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Posts published in “Oregon”

Portrait of Kitzhaber’s legacy

jorgensen

The official portrait of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber continues to hang in the hall of the state capitol in Salem. It’s still there, alongside those of his predecessors like Ted Kulongoski and Vic Atiyeh, and right next to the office he occupied for longer than most of the people who have ever held it.

Kitzhaber’s portrait was particularly popular among tourists to the building in February 2015, in the days surrounding his resignation amid federal investigations and allegations of corruption and influence-peddling. Groups of people and individuals would pose for pictures with his portrait, taking selfies in the anticipation that the scandals and controversy would ultimately result in it being taken down.

Not much has been said publicly about the man in recent months, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation tends to be tight-lipped about its work. Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, occasionally break their silence with recorded video statements, social media posts and interviews in which they disclose very little while loudly proclaiming their innocence. Hayes even took a job with a startup magazine in Bend, an unusual career choice for someone with literally no background in journalism and who has blamed the news media and its members for her very public downfall.

The latest reminder that the trials and tribulations of John and Cylvia are nowhere near over hit this week like a one-two punch. First came the call from Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform for a criminal investigation into the disastrous $305 million Cover Oregon debacle, in which federal dollars were spent developing a website that never functioned or signed a single person in the state up for health insurance coverage.

Cover Oregon was supposed to be one of Kitzhaber’s crowning achievements and accomplishments, as he and others in the state’s political leadership were eager to have the state be the first in the nation to fully implement the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Instead, Oregon taxpayers get the privilege of paying for attorney fees years later as the state and software giant Oracle fight it out in multiple court cases and venues and point the finger at each other in an attempt to assign blame for the fantastic failure that followed.

The fact that the state didn’t have to build a website from scratch is often lost upon many during discussions on this issue. I had actually reported in December 2012 in an Estacada News article that former State Representative Patrick Sheehan grilled Cover Oregon officials about that decision during a committee meeting. Patrick, who has a background in website development, had received live product demonstrations from a company that could have licensed existing software to the state for $6 million and customized it for another $6 million. His concerns about the state wasting money were met with seeming derision by officials who were later fired or resigned in disgrace. They flippantly told Sheehan that they weren’t worried about wasting money, because if the state ran out, it could simply ask the federal government for more.

All of the constant calls for somebody, somewhere, to investigate what happened during Kitzhaber’s tenure as the state’s chief executive officer have grown into a chorus. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has, not surprisingly, never seemed to be very eager to investigate the man who appointed her to her position. But those of us who have been screaming for it all this time have become quite hoarse, in the hopes of eventually being heard.

At the end of that same news cycle came a story from The Oregonian newspaper that Hayes has been ordered by a judge to pay $128,000 in attorney fees to that publication after her failed attempts to keep her e-mails from being disclosed. That dollar figure is nearly the same amount that her consulting business supposedly made in a single year not all that long ago during her stint as First Lady. It’s also a full six figures higher than the amount she apparently disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service for that same year. As a former longtime reporter, I’m sure that it’s substantially more than she’s bringing home through her current occupation.

As these events unfolded, members of the Legislature convened at the capitol for a week of interim committee meetings. They include the Department of Energy Oversight Committee, which was formed in the hopes of figuring out what happened with that agency’s Business Energy Tax Credit boondoggle during Kitzhaber’s administration. Several state agencies have faced turnover at the director level in recent months and colossal budgetary shortfalls loom on the horizon for the Oregon Health Authority, Department of Human Services, Oregon Department of Transportation and the Public Employees Retirement System.

That’s a stark contrast to the legacy that I’m sure Kitzhaber was hoping to leave behind. In the meantime, though, his official portrait remains in its current location, much in the same way that former governor Neil Goldschmidt’s did until its removal.

I suppose the possibility exists that Kitzhaber’s may still someday be taken down. And maybe it will be placed alongside Goldschmidt’s so the two of them can hang together. Such a scenario might be the most fitting end for it once this whole situation has finally been resolved.

Tuesday numbers

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From the point of view of Oregon and Idaho, the numbers Tuesday told a mostly consistent message: Some backing off on the right, in the case of some of the further-out candidates, and on the other side of the primary a bit of movement left.

Though that's not an absolute and some qualification is needed.

The whole left-right thing (mostly on the left) was a little more subtle in Oregon, though there was a good example of it at the top of the ballot and some other good case studies further down.

Bernie Sanders was the substantial winner in Oregon, keeping his streak of election-day wins alive (while thinly losing Kentucky). It was an across-the-board win, too; he seems to have won all but two (Deschutes and Gilliam) of the state's 36 counties.

A little further down, the hottest primary contest in Oregon may have been the Democrats for secretary of state, won by Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. Realistically, there's no big philosophical divide between him and his opponents (Val Hoyle and Richard Devlin), all being relatively liberal Democrats. But Avakian seized onto a string of liberal causes, some only barely related to the SecState job, in building his case. Some Bernie-Brad linkage may have been at work.

Locally, there was the Hood River vote over whether to allow Nestle to bottle water at Cascade Locks. It was a hot issue in the area but it turns out lopsided: By two to one, voters sought to deny Nestle the water.

More locally for us, in Yamhill County a rare defeat of an incumbent county commission, Allan Springer, who has been one of three extremely conservative commissioners. His replacement, McMinnville Mayor Rick Olson, is expected to be considerably more moderate.

Over in Idaho, where the Democratic philosophical divides tend to be less clear than the Republican, the backing off from the edges of the right seemed fairly evident.

A bunch of legislative races featured contests between relatively establishment (but, it should be noted, almost all quite conservative) candidates, and farther-right insurgents. In nearly all of these cases, the latter lost. Challenged incumbents like Shawn Keough, Luke Malek, Patti Anne Lodge, Patrick McDonald (opposed by the well-known Rod Beck), Stephen Hartgen, Maxine Bell and Kelley Packer all pulled through. But that doesn't mean this was a solid election for incumbents. A bunch of incumbents associated with the insurgent hard right went down: Kathleen Sims, Sheryl Nuxoll, Shannon McMillan and Pete Nielsen.

More on this in the weekend column.

But one other Idaho note should be made. In the four-way Supreme Court two of the candidates - Clive Strong and Sergio Gutierrez - got the lion's share of the newspaper endorsements and community leader support. That was the right assessment: Those two were clearly, even obviously, the most qualified for the high court. They were also, the voters decided, the two who came in third and fourth, and will not advance to the runoff in November. Are partisan primary elections the right time to make this kind of choice? This election was a good argument against.

Open public records?

From a statement by the audits division of the Oregon Secretary of State's office, about a look into just how open the state's public records are.

While Oregon agencies follow the public records law for most public records requests, more needs to be done to address the complex, non-routine requests that agencies receive, according to an audit released today by the Secretary of State’s office.

Auditors examined nine state agencies of varying sizes and missions to determine how agencies are both responding to public records requests and retaining their public records. Their findings are outlined in the audit report released today, entitled: “State Agencies Respond Well to Routine Public Records Requests, but Struggle with Complex Requests and Emerging Technologies.”

The audit found that most public records requests agencies receive are simple and can be fulfilled within just a couple weeks, often at little or no cost. But agencies struggle to respond to the occasional complex request, leading at times to delays, high fees, and the perception that agencies are using these tactics to block the release of public information.

The audit recommends that policymakers consider creating a neutral third party, such as an ombudsman position, to serve as an intermediary between the public and state agencies on complex records requests. Third-party mediation services between agencies and requesters have been employed successfully in other states to help protect confidential information and ensure public access to state information.

“The public and the press have a right to see how their government operates to serve Oregonians,” said Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins. “This audit demonstrates that state agencies need to improve consistency and develop strategies to better respond to public records requests of all sizes. We must improve the public’s trust in Oregon government.”

Agencies are also struggling to keep up with the latest communication technologies, such as social media, text and instant messages, and the use of personal devices or personal email accounts. Very few agencies examined have policies in place to specifically dictate how these technologies should be used in the context of public records, and how to retain the data.

Some of these issues stem back to how agencies retain their public records. The audit found that agencies are keeping too many records past the required retention schedule, resulting in a significant volume of public records that are difficult for agencies to efficiently manage.

“Public employees want to be good stewards of state information,” said Secretary Atkins. “Given the rapidly changing ways we use technology to conduct state business, it is clear we have work to do to maintain transparency and accountability to Oregonians.”

The audit also found variation among agencies in the fees charged for public records requests and the timeline in responding to them. The audit has recommended that the Department of Administrative Services take the lead in establishing guidance regarding fees and rates for the cost of public records requests. Auditors further recommended agencies establish timeliness goals for responding to records requests, and hold themselves accountable to those goals.

Audit findings further touched on a number of related issues, including exemptions in the law and how agencies can benefit from technology to be more transparent and accountable.

The audit released today was in response to Senate Bill 9 from the 2015 Session, legislation requested by Governor Kate Brown. Read the full audit on the Secretary of State website or an executive summary on the Audits Division blog.

Oregon and the EITC

From a report from the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

Oregon is in last place nationally when it comes to the share of families qualifying for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) who claim it. That is costing the state's economy about $124 million a year in foregone federal dollars, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

About a quarter of eligible Oregon working families do not claim the federal EITC, said the Center in a paper that analyzed the most recently available data, dating from 2012. This tax credit helps low-income households make ends meet, and enjoys bi-partisan support as an effective anti-poverty tool.

"Working families missing out on these federal work-support dollars have a harder time getting by," said Tyler Mac Innis, a policy analyst with the Center. "It also means fewer federal dollars ultimately flowing into businesses in communities throughout Oregon."

Oregon's poor performance in 2012 was not unusual. In the five years of available data (2008 through 2012) Oregon ranked no better than 48th among all states and the District of Columbia in terms of its EITC participation rate.

While the precise reasons why Oregon ranks so poorly are not altogether clear, research has shown that certain categories of working families are less likely to claim the credit, Mac Innis said. They include families who live in rural areas, are self-employed, do not have a qualifying child or are not proficient in English.

"It should be a priority of Oregon policymakers to make a state agency responsible for promoting the credit," Mac Innis said. "This is costing the state's economy millions in federal dollars and needlessly making life more difficult for families who are already hurting."

The secstate race

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From the Oregon Secretary of State:

“The Secretary is Oregon’s chief elections officer, auditor and archivist. Additionally, the Secretary of State promotes job growth by streamlinin​g the creation and expansion of business, authenticates documents for travel or study abroad, and offers notary training and listings. Oregon is the only state where the secretary of state is responsible for auditing public spending. In addition, the secretary serves with the governor and treasurer on the Land Board and manages and oversees Oregon’s Common School Fund.”

The chief duties of the Secretary of State are regulating and bettering our Democratic process as the chief elections officer, maintaining the registration and filings for corporations, notaries, and security interests, and auditing the functions of the State. A less important, but vital job is to act, along with the Governor and State Treasurer, as a Board of Directors for investment of the Common School Fund.

There are three Democrats who want this job. Here they are, along with their priorities as expressed on their announcements and their websites.

I went to Mr. Avakian’s website for Secretary of State to see what issues he lists as important in his campaign. But there are none that seem related to the office that he’s running for. He does cite a long list of work and his record on enforcing labor laws and equity in the workplace. He is particularly proud of his work in wage theft issues. So I looked elsewhere for information on why exactly he is running for Secretary of state and found this in his announcement for Secretary of State:

“Oregon deserves a Secretary of State who will be a champion for a fair economy, healthy environment and a strong democracy. Increasing corporate accountability in the workplace, using a wider range of tools to create good jobs, and combating climate change are just a few of the areas where this office can lead the way.”

So, as far as I can tell, either Mr. Avakian thought he was running for re-election as Labor Commissioner – a reasonable mistake to make given our State’s recent history on the timing of Labor Commissioner elections – or based on his announcement only he may have thought he was running for Governor.

From Richard Devlins website under his “Priorities” tab, his content is a laundry list of Democratic priorities. A Summary:

Prioritizing stable and adequate funding for schools

There are many vulnerable individuals in our communities – abused and neglected children, victims of crime and domestic violence, and many others – and we have the duty to help them however we can.

Richard believes [that we need] a strong and improving economy and ensuring that the Oregon workforce meets the needs of employers.

In difficult financial times, state funding for public schools, health care, public safety and services for seniors are on the line, but these critical services must be protected, while at the same time protecting taxpayers’ interests. Richard believes that government should live within its means and be transparent to Oregonians, and that government officials and legislators must make difficult decisions. is committed to not only balancing the budget but also ensuring that the budget is reflective of Oregonian’s priorities

Sen. Devlin is all over the map here. And there was a lot I left out of this summary – for brevity’s sake. While some of his priorities touch on the duties of Oregon Secretary of State, he seems to have no focused idea on how he would use the power of the office, or improve elections and audits, or streamline and protect business filings and data bases.

From Rep. Hoyle’s announcement and website. Her Priorities are:

“Reduce barriers to voting and make it easier for every eligible Oregonian to have access to the ballot;

Look for new ways to streamline government by getting the most out of every tax dollar while protecting critical services;

Be a champion for small businesses and entrepreneurs in Oregon; and

Bring a renewed commitment to improving ethics and accountability.”

Now here we go. Rep. Hoyle is talking more about how she would use the tools of the office of Secretary of State to achieve policy. It still over promises, but at least the promises are directly related to the power of the office. She has obviously sharpened her message and knows what she’s running for.

What’s going on?

All these candidates know that the winner of the Democratic Primary has a close to 100% chance of being our next Secretary of State and Mr. Avakian and Sen. Devlin have decided that the best way to win the office in a partisan primary in 2016 is to just be a solid Blue candidate and not address the nuts and bolts of how they’d run the office of Secretary of State. In effect, Mr. Avakian and Sen. Devlin campaigning as if it’s for the office of “The most Democratic Democrat in Oregon”.

Why should this be troubling? After all, this is just a Democratic primary race. It’s troubling because the Democrats have a tight hold on statewide office, so the Democratic closed primary is the de facto general election for statewide office in Oregon. And the fact is, the Democratic and Republican parties are moving further to the extremes as moderates leave these two parties. So If Mr. Avakian and Sen. Devlin are correct, that Democratic Primary voters care more about a candidates orthodoxy than they do about how a candidate would perform their duties in the office they seek, then the most partisan will be rewarded in our closed primary system and we will continue down the road of hyper-partisanship.

Rep. Hoyle in contrast is speaking to the office and how she would use the power of the office to achieve some Democratic goals. And while I wasn’t invited to the recent Democratic Summit, I did see an email from Rep. Hoyle touting her position on campaign finance reform. Particularly her opposition to the idea that money equals speech. This position is contrary to the position of the Democratic Financial base (The Democratic dark money group Our Oregon is opposed to overturning Citizens United), and could represent a candidate who is more independent and able to represent all Oregonians. Rep. Hoyle has not been overly kind to the growing independent movement as represented by the Independent Party of Oregon. But she doesn’t seem as hostile to the election reform movement as she seemed during the last session. Her emerging/evolving thinking on democracy reform, and her campaign that actually talks directly to the power of the office of Secretary of State is a clear step up from the campaigns of her challengers.

Independents need to watch this race very carefully. The winner will likely be the point person for at least the next 6 years on the very important issues of campaign finance reform, election reform, and voter registration issues. All of these should be at the top of the list for voters who would like to assure that every vote counts. Not just Democratic votes. Not just Republican votes.

As of today, it appears that – to my utter surprise and astonishment – Rep. Val Hoyle is the best candidate for the job of Secretary of State. Go Val.

Oregon’s sine die

The Oregon legislature, which normally runs longer than Washington's or Idaho's, has adjourned. (It was a little later than expected, but not by a lot.)

Here's what the House leadership cited as the session's accomplishments.

Investing in a Strong Education System

A $7.4 billion investment in public schools will provide stable budgets for most school districts while also funding full-day kindergarten for children throughout Oregon for the first time.
A $35 million investment in Career and Technical Education and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education (CTE/STEM) will help increase high school graduation rates and better prepare Oregon students for high-wage jobs.
Students seeking higher education will benefit from boosts in funding for public universities, community colleges, and student financial assistance (Opportunity Grants) – including a new tuition waiver program for qualified community college students and a requirement that public universities justify any proposed tuition increases above 3 percent in 2016-17.
New investments in early childhood education – notably Healthy Families home visiting, relief nurseries, and quality preschool – will help ensure children arrive at school ready to succeed.

Expanding Opportunities for Working Families

The Sick Leave for All Oregonians Act will make sure most working Oregonians can accrue a reasonable number of paid sick days each year – a basic workplace protection that will make a major difference for families across the state.
Oregon Retirement Savings Accounts will give more families the opportunity to save for retirement via an easy, effective, and portable savings account.
Prohibiting employer retaliation for discussing what you earn will help combat wage disparities and help women who currently do not get equal pay for equal work.
Strategic investments in the Employment Related Day Care Program and the Working Family Child and Dependent Care tax credit will increase access to quality, affordable childcare for working families.
A landmark investment in affordable housing construction will help thousands of families and begin to tackle Oregon’s statewide housing crisis.
Removing questions about criminal history from job applications, commonly known as “ban the box,” will help Oregonians get back on their feet once they have served their time.

Supporting Job Creation and Local Economies

A $175 million bonding investment will enable seismic upgrades to K-12 schools throughout the state, and an additional $125 million in bonds will help school districts across the state to fix outdated, dilapidated, and hazardous facilities.
A $90 million investment in Oregon’s transportation infrastructure will provide much-needed upgrades, including $35 million to improve the safety of some of the most deadly intersections and dangerous stretches of highway in communities across the state.
Strategic investments will create jobs and spur economic development across the state, including: investments in multimodal transportation through the ConnectOregon program; pivotal resources for community-based initiatives through the Regional Solutions program; and support for converting unusable brownfields such as abandoned gas stations into development-ready lots.
The implementation of Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program will provide Oregonians with more choices at the fuel pump, cleaner air to breathe, and more jobs in an emerging industry.
Rural economic investments include $50 million in grants and loans to help meet water storage and conservation needs, resources to improve sage grouse habitats and maintain grazing lands, and funds to manage and build a market for Western Juniper.
A fix to Oregon’s centralized property tax rules will provide certainty for technology companies that want to build data centers and create jobs in rural Oregon.

Improving Public Safety for Oregon Families

A package of common-sense regulations will guide a safe and successful implementation of the voter-approved Measure 91 to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.
The Oregon Firearms Safety Act will help keep convicted felons, domestic abusers and people in severe mental crisis from buying guns online or through other direct private sales because criminal background checks will now be required for those transactions.
Barring domestic abusers from possessing guns and ammunition will help protect victims and keep families safe.
Establishing long-needed rules to define and prohibit racial profiling will help rebuild public trust in local law enforcement and make communities stronger and safer.
Doubling the statute of limitations for first degree sex crimes from six years to twelve years will give victims a voice and a real chance to seek justice.
Improving the state’s capacity to respond to accidents involving trains carrying hazardous materials will make our communities safer.

Promoting Healthy Communities

Significant investments in mental health care and alcohol and drug treatment will strengthen communities throughout the state, including $20 million to build supportive housing for Oregonians impacted by mental illness or addiction.
Pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe and dispense birth control and insurance companies will be required to cover 12 months of prescription coverage – both of which will increase access to contraception and help reduce unintended pregnancies.
The Oregon Toxic Free Kids Act will require some manufacturers to incrementally phase out dangerous chemicals from kids’ products.
Cover Oregon has been abolished as a public corporation, which will add much-needed transparency and accountability to Oregon’s health insurance marketplace.
Vulnerable patients (victims of domestic violence, for example) will be able to keep their sensitive medical information private by having their “explanation of benefits” information mailed to an address that is different from the policy holder’s.

Accomplishment

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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.

The highway difference

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
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.

Rural funding

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STAPILUS
 
Oregon

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.