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Posts published in “Oregon column”

Only a short session

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

It was only a short session, and if not a lot got done outside the budget basics, you can more or less understand that. The idea of these shorter even-year sessions – of which this was the second – wasn't to address the whole smorgasbord, but rather just do some touch-up and adjustment on items that needed to be handled right away, or on an emergency basis.

Fine Having reached that understanding, legislators would do well to remember it in 2015 … as they didn't remember it in 2013, when a string of items including a number that some legislators just didn't really want to deal with (from pot to guns to the Columbia River bridge) were pushed to the side, occasionally with the remark that they could hold another year.

The idea of a 2014 ballot issue on liquor privatization or pot legalization, both of which probably could have been handled better within a legislative context than through the writing of ballot issues, were among the items legislators didn't really want to deal with in 2013. Part of the argument? It doesn't have to be handled now, because the ballot issue wouldn't come up until more than a year away anyhow.

After this session, that kind of argument never should be heard again at Salem in the odd-numbered years.

Coming out of the strike

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

So what emerged out of the Medford teacher strike, the labor uproar that dominated news in southern Oregon virtually all of the first part of this year?

Medford Superintendent Phil Long said the settlement means “moving forward, putting our schools back together and repairing relationships with people.”

You might think they could have gotten that far without a strike.

In fairness, the details of the terms weren't supposed to be released publicly until the teachers had a chance to see them and vote. That is the way these things usually go.

But you might think too a little more transparency would help.

It might have in Portland too, where teachers and administration came very close to what would have been the district's first strike ever. (For some reason, the leadup to strike got a lot more media and local attention in Medford than in Portland.)

Portland is a fairly union-friendly city, but many people there may have felt a little confused: What was the dispute really about, at base? What was each side asking for, what did it insist on? The district's patrons and taxpayers might have been better able to decide who to root for if they had known.

There wasn't much such information last week. Spokesmen for negotiators seemed to characterize the outcome as a compromise, which might at least make the patrons feel better. But, a compromise between what?

The main indicator at Medford seemed to be that the issue related to “the financials” - but exactly what that translated to was less than clear.

Strikes, and near-strikes, often leave hard feelings behind. Best way to resolve that, to move forward and maybe avoid conflict to this level next time around, might be opening the process to a little more public airing.

What the storms may do

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The latter half of last week was dominated by weather, some serious weather. Snow dumped hard on western Oregon, and across much of the Cascades and parts of eastern Oregon too.

The storms weren't fierce (the snow wasn't accompanied by much wind), but the sheer volume of snow was greater than the region had seen in five years. It was enough to shut down the Legislature, along with all sorts of other organizations – schools, universities, some businesses and a lot of what didn't really have to be open.

As Oregon moves past that unexpected mass of weather this week, what will be most notable to watch will be … statistics.

Thing is, Oregon (and most of the west) has badly needed a lot more precipitation this winter than it has been getting. Look at this week's snowpack chart (in the environment section), and you'll find that while most all the basins around the state last year at this point were running about normal in terms of available water, this year they tend to be running about half as much – low enough that if the trends up to the last week or so maintains, Oregon could hit some serious drought this summer.

That conclusion isn't foregone, though. There are meteorologists who think Oregon could have a wet spring, and that surely would help avert a bad case of the dries. So would some good snowfall now.
So watch the numbers on the chart this week, and then again next week. They could be something of a forecast of the months ahead.

An initiative session?

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The core thought about this year's regular legislative session – the month-long “short” session – is that aspirations for it should be kept modest.

The idea behind it, originally, was that it would allow legislators time to make course corrections in between the odd-numbered longer sessions. Budget and revenue adjustments would be part of that. If other external emergencies or new conditions arise, those might be considered too. But in general: Let's not try to do anything too sweeping.

A segment of legislation more or less falls in between, though: Dealing with matters that might land on the November 2014 ballot, whether by legislative intent or by outside activism. And those subjects may provide some of the most interesting action in the session.

If, for example, the state is going to take a crack at carefully and professionally crafting statutes to cover a legalized marijuana regime, this would be the time to do it. The subject surely will be coming up in November, one way or another. The drafting is likely to be better coming out of the legislature than out of an activist group, a number of legislators realize that, so the subject of pot legalization may get legislative action of a sort it has not yet gotten in any other state, even Washington and Oregon. In a short session.

We may see action related guns, gay marriage, liquor privatization and other topics, with similar thoughts in mind: They're going to be out there for voter consideration, there's a good chance a number of these proposals will actually pass, and the legislature might be better off dealing with the structure and details up front, rather than chasing glitches after the election.

Not all legislators are going to be anxious to do this, and on some (guns, maybe gay marriage) there may not be as much point in getting ahead of whatever the voters do.

But the initiative process seems fairly likely to provide some of the more memorable scenes from this session not many people seem to have high expectations for.

Impressions of the field: GOP, Corvallis

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Republican candidates speak out at a forum sponsored by Oregon State Republicans, at Corvallis. (photo/Randy Stapilus)

 

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Most of this year's Republican candidates for governor and senator turned up at the Corvallis - Oregon State University Republicans - forum this evening, enough of them to bring some contours to those nomination contests.

It was notable event, and clearly Republican - ticket for a gun raffle were on offer.

The major missing candidate was Monica Wehby of Portland, one of the Senate candidates and notably interesting for her fast raising of $500,000 for her campaign.

But four other Senate candidates, Representative Jason Conger of Bend, IT consultant Mark Callahan, former Linn County Republican Chair Jo Rae Perkins and Portland attorney Tim Crawley, were there. And three Republican candidates for governor: Representative Dennis Richardson, rancher Jon Justeson and real estate broker Bruce Cuff from Salem.

Overall impression: The two legislators, Conger and Richardson, overall seemed most likely to emerge with the nomination. Their talk, from opening and closing statements through a range of questions, seemed most general-campaign-ready, with a greater consideration of the counter arguments that would be thrown back at them on subjects from Obamacare to same-sex marriage.

Their approaches were arresting. Some of Richardson's takes were quite centrist, almost moderate, or at times answering from the side. On education, he described Oregon K-12 as "the laughingstock of the nation," but didn't specify what he would do differently. On same-sex marriage, he took the striking (in the context) stance that Oregon probably would pass a same-sex marriage measure this year, and if he's elected governor he'll have to implement it - and left it at that.

Conger was the most polished of the candidates, a skilled speaker, but with a few exceptions - such as a flat call for repeal of Obamacare (which most of the other candidates also urged) - his answers were mostly vague. (On the minimum wage, he cautioned that wading in on that was playing "on the Democrats' turf.") He'll need to sharpen them as the campaign goes on.

That may be especially true if Callahan, who also was a strong presence and clear speaker, takes hold in the Republican primary base. He might; more than any of the other candidates, he served up red meat, and did it effectively. "Our government is basically telling us they need to take care of us," he said. "Common Core is socialist and it needs to be eliminated," he said at another. On same-sex marriage, he made clear that he was opposed to the amendment, that "marriage is a religious institution."

There were other statements of interest. On education and government action connected with it, Crawley said "We're trying to create a Nazi Germany were everyone is uniform and all walking in line. We need to stop that."

Maybe most startling, while the minimum wage drew mostly negative reactions, Justeson broke from the group to say that not only should the minimum wage be raised, but possibly it ought to be doubled. (The audience seemed taken aback.)

The candidates got a positive reaction overall from the audience of about 100. We'll see how the field looks a few months out.

Playing politics, flipping sides

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Last week's discussion among legislators about bringing back legislation moving toward background checks for gun buyers seemed a little oddly-positioned. It was legislation that failed – decisively, not reach floor votes – last year; nothing much has happened since to change many attitudes toward it; and this short session is intended mainly for tightly-focused items that need resolution right away. Background checks might seem more logically revisited after the net election, which could rejigger the political calculus.

Republicans quickly jumped to the argument that the revival of this legislation in the election year session might be specifically politically oriented – even down to specific seats.

Of all seats Oregon Senate Democrats see as top targets, two jump out: the Hillsboro-area seat held by Republican Bruce Starr, and the Corvallis/Albany seat held by Republican Betsy Close. In both cases, Democrats have a registration advantage, and probably have already an advantage for taking over one of those seats (Close's; no Democrat has filed for the Hillsoboro seat, yet). The thinking is that putting Starr and Close on the spot on the backgrounding bill will give Democrats an advantageous issue heading toward November.

If so (we won't prejudge the motivations here), there's a significant side-comment here. The presumption has been that outside of central urban areas, gun legislation was mostly a political winner on the anti-legislation side. These two districts at stake are not central urban districts. Hillsboro is the substantial community in the Portland metro area farthest from Portland and until now most receptive to Republicans and conservatives. The Albany/Corvallis district has two midsized cities but is located out in the farm country.

Does the politics of this suggest that the politics of guns is changing a bit?

Passage on the CRC?

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The hot political ticket this week may be Tuesday's legislative hearing on the Columbia River Crossing bridge proposal – not that it is likely to put the issue to rest.

At this point, it seems, hardly anything is likely to.
The CRC, just as a reminder, is the label for a new and improved bridge on Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver, to upgrade from the often traffic-stressed road it is now. The key here is that two states necessarily are involved, Oregon and Washington.

The overall CRC story goes back a long way, but the trajectory for this part of it comes from last winter when, after Oregon's legislature and other public officials flipped the green light for committing to their part of the deal, Washington's legislators couldn't (in large part because part of the Clark County delegation was opposed) gather enough to pass their counter-measure in Olympia. Without both states signing on, federal funding seemed unlikely, and there the matter seemed to stand – stuck for the foreseeable future.

A number of Oregon officials, however, and these included Governor John Kitzhaber, refused to let it go. New, less-costly plans were developed, alternative approaches were worked out to make sure Washington (or its drivers) eventually coughed up enough of the cost, and a new funding formula was worked out. But would it work? And would Oregon be too much on the hook if it didn't?

There are not yet any totally clear answers to those questions, and the waters have gotten muddier. Murmurs from Olympia have grown a bit louder with the coming of legislators there, but some of those voices are of the “try again” variety while others ensure the approval will go no further this year.

Reports on the Oregon side have gotten murkier too. A new study out on January 10 says that the main effect of tolling on the I-5 bridge would be push drivers over to I-205, to the east Portland and east Vancouver bridge, to the point that bridge's capacities would be severely stretched. Political people in Clackamas County, through which I-205 runs on the Oregon side, are concerned about the prospects. (more…)

Benefits

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The idea of a benefits company seems at first like little more than a feel-good deal, except that if emphasis really is eventually put in its terms, and if strong incentives start to develop for their designation, something important could emerge.

The state report on them describes the concept this way: “Benefit Companies enjoy legal protection to create value for society, not just shareholders, while meeting higher standards of accountability and transparency.”

Imagine for a moment that a large portion of the businesses, let's say a lot of the major ones, started to operate under those kind of terms? Suppose they were given strong incentive to pay attention to and operate within the interests of the communities where they do business? Suppose that they way they treat employees, other businesses, customers and the general citizenry has to factor in the interests of those parties – not just the owners of the central business?

Given the way so many national and multinational companies operate today, that sounds like something from a discarded verse of John Lennon's “Imagine.” But it doesn't have to be fantasy. Corporations, in this state and country and in the rest of the world, operate according to rules set up at governmental levels. Suppose strong incentives were brought to bear to require they behave in these ways? How different would our society be?

The new Oregon law on benefits companies is only a micro step in that direction. But it does dare to ask the question.

Settlement in Klamath

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The announcement of a major water basin deal-in-principle out of Klamath Falls (see the environment section), which drew the presence of the governor and both senators, was positive enough (they would not have shown, surely, if it had not been).
But don't mistake that for finality.
For one thing, the water situation at the Klamath, as elsewhere, is ever-changing, so that a deal that works now may not work only a few years down the line. There's not much getting away from that.
And that's apart from the fact that although a deal was structure, not everyone is thrilled with it.
The deal means that many agricultural water users will have to make do with a lot less. Tens of millions of dollars may bleed out of the area's farm economy in the near term as a result. (Some of the alternatives, to be sure, would have bled a lot more.)
The website Counterpunch offered a contrary view even to that: “As the legal trustee for federal tribes, the federal government is supposed to protect and advance the tribes’ interests. However, examination of dozens of western water deals shows that the Feds have not acted in good faith as the tribes’ trustee. Instead the feds have encouraged tribes to accept government funding in exchange for giving up – or agreeing not to exercise – tribal water rights.
“Those water rights are the only hope for really restoring our rivers and – in the case of western salmon rivers – our salmon runs; that hope is evaporating as more tribes settle for government funding rather than sticking to the right to restoration flows. The idea that government funded restoration projects can substitute for restoration flows is a chimera; tribes, environmental and fishing groups that have bought into that myth are sadly misguided.”
The deal is, apart from all of that, just a deal-in-principle. The parties involved may have quite a challenge ahead keeping even that much from flying apart.