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Posts published in “Jorgensen”

Don’t drink the water

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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.

Brown’s bad week

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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.

Portrait of Kitzhaber’s legacy

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The official portrait of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber continues to hang in the hall of the state capitol in Salem. It’s still there, alongside those of his predecessors like Ted Kulongoski and Vic Atiyeh, and right next to the office he occupied for longer than most of the people who have ever held it.

Kitzhaber’s portrait was particularly popular among tourists to the building in February 2015, in the days surrounding his resignation amid federal investigations and allegations of corruption and influence-peddling. Groups of people and individuals would pose for pictures with his portrait, taking selfies in the anticipation that the scandals and controversy would ultimately result in it being taken down.

Not much has been said publicly about the man in recent months, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation tends to be tight-lipped about its work. Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, occasionally break their silence with recorded video statements, social media posts and interviews in which they disclose very little while loudly proclaiming their innocence. Hayes even took a job with a startup magazine in Bend, an unusual career choice for someone with literally no background in journalism and who has blamed the news media and its members for her very public downfall.

The latest reminder that the trials and tribulations of John and Cylvia are nowhere near over hit this week like a one-two punch. First came the call from Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform for a criminal investigation into the disastrous $305 million Cover Oregon debacle, in which federal dollars were spent developing a website that never functioned or signed a single person in the state up for health insurance coverage.

Cover Oregon was supposed to be one of Kitzhaber’s crowning achievements and accomplishments, as he and others in the state’s political leadership were eager to have the state be the first in the nation to fully implement the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Instead, Oregon taxpayers get the privilege of paying for attorney fees years later as the state and software giant Oracle fight it out in multiple court cases and venues and point the finger at each other in an attempt to assign blame for the fantastic failure that followed.

The fact that the state didn’t have to build a website from scratch is often lost upon many during discussions on this issue. I had actually reported in December 2012 in an Estacada News article that former State Representative Patrick Sheehan grilled Cover Oregon officials about that decision during a committee meeting. Patrick, who has a background in website development, had received live product demonstrations from a company that could have licensed existing software to the state for $6 million and customized it for another $6 million. His concerns about the state wasting money were met with seeming derision by officials who were later fired or resigned in disgrace. They flippantly told Sheehan that they weren’t worried about wasting money, because if the state ran out, it could simply ask the federal government for more.

All of the constant calls for somebody, somewhere, to investigate what happened during Kitzhaber’s tenure as the state’s chief executive officer have grown into a chorus. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has, not surprisingly, never seemed to be very eager to investigate the man who appointed her to her position. But those of us who have been screaming for it all this time have become quite hoarse, in the hopes of eventually being heard.

At the end of that same news cycle came a story from The Oregonian newspaper that Hayes has been ordered by a judge to pay $128,000 in attorney fees to that publication after her failed attempts to keep her e-mails from being disclosed. That dollar figure is nearly the same amount that her consulting business supposedly made in a single year not all that long ago during her stint as First Lady. It’s also a full six figures higher than the amount she apparently disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service for that same year. As a former longtime reporter, I’m sure that it’s substantially more than she’s bringing home through her current occupation.

As these events unfolded, members of the Legislature convened at the capitol for a week of interim committee meetings. They include the Department of Energy Oversight Committee, which was formed in the hopes of figuring out what happened with that agency’s Business Energy Tax Credit boondoggle during Kitzhaber’s administration. Several state agencies have faced turnover at the director level in recent months and colossal budgetary shortfalls loom on the horizon for the Oregon Health Authority, Department of Human Services, Oregon Department of Transportation and the Public Employees Retirement System.

That’s a stark contrast to the legacy that I’m sure Kitzhaber was hoping to leave behind. In the meantime, though, his official portrait remains in its current location, much in the same way that former governor Neil Goldschmidt’s did until its removal.

I suppose the possibility exists that Kitzhaber’s may still someday be taken down. And maybe it will be placed alongside Goldschmidt’s so the two of them can hang together. Such a scenario might be the most fitting end for it once this whole situation has finally been resolved.

Costs of gentrification

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I recently celebrated my 36th birthday with some friends in an increasingly trendy Northeast Portland neighborhood. The occasion was also somewhat bittersweet, as it was our group’s last hurrah in the Alberta Street area.

My friends have lived on the street for the last eight years. Since then, we’ve seen the historically African-American neighborhood slowly transform over time as gentrification took place.

All of that culminated a few weeks ago, as my friends were given a no-cause eviction notice amid rising rents as Portland and its residents grapple with that city’s affordable housing crisis. One of my friends is actively seeking a place near his new job in Beaverton, another area where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find reasonably priced housing.

The other is returning to her native Texas after coming to Portland a decade ago to attend college. Her stints at Portland Community College, Portland State University and Concordia University have culminated in six figures of student loan debt, more than enough credits to graduate, yet no actual college degree from any of those three institutions.

We all watched as more specialized boutique stores opened up in the area and the neighborhood’s traditional identity gradually faded away. A house directly across the street from my friends’ studio apartment was purchased for $110,000, fixed up for another $100,000 and later sold for four times that amount.

A highly publicized gang-related shooting in the neighborhood last year still wasn’t enough to drive those housing prices and costs down, or the demand for any of it.

Against that backdrop, Metro continues its refusal to expand the Urban Growth Boundary. This happens despite the fact that vacancy rates remain at extremely low levels. There’s also the ongoing denials from politicians and bureaucrats about the correlation between the prices of land and their ultimate effects on housing costs due to policy decisions that were made in the 1970s that have somehow become sacrosanct.

While reminiscing about our time in the area, we realized that every time we spent money at one of these new stores, we were helping to fund the gentrification that is now pricing our friends out of the neighborhood. The success of those stores caused other stores to move in, which raised the property values further and further.

At one point, we shared a laugh over another revelation—if we had just pooled all the money we otherwise would have spent at a local bar that had since burned down, we could have invested it in some real estate. It’s entirely possible that we could have bought the apartment complex that is now being refurbished to make way for tenants willing to pay more to live there.
It’s truly sad that our group of friends will no longer have a foothold in the Alberta Street neighborhood. The fond memories of our shared experiences will soon be the only connection we’ll have to it.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and find another part of Portland to hang out in, at least until other people discover it and the whole gentrification process starts all over again. And perhaps we’ll have to repeat that process a few more times until Portland and its leaders come up with sensible solutions for the same problems that past decisions appear to have caused and made worse, at the expense of working people throughout the city.

After all, if these trends continue, they’ll eventually run out of neighborhoods to kick residents out of while welcoming the next rounds of new developments, specialized shops and condos that are well beyond the financial reach of the people who have called these areas home for years.

Kasich in Portland

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Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich held a town hall meeting Thursday, April 28 at The Castaway in Northwest Portland.

A few hundred people were in attendance, including Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville), some Salem lobbyists and an entire line of television news crews.

Kasich arrived to a standing ovation, flanked by Lake Oswego City Councilor and Republican state treasurer candidate Jeff Gudman.

Gudman took to the microphone and told the audience that the only way for Republicans to win the White House in November is to nominate Kasich. He praised Kasich’s “outstanding service” to Ohio and his “incorruptible character.”

Introduction Kasich to the crowd was Ron Saxton, who ran as the Republican nominee for Oregon governor in 2006. Saxton echoed Gudman’s prior remarks about Kasich’s electability, citing the last 16 polls showing the Ohio governor beating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Kasich began his remarks by stating that he started his bid for the presidency with no name recognition and is being outspent 50-1, but still placed second in four of the last primaries.

His overall message was a sharp contrast to that of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, and probably very deliberately so.

We have problems and they’re easy to fix, Kasich said, but anger, division and politics are getting in the way of solving them.

Kasich described how he was 30 years old when first elected to Congress. His stint on the Defense Committee saw the military rebuilt, the Berlin Wall fall and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein pushed out of Kuwait, and Kasich said those successes were due in part to statesmanship.

“We didn’t function much as partisans,” he said. “That was when we could figure out how to work together.”

In that time, Congress balanced the budget for the first time “since man walked on the moon,” Kasich said. “They haven’t done it since I left.”

Since becoming governor of Ohio, Kasich said that state went from having a 20 percent deficit in its operating budget to a $2 billion surplus and has gained 420,000 jobs.

“We’ve left no one behind,” he said, adding that the mentally ill, addicted and developmentally disabled are all now being helped.

Kasich recalled how there were initially 17 Republicans seeking the presidency, including several other governors. He said he would go to debates and not get called on and was largely ignored until about eight weeks ago.

“And I’m still standing,” he said.

In his remarks, Kasich said he wanted to be someone who can talk about the way things can be. He characterized his campaign as being about lifting people up, not name calling or bullying them, an indirect reference to many of the controversies that have followed the Trump campaign.

An audience member asked Kasich about Trump during the question and answer portion of the meeting. Kasich predicted that if Trump didn’t have the nomination won by July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, that the developer and reality television star would be unlikely to end up with it.

Kasich cited Trump’s high negative ratings among married women and 15 polls showing him losing to Hillary and getting “crushed” in the Electoral College. He added that Trump’s nomination could result in Republicans losing the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court.

“I’m not taking the low road to the White House,” Kasich said.

A Libertarian option

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As Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his followers rallied in Portland and the three-ring Republican primary circus centered on allegations of mistresses, two of the major candidates for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination were in the Portland area for a debate last Friday. (photo/Scott Jorgensen, left, and Gary Johnson, courtesy Jorgensen)

The Libertarian Party of Oregon’s chairman, Ian, is a longtime friend of mine from our days together at Grants Pass High School, so I asked if there was anything I could do to help prepare for the event.

In this case, helping turned out to mean picking former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson up from the airport and driving him around to a few radio interviews. My past experience as a handler in a Congressional campaign and as a legislative aide at the state capitol in Salem apparently qualified me for these duties.

Our voyage included a trip to downtown Portland to the Alpha Broadcasting studios for an interview with conservative talk show host Lars Larson on KXL-AM. Johnson conducted another live radio interview on the phone as we neared the studio.

In his phone interview, Johnson characterized both major party frontrunners, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, as “polarizing.” He’s not alone in thinking so, as a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting story showed both with high negatives among the state’s voters.

Johnson spoke about immigration, with his stance providing a stark contrast to that of Trump. The former Republican governor of a border state, Johnson declared the idea of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico “dumb.” Where are you going to put it, he asked, on either side of the Rio Grande? In the middle of that river?

Minutes later, we were in the Alpha Broadcasting studios with Larson, where Johnson discussed domestic fiscal and tax policy.

We did lunch after the interview, Johnson’s treat, and I took him to the Embassy Suites hotel that was hosting the debate. My arrival in the lobby was just in time to take Johnson’s rival, Austin Petersen, to a radio interview with Jayne Carroll just down the street at KUIK-AM.

I found out on the drive that Petersen and I are around the same age, and his campaign headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas is not too far from where I lived for a couple of years back in the late 80s.
The debate that night was attended by around 50 people of multiple generations, and started with a standing ovation being given to a World War II veteran in the audience.

In his opening statement, Johnson hailed Uber and Airbnb as entrepreneurial models of the future, and bragged that he vetoed more legislation than the other 49 governors combined while serving in office, including thousands of line item vetoes.

Petersen discussed his background growing up near the town of Liberty, Missouri and his volunteer efforts raising $1 million for the presidential campaign of Libertarian icon and former Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas). That led to a stint in D.C. as a volunteer coordinator for the LPO for Petersen, who told audience members that he also supported Johnson’s 2012 Libertarian presidential bid.

The two candidates answered a series of written questions submitted by audience members, covering a variety of liberty-related topics. Petersen summed up his, and the overall Libertarian philosophy, as “don’t hurt people, don’t take their stuff.” He held a copy of Easy Guide to the U.S. Constitution during the debate, and occasionally waved it around and used it as a prop.

Johnson stated that the biggest threat to the nation is debt, and pledged to submit a balanced budget to Congress if elected. He said the anticipated 20 percent reduction would be “unprecedented,” but added that many functions could be turned back over to the states, which could serve as “50 laboratories of best practices.”

The candidates’ messages seemed to resonate well with the audience, but may be able to reach well beyond that.

Johnson mentioned in his remarks that he is suing the Presidential Debate Commission in an attempt to get third party candidates included in those events. Earlier that same day, the story broke in the press that Johnson polls in the double digits when added to the Trump-Clinton equation.

If Johnson prevails in his lawsuit, and apparent voter dissatisfaction with the major party candidates continues, it could provide a real opening for the eventual nominee of the Libertarian Party, or other possible third-party alternatives.

The new Oregon session

A discussion on the new Oregon legislative session by Ridenbaugh author Scott Jorgensen.

A citizen’s SOS

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We’re now 30 days into a new year, 2016, and it’s going to be an important one. It’s an election year, and a presidential election year at that. The entire direction of this country for the next four to eight years is going to be decided in a matter of months.

All across Oregon and the United States, mayors have given their State of the City addresses. Commissioners have given their State of the County addresses. Governors have given their State of the State addresses. President Obama has already given his final State of the Union Address.

These addresses share one thing in common — they’re being delivered by politicians. Their job security depends on the public perceiving everything as being good and moving in the right direction.

Because of that, they’re not always an accurate representation of the true state of things.

This is why I’m taking a completely different approach. It’s time that we had a Citizens’ State of the State Address.

So what is the State of the State here in Oregon?

A friend asked me recently if I planned to use the phrase “falling apart at the seams.” It begs the question, Is Oregon falling apart at the seams? At the very least, it appears that we keep making national news for all the wrong reasons.

Last fall, I released my third book, On the Cusp of Chaos. A central theme was that Oregon, and particularly its rural parts, is on the cusp of chaos. That proved to be prophetic.

Within weeks of its release, there was that horrific shooting incident at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. More recently, we had that whole unfortunate situation in Burns, which started when a bunch of people from out of state decided to try and take over a federal building.

The headlines from here within Oregon haven’t been great, either.

Multiple state agencies keep making news for all the wrong reasons. There’s DHS with its foster care scandal, the Department of Energy and its Business Energy Tax Credit problems, and the budgets of several agencies are in shambles. That includes DHS, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Aside from that, judges who are in the state’s Public Employees Retirement System have overturned any efforts to reform it. The effects of that are going to be locally in a big way over the next few years. That means that every city, county and school district in Oregon is going to spend significant portions of its budgets on PERS contributions instead of providing services to citizens.

In fact, it would probably take much less time for me to list the agencies that are doing well. I can’t say that any come to mind immediately.

What else can I say about the State of the State? In my humble opinion, it’s mired in needless poverty.

Our state is consistently and persistently among those whose citizens have the highest percentage of food stamp usage. Oregon also consistently leads the nation in hunger.

How?

We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, including a vibrant, diverse agricultural sector.

Oregon should be feeding the whole rest of the nation and the world. Instead, we lead the nation in hunger.

To me, this is evidence that the state is not living up to its true potential. This has even been cited as the second worst state in which to make a living, a distinction we probably don’t want to have.

So what is the State of the State? I would submit that its prosperity continues to be undermined by a combination of cronyism and corruption.

There was that whole crisis of confidence involving our executive branch, culminating in the resignation of former Governor John Kitzhaber almost a year ago amid federal investigations.

Efforts were made to pass comprehensive ethics reform legislation during the 2015 session. Many of those bills were blocked on party-line votes. Fortunately, some of those same bills are being reintroduced for consideration in the legislative session that starts on Monday.

So what is the State of the State? My reply is that it is nowhere near as good as it could be, or should be. But the good news is, we still have the chance to change it. The future depends largely on all of us.

We’re going to hear later on from candidates who are vying for this state’s highest office. It is obvious that there is no shortage of challenges facing whoever we choose to be our governor.

One year from now, that person will take the oath of office and give the official State of the State Address.

My hope is that we can all work together, with each other and with our elected officials, to address the issues I’ve brought up.

It all starts with a shared vision.

We need to picture the community we want and the state government we want. We need to picture the world we want to leave behind for subsequent generations.

Once we’re done doing that, we must do what we can to translate those visions into tangible actions that we can all take locally. And maybe next year’s official State of the State Address can provide a more accurate representation of what’s happening in Oregon, and we can all share in a brighter and more prosperous future.

Thank you.

Chicago on the Willamette?

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The aftermath of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s resignation in February was surprisingly quiet, and it has been business as usual at the state capitol in Salem ever since. It was almost as if that whole bizarre series of events had never transpired in the first place.

For his part, Kitzhaber had largely dropped out of the public eye, and understandably so. Kitzhaber sightings have become increasingly rare, though he was spotted at a Starbucks in Northwest Portland in early May and had his picture snapped. Aside from the photographer, all indications are that nobody else even recognized him.

Here’s the ultimate public figure, a longtime chief executive of the entire enormous state government apparatus, and now he’s just some random guy in a coffeeshop, wearing sweats and glasses and going over a pile of papers. In his case, it’s almost tempting to wonder what kind of papers they would be—legal documents of some sort or another, perhaps?

Kitzhaber wasn’t out of the spotlight just yet, however, as a series of recent articles has come as a reminder that the swirl of scandals that forced his resignation and tarnished his legacy and reputation are nowhere near finished playing themselves out yet.

One week after the relatively innocuous story about his trip to Starbucks, the Washington Times published a particularly damning story reminding a national audience why and how Kitzhaber got himself into so much trouble. Perhaps a reminder was necessary, as the screaming headlines about federal investigations had largely stopped when he resigned in disgrace weeks after being sworn in for an historic fourth term as governor.

These revelations had nothing to do with former so-called “first lady” Cylvia Hayes, her apparently sordid past or the allegations that she used that position to further her own private business interests. Rather, they were about the colossal $300 million blunder that was the state’s failed health care exchange website.

Kitzhaber, his staff and his party had been quick to point the finger at software developer Oracle for the catastrophe. But the article points out that the website could have been working in early 2014 with some additional training and testing. Instead, the decision was made to pull the plug on it and move over to the federal exchange. This turned out to be a decision made entirely for the sake of political expediency, and by staffers on his re-election campaign.

None of this went unnoticed by the members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. A letter was sent to Kitzhaber the same day he resigned stating that Congress was, indeed, investigating the misspending of federal funds on the exchange. The use of campaign staff to coach a witness who testified before the committee also didn’t go over too well, and neither did his administration’s attempt to delete emails from state servers days before he left office.

The former first couple did get some semblance of good news towards the end of May, as a judge ruled that Hayes could hold on to some of her e-mails. She had claimed, through her attorneys, that their release would violate her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, and the judge agreed. Of course, none of this is a great overall defense for anyone claiming to be innocent, but it was enough to serve the intended purpose of keeping their contents from the public.

A couple of days later, there were more bombshells. These took the form of A Willamette Week article by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nigel Jaquiss about the state official who leaked Kitzhaber’s emails to him instead of deleting them. He was rewarded for his efforts by a “perp walk” out of his office and the threat of 6,000 charges of official misconduct unless he resigned his position.

In stark contrast, the Kitzhaber crony who threw the whistleblower under the bus gets to start a new $185,000 position with the City of Portland on June 1, despite being among the many state officials subpoenaed as part of the ongoing investigations.

It became obvious a couple of days later why officials were so eager to threaten the whistleblower with so many criminal charges. It turned out to be a case of literal nepotism, as Willamette Week disclosed that Kitzhaber's nephew was and is working for the same district attorney’s office that had made those threats.

All of this may come as somewhat of a surprise to many Oregonians. We have long prided ourselves as being better than this. For decades, we’ve sought to hold our state up as an example of transparent, ethical, corruption-free government. We would see scandals take place in other states and thank the heavens that such things could never, ever happen here.

Thanks to the actions of John Kitzhaber, Cylvia Hayes and their friends and allies who are still very much in power, that myth has been completely shattered. The ultimate consequence is that this will change the way we think about ourselves and the state that we love so much.

Perhaps, in the annuls of history, 2015 will be known as the year that Oregon truly lost its innocence. Prior to now, it would have been unthinkable to many that our beloved state could be associated with such blatant and high-level corruption in our public institutions. But it turned out that we were only kidding ourselves.

We thought we were clean, innocent, pure Oregon. The truth was much more painful, as decades of one-party rule in our executive branch seem to have turned this beautiful, majestic place in Chicago on the Willamette.

The people of this state deserve so much better than this, and I hope they never stop hoping for a future in which a similar set of circumstances could never possibly repeat themselves. In the meantime, though, I get the feeling there will be plenty of stories and revelations that have yet to come out that will show us exactly how bad and widespread this corruption actually has been.

None of this should stop Oregonians from demanding more from their institutions and leaders. If anything, it should have the opposite effect, and perhaps we can someday reclaim the innocence that we once had. And maybe we’ll be smart enough to guard it with a newfound sense of vigilance to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again.

When to run

jorgensen

From a May 16 delivered to a youth group at Eugene.

Conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience. That was certainly the case when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s.

However, I’m no longer convinced that this is true.

My particular perspective was shaped by the many years I spent as a small-town newspaper reporter in places like Rogue River, Cave Junction and Estacada. In that role, I covered a half-dozen different city councils. The vast majority of the city councilors I encountered were dedicated, sincere, and served because they loved their communities.

It wasn’t always that way, though. And by the time I reached my 30s, I could say that I had spent a great portion of my adult life watching people twice my age behave like people half my age.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience, and those guys certainly fit that description.

Well, a couple of my friends decided to challenge that conventional wisdom back in 2010.

We knew that our state representative was planning to run for a statewide office, leaving his seat open. There was also an incumbent county commissioner who was up for re-election and vulnerable because he was out of step with his constituency.

We all got together one night at my place for dinner and made a plan. Shortly thereafter, one filed for state representative and the other filed for county commissioner.
My friend who filed for state representative drew no Republican opposition for the primary election, and no Democrat filed, either.

My other friend had a race on his hands, as the incumbent wouldn’t go down without a fight. The results were the same on election night, with both of them being swept into office by a constituency that was twice their age.

A peaceful transition of power had taken place. Members of the older generation passed the torch of leadership down to them, as both of my friends had the support of some of their predecessors and other pillars of the community.
Once they got into office, the real work began.

The rural communities that they represent have been unnecessarily impoverished by federal mismanagement of lands and other resources, along with decades of no-growth policies at the state level. Theirs are among the local governments throughout the state that are struggling to fund basic services like law enforcement.

My friend has served with no fewer than six other commissioners in the four years he’s been in office. One got recalled. Another resigned mid-term. Others were voted out.

He’s also had to oversee the replacement of many department heads during that time.

Six months after he took office, I asked him if the experience was any different than he thought it would be. He told me that the county was in much worse shape than most people realized.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.

A lot of what I’ve seen over the years confirms what I’ve suspected for most of my life.

Believe it or not, I was kind of a wiseass as a kid. It sometimes seemed to me that the grown-ups didn’t always know what they were doing and were maybe even making things up as they went along.

As soon as I started paying attention to the news, I remember seeing religious figures embroiled in scandals for the very behaviors they so often condemned.

The baseball heroes that kids my age looked up to back then were guys like Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire, the famed Bash Brothers who took the Oakland A’s to the World Series.
It turned out that these guys weren’t heroes at all. In fact, they were cheaters who used steroids.

Throughout my childhood, into my teenage years and throughout my twenties and half of my thirties now, I’ve also seen my fair share of political scandals. I got a really good up-close look the historic final days of John Kitzhaber’s administration, and it was every bit the train wreck you think it was.

Then there was the complete collapse of our entire economy back in 2008. I think it became clear to a lot of younger people, right there and then, that the grown-ups had made a real mess and someone had to clean it up.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.

That conventional wisdom only made sense if you knew time was on your side, if you had decades to wait for someone else to step in and solve these problems.

But you don’t, and I think you know this.

Our nation is now $18 trillion in debt. The people who are responsible for that debt have already retired or are hoping to do so soon. Who gets to pay the bill for that? I’ll give you a hint—it isn’t them!

I don’t have to tell you that your future has been mortgaged, but I’m going to anyway, because I think it’s important for you to remember.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.

Right?

Nonsense!

I’ve learned over the years that leadership does not exist in a vacuum. If there is no leadership, then someone, somewhere, has to step up to the plate.

Ours cannot be a generation without heroes. And if there are no heroes, then maybe it’s time for YOU to be the hero.
The theme of this event is “Passing the Torch.” You’ve spent all day in classes learning how to become effectively involved in the political process.

So here’s my challenge to you: I want you to take everything you’ve learned at this conference and take it back to your communities. If you aren’t ready to run yet, maybe you will be in two years. Maybe it will be four. But in the meantime, maybe there’s someone who is ready who could use your help. You should go help them.

Whenever possible, it’s probably preferable to have the torch passed down. But if the people who hold the torch are doing a bad job, and you think you can do it better, and they won’t give it up, then you need to take the torch! The future quite literally depends on it.

That is my challenge to you. Because the conventional wisdom that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience hasn’t served us well, and probably never will. It’s time to get out there and become involved, because time is not on your side if you’re going to wait for someone else to be the hero and save the day.

But if you’re willing to be the hero, then we might just stand a chance after all.