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Posts published in “Oregon column”

Rural funding

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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.

Split

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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.

Vaccine in Oregon

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

Looking both ways

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Oregon

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.

“a bizarre and unprecedented situation”

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Reading

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.

The Kitzhaber press conference

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

A different SOS

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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.

How ambitious in 2015?

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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.

Klamath shifts

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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.