Writings and observations

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The hot political ticket this week may be Tuesday’s legislative hearing on the Columbia River Crossing bridge proposal – not that it is likely to put the issue to rest.

At this point, it seems, hardly anything is likely to.
The CRC, just as a reminder, is the label for a new and improved bridge on Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver, to upgrade from the often traffic-stressed road it is now. The key here is that two states necessarily are involved, Oregon and Washington.

The overall CRC story goes back a long way, but the trajectory for this part of it comes from last winter when, after Oregon’s legislature and other public officials flipped the green light for committing to their part of the deal, Washington’s legislators couldn’t (in large part because part of the Clark County delegation was opposed) gather enough to pass their counter-measure in Olympia. Without both states signing on, federal funding seemed unlikely, and there the matter seemed to stand – stuck for the foreseeable future.

A number of Oregon officials, however, and these included Governor John Kitzhaber, refused to let it go. New, less-costly plans were developed, alternative approaches were worked out to make sure Washington (or its drivers) eventually coughed up enough of the cost, and a new funding formula was worked out. But would it work? And would Oregon be too much on the hook if it didn’t?

There are not yet any totally clear answers to those questions, and the waters have gotten muddier. Murmurs from Olympia have grown a bit louder with the coming of legislators there, but some of those voices are of the “try again” variety while others ensure the approval will go no further this year.

Reports on the Oregon side have gotten murkier too. A new study out on January 10 says that the main effect of tolling on the I-5 bridge would be push drivers over to I-205, to the east Portland and east Vancouver bridge, to the point that bridge’s capacities would be severely stretched. Political people in Clackamas County, through which I-205 runs on the Oregon side, are concerned about the prospects.

Another report, this one financial, came last week from Oregon state Treasurer Ted Wheeler. He didn’t slam the door shut, but he didn’t exactly offer a resounding blast of confidence either: “If the assumptions underlying the projections made by the project consultants are valid, the tolls will be sufficient to service the project bonds. That said, we need to be sure Oregon can collect them.”

He added, “A key concern is ensuring a legally enforceable way to ensure tolls are collected from drivers registered in Washington State, who will make up an estimated two-thirds of the bridge users. The current plan calls for Oregon to lead the bridge financing and construction effort.”

There may also be this: Support for the project might be higher among elected officials, of both parties, than it is in either party’s base. Plenty of people in those quarters, left and right, have been extending criticism of a big project that, if it’s to succeed, logically ought to have a large based of support.
Arrayed against that is the massive amount of effort, money and political capital already thrown into the project.

If it seems unlikely to happen in anything like the near term, it also seems unlikely to go away soon.

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Oregon Oregon column

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

In terms of useful work accomplished, the recently ended session of Congress was bad – worst ever. The new session that began last week will strive for – and likely surpass – that historic low. The square earth cancer existing in the House for several years has spread to the Senate, guaranteeing already single-digit voter approval ratings will slip even more.

Grim forecast? Yes. Without basis? No. Indicators are all over the place. But here are three that resonate with me.

First – the longer-than-usual list of members quitting. But not just that. What makes these departures more problematic is the political leaning represented by many in the exiting group. Moderates. Many from the middle who’ve historically cooperated with that “other” party. Some who’ve had to beat off primary challenges from the tinfoil hat crowd in the past because of their willingness to “get-the-job-done” using the politics of compromise. Punishment for statesmanship. Attacked by the ignorant for doing the job they were elected to do. At some point, a guy gets fed up being clobbered for doing the right thing.. At some point, he quits. We’re seeing it this time in spades!

Additionally, even some of those who’ve carried water for the far right have somehow slipped into disfavor – encouraged the wrath of the foil folk – finding themselves “primaried.” You won’t find that word in Webster’s or SpellCheck. It means the nuts have put up someone further right-of-center than you and you’re going to have to spend big bucks to win your own primary – then more big bucks to battle the other party in a second election.

Rep Mike Simpson (R-ID) comes to mind as a prime example. Sen. Minority Leader McConnell, (R-KY), too. Though hewing to the square earth Republican line – even when that line was a guaranteed loser – both men are raising money to battle their own party folk. Then still more bucks if a Democrat shows up for the November general election. Gotta have “purity,” dontcha know.

The exit of moderates – especially GOP moderates – assures the mess we’ve endured in recent years will get even messier. A victory here and there for newly minted extremists will simply further foul a bad situation.

Second – both political parties are shrinking in membership. Large numbers of people who previously considered themselves Democrats or Republicans are abandoning whatever’s left of those organizations and moving to the Independent banner. But that’s a very, very sharp two-edged sword.

While one might feel personally and philosophically rewarded by being politically free to pick and choose, the problem is there is no viable “Independent Party” with any clout. Many states don’t allow candidates who aren’t Democrat or Republican on the ballot. So what you get in many cases is the recognized two parties put unacceptable candidates on the ballots for the disenfranchised “Independents” to chose between.

Unless – and until – enough people can create a real Independent Party made up of truly fed-up former Democrats and Republicans, there’ll be no real change. The third party folk will simply have abandoned the recognized and lawful system and have no clout to change anything. The choice really amounts to being disenfranchised or going back to the political party you’re trying to escape from while trying to change it.

Third – there are 534 members in the current Congress. Right? How many would you guess are millionaires? MORE THAN HALF! Yep. At least 268 had a documented 2012 net worth of a million. Or more!

Used to be easy to look it up. But the Center for Responsive Politics that researched those figures says Congress quietly changed the rules recently so you can’t tell how much over a million they might really be worth. Chief Obama hater Rep. Issa (R-CA) is generally judged to be the most well-heeled at about a billion. Even Idaho’s little Sen. Risch is up in the multi-million range.

So, next time you consider the Republican cut to food stamps of $40 billion, ask yourself this:”With more than half the people voting who should eat – how much and when – being millionaires, what do they really know of hunger? How in touch with people trying to keep their families fed are these guys?

Or, that old Republican bugaboo – unemployment benefits. What do Issa and Risch and the 266 other millionaires really know of being unemployed while trying to keep a family together? What do they know of the absolute need of $200 or $300 a week to survive? When more than half the folks writing our laws and determining benefits have checkbooks with seven or eight or nine figures in them, how concerned are they about the necessities you have to deal with on a daily basis?

Is the new Congress going to be worse than the last? Will there be more partisanship and stalemate? Will the foil hat crowd continue to sabotage democracy? Will the more than half the Congress worth over a million apiece remain out-of-touch with today’s reality at your house?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

Happy New Year anyway.

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Rainey