Voters in yesterday’s special election overwhelmingly approved of Measure 101, which leaves in place the Medicaid funding plan approved by the 2017 Oregon legislature. It also lifts a huge fiscal burden off the shoulders of lawmakers in the short 2018 session that begins February 5.
The die was cast when, early in the evening, results indicated nearly 80 percent of Multnomah County voters approved Measure 101. Even though half of Oregon’s 36 counties, many of them rural, voted against Measure 101, they were heavily outvoted with strong support among higher population centers across the state.
In a low-turnout election, the side that wins is usually the side that can motivate voters to cast ballots. The pro-Measure 101 campaign had the broad coalition support, cash to advertise and the foot-power to get out the vote. Measure 101 opponents had none of those things. More than 180 organizations, both large and small, came together in dozens of advocacy events to show support in protecting healthcare coverage funding approved during the 2017 legislative session.
Referenda usually start as political quarrels in legislative sessions, which was the case for Measure 101. Whereas in recent sessions, funding mechanisms paying for Oregon’s Medicaid program had enjoyed bipartisan support, the enhanced tax proposal in 2017 met with partisan objections from some Republican lawmakers.
Led by Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn/Tualatin) and Rep. Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg), opponents called it unfair and declared it a “sales tax on health care.” Similar messaging was used successfully during last year’s M97 debate and opponents were trying to drum up support from Oregon voters who reacted to that rhetoric.
Supporters of the admittedly complicated Medicaid funding mechanism fought back, saying it was the best bipartisan plan to raise the money necessary to attract federal Medicaid matching dollars. They said opponents raised objections, but offered no politically viable alternative funding plan.
In the end, the $3.6 million campaign drowned out the opposition campaign, which reportedly spent less than $150,000 (a significant chunk of that raised in personal loans from Rep. Hayden). While TV ads provided air cover, the real difference was in the get-out-the-vote drive, aided by union and hospital supporters of Measure 101.
A key takeaway from this election may be the impact on future efforts by minority legislators or interests who seek to alter agreements they oppose. With M101 receiving more than a 6o percent majority, those parties may think twice before attempting similar fights on other legislative packages. Oregon’s referendum process is there for a reason, but legislators already have a mechanism for debating the validity and appropriateness of these type of budget and policy issues. Through the election process, voters can hold their elected leaders accountable for their work.
More than 1 million Oregonians are covered by Medicaid, which represented a fertile target audience to turn out to vote. In a relatively low-turnout election, a motivated group of voters can make the difference.
This was an election decided by urban Oregon voters. Majorities in big counties for Measure 101 ranged from 79 percent in Multnomah County to more than 65 percent in Benton and Lane counties. Jackson County in Southern Oregon went 58 percent for Measure 101. Suburban Washington County favored Measure 101 by more than 60 percent and Clackamas County, which Parrish represents, gave the measure a 58 percent plurality. Marion County went for Measure 101 by a 55 to 45 percent margin.
Oregon’s last special election was in 2010 when the state debated M66/67, which raised personal income tax revenue on the state’s highest-earning individuals and corporations. In that election, 1.28 million Oregonians cast ballots, representing 62.7 percent of eligible voters. Final numbers for M101 are yet to be released, but estimates are significantly lower.
The victory for Measure 101 was declared at 8 pm when the first batch of ballot totals were released.