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The bitterness was already there on the side of the anti-government Oath Keepers group, but it started to grow last week as well on the part of . . . the anti-Oath Keepers.
The scene was Grants Pass and Medford, at the Sugar Pine Mine near Merlin, where the Bureau of Land Management has been held at bay from enforcing its normal rules (requiring the filing of a plan of operations) by armed people associated with the Oath Keepers. On Thursday, the Medford BLM office closed out of concern about confrontations with employees.

The Medford Mail Tribune on April 24 reported that “Grants Pass sporting-goods salesman Dave Strahan was one of several protesters who said the sudden appearance of dozens of armed outsiders was fostering a reputation many community members have worked hard to avoid.”

Hard work indeed. Josephine County has been one of the counties in southwest Oregon hit by the loss of federal timber funds, and responded by refusing to increase local taxes to compensate – even though that has meant extreme cuts in law enforcement (layoffs of most of the sheriff’s department, for example) among other things.

Strahan remarked that “Over the last few years, I’ve gotten more and more questions from my customers about the safety of coming to Josephine County to recreate.”
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Hardly any law enforcement . . . groups of angry and heavily armed ex-military wandering around . . . what could go wrong here?

Business in Josephine County may have to do some more belt-tightening of its own.

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Oregon

Road trips, and the amount of time they take, may mark the single area of great difference between the Oregon east of the Cascades and the Oregon to the west.

West of the Cascades, there’s little interest in raising speed limits, and for good reason. Traffic is heavier, especially in the metro areas but to a sometimes surprising degree away from them as well. Roads have lots of points of entry and exit. Many roads are fairly narrow and twisty. Even Highway 101, the great coastal highway located well away from the metro areas, is often packed with traffic, and even where it’s not it is hilly, winds around – little of it seems to run in a straight line – and has lots of roads branching out, since it is only major route through the region. Driving times often are determined less by the number of miles involved, than by the number of vehicles and turns.

Eastern Oregon is like a whole different road system. Some of it runs through mountains, true, but even most of those roads are far less twisty than across the Cascades. Traffic is relatively light (even, in relative terms, on I-84 east of The Dalles). Most highways are remarkably straight, and most are wide, well built-out roads, and many of them have limited access.
Driving east of the Cascades is not like driving to the west.

A couple of pieces of legislation, offered by lawmakers from eastern Oregon (Ontario and Cove), show some awareness of that. The states all around Oregon have higher speed limits on their freeways, and on many rural highways as well. While you can make a solid case for lower limits in the Willamette Valley and environs, it’s a different story in the long runs between, say, John Day and Lakeview, or Arlington and Pendleton. There, the greater danger in keeping things slow would seem to be road weariness from drives extending too many hours.

The Oregon legislature has a pretty good track record of taking road trips in bringing issues to far reaches of the state. Before dismissing these two new bills, as so many others have been over the years, western lawmakers might do well to roll a few miles on those long-long stretches.

And reconsider.

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A somewhat more receptive House last week went along with (and this was partly because it was lumped in with other must-pass measures) a rural school funding measure backed by the Oregon House delegation. Ultimate passage is now a matter for the Senate, but initial appearances were that the biggest hurdle had been cleared with the House action.
The House work was led by Republican Greg Walden of the 2nd district, working the Republican leadership side, and Democrat Peter DeFazio, working with his caucus. Walden is well-positioned within the leadership structure, and DeFazio has lots of seniority, but the House has been a high nut to crack over the last number of years, and passage of something to replace federal timber money, which Congress increasingly has been disinclined to renew, has become harder and harder. It will not get easier any time soon.
The stakes are high for the many Oregon counties, especially those in the southwest (Curry, Coos, Douglas, Josephine and others) especially accustomed to getting the money in hand. Walden’s release on the payments includes a number of examples of the impacts, such as: “According to the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office, they would be forced to eliminate their remaining patrol deputies and 911 dispatchers by July without this funding. The Department faces worse patrol shortages than nearly two years ago when a 911 dispatcher asked a woman if she could just ask a man assaulting her to go away because there were no deputies to send on weekends.”
Up to now, the Oregon delegation has been playing a frantic game of catchup, trying to help these rural areas by keeping the traditional run of money coming.
But the time seems to be arriving when some new approach is needed. The contours of this revenue box are going to have to be re-examined, because the counties’ future will be tenuous indeed if they’re having to rely on annual strokes of good fortune such as this year’s seems to be.

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Two years in a row this has happened: Oregon Republicans meeting informally, in two places, in recognition of two distinct views of what their party is about.

One of these is a long-standing Oregon tradition: The Dorchester Conference, founded in part by former Senator Robert Packwood, held each year (for many years) at Seaside. It is an informal event in that it isn’t a state Republican Party event; it is rather a gathering of Republicans who come together to talk about the future of their party, and the state. It dates back decades, and regularly has featured the state’s top Republican candidates and office holders. It typically attracts around 500 people, sometimes a little more.

The other event, held deliberately at the same time, is in only its second year: A “Freedom Rally” held in the Portland metro area (this year in Portland). It seems to be attracting more people – an estimated 1,500 this year – but its message is more narrow on the political band: Social conservatism on order, what’s often shorthanded as God, guns and gays. They are a specific reaction to Dorchester, where the attending majority has been moving in more socially moderate directions; abortion rights and same-sex marriage have found support there. And the group was more than just issue activists. The state’s one Republican in higher office, Representative Greg Walden, spoke there, and about 10 Republican legislators showed up as well.

(Since the two events were just about an hour and a half apart by road, some people likely tried to hit both of them.)

Read the news reports on the two events and you’ll get two very different perspectives on what the Republican Party is about, and why this party in Oregon’s minority is having such a difficult time. A number of speakers at Dorchester underlined it: As long as the Republicans in Oregon are more deeply split than the Democrats are (and they are), they’re going to have a hard time winning much.
And if you hear the same thing at the two events in 2016, they’ll likely prove prescient.

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The bill to eliminate some vaccination exemptions failed this week. Here’s a video on the subject.

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A governor (or president, or other elected executive) who comes in by way of election can readily either embrace or dismiss the immediate past, depending on circumstances. A newcomer to the post who gets there not by voter approval but by succession – properly, legally and according to process as it may be – has a more subtle task. Some parts of that voter-approved past have to be acknowledged and portions should be stuck with. Other parts, bearing in mind the circumstances leading to the transition, need to be jettisoned.

Taking over as governor of Oregon last week from the scandal-plagued John Kitzhaber, new governor Kate Brown appeared to recognize that dual reality. Her sensitivity to it should be no surprise, given her nearly quarter-century of immersion in Oregon politics. But it’s a fair case study of how to thread the needle.

The ethical cloud of the old administration had to be acknowledged and responded to, and she did. The phrasing may have been a little awkward, but in her inaugural speech she pledged not to do what her predecessor did, and spoke strongly about the need to improve public transparency and ethics law – and somewhat sternly said that the legislature should not think about leaving town until those things ere done.

On the other hand, there was Kitzhaber policy, which was not part of the reason for the resignation. There, she has so far stuck generally to Kitzhaber’s path, maybe most clearly by continuing his moratorium on executions in the state. But she drew a distinction there, a fork in the road: She would allow no more executions until the state had undertaken a full and strong discussion of what to do about the death penalty. That last was a move Kitzhaber had briefly referenced but never pushed, and she gave some hint (albeit not much more than that) that her moratorium was conditional on a good faith effort to seriously grapple with the subject.

Moving ahead in a similar direction, with occasional forks in the road that provide distinction, may be a useful route for the new administration.

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A statement released this morning from Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown. The third paragraph is the most notable.

Late Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from the Governor while I was in Washington, DC at a Secretaries of State conference. He asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone.

I got on a plane yesterday morning and arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon. I was escorted directly into a meeting with the Governor. It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, DC, which I found strange. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition.

This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.

I informed the Governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign. Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon.

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The much-referenced press conference by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber last week, as he discussed various issues concerning Cylvia Hayes and his office.

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Oregon

State of the State addresses, in almost any state, usually follow a standard pattern. They start by recounting some of the challenges and advances faced by the jurisdiction, move on through one topic area after another, often somewhere around a half dozen, offering suggestions here and there, and wrapping up with a story or a few lines meant to be uplifting.

The SOS speeches in Washington and Idaho followed the usual pattern.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s combination inaugural-state of the state (much of which appears later in this edition), did not. Except for the last uplifting piece, it threw out the template entirely.
Instead, he focused on one bigger-picture topic: How community is undermined by inequality. There were no budget figures. There were no legislative proposals.

At least not specifically. The autobiographical elements in it seemed there to form a frame more than anything else; this wasn’t a meander through memories. (He only addressed two discrete aspects of his life, and with a glancing nod to some of the more recent headlines from last year.) His point was larger than Oregon but he kept coming back to, referring to, Oregon as he talked. As unconventional as it was, Kitzhaber clearly meant this as a state of the state speech, but one to be used in an unusual way.

The governor has legislative proposals, and a budget, coming, but in truth he didn’t need a speech to introduce those; most probably are already either in public conversation or can be reasonably guessed at. The point of this speech seemed to be its prospective use as a lodestar, as a direction he thought the legislature should take, a rough test against which legislation ought to be considered (not least, presumably, when it hits his desk).

It was meant to chart a direction, which is what state of states are intended to do.

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There’s a call among Democrats – some Democrats at least – to go bold in the 2015 legislative session. Part of the argument comes to this: Democrats in Oregon advanced even under the worst national conditions (or, in the case of Governor John Kitzhaber the worst thinkable PR conditions), which suggests they should be solid for 2016.

Or, as Kari Chisholm suggested on Blue Oregon, “In 2016, we can expect Democrats to expand those majorities even further. After all, it will be a presidential year, and Oregon Democrats almost always gain legislative seats in presidential years.”

Further expansion in 2016 is a debatable proposition: There don’t seem to be a lot of legislative seats left that are held by Republicans where Democrats ought to have an edge. Still, Democrats have little reason for great worry, as matters sit, looking ahead to 2016 in the legislative arena.

So what might be done in the coming session? Chisholm, and some commenters, have a string of ideas, from increasing the minimum wage (now second highest in the nation), doing something on gun safety (maybe with an eye to developments in Washington state), moving ahead on GMO labeling (there’d be a big legislative fight), add more funding for schools and infrastructure, dealing with immigration, work on insurance and health care (adding more provisions intended to protect consumers), and reform tax policy (a phrase that could face in any number of different directions).

Being activist isn’t necessarily the same as using political capital. Some of these subjects won’t necessarily yield much controversy, or put Democrats serious on the spot. One of their tasks between here and the session’s start in another month, inevitably, will involving sorting the one groups of initiatives from the other.

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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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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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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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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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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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