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Posts published in January 2010

Why is it so hard?

Our household has weighed in on just about every election - allowing for the possibility of missing an occasional special minor-district contest - over the last couple of decades and beyond. That's not a brag, or shouldn't be: Casting those votes, while the decisions on occasion have been close calls, hasn't been a difficult thing to do. That was true when we lived in Idaho, and even truer, what with ballots that are mailed to us and can be easily posted back, in Oregon.

Why do so many candidates for higher office seem to have such a hard time doing this basic civic task?

The Oregonian reported last month about Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley, the former basketball player, missing a lot of votes, seven of the last 13 back to 2004, and probably a whole lot before then. Now it has followed up with reports about the mediocre voting patterns of other would-be governors - Democratic former Governor John Kitzhaber, and Republican Allen Alley. Only former Secretary of State (and, therefore, the top elections official in the state), Bill Bradbury, emerged with a good record of casting ballots.

A suggestion: Checks for vote casting ought to be run for candidates for all offices, as a matter of course. Maybe candidates ought to be pressured (not legally required, but pressured) to include the information in their election guide profiles. After all, voters may well want to consider how eager they will be to vote for candidates to can't be troubled to do as much, in this very basic civic job, as they.

The cusina

greek cucina

Walk around downtown Portland - especially the central area around 4th Street - and you can't miss it: A giant purple octopus looming over the sidewalk. By the name of Spoticus.

It portends a restaurant, but not seafood: This is the landmark Greek Cusina, one of Portland's more visible restaurants, and specializing as indicated in Greek food. We've lunched there a time or two. Very atmospheric.

Or was. It has been closed, following a long-running battle with city licensers, and in particular with Commissioner Randy Leonard, whom the Cusina's owners have accused of a vendetta against them. Leonard (a former firefighter, and as blunt an elected official as you'll find around the Northwest) simply calls the place "the most dangerous occupancy in the city."

Seems tailor-made for someone to check out the records and find out . . . are these regulators shutting down a struggling landmark, or a serious safety hazard?

Meantime, the Oregonian reports, Spoticus is up for sale on eBay.

Toward transparency

Public budgets are published and are openly-available documents, but they're not exactly light reading. You'd think that with the capacity for communications available today, someone would be making them more available . . .

There are a few stabs at this, growing. One to note today: The Oregon Transparency site, which runs through a lot of information about state spending in a clearer than usual manner.

Also worth reviewing (if you're an Oregonian, and interested on how the state spends its money) there's this relatively obscure but useful document, recommended by a reader who found it more than a little enlightening.

Subtle restrictions

The just-released Oregon Supreme Court decision in Fred Vanatta v. Oregon Government Ethics Commission is being hailed at a blow for regulation of, well, bribery and efforts just short of that. Oregon, after all, defines free speech and expression a little more broadly than most other states.

Such limits - basically things like gifts to legislators - that are routinely regulated in other states, got a close parsing in Oregon. The decision was so down the middle it may be hard to apply (and in fact was referred back to lower court for more action).

The group Fair Elections Oregon said in a statement that the "Oregon Supreme Court upholds limits on lobbyist gifts to public officials and legislators; but the limits have no practical effect in Oregon's regime of unlimited campaign contributions and virtually no limits on how they are spent."

Here's a key paragraph from the court's decision"

Plaintiffs assert that, "by prohibiting * * * expenditures to inform or persuade legislators regarding legislative matters, the lobbying restrictions impermissibly restrain Oregon inhabitants from 'instructing their Representatives' or 'applying to the Legislature for redress of' grievances.'" However, plaintiffs have failed to support their assertions with any case law, or with any analysis of the origins, the historic concerns, or the drafters' political theories that underlie Article I, section 26. See State v. Montez, 309 Or 564, 604, 789 P2d 1352 (1990) (without extensive briefing on the origins, historic concerns, and political theories underlying federal Guarantee Clause, court would not consider full range of arguments that could be made regarding impact of Guarantee Clause on constitutionality of death penalty statute). In the absence of that kind of extensive and focused analysis in this case, we fail to see how the rights to assemble, to instruct representatives, and to apply to the legislature for redress of grievances, as protected by Article I, section 26, necessarily must include a constitutional right for public officials to receive gifts, entertainment, and honoraria, or for lobbyists to give restricted gifts to public officials. The fact that gifts may be "helpful" in creating goodwill with public officials does not mean that Article I, section 26, protects the delivery of gifts to them.

Sounds as if it's time to head back to the drawing board.