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Posts published in “Day: January 9, 2022”

What to watch for

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This column first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle on December 29.

In 2022 many of Oregon's biggest stories will be political: A new governor, two new members of Congress (the first change there in a decade) and more.

What those changes look like, whether simply of personality or of wholesale direction, may flow from some of the other developments we see in the months ahead.

Where is Covid-19 headed, for example?

The clock struck 2022 on an ominous pandemic note, with a new variant faster-spreading than any before it. Covid-19 is marching on with no obvious end in sight.

Oregon is one of the best states for suppressing per capita infections, and hospitalizations have dropped in recent months even with the new omicron surge. That has happened partly because masking and vaccination regimes go on, surely into the primary election season and maybe into the general election as well, even if sweeping lockdowns do not. The anger on one side about any restrictions, and the anger on the other side about those protesters, is likely to continue and maybe grow. How will people react to this on their ballots?

The early months of this year may see a U.S. Supreme Court decision dramatically changing the rules on abortion, and most states probably will see a legislative - and maybe ballot issue - response to that. Oregon’s response may end up being little change in the current state laws, but the debate likely to erupt this spring may spin off many side effects.

The last couple of years have been challenging in other ways. As many people - around the country, and many around the state - view their largest city, Portland has become not just weird but ungovernable, hazardous, even (some will say) a burned-out, razed-to-the-ground shell. Last January an economist from Lake Oswego, Bill Conerly, wrote in Forbes magazine, that in Portland “continued violence and vandalism have combined with high housing costs, homelessness and poor community leadership to raise the question: how long before this city dies?” Some reality: Portland is not dying, and it doesn’t resemble the caricature its critics are so quick to employ. But image and perception are important. What will Portland’s leaders do in coming months to change that - and ease back some of the city’s real problems, in public safety, housing and elsewhere? It will be an election subtext.

So might the Greater Idaho movement, which plays off antipathy to PDX. An actual state boundary change isn’t in the cards - the barriers are too high - but the movement does provide a visible (and maybe substantive) counterbalance to the Portland metro sensibility. If the secessionists are able to achieve some visibility in the coming legislative session, what effect might that have on the elections ahead?

The legislature too, albeit operating in a short session, could affect the campaign seasons ahead. It may have done some of that already in its quick December session, passing emergency rental assistance and drought and law enforcement assistance as well, a package balanced between metro and rural areas. If the upcoming session continues along that balanced line - if it does - a cooling effect could be felt in Oregon politics.

There are some other reasons a cooling off could happen. Oregon’s economy, for one example, has been faring well.

The new congressional and legislative maps for the next decade are set now, but there’s a chance here too for decompression: Another run at the proposal that this state do what most of its neighbors have in creating a bipartisan redistricting commission. This year - shortly after the old plan is done and well ahead of the next one - would be the ideal time for action on it, and the best chance for its advocates.

This still leaves the question of how Oregon politics will develop in its most pivotal year for more than a decade.

The answers are not obvious.

As the year begins, the probability is that the governor’s office once again (as it has every time since 1982) will go to the Democratic nominee. But there are plausible scenarios to the contrary, and you can develop reasonable arguments for any of at least three Democratic contenders winning the nomination. (Sounds like a future column …)

The holders of Oregon’s fifth and sixth district U.S. House seats are a far from settled question as well.

Whoever they are, they’ll have to run against the backdrop of Oregon, a place perceived as mired in frustrating times or making its way toward sunnier days. The battle between those perspectives will likely tell us what kind of headlines we see in 2022.
 

Home is where the (vote) is

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Now the fun begins. Maybe it’s not really fun but, I’ll tell you what, you can see where they’re going to go with this. It’s as predictable as, well... It’s as predictable as the unions and other great fans of keeping things just as they are lining up behind Establishment Kotek.

Oops, I meant Tina Kotek. Dang autocorrect.

Predictably, Oregon Secretary of State and Kotekian Acolyte Shemia Fagan ruled exactly like expected — or at least, exactly as Kotek and her establishment overseers and minions expected, anyway. It seems Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof is not a three-year resident of Oregon after all and, thus, is ineligible to run for governor.

What a surprise.

Kristof was armed with the published opinions of three former Oregon secretaries of state — Jeanne Atkins, Bill Bradbury and Phil Keisling, all three Democrats — which attested to there being no reasonable argument against granting Kristof assumed residency in Oregon. Kristof also had a legal opinion stating that he has been a resident of Oregon since at least November 2019 “...and likely much longer,” issued by retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice William Riggs.

It seems the pesky rules requiring three-year residency actually aren’t all that specific in instructing a poor secretary of state in determining just how to validate that. Unfortunately, the same not-terribly-specific guidelines freeing the five former secretaries of state to welcome Kristof as a resident also give license to Fagan to deny him that same residency. Yeah, that would really suck — the last thing the Kotekians want is someone who will come in and shake things up, maybe think outside the box and get some stuff done.

It should be noted that Secretaries Atkins, Bradbury and Keisling stated, “[w]hen it came to determining candidate residency and related questions, our North Star was a simple one... Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, a person should be presumed to be a resident of the place or places they consider to be home.” Clearly, when you’re beholden to the establishment and powerhouses like the public employees union, it’s easy to interpret the rules somewhat differently than your predecessors.

To be clear, I am not slamming rank-and-file Democrats — many of my friends are proud Ds, I am married to one and, these days, I practically caucus with them, given the chaos and insanity that’s seized my own Republican party. But no one should be surprised at Fagan’s ruling because Fagan is part of the crowd that thinks everything in Salem is just fine the way it is, thank you very much.

Oh sure, they’ll wail and gnash their teeth while they gently tell you the establishmentfolk are the ones with the expertise to fix things. But then we’ll just plod along like we do these days and absolutely nothing of note will get done. But, whew! At least the blues are still holding the reins of the cart that goes nowhere!

Honestly, I can’t blame the Democrats for trying to preserve their iron-fisted grip on power in this state. The G.O.P. would be doing the same thing if they had the monopoly. As it is, when the Republicans walked out in recent years, I never held it against them. Sometimes a walk-out is the only tool the minority has when it’s dominated so effectively by the opposition. In our 250 years, both parties have used such tools when convenient or necessary. A party sometimes gotta do what a party’s gotta do.

In a world where many of the current elected Oregon Democrats have never needed to seriously worry about losing, it must be unsettling to lack a golden child, a clear and favored front-runner who’s almost guaranteed to win. People like Nicholas Kristof aren’t supposed to barge in and pose a genuine threat to Tina Kotek’s presumed ascendance to the gubernatorial throne. I’m pretty sure the Oregon Democratic leadership considers that very bad manners.

Then there is Betsy Johnson. True to her nature, Johnson put it better than anyone when she told Willamette Week that Kotek “...has taken the unchecked exercise of power to an art form.” She nailed it: if you like Kate Brown and her one-party ways, vote Kotek.

The way I see it, we have three current left-center candidates who strike me as habitual out-of-the-hemp-basket thinkers: Kristof, Betsy Johnson and Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla. If you’re like me at all, you’ve come to the conclusion what Oregon needs right now more than anything is someone who is clever, imaginative, and most importantly, willing to do things differently. I’m almost to the point where I think that last characteristic pretty much outweighs any other, including annoying residency rules and their (mis-)interpretation.

So what of Kristof?

Willamette Week summed it up like this: One of Kristof’s attorneys, Misha Isaak who happens to have served as counsel for Kate Brown, said, “Either Mr. Kristof was always an Oregon resident because he always considered it to be his home — as he maintains. Or he has been an Oregon resident since 2018, when he began living here more regularly to write his book about Oregon people and issues and to manage the overhaul of his farm.”

Isaak also cited a 1916 Oregon Supreme Court case which determined that where a person votes “...is of no consequence.” In theory, this renders the 2020 ballot Kristof cast in New York a moot point.

If you consider Isaak’s take along with the three former secretaries of state and the former supreme court justice, Kristof is a corn-shuckin,’ wood-chuckin’ Oregonian.

On the other hand, Willamette Week pointed out that even though the city in which a person votes is not supposed to be a deal-breaker, there is precedent for removing an official from office when it was determined he did not meet residency requirements based on a vote he cast. This occurred in 1935 when the North Dakota Supreme Court removed Gov. Thomas Moodie from office.

I guess we’ll see how the court rules.

As for Kulla, he’s a long shot but he’s likely positioning himself for a future race or more immediate gubernatorial appointment. Although his chances are slim the way this race is shaping up, if he plays his cards right, when his name comes up four years from now, he’ll have the firmly established recognition he’ll need — both with the party apparatus and Oregon voters.

What about Johnson? Can she get elected? Oh, yes. Even unaffiliated? Especially unaffiliated. (Did I mention these are weird times?) Will Johnson act as a spoiler? You bet she will, but I couldn’t guess who she’s gonna spoil or by how much yet.

Absolutely no one should underestimate Johnson’s ability to attract enthusiastic support from across the spectra of politics, economics and even polemics. Her blunt-spoken voice has always had its appeal but I suspect people are listening now like never before. If her message is right, being unaffiliated will only help her in the political wasteland that is 2022.

I mean, it’s not like she needs their money or anything.

Whatever you think, this is gonna be a heck of a race.

[Bear with me, my conservative friends. Although I am holding off on the Republicans for the moment, I won’t be ignoring them. First, I need to figure out if any of them are truly electable. If I’d heard that statement in the last 10 years, I would’ve laughed but I’m not laughing in 2022 — anything is possible. Whatever happens, I do miss the days when my party possessed both dignity and a real chance of winning.]

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.

Photograph © World Economic Forum