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Posts published in “Oregon”

The impact of place

Political races are decided in part by the nature of the candidate, in part by the nature of the campaign - but more, usually, by the nature of the place where the campaign is run. Ordinarily, and especially in recent years, places tend to vote R or D, red or blue, up and down the ballot, with ever fewer exceptions. Exceptions remain, but they are fewer now than they once were.

That's key to the recent analysis behind the political prospects of Oregon state Representative Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point.

Oregon House District 4

Richardson has unleashed several controversial comments of late, notably one which compared passage of the Oregon domestic partnership and gay anti-discrimination measures to the massacre at Virginia Tech. (He later said he "didn't intend" to make that linkage.) The discussion arose: How might Richardson be defeated in 2008?

The response from some southern Oregon observers was, won't be easy. The core of the reason being that Richardson's district is very conservative and very Republican. John Doty, who has run for the legislature in that region, noted, "The district he represents (Northwest Jackson county and a sliver of Josephine... with Central Point being the largest city (along with the towns of Rogue River and Gold Hill) is solidly red - so much so that getting an opponent to step forward at all is like pulling teeth for the county dems."

Always a point to consider.

Including or not

Maybe the fact that Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich spent more time in Oregon in 2004 than any other presidential candidate led to the inquiry at the Oregonian. Which was: Why no news coverage of Kucinich' introduction of articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney? (At least, until after a bunch of readers inquired.)

The answer is, basically, that national wire services and other news sources had little if anything to say about it: "No wire service purchased by The Oregonian filed a story on Kucinich filing the articles of impeachment. Not one wrote an article about it, or budgeted it." The editor's blog item is worth a scan about how these things work.

Smoke and fire

cigarettesThere was a moment, early in the debate yesterday on the children's insurance fund/cigarette tax legislation (House Bill 2201), of startling eloquence harkening back to a famous speech of old. It came when Representative Ron Maurer, R-Grants Pass, warned that "we should not place our children's health on the altar of a nicotine addiction." It echoed the brilliant 1896 speech of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan: "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

Bryan, of course, lost that election, and the Oregon Republicans who stood (and walked) with Maurer on the health/cigarette bill are likely to lose, in the larger picture, as well. Bryan's wilver issue eventually fell apart; the Oregon Republicans' stance on the bill could do them some damage as well.

The bill essentially does two things. It creates a program and fund aimed at greatly expanding health insurance coverage for now-uninsured children in the state; the bill has been haggled over for months and has been significantly amended through that time, but not enough to draw substantial Republican support. Its backing has been almost entirely Democratic (and it is a primary project of Democratic Governor Ted Kulongowski). Because it involves an increase on cigarette taxes (raising the level roughly to that in neighboring Washington), it needs a 60% favorable vote in the Oregon House. To get it, five Republican votes are needed, and that's more than it could get.

The House floor debate Thursday on the bill has been described as "the most wild day ever seen on the House floor," which (after reviewing the couple of hours of activity there on the bill) is exaggeration.

The unusual activity consisted mostly of a series of procedural challenges to House Speaker Jeff Merkley (who remained tangled up in them for some time; you could only imagine how the more experienced Washington Speaker Frank Chopp would have sliced through the knots with a swift axe). The other element was the walkout, at one point, of just about all of the House members, leaving the chamber, for a few minutes, without a quorum. They included former Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, who must have forgotten her words from June 2004, when Democrats failed to show up for a special session she had sought: “I can respect a worthy adversary if they choose to disagree with my position and vote against me. I cannot however, respect those who use their absence from the body to which they have been elected as a strategy to obstruct a vote which could result in the passage of something with which they disagree. It is a cynical rationalization, a dereliction of duty and an insult to the voters of this great state.”

But the fact that all this occurred at all is striking, since logically it should not have. These sort of activities, the guerilla warfare of legislating, is ordinarily a last resort when hopelessly losing, or else when a majority is almost violently beating down on the minority. Neither was true in this case. The issue at hand was on the floor for an ordinary vote, and the debate was proceeding in ordinary fashion; until the Republican technical questions (which did not relate to any ability to debate or vote properly) the floor status was normal. More striking was this: The Republicans essentially were guaranteed to win the vote, which in the end they did.

We can only suppose here that they did what they did because it was the winning that constituted the problem.

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An absolute decision

We have a hard time absorbing the logic against the current plan for Oregon House Bill 3540 - the bill that would amend the land use initiative Measure 37.

There is always an understandable argument against legislative amendment of an initiative: The people have spoken; how dare legislators overturn their will? We have some sympathy for that view, but only up to a point. Legally, laws are laws whether passed by the legislature or by initiative, and either can be amended - changed and hopefully improved - as the years go by. It happens all the time. And there's an especially good case for amendment of an initiative. Voters acting on ballot measures don't have the opportunity, as legislators do, to fine tune the language and add language clarifying intent. More cleanup work is apt to be needed where gray areas exist, and Measure 37 is absolutely packed with gray areas.

The measure, as used so far, has resulted in thousands of claims by land owners to develop massive residential areas, shopping centers and even casinos on farm and timber land. Many of the proposals may never be pursued, and many others may prove impractical, but at the moment a lot of Oregonians may have their breath taken away by what they've unleashed.

Did the voters, who passed Measure 37 in 2004 by a big margin, intend all this, or were they simply expressing frustration at a land use governing system that had become too rigid, absolute and sometimes remote from human and societal needs and concerns? The voters never got a chance to say, then. Polling since has suggested that a majority now would repeal 37 but, of course, polls aren't elections.

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Considering Gordon

Those in the waiting period between the Defazio and Novick announcements and whatever comes next, might check out the thoughtful long take in today's Eugene Register Guard on Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith - his political stances and his political prospects. Much time has been devoted to the issue of who will run against Smith; probably less has been to Smith himself. This piece is a good overview, with useful ideas and commentary strewn throughout.

Said not because (disclosure here) your scribe was among the people quoted therein.

Opinion bloggers, and paid for it

The Northwest's newsrooms, taken wholly, are fitfully represented in the blogosphere, but the editorial pages do seem to be moving a bit ahead.

The latest to run this route is Spokane Spokesman Review, which this month started the Matter of Opinion blog fed by members of the editorial page staff (which can include the paper's editor and publisher). Two of them additionally have blogs of their own (D.F. Oliveria's Huckleberries Online being a very regular stop for us).

Neither the Seattle Times nor Post Intelligencer, both of which run a number of blogs (including a good political blog by each), seems to have an editorial page blog, although the Tacoma News Tribune has one. And there's an editor's blog at the Yakima Herald-Republic.

The Portland Oregonian has had one too for some time now. The Salem Statesman Journal has an editor's blog, as does the Medford Mail Tribune, but the Eugene Register Guard doesn't.

We found interesting that the first blog (that we know of) emanating from the Boise Idaho Statesman was by the paper's editorial page editor, Kevin Richert. (It too is a frequent stop.) Not many others so far in Idaho, though. Opinion pieces often do show up on the Idaho State Journal politics blog. There are some preliminary blogging efforts at the revamped Lewiston Tribune web site. The only public blog at the Idaho Falls Post Register has to do with its new press.

Our guess is that a couple of years from now, there will be more.

Oregon’s 150

Oregon 150This has been going on for some time, but we'd not seen the web site before today: Oregon 150, the planning group for the 150's anniversary (the sesquicentennial) of statehood. The group is already highly active; its board next meets on May 9 in Portland.

That anniversary is not for a couple of years yet, in 2009. But these large year-long activities take a while to plan, as the centennial planners in Idaho (1990) or Washington (1989) could tell you. And this one looks as if it has a broad range of activities in store.

It's in early stages, as yet. (A blog, for example, is promised but not yet developed.) But the early postings are promising.

After DeFazio . . .

Peter DeFazio
Peter DeFazio

We can't say we were surprised with word this morning that Representative Peter DeFazio shut the door - for the last time, apparently - on calls for him to run next year against Republican Senator Gordon Smith.

The Oregonian did quote him as saying, "This was not an easy decision. You don't get a poll that shows you're ahead of an incumbent senator and generous offers of support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and just blow it off. It was a long and serious deliberation on my part."

So - next?

Democratic activist Steve Novick, the wonkish and sharp-tongued and witty ("hard left hook" is a neat line) political activist from Portland, has already announced; but as a first-time candidate (albeit plenty of experience in political circles) a number of Democrats are still looking for their nominee.

Earl Blumenauer
Earl Blumenauer

Attention turns next to Representative Earl Blumenauer, who represents the central Portland district and may be the most liberal member of the Oregon delegation. Blumenauer has made some moves in recent years toward statewide visibility (buying TV time in places like Bend, for example), and he's a solid and experienced campaigner - his years in electoral politics probably extend deeper than anyone now active as a candidate on the state or federal level. He would be a strong contender, and unlike DeFazio, he does not seem to have turned down the idea of a Senate (though he has apparently deferred to a DeFazio candidacy should it happen).

So, on the Senate front, watch Blumenauer closely in the next couple of weeks. He seems to be next at bat, and his self-imposed bar to deciding on the race is now removed.

Cutting the knot

Steens MountainThe hearing room, for public testimony on what's being called "the Framework" on Measure 37 renovation, was packed with people, so many that not even all those who came to testify were able to get a seat there. So a second room was open, complete with big-screen video and pretty good sound, and it filled. And so did a third. Your scribe watched the proceedings from a mostly-full fourth room.

Measure 37 excites a lot of interest.

Most of the people who testified, and even most of those who simply showed up, were easily distinguishable, because most of them wore one of two types of adhesive shirt tags. One said, in red lettering, "I [heart] M37." The other, in various bright colors, said, "Fix 37."

This suggests a part of the problem the committee co-chairs, Senator Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Representative Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, face. The issue lies between legislative inaction on M37, on one hand, and a range of possible actions - with various and scattered support - on the other. The one side is a lot more focused than the other.

It's a solvable problem, but some core issues may have to be addressed if the legislature is to avoid its sad record of 2005, when it punted the issue altogether.

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