It took Oregon, which seemed determined to drag its feet, until 2008 to comply. But in 2008, our state legislature passed a secure driver's license bill that required proof of legal presence in the United States. At the same time, it passed a companion bill requiring that uninsured motorists be tracked.
Unfortunately, since 2008, the state government has been working to undo that legislation
Our organization [Oregonians for Immigration Reform] works to motivate and educate citizens. When I took over as President, I felt that there was a very tight-knit board that did everything. We had a lot of members, but they were not really participating as I felt they could be. So we tried to make our organization consist of thousands of individual activists instead of one organization with a bunch of members. We did a billboard campaign and we were just amazed. We would put up a billboard and then we would go to the legislature and listen to the phones ring. It really makes you feel like your money is well spent when phones are ringing off the hook!
We focused on what our state government was trying to do. Just to give you an idea, on May Day 2012, our Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner read a letter from our Governor, John Kitzhaber, on the steps of the Capitol to a huge crowd. In the letter he said that the Governor was hoping to find a way to restore driving privileges to those “Oregonians” (i.e. illegal aliens) who did not qualify for a regular Oregon driver’s license. He was going to form a work group to investigate how he could go about doing that. [Gov. Kitzhaber promises action on immigrant driver's license issue, By Ryan Kost, Oregonian.com, May 1, 2012]
I left the steps of the Capitol and ran into the Capitol building, to the legislative services office, and said, “I want to volunteer to be on that work group.” The woman laughed at me and said, “Oh good grief, it will be weeks before they put that together. We’ll keep you posted.”
Nothing happened, so every three days I would check back and ask if they had started the group. All of our board members were calling and asking to be in this group to make sure that all voices are heard. Finally the lady got really annoyed and said: “We’re going to have letters prepared. We have selected the group, we have letters prepared, and they will be in the mail today for everybody, whether you are in the group or not.”
I went home and waited for five days. I didn’t get a letter. So I went back and, just by chance, there was an intern at the front desk and I said: “I would like to know about the Governor’s workgroup that’s looking into the driver’s licenses for people that are not here legally.”
And she said: “What about it?”
I said: “I would like a seat at that table.”
She said: “Well that group has been meeting for over a year.”
Well, that’s how they wanted to play it. Time to regroup.
We asked for information about the committee, we asked who was on the committee, we asked questions, and went to every department, including the Governor's’ office, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, and the Department of Motor Vehicles. Everybody rejected us and turned us away.
We filed Freedom of Information requests, four of them. Every one of them was turned down.
We went to the newspapers and a reporter at The Statesman Journal filed a Freedom of Information request and he was turned down. That really made him mad, so Governor Kitzhaber had to deal with a front page story exposing his secret work group.
David Cross, a phenomenal sleuth who does all of our crime reporting on foreign nationals, combs all the papers to find if someone submitted a letter to the editor, just happened to be combing the Internet and he ran across the minutes for these meetings. They were just laden with goodies—comments like: “The only way we’ll pass such a bill is if we can make this a safety issue. So we need to find a way to get law enforcement involved. We need to find a way to get insurance companies involved.” [Why opponents of driver-card legislation went to the ballot, By David Olen Cross, Oregonian.com, October 31, 2013]
So clearly they knew that people were going to buck this. I heard a rumor that they were going to try to include motor voter registration in this driver’s license bill, but somebody said: “That will wake the citizens up, so we better not put that in yet. We’ll do it incrementally.”
It tells you all you need to know about their mindset.
But a bill reversing the ban was introduced on April 2, 2013, had one hearing that was front-loaded with supporters, passed to the House Ways & Means Committee, and then to the House floor. They raced it through in under a month so that the Governor could sign it on May Day.
I said: “Not really.”
He said: “Well that means that you can file a citizen’s referendum and challenge this law.”
I had heard the word “referendum,” but had no clue what was involved. But Craig said: “This is what you have to do. They are having this huge rally tomorrow and you need to take advantage of that media. They are going to have huge media coverage because this is huge for Oregon. Every newspaper, radio, TV station will be there. You’ll never get that kind of media attention again for an announcement that we are going to do a referendum. So write a press release and go there.”
So I did. I went there and had all my press releases clutched to my chest, waiting for the Governor to sign that bill. I didn’t want anyone to have an inkling we were going to do this. As soon as the Governor signed the bill, I started handing out press releases and all the sudden all of the press was following me: “Can we talk to you? What’s this about a referendum?”
The front page story was: “Governor signs driver’s card bill”—and then, right after that, an article about our group filing a referendum. [Gov. John Kitzhaber signs driver cards bill at May Day rally as opponents pursue referendum, OregonLive.com, By Yuxing Zheng, May 01, 2013]
For a quick review, a bill is passed by the legislature but if the citizens don’t like it, we have a constitutional right to a citizen’s veto referendum. This requires us to collect half of the number of signatures that it took to elect the Governor. That number was 58,142. We collected 77,000 signatures.
After that, you are assigned a ballot measure number. Of course, they took their sweet time about giving us that, which makes it very difficult because you want to put your ballot measure number on all your publicity materials.
Then there is Election Day, which is November 4.
There was far more work involved than I expected. Every single day it was something more, something now, something needs to be filed, registered, etc. Just to get this thing moving, there were so many steps to take.
I had heard absolutely horrendous horror stories about our Secretary of State’s office. So I went to them and said: “Listen. I’m a citizen, I’m a volunteer, I have no clue what I need to do, but I do know that I don’t want to make any mistakes. So, please help me.”
I was very respectful to them, and they were incredibly respectful to me. I had all their answers to my questions in writing so I had them to refer back to. Everyone kept asking me how I got them to be like. I said that if you treat them nicely, and don’t go in with an attitude, maybe they might not be so mean to you.
The biggest problem that we had to take care of right off the bat was getting the signature sheets and the bill printed. For every signature sheet, there had to be an 11-page copy of the bill. So I had cases upon cases of printer ink in my house. We had packet stuffing parties to get them all produced.
One of the very first things I did was call Fred Elbel and say we needed a website. He got on it right away. He warned me about what I was getting into and said: “It will be seven days a week, it will be every single day, every hour; it will be all you do until this is done.”
Now every time we talk, his sage soothing words are. “Told ‘ya.”
In Oregon, we can do online signature gathering on a single signer sheet. You log on to our website, you see the bill, you see a single signer sheet, you can print it out, sign it, and mail it in. That is really great because you can do it from the comfort of your own home, mail it in and never come in contact with the signature gatherer. We collected over 10,000 signatures online. That was twice the number of any other referendum in Oregon history.
One of the great pivot points was when the Oregon Republican Party endorsed our referendum. They told all of the county chairs to activate all their Precinct Committee Persons (PCPs) to support us. That was huge. We were getting packet requests from all over the state for signature gathering packets. I prepared over 800 packets and shuffled on down to the mailbox. They all weighed different because some people wanted 10 signature sheets, some wanted five, and some wanted extra copies of the bill and our literature.
We tried to get into as many events, fairs, gun shows; anywhere we could be to collect signatures. We just booked everything. We encouraged people to write Letters to the Editor to get the word out.
We worked very hard to take advantage of earned media. Jim Ludwick, one of the founding members and a past president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, and I travelled the state for 18 months speaking everywhere we could. We spoke at meetings ranging from five people to 250 people, everything from Americans for Prosperity to 9-12 Project Clubs, Republican gatherings, Kiwanis Clubs and Rotary Clubs. You name it, we’ve been there.
Then comes all the signature sheets. Somebody has to open them, verify them, and make sure that mistakes were not made. We collected 77,000 signatures, but we self-purged 5,000 of them that were duplicates, dating problems, etc., and turned in 72,000. It was a full court press to gather these signatures. We just had to keep going as fast as we possibly could.
I would like to establish a day where we salute volunteers. I have the most phenomenal volunteers in my state. One day I was feeling completely overwhelmed, I had so many packet orders and so much to do and speaking engagements to go to, and there came this little, meek knock at the door. This woman, her name is Diane Johnson, came to the door and said: “I bet you need help today. Just tell me what you need me to do.” I love that; she did that several times.
Now there are some serious, hard costs involved in doing something like this. I am a penny-pincher, nickel-stretcher, you name it. I was very fortunate that U.S. Inc. very generously helped us out. We couldn’t have done it without them. We’re not a fundraising organization; that isn’t what we do. We do have generous members, but a lot of them are on a fixed income, so expecting them to give a lot of money is not realistic.
[California gubernatorial candidate] Tim Donnelly spoke at this conference last year. Several people told me that I needed to talk with him because he did a huge referendum in California. So I called him several times and he never called back. I thought: “Well, he is a busy man since he is running for Governor.” One day I was coming home with a big load of groceries and the phone rang and he said, “This is Tim Donnelly. You don’t have an answering machine, young lady. Do you know how many times I have tried to call you? Get paper, get a pen. I’m going to talk. You’re going to listen.”
Then for about half an hour, he just spewed advice about how to win the referendum. It was phenomenal advice.
One of the things he suggested we utilize was “drive-through democracy.” You pick a popular location, you advertise, and then you take advantage of the media. We had a gentleman who had a van and went to nursing homes and brought the residents through to sign the referendum.
We put up a billboard for the fair in 2013 that said: “Come see us at the fair and sign our referendum at the fair.” That billboard is still up.
We even rented an outdoor booth at the Oregon State Fair. We were just absolutely swarmed with people coming to sign. Of course, last year’s fair had extremely warm weather and a hurricane that came through—not fun when you’re in an outside booth filled with papers. I had my foot on the table trying to hold the clipboards down. It was quite exciting.
But we made it. We qualified to be on the ballot. I’m telling you, every jaw in the Capitol building dropped because nobody thought that we would do it.
Jim and I were watching as they were verifying the signatures. There were about a dozen people opposed to our efforts who were also watching and verifying. They would lean into the election officials real hard and write all of these challenge things down. Jim and I thought: “Isn’t it ironic that people who are here illegally are watching people who are trying to make sure that legal registered voters signed the forms properly, all so we can overturn a law that rewards people here illegally?” The irony there was just thick.
Once we were verified, we thought we had clear sailing. Then a short session of the legislature came up.
We had a great ballot title. But the opposition evidently polled that title and said to themselves: “We’re going to lose. We’re going to lose big. We have to do something.”
So they got the bright idea to re-write the title in order to improve the odds of keeping the law. It passed the House and went over to the Senate. Fortunately, these tactics galvanized the major newspapers and radio stations to take our side. They said: “Get out of the citizens’ business, quit tinkering with the title.”
Jim and I lived at the Senate for about five days, going from office to office saying: “You don’t want this on your record, do you?” The bill died in the Senate. So we prevailed.
Once we had our ballot title, we looked at our opponents to figure out what they were saying that we could counter. Newspapers kept saying that they had the support of law enforcement. I didn’t believe that, so I challenged the newspapers to say who. It turns out that it was just Ron Louie, the retired police chief of Hillsboro, a completely out-of-control city in regards to illegal immigration, and Police Chief Mike Reese of Portland, a Sanctuary City. That’s it—that’s their law enforcement support.
So I thought: “We can do better than that.” The day I was trying to figure out how to do this, I got a phone call from Sheriff Tom Bergin of Clatsop County. He said that he wanted to help us. He told me to hold off because he thought he could get a few more Sheriffs in.
Later, he called me again and told me that he had 9 people on board. Nine sheriffs! After that, he had 22! I thought “22, that’s great!” and asked him “Can I post something now?” And he said, no, not yet. He was going to a conference of the Oregon’s Sheriff’s Association and he thought he might be able to get a few more.
Then he called me again and said he had 28 now, giving us a supermajority. Also, we now had the endorsement of the Sheriffs of Oregon PAC. That was just huge.
We have gone on to collect a wonderful group of endorsers. We have Michael Cutler, Border Patrol Union Vice President Derek Hernandez, two Oregon senators and two representatives, Maria Espinoza, D.A. King, and a lot more local law enforcement.
And people keep coming out of the woodwork. I was just on the phone trying to get our booth for the 2014 Oregon State Fair, trying to find out how we could get a booth that faced east so we wouldn’t have a storm move in, like last year. Then a donor called and said: “I want you to have the most kickass booth that you can have, and it’s on me.” So, we got an indoor booth, a banner, and a stop sign. It was really nice to be inside.
I worked very hard to get legislators and candidates to work in our booth because I wanted them to hear from the people walking by. We also got the bright idea to provide these fans in the shape of our trademark stop sign. So we made up these fans. I had 2,500 of them made and I have 12 left, they’re outside if you want one. They were a huge success.
A gentleman told me I could put our lawn signs, five of them, on his frontage. So I did, but I came by a couple days later and my signs were tossed back in the blackberry bushes and this little paper sign opposing us was stapled up. We put them back, only for the same thing to happen—twice more. Then the homeowner got mad and he took the lawn sign and stapled it to the side of his garage. Our supporters’ dedication and courage is always inspiring.
A quick story here. Eddie Garcia, who now lives in La Grande, Oregon, had our ads running on his radio station. There’s a little newspaper in La Grande called Tidbits, and there was a Mexican restaurant who advertised in that paper, which was also carrying ads for Eddie’s radio show. So the Mexican restaurateur told the paper “If you don’t stop publishing ads for Eddy’s radio show, I’m going to pull my ad.” So the paper kicked the restaurant ads out and called us and said, “We’ll put your ad in our paper and you don’t have to pay for it.”
I love these stories.
We had a huge, standing-room-only meeting on September 27, 2014. Our group isn’t really a rally group, but we had a huge meeting and we got this brilliant idea. We had a captive audience; we got the lawn signs; we have Mission Street/Highway 22, which is a big, popular street, and I said: “Nobody leaves this place until you spend 15 minutes on the line.” And we did.
It was great, and we had great pictures in the paper.
In contrast to our more organic approach, our opposition, which has $423,000 (we have about a 1/10 of that), has professionally-produced signs and they stand on the corners of very busy intersections and chant. Their chant is usually something like “Stop the hate! Vote yes on 88.”
I’ve received plenty of reports that people think this is obnoxious, they don’t like to be yelled at while they are in their cars.
And news is always breaking in our favor. For example, we have been saying all along that driver’s cards will probably be used to get on a plane. This was always denied by the other side. However, we called TSA and they confirmed that driver’s cards can be used to board a plane. We got great TV news coverage after we had proven this.
Now we’re starting a full court press on radio ads. We’d love the help of any of you who can help us to the finish line. It can come in the form of advice, ideas, suggestions, or cold hard cash!
Measure 88 is really critical. Oregon is the only state that has been successful getting this issue to the ballot. Other states have tried and not gotten as far. We’re also the only state in the entire country to have an immigration issue on the ballot this fall. So all eyes are on us. We want to send a message so loud and clear.
Vote No on 88!
Cynthia Kendoll [Email her] is the President of Oregonians For Immigration Reform.