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Posts published in “Oregon”

A choice of a do-over

There is on Blue Oregon a developing and lively counterpoint argument about House Bill 3540, which sends to the voters a proposed revision of the Measure 37 initiative passed in 2004. 3540 was passed in the Oregon House on Friday on a party-line 31-24 vote; it is next expected to easily passed in the Senate.

We weighed on this a few days ago ("An absolute decision"), arguing that there's no violation of voter will in this approach: If the voters like what they did in 2004 and don't want to change it, they can reject the new proposal. The new measure is different from Measure 37, substantially so, which led one pro-37 commenter to argue: "As long as we get it straight that 100% of Democrats are against the 61% of Oregon voters who passed it. I wonder if our newspapers will be making this clear during the campaign process? Or ever?"

That would have been a reasonable argument if the Oregon Legislature had directly passed a law (as they could have done) simply overturning Measure 37 and imposing a new regime instead. But that's not what they did. The majority, argument (with some reason) that many voters would like to change what they did, will give them the chance. The voters can make their own decision - again.

That all the negative votes came from the Republican caucus (and five Republican House members chose not to vote on the bill at all) may be the most interesting part of Friday's action.

Smith: The conservative case against

We've said before we expect, with the new Club for Growth activism in Oregon leading the way, that there will be a from-the-right challenge next year to Oregon Senator Gordon Smith.

We didn't say it would necessarily be successful.

The outlines of such a challenge - a case against Smith - were cleanly laid out in the Northwest Republican blog, in the form of a letter from Bill Sizemore, he of numerous (largely anti-tax and conservative-based) initiative campaigns. (Blogger Ted Piccolo posted the letter, but without comment.) Sizemore has been mentioned as a prospect to oppose Smith in the Republican primary. That may or may not happen, but his argument against Smith could easily constitute the core of the primary insurgency.

"Can a greater case be made against Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon? Hate crimes legislation; boondoggle mass transit funding; voting against drilling in ANWR; voting for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and calling our troops’ presence in Iraq “criminal”. That ought to be enough of an indictment. But there’s more." The more is Smith's support of a cigarette tax increase, opposition to some anti-immigrant efforts, and so on.

Read and check it out. It could be picked up by whoever runs against Smith (who we suspect won't be Sizemore.) But don't assume it will necessarily be enough to work.

The wages of

2007 Progress ReportAttention should be paid to the new report by the Progress Board about Oregon's economy. An editorial in the Oregonian today loads well at the lead: "Of all the questions raised by the Progress Board's report on the Oregon economy, here's the most important: Do you want fries with that?"

The editorial seized on what may be the most significant finding of the report, which is developed by a state agency (the Oregon Progress Board) and covers a lot of ground, much of which reflects positively or at least decently on where the state is going. Its overall description seems bland enough: "Oregon is holding its own with a growing economy, public safety and livable communities, but other areas give reason for concern, according to an analysis of 91 "Oregon Benchmarks," which measure the state's well-being. However, the report says some aspects of education, civic engagement, social support and the environment still need improvement in order to meet state goals."

It is, overall, well worth a look. (There's useful and especially interesting set of county benchmark maps available at the Progress Board site.) But the most useful, we suspect (as evidently the Oregonian has) have to do with the impact of the economy on individuals. Oregon progresses in a number of ways, but in many regard this isn't one of them.

And if Washington or Idaho had a progress board, those doubtless would find the same thing.

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.