Writings and observations

jorgensen

National conservative icon Grover Norquist addressed a group of around 50 grassroots activists Saturday, January 28 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Lake Oswego.

Norquist, the president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, gave the keynote address at the sixth annual Western Liberty Network leadership and training conference.

He began his remarks by stating that the press has been so focused on President Donald Trump’s personality that it has missed the big picture in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Half of the states in the county have Republican governors and majorities in both legislative chambers, he said, and a majority of the nation’s people live in “red states.” Only four states are under complete Democratic control. Oregon and California are the “only blue states you can find without a magnifying glass,” Norquist said.
States such as Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia that have traditionally been run by Democrats now have Republican governors and majorities in their legislative chambers. Norquist predicted that Delaware and Minnesota would be among the next states to flip Republican.

In his remarks, Norquist said that the modern center-right movement is comprised of coalitions whose members’ votes are moved by a desire to be left alone and not have their taxes raised. He described the coalition as “low-maintenance,” and said its members don’t tend to want anything from each other.

“They’re not in conflict on a political level,” Norquist said. “Our friends on the left don’t have that.”

Norquist said that Democratic coalition members, including “coercive utopians,” all remain harmonious with each other as long as there’s money in the middle of the table.

“The left is not made up of friends and allies,” he said.

Conservative coalition members such as homeschoolers and concealed carry permit holders are now being joined by Uber and Lyft drivers who are being threatened with increased government regulations of their new emerging industries.

Norquist said that the structures for Democratic coalition members can be defunded. Approximately 27 states have passed right-to-work laws, he added, and more are set to follow soon.

Over 135,000 government workers in Wisconsin stopped paying union dues after reforms gave them the option to not do so, Norquist said. As a result, around $135 million less is flowing into union coffers per year. Around 30,000 teachers in Michigan are no longer paying union dues, for a total annual loss of $20 million.

During a question and answer session, Norquist predicted that reforms to the Affordable Care Act will involve the distribution of Medicaid block grants to states and separate high-risk pools for persons with preexisting conditions. Once that is accomplished, he said that the Trump administration would tackle tax reform, with one of its components being the complete elimination of federal estate taxes.

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Jorgensen

jorgensen

A few hundred people braved freezing winter weather Friday, January 6 to hear former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley discuss the future of health care policy under the Trump administration.

The early morning breakfast forum was held at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland. It was billed as an overview of how the incoming Republican president-elect’s policies will affect the health care reforms that have been initiated in “blue states” such as Oregon and Maryland.

O’Malley, who served two terms as that state’s 61st governor, ran for president in last year’s Democratic primary election. He was also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association from 2011 to 2013. Under his leadership, Maryland became the first state to adopt an all-payer system that included all of the hospitals within its borders.

Kitzhaber said that in the 30 years since the creation of the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), millions of the state’s residents have benefited from expanded insurance coverage. Access was expanded to 400,000 Oregonians, Kitzhaber said, with subsidies provided to 95,000 of them.

However, he added that the program did not connect with outcomes or address costs within the health care system.

O’Malley said that many states, including Washington and Maryland, had commissions as far back as 1978 that set insurance rates. But many of those states abandoned that approach over time.

Health insurance reforms implemented in Maryland saved the federal Medicare program $116 million in their first year, O’Malley said. Those reforms involved a process that begins with rate setting and utilizes a global budgeting system.

Rates are set for hospitals by the rate commission, O’Malley said. Those entities agree on a budget and prices. Volumes are monitored, prices are adjusted and hospitals get to keep the savings that result from improved patient wellness, he said.

O’Malley said that hospital revenues are estimated in advance and an emphasis is placed on preventing unnecessary patient admissions. Some Maryland hospitals began changing their inpatient centers into wellness centers to achieve those aims.

“I believe we have found a better way to move forward in Maryland,” O’Malley said.

Following his presentation, entitled “Paying for Wellness—Maryland’s Story,” O’Malley took a seat besides Kitzhaber and a few others for a panel discussion.

Kitzhaber said that prior to the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, insurance premiums went up 75 percent between the years 2001 and 2008. Out-of-pocket expenses went up over 100 percent, Kitzhaber added, and 44 million Americans lacked coverage.

Like previous efforts, Kitzhaber said the ACA was insurance reform, but did not address the underlying inflation in the system.

O’Malley and Kitzhaber both said they felt that progress on health care reform has been made in their respective states, and it is worth fighting to protect. They agreed that states like Oregon and Maryland can reframe the debate on the issue.

“I think we should step into this thing boldly,” Kitzhaber said.

Kitzhaber did caution, though, that trying to obstruct the incoming Trump administration will not help Oregonians. He concluded that “blue state” leaders like himself and O’Malley need to offer rational solutions as part of the process.

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Jorgensen

jorgensen

The Oregon State Capitol building is largely empty these days, aside from the facilities staff moving legislative offices around prior to the start of the 2017 session. But a notable recent exception was Friday, December 30, when former longtime state representative Dennis Richardson was sworn in as Oregon’s 26th Secretary of State.

Members of various Republican Women’s clubs started arriving in Salem in the hours immediately before the ceremony. The Senate chambers began filling with guests, well-wishers, elected officials and conservative activists from all over the state.

Richardson’s inauguration was a collective triumph for Oregon Republicans, who had long struggled to elect candidates to statewide offices. The ceremony represented a hard-fought success after years of frustration as the countless volunteer phone calls and door knocks finally paid off.

In a way, Richardson’s November general election victory over Democrat and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian showed Republicans in this blue state that there is, indeed, a path out of the political wilderness.

Former Secretary of State Phil Kiesling, a Democrat who held the position from 1991 to 1999, served as master of ceremonies. He gave a brief history lesson about the office and its past duties.

One of Richardson’s many grandchildren lead the packed crowd in the pledge of allegiance before Congressman Greg Walden (R-Oregon) began his remarks.

Walden, the sole Republican member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation, reminded the audience that it had been 40 years since Norma Paulus was sworn in as Secretary of State.

Paulus, a former legislator, was Oregon’s first female Secretary of State and the first woman ever elected to one of its statewide public offices. She was also the last Republican to hold that position, which she did from 1977 to 1985.

Walden characterized the position as being “immensely important” to the state and its people. He noted Richardson’s “sharp eye” for budgets and numbers and “sharper pencil.”

“All Oregonians can take pride in our new Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson,” Walden said.

Richardson took the oath and gave some remarks. He began by recognizing current employees of the Secretary of State’s office, who were welcomed with warm applause.

A former helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Richardson told an anecdote about doing a landing in a combat zone. The helicopter was filled with villagers that he had to transport, Richardson said, and he had to do a corkscrew landing to avoid enemy fire.

Richardson said the experience taught him that it’s one thing to have authority and another to take responsibility for those that you have authority over. He vowed to take his new responsibilities seriously.

“As Secretary of State, I will represent all of you,” he said.

Richardson’s first day in office is Tuesday, January 3.

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Jorgensen

jorgensen

Working at the Oregon State Capitol, protests become a regular part of life. This is especially true during legislative sessions. Every group you could imagine has its own lobby day and busses people from all over the state for some sort of rally or protest.

I always try to make it a point to go check them out, if I can. If people care enough about something to take time out of their day to come to the capitol to be heard, I figure the least I can do is try to listen.

That’s just how it is when you work at the most public building in the state. But such a high level of accessibility has its upsides and downsides.

Sometimes it can be amusing.

The first legislative session I worked was in 2005. An Alaska resident went and bought a bunch of cheap beer to advocate for a higher beer tax in Oregon. His entire argument was that our tax is so low that it encourages underage drinking.

This man was kicked out of the capitol by the Oregon State Police after it was discovered that he was handing that beer out at legislative offices—some of which were staffed by underage interns. I was among those that he handed half-racks of beer to as a TV news crew followed, but was 24 and over the legal drinking age. Of course, there’s no small degree of irony in a guy saying that beer is too easy for minors to obtain getting in trouble for handing it directly to them.
Sometimes it can be scary.

During the February 2016 session, a bill was being passed to honor former Senate President Brady Adams (R-Grants Pass). I had gotten to know him during my days as news director of the Grants Pass Broadcasting Corporation and thought the world of him. He was a pillar of that community until his passing last year.

Because I had such respect and admiration for him, I wanted to be on the Senate floor when he was honored. Adams was praised for his character and good deeds by Senators from both parties.
All of this was rudely and inappropriately interrupted by a group of protesters who stood in the gallery unfurling banners and shouting slogans. Another group did the same in the House while a third was causing a similar disruption outside of the governor’s office.

It didn’t take long to realize that we were sitting ducks down there in the Senate floor. They could have easily hurled projectiles at us, or much, much worse. And this went on for what seemed like an eternity. Going back and reviewing the video footage, I could see myself in the bottom of the screen, visibly agitated and wondering why this was being allowed to continue.

No arrests ever resulted from that disrespectful disturbance.
Maybe that’s why an anonymous e-mailer felt empowered enough to send a message to Senate Republicans weeks later threatening mob action at their homes. It appears to be the same kind of mob action being done in Portland in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

More recently, Second Amendment activists staged an open carry protest on the capitol’s front steps. The sight of men armed with guns scares some people who work there or know people that do and makes them feel nervous and unsafe. Many people who support the ability to protect your family in your own home draw the line somewhere between there and having guys display their firearms at the state capitol building.

The OSP were there, as always, and thank God for that. Their large presence that day may have seemed a little excessive. At one point, it almost looked like there were as many police officers as protesters. There was a whole line of them beyond the revolving front doors, and another cluster visible from there, up above and in front of the governor’s office.
I went outside to see what the fuss was about, and there was an effigy of Governor Kate Brown. It was obvious what was going to happen next so I went back to my office. The overwhelming OSP presence made much more sense.

That particular act, which is an implied threat of violence, seemed to accomplish little but make Brown more of a hero and martyr to her supporters. Anyone would be hard-pressed to say that it drew more people to the cause.

It reminds me of a book that everyone in politics should read, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. This would be the polar opposite, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. If nothing else, it’s a great example of what not to do.

My thirties have taught me virtues that I lacked in my twenties. Among them are humility, temperance and tact. The key to tact is simple—Don’t be a jerk. There’s not much else to it.

Sometimes the protests happen elsewhere.

A protest in rural Burns over the imprisonment of some ranchers turned into a prolonged siege at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. That all ended over a month later with many arrests and one occupant shot by police.

After spending most of the year in jail, the occupiers, who started as protesters, were found not guilty on all charges.

And just to think—many people commented on online news stories about the standoff that the government should just use predator drones to kill them all on site without due process.
I was at a dinner event the night the verdict was read. The keynote speaker was the U.S. Attorney, whose office had handled the case. Both his work and private cell phones rang off the hook as he spoke, interfering with the PA system. It’s easy to imagine that some of those calls may have been from people wondering what had happened on what could have been one of the worst days of his life.

The people in Portland protesting the election of Republican Donald Trump by damaging other peoples’ property need to remember the Golden Rules of Tact:

Don’t be a jerk.

Don’t jam up roads and public transit so people can’t get home or to work.

Don’t destroy things that aren’t yours.

What makes it worse is that this is happening on a holiday to honor those who fought for Americans’ rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. Once again, tact is important.
History shows that there can be consequences for these kinds of things. I wasn’t around for the 1960s, but I could just imagine all those anti-war protesters being aghast when Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide in 1972.

Nixon did it by being the Law and Order candidate. As protests went from peaceful to violent, Middle America did not like what it saw and demanded a return to Law and Order.

These kinds of protests are probably not the kind of thing Barack Obama wanted as part of his administration’s legacy. But if the public wants more Law and Order and a Trump administration can deliver it, these protesters may end up with eight years of their worst nightmare. And no amount of protesting will be able to stop it from happening and may very well guarantee it.

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Jorgensen

jorgensen

Far from the fanfare of Monday night’s presidential debate, the two main candidates for Oregon Secretary of State squared off the following afternoon on the campus of Willamette University in Salem.
Members of the Statesman Journal editorial board moderated the forum, which was attended by around 20 people.

Republican candidate and former state representative Dennis Richardson described how his passion for public service was inspired by reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1990s. That later led to stints as a city councilor and in the Legislature, where he was unanimously elected speaker pro tem at the beginning of the 2005 session.

Richardson, who later served as a co-chair of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, said he thought he was done with politics after unsuccessfully challenging then-governor John Kitzhaber in the 2014 general election. He spent the following months volunteering at a local employment office before filing to run for Secretary of State.

Democrat Brad Avakian, a civil rights attorney and former legislator, pledged to use the Secretary of State’s office to ensure fairness and equity, and said he’s taken that approach in his current position of Labor Commissioner. Avakian said his accomplishments as Labor Commissioner include shrinking wage disparities between men and women in the state, bolstering apprenticeship programs and returning shop classes to schools.

If elected Secretary of State, Avakian said he would break down barriers to the ballot box, pursue campaign finance limits, ensure access to voter pamphlet statements via smart phone apps, return civics education to the classroom and use his spot on the State Land Board to make Oregon a global leader in the fight against climate change.

Richardson bemoaned the fact that audits were never conducted for Cover Oregon or the Columbia River Crossing project. Nearly $1 billion was spent on the Oregon Department of Energy’s controversial Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program, he said, yet it took six years for an audit to take place. One-third of those BETC projects were “clouded,” Richardson added, and turned over to the Oregon Department of Justice for further investigation.

The Secretary of State’s Office should function as a non-partisan Government Accountability Office, Richardson said, and can use audits to stop waste.

Differences between the two candidates became very clear in response to a question about Measure 97, a proposed corporate tax projected to bring $3 billion into state coffers annually if approved by voters in November.

Richardson cited an analysis of the measure conducted by the non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office, which estimated that its passage would result in the loss of 38,000 private sector jobs and cost the average Oregonian $600 per year. He added that the money it raised would go to the Legislature as a “blank check.”

Avakian said the measure was necessary, as schools have been “stripped” of music, art, shop and physical education programs. The Legislature has failed at revenue reform, he said, and Measure 97 will “fill the void.”

Both candidates did agree, however, on the need to have more clear and precise language for ballot measure titles and descriptions.

In his closing statements, Richardson characterized Avakian as an “activist” labor commissioner, and said the Secretary of State’s job is not to force change.

“I don’t think we need that kind of aggression,” Richardson said.

Avakian countered by stating that he has been putting Oregonians’ values into action. In concluding his remarks, Avakian said his vision for the Secretary of State’s office includes being assertive and standing up for the rights of Oregonians.

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Jorgensen

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Legislators descended upon the capitol building in Salem last week for a series of interim committee meetings. But before conducting the peoples’ business, they convened in the Senate chamber to pay their respects to Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland), who passed away August 5.

Bates’ Tuesday, September 20 memorial service was attended by both former and current state lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists and members of the news media alike. Oregon Congressional delegation members Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader joined former governors Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, Governor Kate Brown and Salem oncologist and Republican gubernatorial nominee Bud Pierce in honoring Bates’ memory.

Soft piano music created appropriate ambiance as quotes about Bates from political heavyweights like Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) appeared on large screens, accompanied by similar remarks from citizens from throughout the state.

Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) banged the gavel to start the ceremony, as he’s accustomed to doing as that chamber’s presiding officer. Representatives from the military honored Bates’ service in the Army and as a veteran of the Vietnam War before Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland) gave the invocation.

Monroe told an anecdote about a time he was ill and his wife urged him to call Bates, who spent much of his professional career as a physician. Bates showed up five minutes later with his black doctor’s bag “and he never sent me a bill,” Monroe said, prompting quiet laughter from the audience.

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) said that Bates served with “passion, integrity and honor.”

“As I look in this chamber, I see people Doc loved,” she said. “I see people he healed.”

Brown said that Bates left an “indelible mark” on the Legislature.

“In many ways, he was the heart of the Senate,” Brown said. “His heart was to help people.”

Kotek offered similar praise for Bates.

“Alan Bates was a lot more than a nice guy,” Kotek said. “He was considered a colleague and friend by so many.”

Bates’ daughter, Keri, said he was a “humble man” and a “master mediator” who brought people together to get things done.

“He would have hated all this fuss,” she said. “But he would have appreciated it, nonetheless.”

Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem) was one of many lawmakers Bates had assisted with health issues over the years.

“I did as he advised, and am healthier for it,” Winters said. “I wish I could have thanked him one more time for his care and his compassion.”

A video presentation of photos from Bates’ life showed him as a boy, as a Cub Scout, in military uniform, flyfishing, sitting pensively during a committee meeting and with his grandkids and other family members.

Courtney credited Bates for never backing away from difficult issues.

“He always took the tough vote,” Courtney said, and did it “over and over again.”

In closing, Courtney told a story about a day during last February’s legislative session when he was feeling under the weather. Bates left him some orange juice and insisted that he drink it. Courtney said he did, and was much better afterwards.

“Thank you for always being on call for us,” Courtney said. “What are we going to do without you?”

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Jorgensen

jorgensen

Labor Day is just around the corner, and typically represents the start of campaign season. As such, candidates and campaign staffers hope to head into it with positive momentum.

A campaign that seems to be having no such luck is the one for Oregon’s Measure 97, a proposed corporate tax that is projected to bring as much as $6 billion per biennium into state government coffers. The measure had originally taken the form of Initiative Petition 28 before qualifying for this November’s general election ballot.

Recent weeks have seen multiple claims made by the measure’s proponents to be proven patently untrue. The press has taken notice, and the general public may not be far behind.

Supporters have sworn up and down from the beginning that the funds that would be raised through the measure’s passage will go towards bolstering public services. However, those of us who are familiar with the legislative process know full well that short of a constitutional amendment, it is not possible to bind future legislatures. The executive director of Our Oregon, the measure’s primary sponsor, is a former one-term state lawmaker. One would expect him to be aware of this. I suspect he may be.

The lawyers who work in the office of Legislative Counsel (LC) certainly are. A Statesman Journal article published in early August verified LC’s contention that the Legislature would be free to spend that money however it sees fit. The Democratic co-chair of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee was quoted in another article as admitting that some of those funds could be used to cover the $885 million in projected cost increases for the state’s Public Employees Retirement System, which is not mentioned anywhere in the measure.

An Oregonian article from late July used public records to show that Our Oregon tried unsuccessfully to strong-arm and silence the Portland State University economists it had paid to study the measure into minimizing its impact.

That revelation was mere child’s play compared to the findings of a Statesman Journal article released in mid-August. According to that story, a complaint was filed against Our Oregon with the Secretary of State’s Office alleging that the organization illegally interfered with a signature gathering effort for another ballot measure.

The trend of increasingly unflattering news coverage continued last week. Veteran political reporter Jeff Mapes, formerly of the Oregonian and now with Oregon Public Broadcasting, did a story quoting Governor Kate Brown as conceding that consumers would have to bear some of the measure’s substantial costs. This flies in the face of other claims made by the measure’s supporters, who allege that the billions raised by the measure would somehow magically not be passed on to the average Oregonian through price increases. That claim is, of course, contradicted by economics, common sense and everything of the sort.

But even worse was a Willamette Week article that came out on Friday stating that an estimated annual $100 million of the funds raised from the measure may be constitutionally required to go to the state highway fund and used only for transportation purposes. The measure’s supporters didn’t include transportation as one of the areas that the funds would go towards, but one of its spokespeople finally acknowledged in that article that some of the money could go to other uses.

Despite all of this, state officials have refused to change the voter’s pamphlet statement in support of the measure to correct the misleading inaccuracies. This is only possible because legislation requiring those statements to be true was rejected during the 2015 legislative session by majority Democrats in both the House and the Senate.

I’ve also seen Facebook ads from proponents of the measure claiming grassroots funding support, which is beyond laughable. A previous article stated that all of the $1.5 million initially raised to support the measure came from two $750,000 checks from two of the state’s most powerful special interest groups. I personally know grassroots activists from one end of Oregon to another, and can assure you that most of them would be unlikely able to cut any check in that amount.

So is this measure really necessary? It probably depends on who you ask. The Taxpayers Association of Oregon has determined that this is the number one tax and spend state in the U.S., with state and local governments spending more per capita than our neighbors and 39 other states. Oregon governments spend nearly double what their counterparts in Utah do, and well above that of Washington and California.
It was also confirmed to me the other day by an analyst with the non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office that state tax collections are at historic highs.

We heard much of the same rhetoric from the same people back in 2010, with measures 66 and 67. Most of it was about corporations paying their “fair share,” although I’ve yet to hear anybody, anywhere, give an exact figure as to what exactly that should be. I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to do so, either.

Voters gave the benefit of the doubt to the measures’ supporters and passed them both. But low and behold, it did not solve the state’s seemingly permanent funding crisis. Oregonians didn’t see any resulting improvements in state services. Instead, what they received was the continued widespread abuse of children in foster care, the payout of multiple whistleblower lawsuits and a governor resigning in disgrace amid federal investigations into alleged influence peddling.

At the end of the day, Oregonians deserve to know the truth about the decisions they will have to make in the election. Whether they will ever end up actually getting it remains to be seen.

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Jorgensen

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It was just about impossible to escape the news Monday that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will not be prosecuted for the e-mail scandal that has hung over her campaign for months.

Conservative activists took to social media platforms like Facebook in mass to express their dismay at the FBI’s announcement. Missing from my particular news feed was any sort of celebration from Hillary supporters. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening; it just isn’t in any of my social circles, apparently.

In the political world, people tend to release favorable information to the public on Monday mornings so it can dominate the news cycle all week long. That was the Clinton campaign’s strategy a few weeks back, when they decided that the contested Democratic primary race with Bernie Sanders was over and no longer worthy of any discussion. Perception is reality in politics, and they wanted to come out of an otherwise sleepy weekend with the public convinced that Clinton’s nomination was a done deal. Near as I can tell, that strategy succeeded. Whether Sanders and his supporters feel the same way, I’m not sure.

These latest developments came shortly after former President Bill Clinton surreptitiously ran into Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the airport in Phoenix, Arizona, presumably to talk about grandchildren. Never mind that Lynch was a Clinton appointee, as the former president elevated her to the position of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York in 1999. Or the fact that we, the people, weren’t supposed to know that such a meeting ever took place. I would chalk it up to coincidence, but I’ve long since learned that there is no such thing when it comes to politics, especially at the higher, winner-take-all level that the Clintons have successfully inhabited for decades.

July also appears to be going well for former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision vacating his conviction on 11 counts of bribery-related charges. That conviction carried a two-year prison sentence. McDonnell may not be completely off the hook, though, as his case was returned to lower courts and he may still face a second trial.

The news of McDonnell’s courtroom triumph may have been unsettling to some of my fellow Oregonians, as his case was held up as the closest parallel we had to that of our former governor John Kitzhaber. It has long been speculated by Republican activists, operatives and even elected officials that the FBI’s nearly two-year-old investigation into Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, may not actually result in any criminal charges being filed. Once again, perception is reality, and seeing Clinton and McDonnell emerged unscathed from the same judicial gauntlet that has given the U.S. the world’s largest prison population is hardly encouraging for those of us who want to believe in the system.

Kitzhaber’s quest to create a perception of innocence has met with a couple of recent setbacks. It was revealed in late June that subpoenas have been issued to officials at the state Department of Energy regarding the controversial Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) debacle that was at the center of his administration’s scandals. Those officials will likely be called to testify around the middle of the month.

Also publicly disclosed around the same time was the tidbit that the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office has contracted with an outside firm to audit the BETC program, which should be concluding in the next few weeks. Documents from an internal review conducted by the Department of Administrative Services into the department’s tax credit programs have also been released, and helped form the line of questioning from lawmakers during the Department of Energy Oversight Committee’s last meeting. So far, that body has heard presentations about every one of the department’s various divisions and why we couldn’t possibly live without them.

All that aside, Kitzhaber is facing a completely different challenge, and it’s on a much deeper level. News reports Monday morning stated that his 18-year-old son, Logan, was involved in a car crash near Lincoln City on the Fourth of July. This was a matter of weeks after the young man graduated from high school. Initial press articles characterized his condition as “critical,” and stated that he was taken by air ambulance to OHSU Hospital, but has since been released to recover at home with his family.

Back when Kitzhaber’s e-mails were released last year, I was curious enough to look through them, seeking clues as to the downfall of the man who had served as governor for most of the 22 years I’ve lived in the state. Most of it was pretty mundane, and centered on his thoughts involving health care and education policy.

But there were some gems hidden among all the back-and-fourth between Kitzhaber and his top aides. Among them was that he is a loving father who cares deeply about his young son. Any time Logan was mentioned in that correspondence, Kitzhaber made clear that his son’s health and well-being was more important to him than any of the political power he had accumulated over the years. As a father, I could relate, and almost felt bad for Kitzhaber when looking at the purely human aspects of what he must have been going through at the time.

A well-established cliché states that the wheels of justice turn slowly. I’m sure it’s been agonizing for Hillary and former governors McDonnell and Kitzhaber to be in the public spotlight amid criminal investigations into alleged wrongdoing. Clinton and McDonnell can probably breathe a little easier than they could last month. Kitzhaber, however, still remains in limbo, near as I can tell. For the time being, he has much better things to worry about, and could probably use a similar bit of good news right about now to offset this more recent tragedy.

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It was announced last week that Portland Public Schools (PPS) Superintendent Carole Smith plans to retire after the end of the next school year. This came as no surprise to me. In fact, I called it weeks ago.

Smith’s golden administrative parachute means that that she’ll probably make more from the state’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) than most people earn working 40 hours a week.

All of this might have something to do with a certain water-related scandal of some sort. We can’t call it Watergate, because apparently that’s already been taken.

The story, of course, is that Smith and other PPS officials knew for years that there was lead in the water of drinking fountains at literally dozens of Portland schools and didn’t bother to tell anyone.

Parents are understandably upset about it. There was a meeting a few weeks back, and my friend Bruce Broussard was among those in attendance. Bruce is a Vietnam veteran and a small business owner who also happens to have grandchildren in Portland schools. He ran as the Republican candidate for Portland mayor and took fourth place, despite not raising or spending much money, and is also the host of Oregon Voters Digest on Portland Community Media. I occasionally appear as a guest on his show.

Bruce was hoping to get some answers from Smith at that forum, which was moderated by Sen. Mike Dembrow (D-Portland). And when Dembrow tried to change the subject and move on, the angry parents in the audience turned on him all at once and nearly booed him out of the building five times in the space of three minutes.

The teachers union is also pretty unhappy. They do, after all, exist to ensure safe working conditions for their members. It’s not quite the same as the t-shirt factory fires that helped cause unions to be formed in the first place, but it’s not an ideal situation, either.

Another function of those unions is to negotiate their members’ salaries, although teachers everywhere are chronically and notoriously underpaid. Smith was seemingly able to negotiate her generous compensation package on her own and presumably without the help of any union representatives.

There seems to be a certain set pattern in Portland these days, in which officials know about clear environmental hazards and choose to do absolutely nothing about it. The other great example of this is the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) dropping the ball on preventing pollution in Southeast Portland.

I was at one of Governor Kate Brown’s press conferences at the capitol not too long ago when a reporter asked her about the situation.

“Hey…isn’t that near your neighborhood?”

When Dembrow was asked about all of this at the meeting, he indicated that some state funds would have to be involved as part of the solution. That will probably end up being the case.

The state’s reaction to the DEQ issues leaves much to be desired, as the agency announced surprise inspections of businesses throughout Oregon who had nothing to do with the Portland pollution problem.

These events have caused much of what I’ve seen while working in the Legislature the past few years to make much more sense. That body is, after all, dominated by Democrats from Portland, where layers upon layers of big government are still somehow inadequate to protect the city’s residents from pollution and its children from lead in the water at their schools.

Public officials with six-figure salaries well above those of the average taxpayer fail to do their jobs, are never held accountable and ultimately ride off into the sunset, paid with pensions. Those pensions are far beyond what the average Portland resident who pays for it all will ever make. It means that people like Smith and those DEQ officials will be paid more to not work than most of their tax base does to work just hard enough to stay poor.

Those residents then get mad—and understandably so—and call legislators like Dembrow to demand that the state do more to hold polluters accountable. They, in turn, pass laws in kneejerk response that threaten the very existence of struggling small businesses in rural parts of the state. The people there end up suffering, even though those parts of Oregon are among the most pristine on Earth.

That is, unless there are catastrophic wildfires going on. This was the case about a year ago. There were multiple fires burning in the rural district represented by my boss, and elsewhere in the state, too. A DEQ official was in the office explaining the modeling used by that agency as part of environmental legislation like the controversial Low Carbon Fuel Standard. He claimed that one-third of Oregon’s carbon output was from transportation.

“How much is from catastrophic wildfires?”

None, as it were. Presumably, that’s because they can’t tax it. Because the state is going to need as much money as it can get if it’s going to keep paying elaborate pensions to officials like Smith and those fine folks at DEQ.

Those retired officials can then move from Portland and Salem to the rural areas, and be among the best-off people in those communities. They would probably be pleased that they won’t have to rely on the local economies there to subsist, after Portland legislators and DEQ officials under their direction put their last remaining industries out of business.

But once enough of that happens, there won’t be a tax base to fund their lavish lifestyles anymore. People like Smith would then have to come out of retirement and put their sharply honed skills to work in whatever remains of the private sector, where incompetence of the kind they’ve demonstrated typically leads to termination.

Success, on the other hand, results in your business being targeted and shut down by DEQ.

This is the same agency that can’t protect you from pollution in the state’s largest city, where kids and teachers are exposed to lead in the drinking water at their schools, and officials who know about it fail to take action and respond to the scandal by announcing their retirements.

The cycle will keep repeating itself as expensive failures add up, unless and until we demand better from our leaders.

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Jorgensen

jorgensen

Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber broke his typical silence earlier this month via social media to publicly criticize his successor.

A recent post on Kitzhaber’s Facebook page took Governor Kate Brown to task for her position on Initiative Petition 28, or rather, her lack of one.

“With all due respect, I find it hard to understand how any public official or candidate for statewide office could be neutral on a measure that would bring about the most sweeping change in Oregon’s tax system since Ballot Measure 5 passed in 1990,” Kitzhaber wrote.

Brown became Governor in February 2015 after Kitzhaber resigned amid federal investigations and allegations of corruption and influence peddling. She is up for election this November to serve out the rest of Kitzhaber’s very brief fourth term in office, and is neither supporting nor opposing the corporate tax measure.

Instead, Brown’s office has released a plan on how to spend the money that the measure’s passage would bring into the state’s coffers, a move that apparently did not impress Kitzhaber.

Multiple media outlets picked up on the post and wrote stories about it, which creates a conundrum for Democrats seeking office at the state level. If they support the measure, they risk drawing the ire of the business community. Opposing it could upset some of the same special interest groups that typically fund their campaigns.

Kitzhaber’s swipe at Brown, and the media’s reaction to it, means that avoiding taking a stance on the measure is simply not an option.
It begs the question of what, exactly, is Kitzhaber’s motivation. Is he seeking redemption? Perhaps. But if that’s the case, he still has a lot of work ahead of him.

An Oregonian article released last week cited a poll showing Kitzhaber with a 23 percent approval rating. That’s not great by any measure, but it’s still much higher than that of his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. Her favorability rating is at five percent, though I have no idea who any of those few remaining supporters might be.

Could it be that Kitzhaber is out for revenge? I suppose it’s possible. Brown was among the Democratic leaders who threw him under the bus before he stepped down, and you could physically hear the hurt and sense of betrayal in his voice in the recorded announcement of his resignation.

I actually don’t think it’s either of those things, and have another theory: Maybe Kitzhaber still cares about the state and the people in it, and made his comments out of genuine concern for them.

As someone who deeply loves Oregon, I’ve been very critical of Kitzhaber over the past couple of years. However, under our system, people are innocent before proven guilty. While he presumably remains under investigation, Kitzhaber has not been charged with any crimes. Neither has Hayes.

And in this case of IP 28 and Brown’s position on it, Kitzhaber happens to be completely correct.

He pointed out in his post that the measure was “written by pollsters rather than economists, and is the product of ballot title shopping.” Kitzhaber even managed to take a swipe at former rival Bill Sizemore, who unsuccessfully challenged him for the Governor’s office in 1998.
Those written remarks by Kitzhaber set off a series of seeming setbacks for Brown and her administration, which happened in rapid succession.

Brown was panned in the press days later by another prominent Oregon Democrat, Congressman Peter DeFazio, over an entirely unrelated matter. It also came out in the media around the same time that Brown will not be debating Republican gubernatorial nominee Bud Pierce at an Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association (ONPA) conference in July.

Our sitting incumbent governor shouldn’t be afraid to debate a political newcomer, should she? After all, Brown has been a public figure in Oregon politics for quite some time, having served in the Senate prior to being Secretary of State and Governor. Pierce, on the other hand, has never held elected office. He is, however, extremely sharp, surprisingly good off the cuff and getting better at campaigning literally by the day. His campaign has also released a poll showing him trailing Brown by just a couple of points and, between the two of them, he’s obviously having a much better month.

This isn’t the first time a gubernatorial candidate has opted to skip out on the debate at the ONPA conference. Republican Chris Dudley passed up the chance to share a stage with his opponent during the 2010 election. That opponent? None other than John Kitzhaber himself, who may very well have the last laugh by the time all of this is over.

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Jorgensen