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Posts published in “Oregon column”

Water clarity

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Like other western states Oregon has a water department - the Department of Water Resources - and extensive water law and regulation, and there’s a reason for this. Water is an essential resource, our lives depend on it, and ensuring we have water available means regulating it intelligently.

To do that, we need information, and high on the list of data points we depend on is this: Who uses the water - the largest portions of it - and what that means for other water users. You could say that’s a question of essential public interest.

It’s also a question for lawsuits, current Oregon lawsuits that may portend whether we have enough information to manage our water.

In many places around the west (and around Oregon), water use is easy to track. Most western states operate under the prior appropriation doctrine - first in time, first in use - which allows the first person to put a claim for a specific source and amount of water to use, to have priorities over other users. This system of priorities is carefully recorded in public records. A 2015 report from the U.S. Geological Survey relied on that information in estimating, for example, that 42 percent of freshwater withdrawals are used for irrigation agriculture.

But some users of water, who get theirs in subdivision from primary water right holders, aren’t so openly recorded, and these can account for some big water uses.

Last September, a reporter from The Oregonian requested information from the city of The Dalles about how much water the tech giant Google was using at its operations there. The city refused to release the information, saying it amounted to “trade secrets” considered confidential under state law. Residents in the area, including farmers and businesses, have raised questions and expressed concern about how much water Google may be using.

That argument was rejected by the Wasco County district attorney, who reviewed the case and concluded that although a trade secret might be considered confidential, the city hadn’t shown that information about raw water usage qualified; he said the information should be turned over. (The situation was linked to a $28.5 million agreement between the city and Google, so city officials had some interest in the arrangement.) The city of The Dalles fired back with a lawsuit against the Oregonian. The case continues.

This year, another effort to find out who is using scarce water has surfaced at Bend. But while the case at The Dalles centers on information kept by a public agency, the Bend dispute concerns a private company. Maybe.

The Source Weekly newspaper had decided to look into water use in its mostly dry east-of-Cascades area, and said what started out as a basic records request has evolved into an inquiry about oversight for this community's most precious and basic of resources.”

With that in mind, it asked leading water utilities for information (including addresses) about their major water users. In many parts of the state information like that could be gleaned from state water records. The cities of Redmond and Bend complied. (The records turned up many cases of major water leaks that led to water loss and bloated bills.) But Avion Water, which serves about 8,000 households and others in the Bend area by contract, is a privately-held business, placing it typically outside the reach of the state’s public record laws. Avion rejected the request, saying the public records laws didn’t apply to it.

The issue here too went to the county’s district attorney, in this case John Hummel. He took a similar tack as his counterpart to the north, while noting that Avion is a private company. In its article, the Source described his take this way:

“Hummel sided with the Source and ordered that Avion must release the records, because it is ‘the functional equivalent’ of a public body, according to Hummel’s decision, meaning it would be subject to public records laws. To support this, he cited that Avion currently has a franchise agreement with the city of Bend and is regulated by the Oregon Public Utility Commission. He also stated that Avion did not provide enough evidence that the addresses of its customers were exempt from disclosure.”
The DA added, “Because Avion failed to convince me that residential addresses of their water users constitute a type of personally identifiable information … I find that these residential addresses are not exempt from disclosure.”
What a court will make of that is unclear. Many private organizations cearly exempt from public records laws are regulated, as Avion is.

In many areas public oversight of information can be and has been limited when services move from public to private control. Is water a special case - or should we rethink what’s really public and what’s private?
 

Who discriminates

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Here is a pivotal sentence from a just-released Oregon Supreme Court decision concerning a case of alleged prisoner mistreatment:

“Buildings do not discriminate; people do.”

That simple point twists from there in unexpected directions, reflecting partly that it comes from a dissent in the decision, and which in turn came not from an Oregon court case at all. The Oregon Supreme Court was not reaching a binding decision but simply offering an opinion about Oregon law to an uncertain Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the implications of the court’s advisory, and even its dissent, could run wide - well beyond cases related to jail conditions - the trigger for the discussion - and bear some second and third thoughts by Oregonians and their state legislature.

The underlying case is Andrew Abraham v. Corizon Health, and it grew out of Abraham’s stay in the Clackamas County Jail, where in October 2015 he was incarcerated after an arrest (the decisions don’t mention the reason). Abraham is deaf and communicated through American Sign Language, which no one at the jail apparently understood. He appears specifically to have been misunderstood, because he was placed in isolation in suicide watch. This was a special problem in his case, not only because of his deafness but because he also is diabetic, and was unable to communicate his immediate medical needs.

Abraham filed a case in federal court on grounds of discrimination in “a place of public accommodation” because he is “an individual with a disability” - but he didn’t sue the jail (or county). He sued Corizon Health, which provides healthcare for the jail.

Here is where the case turns: Is either the jail, or its private health provider, a “place of public accommodation” as Oregon law understands the term?

The Ninth District Circuit Court of Appeals apparently was confused about that. So they asked the Oregon Supreme Court what it thought. And the Oregon high court, which did deliver an answer, turned out to be sharply divided on the question.

The court was united on one part of this: The jail is not a public accommodation. Oregon law explicitly says a public accommodation is “[a]ny place or service offering to the public accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges whether in the nature of goods, services, lodgings, amusements, transportation or otherwise.” Originally, the law was set up mainly to ban racial discrimination by places such as motels and restaurants. At the same time, correctional facilities like jails were specifically excluded. But the definition of accommodations changed over time.

So the Ninth Circuit’s question was, “Is a private contractor providing healthcare services at a county jail a ‘place of public accommodation’” under Oregon law?

The Oregon Supreme Court majority (in a decision written by Chief Justice Martha Walters) said it was: “If defendant qualifies as a place of public accommodation because of the services that it provides, it does not matter whether it provides those services at a physical location that independently qualifies as a place of public accommodation.”

And went on: “When we focus, as we must, on the legislature’s definition of a ‘local correction facility’ as ‘a jail or prison,’ we cannot conclude that defendant—a private entity that contracts with a jail, but that is not a jail—is exempt from the provisions of the Act.”

The dissent, written by Justice Christopher Garrett, noted, “Under that analysis, if the Clackamas County Jail provides medical care, food, and other basic services directly, the exception for correctional facilities applies, but if the jail contracts with any other entity to provide those services, the exception does not apply to that entity.” (That matches with the bottom line of one federal judge who threw out Abraham’s case in lower court.)

Let’s consider this for a moment. Your rights may vary depending on whether a public entity does something through its own employees or whether it is contracted out to someone privately - and the private contractor is actually held to a significantly higher standard.

There’s also another significant question here. Which contractors for governments in Oregon might be held to the “public accommodation” non-discrimination standards under the terms set out by the Oregon court? Some, surely (such as medical and other jail contractors). But how many others? And how might the legal definition of the term change?

The question of what is and isn’t considered a “public accommodation” has been a quiet issue ever since the nationally famous wedding cake case involving a Gresham bakery. There’s a good chance that aftereffects of the new Oregon Supreme Court opinion may give it another kick into public awareness.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.
 

A gun strategy

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Oregon may see in the coming months an extended dustup over curbing gun violence in Oregon, first this fall at the polls when two gun regulation initiatives may appear on the ballot, and then at the legislature in response to the results - pass or fail.

And don’t be surprised if Nicholas Kristoff, whose effort to run for governor was legally rebuffed this year, doesn’t figure in that discussion.

About 40 percent of Oregon adults live in a household with a firearm, close to the national average. Oregon politically is more amenable to gun regulation than are many of the states to its east, but it isn’t at the top of the list for tough gun laws nationally. The Giffords Law Center, which tracks gun legislation nationally, gives letter grades to the states and ranks Oregon at “B-.” It ranks Oregon at 35th among the states for the rate of deaths from shootings, and 15th among the states for “gun safety strength.” Gun critics are organized in the state.

There’s been a degree of compromise here. Oregon’s roots are in rural cultures and resource industries, and guns have had a welcome home in much of the state. (A provision in the state constitution says “The people shall have the right to bear arms for the defence [sic] of themselves, and the State.”) Advocates aren’t just the National Rifle Association; there are local groups like Oregon Gun Owners, which reports more than 10,000 members.

Oregon is urban and suburban enough that some gun regulation has passed and been accepted without much difficulty, but political people have been uneasy about leading the charge in that direction.

So, for example, Oregon has had since 2015 a law in force “requiring private or unlicensed firearm sellers to conduct background checks on private or unlicensed purchasers. Oregon law also requires a prospective purchaser to undergo a background check before buying a gun at a gun show.” Oregonians can ask a court to temporarily block a person’s access to firearms, with a showing of necessity.

But the state doesn’t limit sales of military-type weapons like an AR-15, or the number of rounds in a magazine (other than for hunting), doesn’t require a gap of time between buying and taking possession of a gun, or require safety standards for the weapon or safety training. Concealed carry permits generally are allowed unless local law enforcement has a reason to think that person will constitute a danger to others. A lack of gun buyback efforts is considered a weak spot.

This suggests a pro-regulation but centrist balance for Oregon. But the ongoing string of mass shootings, most recently at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, may return the issue to a front burner. In Oregon, it may revive memories of incidents in places like Clackamas and Roseburg. So might the gubernatorial campaign.

All this could light a fire under two proposed ballot initiatives, numbered 17 and 18, which already have made progress in the last year. Both have obtained enough petition signatures to obtain a ballot title, which is due for publication by June 24.

Number 17, called the Reduction of Gun Violence Act, would require buyers of guns to obtain a legal permit, and law enforcement would create a state database around those filings. It also would ban magazines that include more than 10 rounds.

Number 18, the Reduction of Harm from Weapons Act, would aim to ban “manufacturing/ possessing/ transferring many semiautomatic firearms; criminal penalties; limited exception if existing firearms registered.” It would ban manufacture of semi-automatics, and require registration by people who already own them.

The advocates have rationales built into the preambles of the initiatives, and critics could (and surely will) point out the limited ability of the measures to actually stop mass shootings. More broadly, they are reactive; they don’t fit into a larger systematic approach to diminishing shootings.

Is there a framework for looking at guns that makes sense of Oregon’s near-centrist kind of approach, and maybe charts a direction for future action?

A Yamhill, Oregon farmer named Nicholas Kristof has suggested one. In 2017 when he was a columnist for the New York Times, he wrote about gun violence that, “Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.”

Explaining that: “We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them — and limit access to them — so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven to less than one-seventh of what it was in 1946.”

Seen through the lens of regulating guns rather than banning them, the Oregon Legislature might have a useful frame of reference to “do something” about gun-related violence whether or not the initiatives pass. At least a common frame of reference, like the one Kristof suggests, would help keep the discussion from devolving into a battle against the evil opposition.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.
 

Meanings in the split

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With 19 distinctive - not to say sometimes colorful - candidates for governor, Oregon Republicans should have told us something about themselves by their choices in the just-ended primary election.

They did: They are split. Many seem driven by abortion or other culture issues, some are powerfully drawn by regional preferences, but a plurality just want to win in November.

No single overriding motivation appeared to apply overwhelmingly to Oregon Republicans.

Former legislator (and House Republican caucus chair) Christine Drazan was the clear winner from early on, and she won a majority of Oregon’s counties. She led (decisively) in the three Portland metro counties, and her four best counties (in order; Wallowa, Curry, Klamath and Benton) were widely scattered across the state. Her win cannot be called narrow.

What drew Republican voters to her? Likely not the media endorsements (her website’s endorsement page didn’t even link to them). But she was endorsed by a slew of Republican elected officials and a number of GOP-leaning organizations. She had an extensive county organization, and it seems fair to say she was the closest thing to an (informal) candidate of the statewide Republican organization. That helps a lot. And she was presentable, articulate, and likable.

She did not emphasize hard-edged messages. Her website’s tag lines called out “lower taxes, safer neighborhoods, brighter future, better schools” - something Democrat Tina Kotek could use as easily (maybe with some tweaking of the first one). She did offer some specific policy proposals, but she was not among the candidates with quotable lines on abortion, stolen elections and similar subjects. Was this a vote for the candidate seen as best equipped to fare well in November? Probably that was part of it.

Remember though that she received just 22.7 percent of the Republican primary vote, a support level that looks better only in the context of her 19-person field. Her nearest competitor, former state Republican Chair Bob Tiernan, was not terribly far behind with 17.8 percent. Seven candidates received more than five percent of the vote.

If there’s another contender who might logically be called a Republican establishment candidate - because of service in elected office and as chair of the state party - that would be Tiernan, who won six counties (Clatsop, Coos, Columbia, Douglas, Lane, and Tillamook). His second-place vote actually may owe to some of the same factors as Drazan’s.

Candidates who lost past major races, like Bud Pierce and Bill Sizemore, underperformed.

So there’s a good chance electability was heavily on the minds of close to half of the Republican electorate, maybe reflecting both desire to win and a sense that 2022 might not be a good Democratic year.

But that still leaves a majority of the Republican primary voters apparently signaling other concerns.

What powered Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam to a third-place showing with 10.4 percent of the vote? There are a few possibilities, but a good bet might be abortion, high profile during the voting period. Though not endorsed by Oregon Right to Life, Pulliam got attention for the edgiest abortion stance in the campaign, criticizing his competitors as being wimps on the subject and saying without qualification he would as governor sign any “pro-life piece of legislation.” His vote may be a reasonable measure of the abortion-driven segment of the Republican vote.

That seems a little bigger than the climate change and anti-masking approach of Marc Thielman, the Alsea school superintendent who won a straw poll at the Dorchester event. He had backers statewide - he had more than a few signs in eastern Oregon - but still managed just 7.8 percent of the vote.

If you’re looking for a candidate testing the salience of rural and anti-metro appeal, look at Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten. She won seven counties, more than anyone but Drazen, carrying most of the land area of eastern Oregon (Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Sherman, Union, and Wheeler). No candidate got a higher percentage in any single county than McQuisten did in Grant (44.6 percent). Of course relatively few voters live in those counties, and McQuisten wound up just sixth in the results - but she left a stronger marker of the east-west and urban-rural gap in the state.

Some messages seemed not to catch on. Nick Hess, who pressed for a traditional conservative style (and was nearly alone in the field to do so), got only 1.1 percent of the vote.

And if there had been more “electable” candidates and fewer “message” candidates? This primary could easily have seen different results. The instability of the parties - Democrats too but especially the Republicans, even in a time of polarization - may be one of the primary lessons of this year’s Oregon primary.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.
 

Lessons in party politics

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Discerning through lines in elections where each campaign has its own distinct story can be a problematic exercise, but you can make an argument for this in the Oregon primary election just concluded:

You’re most likely to win a party’s nomination if you most closely resemble and appeal to your party's core.

The two most noteworthy results from Tuesday, in the Democratic primary contests in the fifth and sixth U.S. House districts, make the point.

These two races got the most national attention, for good reason.

Sitting members of Congress rarely lose renomination elections, and it hasn’t happened in Oregon since Democrat Robert Duncan in 1980 lost his party’s nod in the third district in an upset by a first-time candidate named Ron Wyden. A Washington Post article at the time said Wyden’s “campaign was bolstered by some important endorsements from unions, including the major state teachers' organization. Some labor leaders were unhappy with Duncan's votes against a federal Department of Education and deregulation of the trucking industry and the congressman's support of oil deregulation.” Duncan, in other words, had moved away from the emotional core of his party (or, he might have argued, it from him).

There’s something rhyming with that in the current fifth district primary between five-term Representative Kurt Schrader and challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who picked up support from a number of core Democratic groups including county Democratic organizations. Schrader has been a middle-road blue dog Democrat, breaking from the majority of the caucus on a number of key issues, and his Democratic base back home has noticed (as Duncan’s did).

At this writing significant votes are still out but Schrader is far behind, losing 38.4 percent to 60.9 percent. Because of the slow vote count in Clackamas County, final numbers aren’t expected until Thursday, but Schrader will have a hard slog making up his current deficit (albeit that it is likely to shrink).

The brand new sixth district, where since it is new there is no incumbent, got as much attention, for a different reason.

Conventional wisdom is that next to incumbency the best thing a congressional candidate usually can have going is money, preferably lots of money. One Oregon candidate in particular tested that idea this cycle.

Carrick Flynn, running in the Democratic primary, had almost no local contacts or organized support, was known before the campaign hardly at all locally and showed no distinctive issues or talking points. But his candidacy was supported by money - mountains of it, amounts most House candidates would never dream of. A cryptocurrency billionaire contributed millions to a pro-Flynn political action committee, and a national Democratic PAC added in with more - totaling $12.2 million according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Flynn did not control that PAC money, but the funds spent on his behalf were enough to cast a deep shadow over the funding all the other eight candidates had available.

The leading conventional candidate in that primary, Andrea Salinas, was well-funded by usual standards but brought to bear only a fraction as much. Pro-Flynn ads (and toward the end, anti-Salinas ads) swamped the district. Salinas did however have plenty of endorsements, a strong campaign organization and some familiarity with the district through work in the legislature and in advocacy organizations. Voters heard a message appealing to the Democratic base.

The result? The count is not finished at this writing, but the result seems clear from Wednesday morning numbers: Salinas at 37.6 percent to 18.9 percent for Flynn. (Flynn has conceded the race.)

Running toward the party’s base seemed to help quite a few other candidates on Tuesday, too.

House Speaker Tina Kotek’s win of the Democratic gubernatorial primary was no shock, but her margin was notably large; she had been running with the support of much of the state Democratic establishment and support network while her opponent, Treasurer Tobias Read, had been running as an outsider.

In the sixth District Republican primary, legislator Ron Noble picked up loads of endorsements and lots of votes in his home legislative district but trailed Mike Erickson, who was an unsuccessful Republican nominee in 2006 and 2008 but ran hard to the Trump-flavored base. That approach (which she sometimes moderated) also may have helped former legislator Christine Drazen. It almost certainly gave Q-anon supporter Jo Rae Perkins her narrow edge for the U.S. Senate nomination against Wyden.

Hewing to the party base isn’t always a prescription for winning primaries. But our times are notably polarized, and evidence of sticking close to the party core in this season seems to be more asset than liability.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.
 

Measuring homelessness

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The old saying among business consultants is that you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it.

That’s not true of managing everything. (Measures of quality don’t always reduce easily to numbers.) But it does seem true for at least one of Oregon’s most difficult problems: homelessness.

We know it’s a big problem. But we don’t know exactly what the problem is.

On May 4 the three Portland-area metro counties delivered a new point-in-time report (federally mandated, and conducted on January 26) on the numbers of homeless people. Those numbers by themselves point to a problem big enough to justify the widespread concern it’s getting: “6,633 people were counted as experiencing homelessness on the night of Jan. 26, 2022,” more than 5,000 of them in Multnomah, with several hundred each in Washington and Clackamas.

The numbers were up by about a quarter since the last report, which was taken in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. But big numbers and increases aren’t unique to the Portland area. Only a quarter of Oregon’s documented homeless people are located there. In central Oregon (mainly in the Bend area), the numbers were up by about 17 percent (to about 1,300 people).

“The results, which will be reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also make clear that people of color continue to face disproportionate rates of homelessness. In Multnomah County, for example, people of color made up almost 40 percent of everyone counted this year,” the Tri-County report added.

It also, though, acknowledged its limits: “This year’s data, like with every Point in Time Count, should be considered an undercount of people experiencing homelessness. Because of federal rules, the Count does not include thousands of people who did not have a home of their own on the night of Jan. 26 but were ‘doubled up,’ staying with friends or family. Culturally specific providers tell us that people of color are more likely to experience homelessness this way and are underrepresented in the Count as a result.”

Even with that, many people may be missed. Consider the people incarcerated but who have nowhere to go when they get out?) And, “As a one-night snapshot, the federally structured Count also isn’t designed to reveal how many people move in and out of homelessness over the course of a year, either losing their housing or gaining it back with support services.”

So we don’t know the real size of the real homeless population: But that’s just one dimension. We also have little information about the people, why they’re unhoused and what it might take to get them into shelter.

Stereotypes abound: They’re drug or alcohol addicts. They’re mentally ill. They’re financially irresponsible, or just unable to focus on keeping their lives together. They were evicted from living places made abruptly too expensive to afford. Race may be a factor. And there are other explanations.

These stereotypes didn’t emerge from nowhere: You can easily find case studies in support of them. But opinions have differed on what factors account for how much of homelessness, and what that would mean for solutions. If, for example, a tenth of people without a permanent residence got in that position because they were unable to fund or afford a residence, then a path to solving the problem might be clearer - for them. But that would leave a large majority of the homeless population still unaccounted for.

The stereotype often suggests a single man, but many reports have suggested a majority of unhoused people are women, and many children are among them. Exact information, again, is hard to come by.

The idea of a mix of responses was hinted at in a statement from Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury: “I believe in both/and responses to homelessness. That’s why I’ve led work to add hundreds of shelter beds, from villages to motels, before and during this pandemic. It’s also why I championed our Behavioral Health Resource Center, opening downtown later this year. But I’ve also worked to ensure we don’t give up on work that will help people leave those shelter beds, or avoid them in the first place: housing with support services.”

Still: Finding more beds under roofs to provide space for people off the street would be useful for some segments of the homeless population, but not much for others.

Next time around - presumably, next January - the point-in-time counters might try something more ambitious: A deeper dive of not just the top-line numbers of homeless, but a greater inquiry into the specific circumstances that got these people to where they are, and what combination of solutions might help get them somewhere better.

The greatest permanent value

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The court case of Linn v. Oregon has involved a stake of a billion dollars and turned on a subtle interpretation of state law, but it ought to cause Oregonians to reflect on the meaning of … value.

The value, that is, of their state lands.

The case Linn County v. State of Oregon and State Forestry Department is being fought (it will no doubt be appealed to the state Supreme Court) over whether the state owes 15 counties about a billion dollars - no small consideration by itself. Here’s where the claim came from:

In 1931 the Oregon legislature passed a law setting up a new program to expand state forest operations (then just a couple of decades old). The state Forestry Board was allowed to obtain land from counties, whether by gift or purchase or other title transfer, in voluntary agreements, as long as the land would be used for "[g]rowing forest crops, water conservation, watershed protection, [or] recreation;" these tracts would become state forest lands. The counties would be compensated. Since some of those lands would be leased, or the state would get other payments for their use, the counties would receive from the state “5 cents per acre annually and 12 1/2 per cent of all revenues received from said lands."

State laws controlled how state forestry was supposed to manage its lands, but the basic rule was, “The board shall manage the lands acquired pursuant to this act so as to secure the greatest permanent value of such lands to the state.”

Beyond that, the details have been up for grabs. Lands used for water conservation, for example, aren’t likely to generate as much immediate income as lands used for forestry. How the lands are used reflects how much money the counties receive. The counties maintain that if the state had managed the lands for highest payout, they would (over the years) have gotten about a billion dollars more than they did.

What exactly, precisely, was this deal between the state and the counties? Was it a contract or something a little less formal? That can matter, because contracts legally often are taken to have a long shelf life, and their terms even can (in some cases) supersede laws. Or were these agreements just administrative actions, which could be altered over time?

That’s the core issue in the new Court of Appeals decision. The court specifically put it this way: “For the purposes of our analysis, the dispositive issue presented by defendants' seventh assignment of error [there were other issues the court didn’t specifically address] is whether the Board's obligation to manage certain forestlands ‘so as to secure the greatest permanent value of those lands to the state’ … is a term in a statutory contract between the state, on the one hand, and various Oregon counties, on the other. Plaintiffs say yes; defendants say no.”

A billion dollars rests largely on that obscure point. The decision was almost a split-the-difference matter, in that it held that a contract of sorts had been made and the counties did have a financial interest they could seek to protect in court. But it also said “We treat a statute as a contractual promise ‘only if the legislature has clearly and unmistakably expressed its intent to create a contract," for a simple reason: The acts of one legislative session ordinarily cannot bind those of another session in the future (just as a future governor typically can reverse actions taken by a previous governor).

The court also didn’t accept the counties’ argument that the state had committed to manage the lands in a specific way, that “the greatest permanent value” necessarily equated to the highest immediate payout to the counties (or state, for that matter). Maybe “permanent value” implies a different kind of management.

Here we come to what, for most of us, should be the core of the matter: What does “greatest permanent value” mean?

A state administrative rule says it “means healthy, productive, and sustainable forest ecosystems that over time and across the landscape provide a full range of social, economic, and environmental benefits to the people of Oregon.” Several benefits are listed - timber production, fish and wildlife environments, protection against flooding, recreation and more - but actually managing the lands means balancing these things against each other.

How best to balance those benefits is also a matter of time and conditions. The best use of the lands may have seemed far different in 1931 than in 2021, or how they may seem decades from now.

This is the sort of messy calculation that, strange as it may seem, politics should help resolve. It sounds like another useful subject for this year’s gubernatorial campaigns to address.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.
 

The coming abortion battle

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If you’re wondering what political issues aren’t top of mind for most Oregonians but may get there in coming months, abortion should rise to attention.

It’s worth considering now, ahead of the upcoming primary election, for this reason:

Sometime in the next few months, likely in or near June, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which is widely expected either to overturn the long-standing Roe v. Wade ruling or wipe out most of its effect, with the result of allowing states, as many have started to try to do already, to effectively outlaw abortion. Neighboring Idaho is one of the states moving in that direction.

All of that is driving abortion-related activity from red states to the blue. The Boise-based Planned Parenthood organization in Idaho has leased office space across the Snake River in Ontario, evidently intending to provide services there for Idahoans who will no longer be able to get them in their home state. The pressure in Oregon will grow for providing those services - maybe especially in parts of the state where the pro-choice view isn’t popular.

Oregon has, over the last couple of decades, moved firmly in the pro-choice direction. The legislature, with gubernatorial support, has supported the right to abortion with increasing specificity, especially in a 2017 law (the Reproductive Health Equity Act) which even effectively makes many abortions free of financial cost to the patient.

Whether that’s the end of the story in Oregon may depend on how the elections go. If either of the major Democratic nominees, Tina Kotek or Tobias Read, win in November, they would be unlikely to change Oregon’s law or policies in that area, other than maybe to adjust existing principles to new conditions on the ground. Kotek was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon, which said she is someone “who will champion bold policies that expand access to reproductive health care for Oregonians and anyone who might be forced to travel to our state for care.” Read’s views appear to be similar to Kotek’s.

Independent candidate Betsy Johnson seems to be in the same territory. She remarked recently that “I am pro-choice and Oregon will remain a pro-choice state when I am governor.”

The Republican candidates are a far more complicated story.

Asked about support for an Oregon counterpart to the fetal “heartbeat” laws, which involve private rights of action (critics call it bounty hunting) passed in Texas and Idaho, Republican candidate Christine Drazan said that, “I’ve never shied away from my pro-life values, but a private right of action is a dangerous precedent that could just as easily be used to curtail constitutional rights that conservatives value.”

That stand on the heartbeat law may make her an outlier among the Republican contenders. Most have not explicitly gone public on the subject, but there are some data points to work with.

Oregon’s oldest (formed in 1970, before Rose v. Wade) and largest pro-life group, Oregon Right to Life, has endorsed at least four Republican candidates: Drazan, Bob Tiernan, Bridget Barton, and Bud Pierce. Since the group relies on candidates to spread the word of endorsements, there could be others who haven’t remarked about it directly.

One candidate non-endorsee who seems displeased about it is Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, who seems to have gone the furthest among the Republican candidates in declaring he would act broadly against abortion if elected. “Oregon is a taxpayer-funded abortion tourist destination,” he said. “Politicians are more concerned with propping up the abortion industry than actually helping women and children. It’s time we recognize the value of the unborn by protecting their right to life in our laws. As governor, I would propose and support any common sense limits on abortion that are allowed by current Supreme Court decisions.”

Probably, however, any of the Republican candidates if elected in November would face enormous pressure from their base to do whatever he or she could to push back against Oregon’s state legislative policy.

And how much could a governor do?

A governor can’t unilaterally change the law, and the chances of the Oregon legislature changing enough in this election to do that are nil. But a governor can make a difference.

Bear in mind that Texas Governor Greg Abbott didn’t need or ask for legislative backing recently to block for searches of traffic from Mexico: He did it administratively. In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown used extensive emergency powers to impose restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. What powers might a Republican governor attempt to use to limit, or hamstring, abortion in Oregon?

We don’t really know for sure. But if one of the Republicans does prevail in November, we may find out.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.
 

A deep-split GOP for Oregon governor

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Just 5.3 percent of the vote theoretically could produce the next Republican nominee for governor, far fewer votes than a state Senate general election winner would need.

The primary winner likely will get considerably more than that, of course. But since every candidate on the ballot will pick up at least a dusting of votes, this means predicting a winner, or figuring out what the win says about the Republican electorate, approaches guesswork. A viral social media message at the right moment through the right channels could, in such a fractured field, be enough.

There is no obvious frontrunner, only a few names familiar to people who follow Oregon politics, and no statewide election winners and no incumbent officeholders above the county level.

Shall we sift among the 19 official contenders?

Seven have filed either no finance report or reported no campaign finance activity. So on the list of candidates unlikely to win big, we probably can place Raymond Baldwin, Court Boice, David A Burch (listed as “unemployed”), Reed Christensen (also “unemployed”), Tim McCloud, John G Presco and Stefan G Strek. Slight extra credit to Strek, though, for listing his prior government experience as “unmentionable.”

Those with enough backing to raise substantial funds have to be taken seriously. According to filings from last week, these are the top-raising (six-figure) Republican governor candidates in order: Bob Tiernan ($1.2 million), Christine Drazan ($1.1 million), Jessica Gomez ($556,566), Bridget Barton ($400,467), Stan Pulliam ($295,680), Bud Pierce ($235,267), Marc Thielman ($167,090), Kerry McQuisten ($116,773) and Nick Hess ($102,907).

Tiernan and Drazan have raised more money between them than all the others put together, but that may be a little misleading. Of Tiernan’s haul, for example, $500,000 came from a single source: a company in Berkeley, California, with which Tiernnan had a past relationship - and so doesn’t suggest much about in-state support. Much of Drazan’s support comes from the kind of establishment backers many Republican voters aren’t enamored with these days. Money is important but not always decisive.

What else might be?

Here’s a name absent from both previous lists: Bill Sizemore (employed as a general contractor, raised $12,421). His money is modest, but anyone who’s watched Oregon politics knows who he is: Organizer of numerous from-the-right ballot and legislative efforts (many under the banner of Oregon Taxpayers United, which he founded). He also lost a gubernatorial election in 1998, to Democrat John Kitzhaber, in a landslide, and has had legal run-ins since, but he may check all the now-popular boxes for many Republicans. He should not be written off.

Nor should we write off Tiernan or Drazan, and not just because of money: They too have significant statewide profiles and extensive statewide connections. Both are former legislators - any legislator, if they’re active at all, can develop an array of connections - and both have held leadership positions among Republicans (Tiernan as state party chair, Drazan as House minority leader). On the basis of resume, either is a plausible major-party nominee.

Salem physician Bud Pierce falls into somewhere near this category as well, since he was a Republican nominee for governor before, in 2016, losing to still-Governor Kate Brown. But Pierce’s loss may not help him now, and his campaign message (his web page leads: “A prescription for Oregon. Sane. Secure. Stable.”) seems unlikely to jack up the heart rate.

All four, on their websites and elsewhere, point to their backgrounds and a call for a new direction in Salem. But will that hit the bullseye this year? The base may be looking for something edgier, and maybe fresher than Sizemore, who cut a bigger figure in Oregon a quarter-century ago.

This brings us to the third? (second) tier which includes Independence electronics business owner Gomez, Lake Oswego publisher Barton, Sandy Mayor Pulliam and Alsea School Superintendent Thielman. They all have decently funded campaigns, but depend on striking lightning in a bottle. Maybe one of them will.

Gomez so far has mostly played to her business background (she’s hardly alone in that), but does have an appealing back story. Barton got international attention with her video ad proclaiming her the “No Horse Sh!% Outsider”; the base may like the attitude). Pulliam has declared a “war on woke” that may help with the culture-war crowd, though the fallout of reports about his past swingers explorations remains unclear. (It did make him a popular subject of discussion, which could help.) Thielman has made a name with his school district battles over pandemic masking and war on teaching about climate change; he may match where much of the Republican Party is now (“he’s got a plan to turn socialism on its head”). So to an extent McQuisten, who on her website identifies with the controversial governors of South Dakota and Florida (if you like those governors, she suggests, that’s what you’d get in Oregon); she has also spotlighted a meetup with Eric Trump.

Then there’s Hess, running the other direction, invoking names like Mark Hatfield and Vic Atiyeh and saying, “extremist political rhetoric damages our ability to work together to find common ground and reasonable solutions to our state’s many challenges.” Will the Republican primary electorate buy this - or rather, might a large enough slice do so?

There is, simply, no obvious nominee. The question lies in which appeal - tried and true, strong connections, a lighting-rod message - brings in just enough to win the largest sliver of the Republican vote. Once we know that, we’ll know something about this year’s version of Oregon Republicans.

This column has appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.