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September 12th, 2001 Patty Wentz | News Stories
 

Blowing the Horn

North Portland Activist Ted Piccolo is back, with a new cause: keeping the state safe from career politicians.

     
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TED PICCOLO
IMAGE: martin thiel

The Oregonian has been carrying more political cartoons than usual, thanks to an unusual advertising campaign headed by Ted Piccolo.

Term limits is the latest cause for the anti-government activist from North Portland. In 1998, Piccolo set up the roadblocks to the north-south light-rail project and a $64.85 million park bond. Since then, however, success has been elusive for the public-relations consultant, who also runs a janitorial service. In 2000, he lost a bid to unseat City Commissioner Charlie Hales and failed to qualify a ballot measure that would institute term limits on city officials.

These days Piccolo, who claims Chief Joseph as an ancestor, is agitated by what he sees as politicians trying to subvert the will of the voters who passed the 1992 ballot measure that instituted term limits for elected state officials.

The measure is now before the Oregon Supreme Court, thanks to a lawsuit filed by former lawmakers Bill Markham (R-Riddle) and Mike Lehman (D-Coos Bay), who were termed out of the House by the '92 measure. Piccolo and other critics are particulary peeved by the Legislature's role as accomplice to this perceived crime against the citizenry.

Last session, lawmakers passed a bill that allowed candidates for the 2002 election to file for office nearly a full year early. This allowed Markham and Lehman to sign up for their former House seats. As expected, their applications were rejected because of the term-limit law. This, in turn, kicked off the lawsuit, which claims that the initiative changed more than one amendment of the constitution and is therefore invalid. (This argument stems from a precedent set by what's known as the 1998 Armatta Ruling, in which the court overturned Measure 40 for the same reason.)

Piccolo views the Legislature's role in setting up the challenge as backroom wheeling and dealing. Last month he kicked off a campaign that so far consists of single-panel cartoons, which have run in Portland's daily paper.

One comic shows Gov. John Kitzhaber, Speaker of the House Mark Simmons and other lawmakers scheming in the "Power Grub Pub." Another depicts Dr. Governor performing surgery on Oregon voters to remove the term-limits law, while gleeful lawmakers attend.

Piccolo won't disclose where he gets financial support for his educational nonprofit, Atlas Oregon, and he hasn't yet registered the organization with the state. He is the president of the group but says he receives no salary.

He hasn't spent much time in the Capitol and concedes he hasn't witnessed how the term-limit law has affected the Legislature. Still, he disagrees with Salem observers who contend that an untrained and ineffective legislature has become the weakest link in state government.

"I don't think we've given it a chance," he says. "I don't mean to be dramatic here, but people at first didn't think that America had a chance."

Last week, the Supreme Court announced it would begin hearing oral arguments on the challenge on Nov. 6. A ruling isn't expected until after the first of the year.

The point of the campaign, Piccolo says, is to keep the issue alive with voters while the Supremes deliberate, and to be ready to run a campaign to reinstate term limits if the law is overturned.

"We've made no secret that one way or another there will be term limits in Oregon," he says. "The next time, the restrictions may be even more severe."


If you don't feel like shelling out 35 cents for The Oregonian, you can check out the pro-term-limit cartoons at www.oregontermlimits.org .
 
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