Oregon Law Review : Vol. 87 No. 3, p.717-730 : What Is a Constitution, What Is Not, and Why Does It Matter?
Linde, Hans A.
Some 150 years ago, Oregon adopted a conventional constitution of its time. Forty years later, in reaction to domination by entrenched political parties and interests, the “Oregon System”—in effect, Oregon’s second constitution—was designed to make government more responsive to the popular demands of the Progressive era. It succeeded as long as its original designers initiated laws to enact specific policies and initiated amendments to the constitution only to reform the institutions and electoral politics of government. The system went astray when later generations of activists began collecting extra signatures on petitions in order to erect constitutional monuments to some cause of the moment and place them beyond the reach of lawmakers elected to represent all the state’s people, both voters and nonvoters, and to take responsibility for balancing the state’s books. Oregon’s current text can fairly be described as a constitutional mess. But if those responsible for the state’s institutions find it dysfunctional, the original conceptions of “laws” and “amendments” leaves restoration of the distinction in their hands. The harder question is whether this also is within the capacity of the political constitution.