date of the public vote took center stage. Roberts and McCaig were
busy shuttling back and forth between the House and Senate leadership, but no compromise was in
view. Fearing that the House version of the bill would specify a November vote, the governor
pressed the Senate leaders to hold firmly to the September date.
While Minority Leader Courtney called his House Democrats together to caucus before the
expected vote for reconsideration, Campbell received word of the governor’s discussion with the
Senate leaders. Seeking a guarantee that the Senate would go along with the November date, he
“strode into Roberts’ office for a showdown.” With Roberts standing a few feet away, Campbell
gave McCaig his terms: either they concede on the date or he would use his partisan clout to defeat
the bill entirely. The Oregonian gave the following account:
‘November or tube it?’ he asked [McCaig]. It was a
demand as much as a question. McCaig didn’t miss a beat:
‘Tube it,’ she said. Campbell made good on his word.56
When Campbell returned to the chambers, he rallied his fellow Republicans. A vote against
reconsideration passed 31-28 along party lines. After months of public meetings, a week of
scrutiny and a day of legislative wrangling, Roberts’ plan collapsed unexpectedly on the House
floor and could not be resuscitated.
A group of Senate Democrats attempted to revive the plan by bypassing the constitutional
requirement that revenue measures originate in the House, but their attempt soon floundered

55Oregonian, July 2, 1992, p. A1.
56Oregonian, July 5, 1992, p. C1.

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under pressure from Senate leadership. Shortly after the bill’s defeat, legislative leaders of both
chambers signed a bipartisan accord to “find a new approach to deal with Measure 5.” Saying that
“six days was simply not long enough to have an adequate dialogue concerning the details of the
proposal,”57 Campbell and Senate President Kitzhaber called for an “Oregon’s Future” panel to
“build a bipartisan and bicameral consensus on the core state service level..”58 The governor,
according to press reports, was “decidedly cool” toward the legislative initiative, saying she was
“not sure it would work.” At the same time, the governor’s office announced that she had no
intention of releasing any other plans in the foreseeable future.

57Press Statement, Oregon State Capitol, Salem, Oregon, July 1, 1992.
58ibid.

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Exhibit 1

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Exhibit 2

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Exhibit 3

21