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Posts published in “Stapilus”

The whole pie

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Last year the voters in Wisconsin elected Democrats to the U.S. Senate and the offices of governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer - a sweep. In that same election, in the state Senate where 17 seats were on the ballot, Democrats won six, or about a third; and in the House (or, Assembly as it’s called there), Democrats took 36 seats compared to the Republicans’ 63.

Might that at-variance legislative result have happened because of a mass of split tickets - more Wisconsin voters opting for Republicans down-ballot after checking off all those Democrats above? Nope. In the Assembly races, for example, Democrats won 1.3 million votes compared to the Republicans’ 1.1 - while losing seats at a rate approaching two to one.

How could that happen? It’s what can occur when you get clever, and unscrupulous, about how you draw the legislative district maps. Similar stories can be told in other states in recent years, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina; Democrats have done the same in Maryland.

Idaho has managed to evade this sort of thing, mostly. It might not much longer.

The number of legislative seats held by each party should theoretically resemble - at least very roughly - the vote for statewide offices. In many states it does. In Oregon, where a Democratic governor won last year by about six percentage points and the state’s congressional delegation kept its four Democrats and one Republican, the legislature has 56 Democrats and 34 Republicans, a Democratic majority falling between half and two-thirds. In Washington, which has been steadily electing Democrats to top offices for the last couple of decades but sometimes by close margins, the legislature has 84 Democrats and 62 Republicans (one of those an “independent Democrat” who caucuses with Republicans). The splits in those states resemble the overall partisan votes in the state.

In Idaho, there’s also some resemblance, but it’s thinner. Consider the 2018 election, when Republicans won all of the major offices decisively, generally a little above or below the 60 percent mark. (Governor was 59.8 percent, first district U.S. House 62.8 percent, second district 60.7 percent.) So you’d expect Republicans to control the legislature, as they do, and have ever since the election of 1960. So what is the percentage of Republicans in the Idaho Legislature today?

80 percent. That percentage in this cycle actually is the lowest Republican percentage of control at the Idaho Legislature in a couple of decades.

But controlling four seats out of five, a lot more than the three out of five voters would seem to support, apparently isn’t enough for some members of the Idaho Republican caucuses. In some quarters, there’s a perceived need to press the finger a little heavier on the scales.

To be clear about something: Idaho doesn’t today belong the list of gerrymandered states. One reason is that a generation ago, the legislature gave up its reapportionment tasks and, through a constitutional amendment, set up a reapportionment commission (approved by the voters in 1994) evenly balanced between the parties. It has worked, albeit a little messily at times. But the fact that some signoff is needed from both parties has kept the district lines from going too far astray, even if a few of them look a little odd. In a state shaped like Idaho, a few of them always will.

A new piece of legislation, House Joint Resolution 2, was being rushed - not too strong a word - through the legislature to redesign the commission and upset that delicate balance. The proposed constitutional amendment, which still would need approval of the voters to pass, would in effect give Republicans outright control of the redistricting committee, and probably temptation too great to pass up - to clearly gerrymander the legislature to wipe out as many Democratic-leaning or marginal districts as possible. Designing a map with that in mind could cut the number of Democratic districts down to three or two, depending on how the Boise districts were split up.

The resolution got to the House floor last week but then, when uproar ensued, it was kicked back to committee. That may mean it’s dead for the session; “returned to committee” is often another way of killing something. But not necessarily.

If it re-emerges and passes, that could readily give Republicans upwards of 90 percent of the Idaho Legislature. That wouldn’t much resemble the Idaho electorate, but then, that probably would be the point.
 

Simpler lines

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Portland is not the only political jurisdiction to be governed the way it is, but it does have an unusual structure, and it can be confusing and hard to describe.

It has a mayor and a council, which run and make policy for the city, which is normal for most cities, but it gets confusing after that. Most cities with a mayor and council have either a "strong mayor" who acts as the chief administrator and manager, or a "weak mayor" who serves ceremonially and helps with policy setting but leaves the day to day management of the city to an appointed city manager.

There's a reason most cities operation along those lines: It works. When our national government was founded the drafted figured out that splitting the administrative and policy-making making functions (and, thirdly, the judicial functions for settling disputes) into mostly cleanly-divided portions of the government was a good idea. The federal executive and congressional divisions to get involved in both functions, but mainly that's intended as a check to keep anyone from getting out of hand. The core idea is that policy is created over here, and executed over there. It works pretty well.

Portland is one of those places (there are some small communities that do it too) that doesn't do it that way. Portland does not have a city administrator as such, or at least not a single one. Instead, in what is called "commission government," the city's sprawling agencies are divided between the mayor and the council members (the mayor gets to make the assignments), and then each of them, in addition to working on city policy and hearing from constituents, is also the top administrator for a gaggle of city agencies. Those assignments periodically get shifted around, too, and often don't match up with the backgrounds of the council members.

It has never seemed like a very well-oiled approach to management. But reconsidering the structure of Portland city government is something that has come up remarkably seldom. It did re-emerged last week, though, in a new advisory report by the Portland City Club.

Some of the report concluded that the council has not, historically, provided an especially broad representation of types of demographics - most members, over time, have been prosperous white men - though that is changing, and Portland has hardly been unique in that description.

The report also offered a number of other structural points with some useful ideas for Portlanders to consider:

* The current allocation of responsibility to the mayor and the city council appears to result in poor bureaucratic performance.

* Portland has long since outgrown the size of its current city council and would be better served across many different arenas by increasing the number of members.

* Changing to a form of preferential voting for city council members is urgently needed to deliver more equitable representation.

Committee Recommendations
* Executive authority should be centralized in the office of mayor, but delegated in large part to a city manager.

* Portland should have a professional city manager selected by the mayor, subject to council approval. The city manager must be a qualified professional with relevant training and experience.

* The mayor should serve as the permanent chairperson of the city council and cast tie-breaking votes where applicable, although this is a moot point as long as the total number of city council members (“regular” members plus the mayor) is an odd number.

* Portland should stop electing city council members in at-large elections, opting instead for district-based elections, preferably with multiple commissioners per district.

* Portland should further explore alternative systems of voting, using an appropriate equity lens to decide which system is most likely to produce the best results for Portland. While it was beyond the mandate of this committee to develop a definitive recommendation as to voting system, it is clear from our research that traditional “first-past-the-goalpost” voting is not the best system in terms of equity.

* The size of the Portland city council should be increased to at least eight commissioners, plus the mayor.

I could quibble. But the approach outlined here, which would bring Portland closer into line with many other cities locally and regionally (Seattle, say) make a lot of sense. We'll be watching to see if this proposal was a temporary ripple in the pond or actually picks up speed.

Which, to judge by the regular complaints in the city about the nature of municipal government, would make sense. And which Mayor Ted Wheeler, who seems to be more frustrated in his current job than in his previous postings at Multnomah County and the state treasury, might want to embrace.
 

The flaw in the Medicaid argument

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The Idaho Supreme Court decision in the challenge to the Medicaid expansion initiative - the case Brent Regan v. Lawerence Denney - was highly predictable, and a lot of people did predict it. With the decision in hand now, sustaining the initiative, it’s worth reviewing why that is.

We almost didn’t get this decision because two justices didn’t think Brent Regen, the plaintiff (on behalf of, mainly, the Idaho Freedom Foundation) shouldn’t have been able to bring it. The court’s majority didn’t even entirely dispute that point, admitting that it was stretching things even to deliver an opinion. But it’s as well that they did, since the decision made so clear why the argument against the initiative was so deeply flawed.

The Regan argument didn’t have to do specifically with the expansion of Medicaid benefits, or even with Medicaid at all. That may come as a surprise, given the political rhetoric surrounding the case, and the issue. The legal argument for overturning the initiative was, roughly:

The initiative violated the Idaho Constitution for the reason that it gave away legislating authority from the state to the federal government, since the agreement with the federal government on Medicaid expansion might commit the state to agree to future changes in the rules governing Medicaid.

First, the Supreme Court said, that is simply wrong. The court reviewed previous decisions that refer to references to law in other places, and found those, “affirmed the idea that when a statute references a second statute, it adopts that statute as it is in its current form. Subsequent amendment or repeal does not affect the initial statute.”

Anyone who follows the Idaho Legislature should know as much. Look through the annual list of bills passed by that body and often you’ll see new bills passed to update for changes made elsewhere. The state income tax law, which integrates in places with the federal, is regularly updated by the legislature (sometimes provoking debate along lawmakers).

The court made that point in its decision: “It should be noted that section 56-267 [the Medicaid expansion provision] is not the first nor is it the only statute to reference federal law. In fact, many Idaho statutes reference federal law. For example, Idaho Code section 33-2202 provides that: The state board of education is hereby designated as the state board for career technical education for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of the federal act known as the Smith-Hughes act, amendments thereto, and any subsequent acts now or in the future enacted by the Congress affecting vocational education …”

A truckload of laws relating just to commercial activities in the state would have been upended if the Medicaid expansion challenge had been approved, because the same principle in law would have torn up all kinds of federal, interstate and other agreements. It wouldn’t be a reach to say that large sectors of Idaho’s economy could have been thrown into chaos by a bum decision in this case.

Here’s another example the court cited: “the statute governing who could sell prescription drugs did ‘not specify which drugs shall require a prescription order, but instead conditions that status upon three possible alternatives: (1) another state law, (2) a law of the United States, or (3) a rule or regulation of the Idaho Board of Pharmacy. … In noting that the area of drug regulation demanded particular practical considerations, this Court said, ‘[i]n deciding whether a delegation is proper the court’s evaluation must be ‘tempered by due consideration for the practical context of the problem sought to be remedied, or the policy sought to be effected.’’’

The practical effects of this Medicaid expansion decision, had it been handled badly, could have been extreme. That partly explains why so many legal analysts thought the decision in favor of the initiative was a slam dunk, and why the court’s major internal disagreement on it concerned whether a ruling on the challenge was even warranted.

The beneficiaries of Medicaid expansion dodged a bullet here, but not only them. So did a lot of other people.
 

Of the state

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Stacey Abrams was an unusual choice to deliver the response to the state of the union speech, and her approach was a little unusual too.

She is best known, nationally, not as an elected official but as an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Georgia (last year). And in quite a few ways her speech sounded as if it could have come from the stump.

But. She was a good choice in part because she's the subject of a lot of discussion about her possible next candidacy - for a Georgia Senate seat - and so about what Democrats are arguing about what may becoming rather than what now is. A subtle but important point.

And the speech, which was well written and skillfully delivered (you could see right away why she's a highly regarded candidate), was properly a campaign speech because, in essence, so was the president's. It was like for like.

She spoke of uplift more than criticism - there was plenty of "this uncommon grace of community".

But there was also "the shutdown was a stunt, engineered by the president of the United States" followed by, "the leaders of our state didn't shut down, we came together". She said that "Democrats stand ready to secure our borders".

And added, "I still don't want him to fail. I want him to tell the truth."

Not a bad choice either - and this is unusual for this kind of speech - for the video feed to show her in front of a cheering audience rather than a quiet room.

It was a notable speech.

As for the state of the union ... nothing in particular to note. More of the same.
 

DIY legislature

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You too can follow the Idaho Legislature, at least mostly. As the legislature prepares to kick into gear for this year’s session, the time feels about right for a look at the best way to do that.

As in so much these days, the best, albeit not the only, way is online.

It’s not everything you need, but it gives you quite a bit.

The legislature’s own website, at legislature.idaho.gov, has a large batch of resources probably not known by most Idahoans.

There’s information about each of the legislators, of course, and e-mail addresses for each. Not many years ago the only way to keep track of legislators was to carry a legislative directory booklet, which many people (such as me, when I was reporting there) kept in pocket along with other vital items (like car keys and wallet). Now a smartphone can as easily access it all.

The legislature’s website also connects to the state constitution and laws and even the administrative code (the state regulations). That makes sense considering what the legislature does, but it also makes for a handy central repository.

The doings of the legislature since 1998 are available there too, including all bills introduced, committee minutes and much more. Schedules for floor and committee activities are there; a big improvement from the days I recall when the only way to get that information was to go physically to the third floor of the Statehouse to find a printed copy.

There’s a specific current page I check almost daily: legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/2019/legislation/minidata/. That’s where you can find the list of every bill, resolution, memorial and proclamation introduced this session, its current status and links to its full text and also its statement of purpose.

That “statement of purpose” (that’s the formal name for the document) is written for each bill and is something particularly worth checking out if the rough subject of the bill is of interest to you. Bills often are crafted in such a way that their full intent and effect may not be obvious on a casual read. Statements of purpose are supposed to be written in plain language, describing what the effect is, and what it will cost (mainly, whether it will have an effect on a budget or on general fund taxes). These are best read with a cautious eye, since advocates sometimes have been known to use poetic license in describing effects and costs. But they’re a good first stop to try to understand what’s happening with a specific bill.

If you want to track things in real time, you’re also in luck. On the legislative front page there’s a link to “live audio and video streaming,” and that takes you to the Idaho Public Television site, which operates like video and audio streams of many legislative sites. Streams include the Senate and House floors, the committee room of the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (which drafts the state budget), the Lincoln Auditorium, where many of the larger hearings are held, and a bunch of other committee rooms as well.

There’s still nothing that can replace the understanding-by-immersion of actually being there, observing the atmosphere and talking to the people. There’s a reason legislators still need to meet personally, in one place, rather than conducting committee meetings and floor sessions by Skype. (Or is that day coming?)

Short of that, you can observe a lot online.
 

A shutdown of votes and wishes

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On December 19, the U.S. Senate passed on a voice vote - with no opposition in evidence - a bill aimed at averting the impending federal government shutdown. It had support of all or nearly all Republicans and Democrats in the chamber, and was thought likely to pass in the House of Representatives. Senators started singing Christmas carols on the floor.

Then came a declaration from President Donald Trump, who initially seemed to back the bill, but after taking heat, said he would not sign it because it did not include funds for construction of a border wall with Mexico. That killed the bill in the then-Republican-led House. It was nonetheless an actual compromise, something un-thrilled Democrats and Republicans could (and in the Senate, did) vote for.

After party control shifted, the House wound up passing a measure much like the old Senate bill - which, once again, had been supported by nearly all Senate Republicans as well as Democrats - with the statement that funding for the wall could be considered separately. In fact, it has voted for 10 related bills along those lines, with mostly Democrats in favor but picking up some Republican backing. One Republican voting aye on the bill passed on Wednesday was Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho. He will take heat for that.

On Thursday, the Senate voted on and killed two budget bills. One was backed by Trump and touted as a compromise, though it contained no concessions and included what the corporate world would call “poison pills”. Only one Democrat supported it. The other was called the Democratic bill - though, once again, this was largely the same thing Senate Republicans had solidly backed a month earlier - and though it got a half-dozen Republican votes, it too failed. Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, were not among the six.

Idaho’s congressional delegation has had a busy week.

Simpson said, “The House voted on a package of bills that were negotiated last year between the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats. Although it does not represent my preferred starting place for negotiations, I support it because it includes provisions that are important for Idaho that I personally worked to secure, including increased funding for sage grouse conservation, PILT, wildfire prevention and suppression, and a prohibition on listing sage grouse as an endangered species, among many others.” But he also blasted Democrats for not looking more favorably on the Trump proposal.

His new fellow Idaho representative, Russ Fulcher, was quoted as saying, “It’s not a debate about what the right thing to do is, it is a power play between the speaker and the president. That's basically all this falls down to."

Actually, it must be more than that, or else the votes behind the speaker and the president, which allow them to take these positions, wouldn’t be there. And it does after all have immense national impact.

Fulcher: “My urging is to forget about the politics, forget about the party moniker right now.” But unlike Simpson, he voted against the proposal which, once again, had been developed and approved by both Republicans and Democrats.

A week ago, Risch participated with a group of Senate Republicans offering a bill to avert federal government shutdowns in the future, by setting up an automatic continuing resolution - sort of putting the federal government on temporary budget autopilot - in case of a budget stalemate. He also said, “Shutting down the government is the complete opposite of what we were elected to do - govern. I have co-sponsored this legislation year after year and hope we can finally move it forward. Real people with real problems get caught in the balance of government shutdowns and we need to act for them and for the sake of government efficiency. I would prefer a smaller and less intrusive government than what we have, but regardless it needs to operate.”

Good sentiments, and at the least a reasonable legislative concept. But with all these good intentions and good will, why are the votes - all of the delegation’s votes - still not there for an actual compromise, like the one Congress had but a month ago, to end a shutdown now with no end yet in sight?
 

Book: Proof of Collusion

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Quite a few years ago, I read (and still have a copy of) a book called Silent Coup, which sought to answer some of the questions and clarify some of the fuzzy areas surrounding the Watergate scandal.

In it, author Colodny reviewed a mass of facts surrounding Watergate. It did not exculpate Richard Nixon or his aides, at least in general, but it did provide a significant reinterpretation of the evidence. The summary at Amazon.com says, offered "revelations shocked the world and forever changed our understanding of politics, of journalism, and of Washington behind closed doors. Dismantling decades of lies, Silent Coup tells the truth." It received high touts from President Gerald Ford and a number of people connected to Watergate. It was an intriguing read.

But time hasn't been kind to Silent Coup. Several figures in the story, including one-time White House counsel John Dean, punching some critical holes in it. The biggest revelation in the book, the identity of journalistic source Deep Throat - Colodny built the case for Alexander Haig - fell apart when Mark Felt's identity as the mystery man was released by reporter Bob Woodward. They tentposts of Silent Coup's story largely fell apart.

It was a cautionary note that came to mind reading the current book Proof of Collusion: How trump Betrayed America, by Seth Abramson. In this far more recent story - we're much closer in time to the events described than the Watergate book was - the author spins for us the story of what happened in the relationship between Donald Trump and key officials in Russia. It, like Colodny's book, builds a case: Here, that there is clear evidence of collusion between Trump and his campaign, and Russia.

There's some temptation to draw a cautionary note from the Silent experience. The difference between the books, though, is also clear. Proof is an assembly of facts, a lot of them, are little is extrapolated from them.

Abramson is an attorney, and much of the book reads like a brief in a legal case. It's not quite that dry (the material is a grabber), but it's written in Joe Friday fashion, with much more emphasis on the plain and undisputed facts than on argumentation about them. Where the facts are not clear or undisputed, Abramson seems to be forthright about that too.

The caution is in how much information is still out there. In just the last few days, another critical piece of information - an acknowledgement, apparently, by Trump spokesman Rudolph Guiliani that Trump-Russia hotel negotiations continued right up to election day, rather than ending many months earlier as had been alleged - came into public view. More will be found by journalists, by congressional committees (we can only guess what the House may now unearth) and by special counsel Robert Mueller. How much more, we can't even really guess.

And yet ... so much is already out there that it's hard to conceive how what remains could be very exculpatory. The assembly into a coherent chronological (roughly) narrative is what Abramson has done here, and the sheer volume of what we already know really is astounding. What he has written (as of before the turn of the year) is so detailed that it almost feels like a complete story. And it is very well documented; through much of the book, most sentences are footnoted, and the detail and backup are impressive.

The whole story won't be told for some time to come. But Proof of Collusion does a solid intermediate job: It gives us a good framework for putting into place the information yet to come, and working out what it means.

As the title hints, it doesn't look good. And its hard to see how it could, even if what we now know is all we know.
 

The Idafornia shirt

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The operative phrase used to be “don’t Californicate Idaho.”

Now, in the age of the meme, it’s an image, showing Idaho melded to the top of California, the merger called Idafornia.

On a shirt.

An artist from Nampa named Scott Pentzer created it, though the design is so simple almost anyone could have. Pentzer said he drew it in 2014 but didn’t bother putting it on a shirt or trying to sell it until very recently.

When he did, he got reaction. Fox News said on its website, “Within hours the internet lost its mind. After two hours on the Facebook page, the post garnered 200 comments.” More than 500 more were added to that before the post was killed. (Doesn’t take much for the internet to lose its mind.)

The image on it shows a single red fill outlined to the shape of Idaho perched on top of California, with the word “Idahfornia” within.

What’s the point? To note the real link between the states, what with so many Californians moving to Idaho - an estimated 21,000 of them in 2017, presumably as many or more last year. Most say they’ve moved to escape the high prices in California, which mainly means exploding housing prices in the coastal state. Buying a home in many of California’s urban areas has moved beyond middle-class capacity, but houses in Idaho are cheaper - albeit fast becoming more expensive, partly because Californians selling their old digs can afford to pay more. In turn, many Idahoans are being priced out in places like Boise.

Pentzer told the San Francisco Chronicle, "It tapped into a nerve or something. I know [California transplant resentment] is out there a bit, from some of the stories I heard. But I never knew Idahoans hated Californians that much."

There’s long been some California resentment. (And not only in Idaho: An Oregon governor’s famous plea to vacation in Oregon but not stay there was aimed largely at Californians.) And it goes back a long way: Aside from Native Americans and farmers from Utah, most of the early territorial settlers in Idaho, and many of its leading government and business leaders, were former Californians. That fact drew some sharp words even a century ago.

But what are the effects now of this growth driven in significant part by California?

Politically, the analysis on that has shifted over time. In the mid-eighties, when the modern California stream of newcomers got underway, there was for a while some thought that Idaho politics might veer left as a result of more moderate incoming people from the coast. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way: Idaho seemed to be a magnet mainly for more conservative Californians, politically red people escaping a state getting steadily bluer.

But might some of that be changing now? I got an e-mail inquiry last week from a woman considering moving to Sandpoint but hesitating because she’d been hearing it might be overrun with racists and skinheads. Over time, the conservative flood of the last generation may thin out.

Many moving to the Boise area, meanwhile, seem to be arriving with the idea that it’s simply another modern American metro area - which it is - and the politics hasn’t been a large factor. That suggests a broader mainstream of people may be coming to Idaho, and if it continues it could lead to political moderation as well.

The Fox report quoted one Tweet as opining something reflecting that idea, after a fashion: "What happens when Californians flee their failed state but bring their failed political ideology with them? They transform Idaho into California. Cali used 2 b one of best states in the US, now it's the worst. Won't be long b4 Idaho turns from red to purple, then blue.”

That end result may be overstating things. But it’s a point to ponder.
 

A supermajority session

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One decade ago, following the 2008 general election, something unusual happened at the Oregon Legislative Assembly: One party controlled both chambers with supermajority numbers.

Democrats held 18 of the 30 seats in the Senate, and 36 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives. The numbers were significant, because since 1996 the Oregon Legislature has been required by the state constitution to obtain three-fifths of each chamber to approve "bills for passing revenue." Until 2009, neither party had controlled enough seats in both chambers to meet that requirement.

The 2009 session was ambitious for the Democrats. Its results included the Healthy Kids Act (for children's health care), major transportation projects (including the Newberg-Dundee bypass) - and significant tax increases to pay for it all, changing income and other tax levels.

In the 2010 election, Democrats lost their supermajority control. In the House, they lost enough seats to result in an even split - meaning joint control - with Republicans.

Now, a decade after all that, Democrats again have supermajorities in both chambers - just barely. They control 38 of the 60 House seats, and 18 of the 30 Senate seats. (One of the Democratic senators has been known to split from the caucus on certain votes from time to time.) A question for legislators this session is: How cautious might they be, considering recent history?

Some early indicators say: Not very. Governor Kate Brown, fresh off a campaign in which her opponent argued that schools have been underfunded, has proposed a $2 billion tax increase, intended mainly to boost public school funding.

One of the critical questions surrounding that will call for quick consideration: Exactly where should expanded funding go? Brown's proposal is aimed mainly at public schools. But higher education advocates point to persistent underfunding of the state's colleges and universities. Several organizations, including the Oregon Student Association (which includes college and university students) are pushing for as much as $2 billion more for higher education.

School funding may be getting a brighter spotlight this session than usual, but it is a perennial issue, and other perennials will sprout as well.

The high cost of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will come in for another examination, as in many past sessions. The scaling down of costs urged by its critics won't necessarily get a lot farther than it usually does (which is not very), but some new ideas are being broached. Among them, coming from at least one Democrat: Developing a new system of retirement planning for new public employees along the lines of a 401K system.

Greenhouse gas control, which was a hot topic in the last couple of sessions but did not get far, will be back. A planned "cap and invest" bill has been in development for weeks, and may be one of the hottest debate topics early in the session. Brown's proposed budget could provide some added impetus this year on the subject, since she is proposing creating a new Oregon Climate Authority which would help govern a state carbon marketplace.

The coming months will also, however, see a large collection of new, or at least newer, legislative proposals.

Affordable housing, the subject of the only constitutional amendment approved by voters on last year's general election ballot, will be the focus of several bills. What form the proposals may take is not clear yet, but an evident voter concern about the issue is likely to result in a strong push. One option mentioned by many legislators (and pushed by a group called the Community Alliance of Tenants): A statewide plan to set limits on rent prices.

Other hot-button topics may generate bills which have a rougher ride. Guns will be back for discussion with a proposal to increase penalties for owners who fail to secure their weapons. One bill summary suggests the new law could impose fines of $500 for a simple offense and up to four times as much if a child gains improper access to the gun. Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem is proposing Oregon toughen its driving under the influence legal limit, dropping the allowable level from a blood alcohol level of .08 now to .05. Only Utah has a limit that low.

Senator Floyd Prozanski, who in 2017 proposed an unsucessful measure which might lead to interstate commerce in cannabis, has said he may be back with a similar idea this session. A business group called the Craft Cannabis Alliance is proposing to do something similar. (The trade would apply only, of course, to states which like Oregon have legalized marijuana.)

How to pay for all the many ideas circulating? That's where much of the heat - and the critical nature of a Democratic supermajority - come into play. Plenty of tax proposals have surfaced, ranging from increases in minimum business taxes, to changes in kicker tax rebates, to changes in how property assessments (for tax purposes) are calculated. In most recent years passing these tax plans has been, if not impossible, then very difficult. They may be easier with supermajority Democratic control.

At least up to a point. Some Democrats may hit the caution button along the line, recognizing that Oregonian tolerance for tax increases, especially very many at any one time, is distinctly limited. The latter weeks and months of this year's session may hinge on that calculus of the desire to make improvements and advance services around the state, against the cost of paying for them.

The formal session begins in January 22, and runs to mid-summer. A short organizational session will run from January 14 to 17 and include formal swearing in, committee organization and bill introductions.