PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- While Oregonians have a record of voting for anti-crime measures, a Nov. 2 ballot initiative being pushed by a prominent Republican has proven controversial because of the money taxpayers would pay to increase mandatory sentences for repeat offenders convicted of sex crimes and drunken driving.
The campaign for Measure 73, which was organized by former GOP gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix, a Salem attorney, has brought two strains of conservative thought into conflict: getting tough on crime and getting tough on government spending.
The state faces a shortfall of close to $1 billion this year, and a projected shortfall of $3.2 billion for the next two years, so Measure 73 has proven divisive within Mannix's own party.
Chris Dudley, the GOP gubernatorial candidate, said in his budget plan that he opposes the Mannix measure because it would cost too much.
But Greg Leo, spokesman for the Oregon GOP, said the group is "generally favorable" to the measure, despite its potential for increased costs.
"One of the first responsibilities of the state is provide for the safety of its citizens," Leo said. "Public safety has got to be a high priority. We would look for other places in the budget to economize."
Also opposing Mannix's measure are labor unions, civil-rights organizations that oppose mandatory minimum sentences, and a prominent organization representing crime victims.
"Incarceration is the most expensive and least effective way to deal with any public safety issue," said Terrie Quinteros, executive director of the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Measure 73 would require anyone convicted of a "major felony sex crime" who had previously been convicted of a sex crime to be sentenced to 25 years in prison. That would be a change from the current minimum sentence of 5 years, 10 months.
The initiative would also make a person's third drunken driving conviction a felony and require a 90-day jail sentence. Under current Oregon law, the third drunken driving conviction is a misdemeanor, and the fourth is a felony.
The secretary of state's office predicted Measure 73 would cost between $43.4 million and $63.6 million in its first four years and $18 million to $29 million for each year after that.
The report predicts increased costs for courts, county jails that would need 400 to 600 additional beds over the next five years, and court-appointed attorneys defending against felony charges.
So far, not a lot of money has been raised for or against the measure, according to state campaign filings.
Supporters of Measure 73 have raised at least $2,800 through the Yes on 73 Committee, which has relied almost entirely on in-kind contributions from Mannix's law firm except for a $100 miscellaneous cash contribution.
An opposing group, No on Measure 73, reported no campaign finance activity, including contributions or donations.
Also an unsuccessful candidate in the past for state attorney general, Mannix has had success sponsoring anti-crime measures. They include Measure 11, a 1994 ballot initiative that established mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes and sex crimes.
Opponents of Measure 73 say the money would be better spent on offender treatment programs and shelters for victims of domestic abuse. They say that state figures show domestic violence victims made 19,500 requests for shelter in 2009 that went unmet.
"It's vague, it's poorly written, and it would be so expensive that that money would have to come from somewhere where it's needed," said Kerry Naughton of the Portland-based Partnership for Safety and Justice. "It doesn't make sense to further jeopardize thousands of cries for help for something that would cost tens of millions of dollars while women's shelters overflow."
Mannix said the cost estimates from the secretary of state's office are "out of line" and the fiscal impact would be much lower.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Mannix said much of the opposition stems from "a few liberal legislative leaders" who oppose his tough-on-crime initiatives.
Some opponents, including Oregon's ACLU chapter, say the initiative is too broad. While major felony sex crimes include rape, sodomy and unlawful penetration, they also include "using a child in display of sexually explicit conduct." That could include "sexting," the transmission of sexual images via mobile phones.
The ACLU argues that, under the initiative, a teenager as young as 15 with no previous convictions who sends sexual images to more than one person could be classified as a repeat sex offender, and be automatically sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Mannix called that a "phantom issue," and said that under current Oregon law, a 15-year-old "sexting" two or more people would still be counted as a "repeat offender" and the punishment would amount to more than 11 years.