The following editorial is reprinted from The Oregonian

Gov. John Kitzhaber gave both barrels Monday to a proposed initiative that would allow public employees who don’t want to join unions to withhold mandatory union payments.

The measure would do nothing more nefarious than give people a choice about the use of their own money. Yet there was the governor telling the audience at a union-sponsored picnic, “We are not going to let ‘right to work’ take root in Oregon, not here, not now, not in Oregon, not ever!”

“And I’m here,” he continued, “to ask you to work with me over the next year to fight ... to keep our labor movement strong, to build our middle class and make Oregon the state that launches the comeback of organized labor across the United States of America.”

As The Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes reported, Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain was inspired to remark, “Damn, governor, you sounded like the president of the AFL-CIO.”

The governor would like to ease a relationship with labor strained by his pursuit of PERS reform, perhaps with an eye toward a re-election campaign next year. Spending political capital, which he has in abundance, to defeat an initiative unions fear is a good way to make nice.

But the governor’s audience isn’t limited to those gathered at Oaks Park Monday. It also includes the businesses and individuals who would be affected by the 10 initiative proposals filed by Our Oregon, a proxy for the very public employee unions Kitzhaber pledged to support. With names like “Wealthy Should Pay Their Fair Share,” “Large Corporations Should Pay Their Fair Share,” and “If Corporations Are People, Let’s Tax Them Like It,” Our Oregon’s offerings promise to resurrect the class and business warfare that preceded the 2010 vote on Measures 66 and 67.

While the governor is promising to spend political capital to defeat employee choice, unions have real capital – and plenty of it – at their disposal. AFSCME Council 75 recently contributed $25,000 to a committee supporting one of Our Oregon’s corporate tax hikes, and it hasn’t even been approved for signature-gathering yet.

The governor has valid political reasons for siding with public sector unions in this instance, and he may dislike the “right to work” initiative as much as he appears to. But as threats to the state’s economy and well-being go, letting public employees choose how to spend their pay pales in comparison to revisiting the tax-hike ugliness of 2010.

Kitzhaber may not like Our Oregon’s proposals, either. His objective, in any case, “is to keep all of the divisive measures off of the ballot in 2014 to give us the best shot at comprehensive tax reform,” says spokesman Tim Raphael. This goal is a laudable one, though we disagree with the governor about employee choice.

But Monday’s exhortation was more than a calculated performance to bring about tax reform. It was a strong message in support of Oregon’s public-sector unions, which, by the way, are preparing to extract more money from the private sector. Businesses and many voters looking ahead to next year would be reassured by an equally enthusiastic expression of support. So, how about giving Our Oregon’s Measure 66 and 67 revival campaign a bit of “not here, not now, not in Oregon, not ever?”

Letting public employees choose how to spend their pay pales in comparison to revisiting the tax-hike ugliness of 2010.

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