Archive for the 'Oregon column' Category

Dec 08 2014

Klamath shifts

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

The headline on the March 5 (this year) press release from the U.S. Department of Interior, about the just-worked-out Klamath water agreement, was, “Historic Agreement Reached on Upper Klamath Basin Water.”

The release continued, “The Klamath Tribes, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, and Upper Klamath Basin irrigators announced today that they have completed negotiations on the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.”

You might think that would be enough to seal the deal. And as it was, the deal was not wildly sweeping; it seems as much as anything else a level to keep the lid on things a while. Its leading elements were: “A Water Use Program that will increase stream flows in the tributaries above Upper Klamath Lake – adding at least 30,000 acre feet annually to inflows to the lake, while creating a stable, predictable setting for agriculture to continue in the Upper Klamath Basin; A Riparian Program that will improve and protect riparian conditions in order to help restore fisheries; and an Economic Development Program for the Klamath Tribes.”

But this is Klamath Falls, and the subject is water, and under those conditions it’s unwise to ever consider anything settled even if for just a little while.

Last month, the Klamath County Commission went on record against the congressional legislation intended to implement the agreement. Last month the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee okayed it, but since then odds of passage appear to have been diminished.

That doesn’t mean all the other participants, from the Klamath Tribes (which do have some bones to pick) to the Klamath Falls city council, have worked away.

The Medford Mail Tribune, editorializing, argued that “It’s vitally important to the Basin’s future that the agreements are approved, and that the best chance of doing it is in the lame-duck session of the current congress rather than waiting for a new congress, including new members unfamiliar with the Basin’s water issues.”

But the paper also noted that, for the near term at least, time may be running out. And it may.

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Nov 30 2014

Hybrid alternatives

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

One of the key arguments against alternative and (often) renewable energy sources is whether they can matter economically: Whether they can produce enough power to provide for a major part of a region’s needs, and whether they can be produced at low enough cost to provide a financially practical alternative.

In the last few years the answer to those questions has gone from being a big quetion mark to a generally qualified ‘yes.’ Wind turbine power production has become large-scale in the Northwest (and a number of other places too), and solar is gaining, and the results are coming in: In the area of cost, wind is competitive with more traditional electricity sources, and the costs of solar are dropping enough that they will be competitive in the near future. The economic change in these power sources is underlined by the rapidly growing number of deals large power companies in the region have been making with many of those producers.

One of the big remaining questions, however, has been one of reliability: Whether, given changes in sunlight and weather, wind and solar power production is consistent enough for a region to depend upon.

A new study by Oregon State University (and others), and published in The Electricity Journal, is showing that it can, at least if done in the right way. A hybrid way.

An OSU report explains: “For instance, the wind often blows more strongly at night in some regions, Kelly said, and solar technology can only produce energy during the day. By making more sophisticated use of that basic concept in a connected grid, and pairing it with more advanced forms of energy storage, the door could be opened for a much wider use of renewable energy systems, scientists say.”

This is becoming more practical for another reason: “Advanced energy storage could be another huge key to making renewable energy more functional, and one example is just being developed in several cooperating states in the West. Electricity is being produced by efficient wind farms in Wyoming; transmitted to Utah where it’s being stored via compressed air in certain rock formations; and ultimately used to help power Los Angeles.”

Put a close-monitored system of wind, hydro and solar power together (and maybe, on the coast, tidal as well?), and the impact on the regional power economy could be enormous. Over time, it could even be cost-cutting, and made more reliable than what we have right now.

The OSU report concluded, “The long-term goal, the report concluded, is to identify technologies that can work in a hybrid system that offers consistency, dependability and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. With careful matching of systems, improved transmission abilities and some new technological advances, that goal may be closer than realized.”

A generation from now, the power picture in the Northwest – and beyond – may look a lot different than it traditionally has.

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Nov 23 2014

A need for a new job metric

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Washington

The unemployment stats in Washington and Oregon are a study in popular confidence as measured against the realistic basis for that confidence.

In Washington, for example, the state unemployment rate rose (in the stats released this week) to 6.0%, even though about 5,600 jobs were added to the job market – and filled.

No one was in error here; you just have to know what the unemployment stats reflect. As an article in this issue notes, Washington “State labor economist Paul Turek said the increase in the unemployment rate is not necessarily bad news because it is directly related to an increase in the state’s labor force, which rose by 12,200 in October.

And he said: “These numbers demonstrate increased confidence by job seekers entering or re-entering the marketplace. Job growth continues to gain momentum—with the state adding roughly 7,000 jobs a month—but for this month, the increase in the number of new job seekers entering into the labor market’s civilian workforce was greater than the number of new jobs added. That explains the increase in the unemployment rate.”

That was even more dramatically true in Oregon, which added even more jobs – 9,900 – than twice-as-big Washington state. Oregon’s was in fact the largest one-month addition of jobs in 20 years. But its unemployment rate stubbornly stayed put at 7.0%, which sounds worse than it is. It did that because workers have been pouring back into the work force (and, probably, a number of workers have been arriving from out of state as well).

For decades, we’ve focused hard on the unemployment rates (and note them here regularly). But have we reached a point where the more logical measure is of the balance between jobs opening up and those closing? Maybe something measuring, over the haul, the growth/retraction in jobs compared with the overall working-age population?

Certainly, we need some better metrics. The old ones just aren’t as useful as they once were.

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Nov 16 2014

Seconds, horseshoes, and the future

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

Only one side gets to win in an election, and that’s the side with the most votes – even if the loser got almost as many.
As the old saying goes, second-place matters only in horseshoes.

Sometimes in politics, though, it can mean a little more than that. Measure 92, the statewide Oregon ballot issue intended to require labeling of certain GMO food products, lost at this election. But three elements of that loss may almost ensure it comes back around again, with maybe a better shot next time.
One aspect is the sheer closeness of the vote. Fairly close on election night, it got tighter and tighter and by the end of last week, just 4,539 votes – out of nearly 1,5 million cast – separated the two sides. That was in a low-turnout election in which the population probably skewed more against the measure than a larger, presidential-year, electorate probably would.

Simply for that reason, you have to suspect that if this same campaign had been run two years hence, the measure would have passed.

Second was the massive money influx – mainly on the “no” side. Watch Portland television in the last month before the election and (this isn’t an exaggerations) every other commercial during many time blocks on station after station was anti-92. It was a stunning deluge of TV spots, vastly outweighing everything else (all other political campaigns combined). (The spending for the antis was reported in several places as topping $16 million, and that may have been an incomplete figure.) That message may have been well enough crafted to achieve the short-term result, but quite a few Oregonians may, in hindsight, wonder if that issue wasn’t simply bought.

The third aspect of it was the nature of the negative message. I’ll not here get into the matter of how accurate its contentions were. But they were sharply challenged, and a campaign of dishonesty was alleged. Whether right or wrong, that’s not a situation likely to simply be allowed to sit.

You can expect this one to return. Oregonians are perfectly willing to reconsider their voting choices, as their decisive vote to legalize marijuana this year demonstrated.
Will they do the same on GMOs in 2016 or beyond?

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Nov 02 2014

Oregon watchposts

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

National news will be locked in on whatever happens with control of the U.S. Senate, while Washington has not so much as a U.S. Senate or governor’s race to draw a lot of attention this year.

But there’s plenty to watch, and plenty of interest.
First, what about turnout? Ballot returns so far have indicated substantial turnout. But the numbers are still unclear.

Oregon has a U.S. Senate race this year, the only one in the Northwest, but probably not a lot of people are really wondering how it’s going to turn out; all that’s likely to be of interest here is the margin. (Polling has been pretty uniformly showing Democrat Jeff Merkley more than 10 points ahead of Republican Monica Wehby.)

The governor’s race is a lot more interesting, which is something of a surprise from, say, a year ago, when the Senate contest would logically have gotten more attention. Just enough baggage has piled on Governor John Kitzhaber, and enough of it just as ballots were heading out in the mail, to throw some question marks over his contest with Republican Dennis Richardson. Enough that Richardson might win? Not many analysts have gone that far, but some nerves doubtless are on edge in both parties over this one.

Odds are that both chambers of the legislature remain under narrow Democratic control, and the House doesn’t seem to be up for grabs. If it changes hands, you can call that a true upset. The Senate, with its one-vote margin allowing for Democratic control, is a closer call; only a few tight races could significantly change things there. The Corvallis-Albany seat held by Republican Betsy Close seems thinly likely to change hands, but too the Medford-area seat held by Democrat Alan Bates is being fought down to the wire. (Bates is being outspent, and he has been quoted as saying that fewer than 1,000 votes probably will decide it.)

And then the ballot issues, several of which – polling suggests – are close enough as to be up for grabs. Pot legalization seems thinly likely to pass, but if it does not by much. GMO labeling could go either way. Among the hot buttons, only the drivers license rule change seems to have a clear outcome (it appeared headed toward defeat).

Even without a hot Senate race, Oregon can take its place among the states with a lot to watch this week.

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Oct 16 2014

Through the crosstabs

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

Political managers spent a good deal of time reviewing polls, but they don’t spent a lot of time with the “top line” figures – how, say, two candidates stack up against each other in a race. That can be useful information (notably when put in the context of other polls and for trend lines), but the most helpful material often has to do with the other questions and the answer breakdowns.
Oregon Public Broadcasting and Fox-12 (through DHM Research) polled Oregon from 8-11 on candidates and ballot races. The top lines were not much different from what we’ve seen elsewhere: Governor, John Kitzhaber (D) over Dennis Richardson (R) by 50%-29, Senate, Jeff Merkley (D) over Monica Wehby (R) by 47%-26%. No terrific shocks there.
But here’s some of the rest of what it shows.
Is Oregon on the right or wrong track? As a political matters, that’s good for figuring out how incumbents will do. “Right track” is gaining, for the first time in a while; in the new poll, 50% responded that way (37% said “wrong track”), compared to 48% in September and 43% in April. Optimism looks to be gaining on Oregon.
They’re not super familiar with the candidates, though. Just 62% identified Kitzhaber as the Democratic nominee for governor, not great for a three-term governor, but Richardson’s number was even less impressive; 34% knew he was the Republican nominee. (43% thought the Republican in the race was someone else.)
On the Senate side, just 46% identified Merkley, a six-year incumbent, as the Democratic nominee, and 42% named Wehby as the Republican nominee. That’s better than Richardson, but apparently a lot of those people didn’t like what they heard about her (there have been a bunch of bad headlines0, since the poll showed her getting a smaller percentage than Richardson.
Back to top lines, the ballot issues were a mix of results, and in all don’t add up to a strong philosophical direction. Marijuana legalization seems to be doing pretty well but is no slam dunk (52%-41% in favor), while expanding drivers licenses without proof of legal residents looks to fail big time (about 2-1). the “top two” ballot approach is almost a wash with plenty of undecided (which suggests failure); and the GMO labeling proposal has a slight edge but really is too close to call.
Draw some conclusions from all that if you can.

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Oct 09 2014

Small beginnings

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

Political parties draw their strength from organization. Political parties that win are those able to generate numbers on the ballots, and they don’t do that by osmosis.

They do it on ground level, through people working in their counties and neighborhoods, and representing their party too – putting a human face on them. These things may sound old-fashioned but they’re not: Just ask the hyperlocal Obama campaign of 2012, probably the best-organized political campaign ever.

That makes a headline from last week in the Pendleton East Oregonian, about a small meeting in a rural house out in small Morrow County, of some larger interest and maybe importance.

Morrow County is, politically, what you might expect. It is a small-population and rural county well east of the Cascades, with little tie to many of the interests that help staff and underwrite Democratic organizations in places like Portland. It is solidly Republican. In recent years Republican voter registration has run around 41% and Democratic has fluctuated around 28-31%. It routinely votes strongly for Republican candidates for major office and for the legislature.

That doesn’t mean morrow doesn’t have Democrats, but Republicans here have tended to do better than registration might suggest. One reason may be that Democrats here simply haven’t been organized. That isn’t a swipe at anyone; the East Oregonian said there’s not been a Morrow County Democratic organization for 22 years.

The news was that Greg Hall, a relatively new resident new Boardman, decided to do something about it. A former North Carolinian, accustomed to a Democratic party sometimes outvoted but never nonexistent, he filed on September 5 to form one. Then he called for an organization meeting at his rural house early this month.

The article held a focus on Hall as he waited for people to arrive, and began to wonder if anyone would.

They did, no great crowd but a substantial number.
From the East Oregonian: “Every person who arrived was Hispanic. Because Morrow County is 36% Hispanic, according to the 2012 census, Hall hopes to find unregistered Hispanic voters to gain ground in an established Republican stronghold.”

They start, of course, from an underdog position; they’re not going to outnumber Republicans in this county any time soon. Nor is this going to change the social sea water in this county.

But activity like this is where it starts: With county officers and precinct leaders, who in turn can bring into play people who hadn’t been involved in politics before. From one voice in the county, you move to two; from non-competitive you may move, over time, to competitive.

And change is made.

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Sep 29 2014

Rules gone wild

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

Federal agencies heavily involved in regulation and rule making aggravate enough people in the normal and proper course of their work that the last thing they need is to go out of their way, in an incompetent fashion at that, to aggravate even more.

Meet the U.S. Forest Service, and its rules on photography in wilderness areas.

The Forest Services regulates wilderness areas around the country – many of them in the Northwest – and are supposed to do that with the purpose of wilderness in mind: Preservation of lands in a natural state, where people can visit but not stay and not leave behind traces of their visits. That means no human goods left behind, and no damage done to the areas.

The USFS has managed this job in many ways, some sound and some questionable. But restricting photography – the taking of still or video pictures with the use of hand-held camera equipment – in those areas wouldn’t realistically occur to most people as damaging to the wild character of wilderness.

Last week reports – based mainly in the Northwest but spread rapidly around the country – noted that an obscure forest rule required permits for photography in wilderness areas. Well, some photography. Under some conditions. The gray area here is vast. The weirdly vague rule is up for possible permanent adoption later this year.

An initial Forest Service email described it this way: “All organizations … including private citizens planning to use produced material to raise funds, sell a product, or otherwise realize compensation in any form (including salary during the production) are subject to review.”

Including vacationers, and news reporters, apparently.
After the media explosion, Service Chief Tom Tidwell replied, “To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities. . . . Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props.”

Except that, in Idaho and Oregon at least, it turns out that news organizations (notably public television stations) have been either stopped from filming in wilderness areas or threatened with penalties if they did.

Salem Statesman Journal reporter Zach Urness, writing this weekend, noted that interpretations of the rule seemed to vary widely among Forest Service officials at various local and national levels. It does seem to open photography in the case of “breaking news,” though the definition attached to that term is also vaporous and open to abuse. Continue Reading »

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Sep 14 2014

Ds and Rs on one side . . .

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

The problem – or is it an asset? – that the advocates of a top-two primary in Oregon have may be in part that the advocates are hard to easily define.

The opposition is clear enough, and it starts with both major political parties. It’s easy to understand why: The current closed primary system in Oregon gives both parties a great deal of internal control over the system and effectively shuts out people who don’t declare a membership within either. Primary election ballots for non-D and non-R voters is awfully thin.

Of course, this also has had a gradual effect of pushing each party away from each other, and of hearing less (and having to respond less) toward the large number of people in the middle, or simply on the sidelines. Add the number of people who either register as a member of no party or with the Independent Party of Oregon, and you have a third major party (in number, albeit unorganized) whose impact on state politics could be vast.

The Oregonian reported on September 12 that the backers of a top-two system received a lot of money from business-supportive people and groups, which suggests one set of possible outcomes (a broader-appealing set of Republican candidates) that some backers might like. Some of them may be looking across the state line to Washington’s 4th congressional district.

That state has a top-two system (as does California) and in the 4th, the two candidates who advance to the general election are Clint Didier, a Tea Party hard liner, and Dan Newhouse, a more centrist conservative (who was endorsed by the district’s current Republican representative, Doc Hastings). In the primary, Didier came in first, and had the parties simply selected their nominees at that point, he would have become the Republican nominee running in the fall against a Democrat; in this very Republican district, he would have won easily. Under the new system, two Republicans – Didier and Newhouse – will be running, and Newhouse has the odds since he is likely to pick up most of the non-Republican, as well as many of the Republican, votes.

Democrats may not have been thrilled about having no candidate in the 4th come November; and if Didier loses the Tea Party won’t be thrilled either. But the people in between in the 4th may be happier with their choices.

Points worth reflecting as Oregon considers in a few weeks how to structure its own primaries.

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Sep 07 2014

A gradual slowing down?

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

This is the point at which general election campaigns start to ramp up, kick into gear, run their ads and hit their top pace. Especially in places like Oregon and Washington, where the effective campaign season only runs until the ballots hit the mail in mid-to-late October.

A campaign that seems to be moving in the other direction: The Senate campaign of Monica Wehby.
The main point here is the cancellation by Freedom Partners – which is to say the Koch Brothers – of more than a million dollars of television advertising in the Oregon Senate race, on Republican Wehby’s behalf.

The most likely reason is analysis showing that in a year packed with close U.S. Senate races, Oregon’s increasingly isn’t looking likely to be one of them. Last week also saw release of a Rasmussen poll showing Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley with a solid and persistent lead over Wehby.

There could be another factor, too. Ads taking after an incumbent senator necessarily have to go negative, but push the harshness too far and it can backfire, notably in Oregon, which generally likes its politics civil. Freedom Partners ads are not noted for their gentle touch, and someone may have started to figure out that their approach wasn’t getting the job done.

They also provided a fine target for Merkley, who described the “Koch/Wehby agenda” as “reward[ing] corporations that ship jobs overseas” and “gutting the clean air act.” Wehby’s campaign took issue with some of the specifics, but the link to the Kochs ensured the damage was done.

The early Wehby campaign TV spots didn’t notably exhibit that problem; they focused on introducing the Portland physician in a positive way, and settling for a slogan, “Keep your doctor, change your senator.”

Going that far did no harm to Wehby’s campaign, but it wasn’t pushing it forward either. In an age when TV ads are becoming less effective generally, a video has to make a major splash to have a real effect. Her most recent recent ads, which have avoided directly mentioning Merkley, have not been a major departure, but neither are they likely to get people talking. With the end of native Koch ads, she may have to change tack. The problem is that the larger the splash, the more uncertain the potential fallout.

It all has the feel of a gradual slowdown.

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Aug 31 2014

Hatfield? McCall? U’Ren?

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

Maybe states should do this every so often: Consider the people whose visages grace the statuary at the U.S. Capitol, and whether there might be better choices.

Oregon is doing that now, by way of a panel selected by the governor (see the Culture section), reconsidering whether the state’s two representatives at the nation’s capitol ought to be John McLaughlin annd Jason Lee.

McLoughlin seems a logical enough choice, even he was in Oregon as head of the British-based Hudson’s Bay Company; he eventually helped Americans organize the area and has been called the “Father of Oregon.”
Lee, though, was a missionary who played a significant but not decisive role in the early development of Oregon. Even a century ago better choices could be made.

If Lee is to be replaced – and let’s say the betting might reasonably run that way – who should take his spot?

Right now, the inside track may go to Mark Hatfield, the former governor and senator who served as a Republican but for many years has been pointed out by people in both major parties as an exemplar of Oregonian public service. His relatively recent death would make him a sentimental favorite too.
A couple of other choices, at least, might also get some consideration.

Probably Oregon’s best-known political figure of the last few generations, even more than Hatfield, is Tom McCall, the flamboyant governor more controversial in his own time than many people remember now, but can fairly be pointed out as an innovator and true leader. Some of what people think they recall about McCall doesn’t hold up perfectly to scrunity – he had less, for example, to do with the state’s bottle bill than many now would suspect – but what he stood for matches up well with the way Oregon likes to present itself.

Or you could back a little further, to early in the 20th century, and seize on a man who never held a major public office but changed the state’s politics and political outlook more than many who did.

William U’Ren was a legislator, but he did his major work as an activist, pushing through the initiative and referendum (often called the “Oregon system”) and a list of other reforms.

Oregon has some good choices for the capitol, if it chooses to make them.

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Aug 08 2014

On the hamster wheel

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

It was a little while after word of the departure of University of Oregon President Michael Gottfredson that a key point about the terms of departure became clear.

The basics about the departure were released immediately, though there wasn’t much clarity as to why he was leaving. The only explanation was that he wanted more time with his family, but really: He’d only been in the job for two years. He seemed to do well enough as president, made no major (visible) errors and from the outside looked to be headed toward a tenure of a number of additional years. And this guy they’d just hired, after an expensive year-long national search, was leaving, and they apparently gave him an immediate okay to go. Even an incentive of nearly a million dollars: $940,000, which apparently was a gift, not at all contractually required in the event of his resignation. (The figure came from the combination of a year’s pay as president and a year as a tenured professor, which he also contractually has been.)

The first matter at hand, of course, is: Why such a generous departure payment for someone who simply quit early? The governing board made a reference to the “contributions” he made – but isn’t that part of the job, what he was being paid for as a matter of course? What were the contributions that were so massive they qualified for a million-dollar gift?

Then there’s: Why is he leaving? (Apparently it isn’t for a higher paycheck elsewhere; he said he has no other job lined up.) You can count on this much: We haven’t heard all of the reason, whatever it may be, yet.

And this: Is this the prompt for yet another year-long nation-wide search, the leadership status in which most of our universities seem to spending about a quarter to a third of their time? It seems a peculiar kind of status for institutions where brilliantly inspired top leadership is taken to be so important.

As a matter of going forward: UO has chosen its provost (academic vice president) Scott Coltrane as interim president. Based on their description of him, he seems a perfectly decent choice, a university administrator for a decade and a dean, then provost, at UO since 2008. He’s apparently a respected administrator, and he knows something about UO. Why not save themselves the trouble and just strike the “interim” from his title, and be done with it?

Much better than the hamster wheel they’re likely to fire up yet again.

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Jul 27 2014

Vic Atiyeh, and another governor

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

During the late 70s and early 80s I was covering politics in Idaho, not Oregon, so the governor I was watching at close range was not Vic Atiyeh but rather John Evans.

Both of them died this month.

And the comparisons between the two, as I thought about it, became eerily extensive.

They were mirror images of opposing parties. Atiyeh was a Republican who had to deal with strongly Democratic legislatures; Evans a Democrat who had to deal with strongly Republican legislatures.

Both grew up working in the family business (ranching and banking for Evans, a rug store for Atiyeh) and each expanded them substantially as an adult and after serving as governor.

Both were elected governor twice, in 1978 and 1982. In their re-election campaigns, each defeated a candidate of the opposing party who would go on to be elected governor later (Ted Kulongoski in Oregon, Phil Batt in Idaho). Each had run for office statewide once before serving as governor, but each also had an extensive state legislative resume. Neither ran for office again after leaving the governorship. (Evans ran for the Senate in 1986, but he was still governor.)

They even shared a name: Victor Atiyeh and John Victor Evans.

They were governor of their states during economic hard times, and focused (in different ways) on business recovery. As personalities, though serving as governor, both were often overshadowed in the public by other political figures of their own party (Atiyeh by Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield, Evans by Frank Church and Cecil Andrus), though that related more to charisma than to capability.

They had a lot in common as people, too. They were friendly and accessible – notably so, this being a quality appreciated more in hindsight than at the time. If they were a little short on charisma that may relate to a preference to stick to the job, to work for the state and to maintain a sense of humility under circumstances where that can be challenging.

I can’t say for sure whether Atiyeh and Evans liked each other. But I have a hard time thinking that they didn’t. For good reason.

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Jul 23 2014

Two of one party in November?

harris ROBERT
HARRIS

 
Oregon
Outpost

Critics of Oregon’s proposed top two open primary say one weakness is that in some districts the top two who advance to the general election may be from the same party. A report from the Independent Voter Network, takes a look at California Senate District 28, where two Republicans advanced onto the November general election.

Their conclusion? It’s a good thing. With Republican voters making up just 40% of the voters in SD-28, it means that the two Republican finalists will now be forced to appeal not just to Republican primary voters, but to all voters. This has caused the candidates to minimize ideology and focus on local issues that matter to more voters.

Wedge issues aren’t nearly as effective when you have two candidates from the same party.

Frankly, all the wailing that a top two open primary will occasionally result in two Republicans or two Democrats taking the top two spots is a red herring. In fact, it’s one of the strengths of the proposal.

In Oregon, under the current closed primary system heavily Democratic or Republican districts produce a single candidate in November. In 20 of the 60 Oregon House races this November voters will get one major party candidate to vote for. In the 66 Oregon Senate seats up for election, 6 of them will likewise feature one major party candidate. Over one third of Oregon’s Legislature is basically uncontested and features a single major party candidate.

At least under the open primary system there’s a likelihood that these 26 races would feature two major party candidates, even if they are from the same party. This would give voters a choice. And for candidates in heavily R or D districts, they couldn’t just pander to either the public employee unions leaders or the Chamber of Commerce in their respective primaries and then prepare for their coronation in November.

When Our Oregon supporter or a tea party member claims that a top two open primary may result in two Democrats or two Republicans advancing to the November ballot. Say…GREAT! That doubles voter choice of major party candidates in a third of our Legislative districts.

Note: This isn’t an endorsement of the open primary initiative, on which I’m undecided. It is a critique of the Democratic and Republican hypocrisy in their criticism that the open primary reduces choices.

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Jul 18 2014

The nature of the debate

Published by under Oregon,Oregon column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Oregon

Debates are about perceptions, and the two gubernatorial candidates at the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association debate hit in that hard enough. Both were a little hamstrung, but not barred from pitching their case.

The core case that Republican state Representative Dennis Richardson made against Governor John Kitzhaber was not one that this very conservative (in the conventional sense of the term) might have been expecting to make. It was not at all ideological: Instead, he described the governor as detached, disinterested, too often not showing up, “not tuned in to governing.”

“The first principle of leadership is showing up,” Richardson said near the start of the debate, and said near the end, “Our governor no longer has the passion to serve . . . The governor has been AWOL, and when he’s here has been distracted.”

He did not make any strong suggestion of a basic, fundamental change in direction, limiting his areas of dispute to more specific ideas – Kitzhaber’s handling of Cover Oregon or aspects of his support for the Columbian River Crossing bridge, for example, rather than the overall need for action on health care or bridge infrastructure. He almost seemed – whether it was the case or not – to have conceded those issues. On the subject of legalizing marijuana, he sidestepped completely, saying only that he would enforce whatever law Oregon voters passed; it fell to Kitzhaber to say that he would vote against the measure (and, like his opponent, try to learn from Washington’s experience and enforce whatever the voters ordered).

He did not, as most Republicans would, blast away at the idea of big government, even to the extent that Kitzhaber’s last opponent, Chris Dudley, did.
Richardson is known as a philosophically-oriented conservative, and won his seat in the legislature originally on that basis, but in a day of sharply-drawn philosophical lines, almost none emerged here. He seemed to stake his gubernatorial bid on the idea that Kitzhaber has been phoning in his job as governor, even pointing out more than once that he’s been in Salem a minority of the time.
That may not be an easy sell, and Kitzhaber’s de facto response was telling. He did not specifically say that he still had a passion for the job or worked hard at it, which would have sounded weak and would have simply repeated Richardson’s argument.

Instead, he pointed to the things he has done, over a third term in which the length of large-scale accomplishments – from education reorganization, health care policy, PERS changes and many more items – is quite long. And he could, and did, point out that he had Republican support (including, in several key places, Richardson’s) in doing those thing.

Kitzhaber’s best piece was his closing, when he describes, after falling short on several objectives in the 2013 legislative session, he spent months traveling around the state crafting a legislative package which, in three days last fall, passed in spectacular fashion. It was an effective rebuttal to the notion of a passive or disinterested governor.
Both said they supported open primary elections, ad Richardson even said he saw a benefit in the tendency to press candidates on both sides toward the electoral middle.

In one place, Richardson called for a truly massive government project I’ve never heard anyone else propose: “A freeway from Coos Bay to Burns to Ontario.” (The price tag on that would be interesting to read.)

Interestingly, Richardson never bore in specifically on the matter of Kitzhaber’s long tenure of what would 16 years in the state’s top office if he wins. He suggested only that he would do it better.
With one major exception, one place where he specifically sounded more clearly like a conservative Republican.

That concerned federal lands, which amounted to 53% of Oregon. Kitzhaber, who dryly noted that “I don’t think the feds are going to hand over control of federal lands,” spoke with some optimism about “federal forest management reform.” In this area, Richardson said he would press for exactly that, a turning over of federal lands to the state: With like-minded governors, he said, “I will lead that charge, I will be in Washington. D.C.”

That much formed a basis of a major policy difference between the candidates. How far it sells in the more populated sectors of Oregon may be another question – as is whether it constitutes a argument for firing John Kitzhaber.

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Video of a December 19 demonstration by people at Moscow, protesting safety problems on US 95 in the area.

 

 
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