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Oregon

The Most Controversial Man in Oregon

Bill Sizemore, 'Ballot-ician,' Proposes Ballot Initiatives

With his business casual attire and slightly shaggy hair, Bill Sizemore looks like a regular guy. But he is the focus of a multimillion dollar campaign of negative attack ads -- and he's not even a politician.

Sizemore is what's called a "ballot-ician." Over the past 14 years, the former businessman has filed more than a hundred ballot initiatives, on everything from property taxes to education to home construction.

As he showed me stacks paper containing rows of petition signatures neatly piled up on desk, I asked him, "Do you sit around the house and dream this stuff up and then write it?"

"Yes," he said. "That's how it happens."

Sizemore had five initiatives on the ballot during the election, including one that would lower state taxes, one that would give merit pay to teachers and one that would allow homeowners to do $35,000 worth of renovations to their homes without getting a permit.

"I have strong convictions about basic issues," he said. "Things like property rights, lower taxes. I think issues like that are moral issues."

In his attempt to change Oregon's laws, however, Sizemore -- who's a self-described conservative -- has made a powerful and diverse coalition of enemies. Their basic argument is that Sizemore's initiatives may sound good at first glance but are usually so vaguely worded and ill-conceived that they would have enormously negative consequences.

This year, as they do every year, Sizemore's opponents -- led by the state public employee unions -- mounted a multimillion dollar campaign against Sizemore's initiatives, including television ads and an anti-Sizemore Web site.

Members of the Oregon teachers' union said Sizemore's education initiatives would hurt students.

"He has no experience in education," public school teacher Jen Murray said. "He writes these initiatives where he doesn't have to deal with the consequences, whereas all Oregonians in public school will."

Sizemore's critics say he's motivated not only by his conservative philosophy but also by money.

"I think the reason he does it is because it's a way to make a living," said Larry Wolf of the Oregon Education Association.

Sizemore is funded by two wealthy individuals, who provide the money for his operations and also his living expenses.

One of them is Loren Parks, a businessman turned amateur sex hypnotherapist, who posts videos of himself talking about his work on YouTube.

Critics say Sizemore has turned the initiative system, designed as a populist tool, into a profit-making enterprise.

Sizemore denies this. He says he only makes about $100,000 per year and that, more importantly, he is using the system exactly as it was meant to be used.

"What we use the initiatives to do is to put initiatives on the ballot that have broad popular support that the legislature would refuse to deal with," he said. "And the fact that I do it for a living is irrelevant to the thing itself."

Being a ballot-ician has not been an easy road for Sizemore. He's had a very low success rate on his initiatives. He's been successfully sued by the unions for filing false signatures. And, of course, he and his family have had to endure a tsunami of attack ads.

Still, he showed no signs of relenting. Even before Election Day, he's already starting filing initiatives for 2010.

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