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Posts tagged as “Oregon”

First Take

Oregon doesn't allow for a procedure for impeaching a governor - a point that came to some note earlier this year - and the talk about setting one up, though constitutional amendment, has been growing. (Oregon is the only state without a means for impeachment. It seems to have skidded to a halt in the Senate, where President Peter Courtney has been opposed, noting (the Oregonian reported) "Oregon voters have the ultimate right of impeachment through the recall process and they aren't shy about using it. They successfully petitioned for that right in 1908. Two years later they voted to prohibit impeachment." Of course, that was some time ago. The Oregonian posted a reader poll on the question, and so far 63.1% say they're in favor of an avenue for impeachment.

Maybe not such a bad idea, as Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney proposes, to require governmental officials to adhere to the same lobbying rules - when they lobby the state legislature - as others who lobby. That would involve filing reports on lobbying efforts, and filing as lobbyists. This could complicate some cases and create some odd gray areas, such as state employees called in to testify before committees but not engaging in other lobbying. But if the lines are drawn in the right way, this may be reasonable. It's all in the details.

Superbugs

The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group on Tuesday sent out an email warning about the spread of superbugs - mutations resistant to most existing poisons or other efforts against them. From it:

We know the danger is real.

Raising livestock and poultry on routine antibiotics is helping grow and spread the superbugs -- antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- that could soon kill more people than cancer. [1]

Yet far too often, we don't know or can't trust whether the meat we buy has been raised with or without antibiotics. It's time to stop the overuse of antibiotics and the next big step is to put a label on it.

We have a right to know whether our food threatens our health. Join our call on the USDA to label meat raised with routine antibiotics.

There's no question that overusing antibiotics poses a danger to our health. We've known this for decades. Yet, for decades, the industry has fed huge amounts of antibiotics to factory farm animals -- even when the animals were healthy.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria already infect more than a million Americans each year, and more than 23,000 die. Now, according to a recent study, resistant bacteria are projected to kill 10 million people per year by 2050.

We deserve to know whether the food we buy is contributing to the rise in drug-resistant superbugs.

I'm not alone in wanting labels. A Consumer Reports poll found that 83% of Americans want such a label to inform whether beef, pork, turkey, chicken or other meats in a grocery store come from animals routinely given antibiotics.

The good news is that consumers are demanding change. Thanks to you, we helped organize consumers to convince McDonald's to end the routine use of antibiotics in the chicken they sell.

More good news: The USDA is considering a simple requirement that meat carry labels telling consumers whether it was raised on antibiotics.

But with big food companies pushing back, the USDA isn't about to hand us a victory on a silver platter. We have to demand it. Add your name to our call for action. It's time to stop the overuse of antibiotics, and the next big step is to put a label on it.

Chicago on the Willamette?

jorgensenlogo1

The aftermath of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s resignation in February was surprisingly quiet, and it has been business as usual at the state capitol in Salem ever since. It was almost as if that whole bizarre series of events had never transpired in the first place.

For his part, Kitzhaber had largely dropped out of the public eye, and understandably so. Kitzhaber sightings have become increasingly rare, though he was spotted at a Starbucks in Northwest Portland in early May and had his picture snapped. Aside from the photographer, all indications are that nobody else even recognized him.

Here’s the ultimate public figure, a longtime chief executive of the entire enormous state government apparatus, and now he’s just some random guy in a coffeeshop, wearing sweats and glasses and going over a pile of papers. In his case, it’s almost tempting to wonder what kind of papers they would be—legal documents of some sort or another, perhaps?

Kitzhaber wasn’t out of the spotlight just yet, however, as a series of recent articles has come as a reminder that the swirl of scandals that forced his resignation and tarnished his legacy and reputation are nowhere near finished playing themselves out yet.

One week after the relatively innocuous story about his trip to Starbucks, the Washington Times published a particularly damning story reminding a national audience why and how Kitzhaber got himself into so much trouble. Perhaps a reminder was necessary, as the screaming headlines about federal investigations had largely stopped when he resigned in disgrace weeks after being sworn in for an historic fourth term as governor.

These revelations had nothing to do with former so-called “first lady” Cylvia Hayes, her apparently sordid past or the allegations that she used that position to further her own private business interests. Rather, they were about the colossal $300 million blunder that was the state’s failed health care exchange website.

Kitzhaber, his staff and his party had been quick to point the finger at software developer Oracle for the catastrophe. But the article points out that the website could have been working in early 2014 with some additional training and testing. Instead, the decision was made to pull the plug on it and move over to the federal exchange. This turned out to be a decision made entirely for the sake of political expediency, and by staffers on his re-election campaign.

None of this went unnoticed by the members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. A letter was sent to Kitzhaber the same day he resigned stating that Congress was, indeed, investigating the misspending of federal funds on the exchange. The use of campaign staff to coach a witness who testified before the committee also didn’t go over too well, and neither did his administration’s attempt to delete emails from state servers days before he left office.

The former first couple did get some semblance of good news towards the end of May, as a judge ruled that Hayes could hold on to some of her e-mails. She had claimed, through her attorneys, that their release would violate her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, and the judge agreed. Of course, none of this is a great overall defense for anyone claiming to be innocent, but it was enough to serve the intended purpose of keeping their contents from the public.

A couple of days later, there were more bombshells. These took the form of A Willamette Week article by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nigel Jaquiss about the state official who leaked Kitzhaber’s emails to him instead of deleting them. He was rewarded for his efforts by a “perp walk” out of his office and the threat of 6,000 charges of official misconduct unless he resigned his position.

In stark contrast, the Kitzhaber crony who threw the whistleblower under the bus gets to start a new $185,000 position with the City of Portland on June 1, despite being among the many state officials subpoenaed as part of the ongoing investigations.

It became obvious a couple of days later why officials were so eager to threaten the whistleblower with so many criminal charges. It turned out to be a case of literal nepotism, as Willamette Week disclosed that Kitzhaber's nephew was and is working for the same district attorney’s office that had made those threats.

All of this may come as somewhat of a surprise to many Oregonians. We have long prided ourselves as being better than this. For decades, we’ve sought to hold our state up as an example of transparent, ethical, corruption-free government. We would see scandals take place in other states and thank the heavens that such things could never, ever happen here.

Thanks to the actions of John Kitzhaber, Cylvia Hayes and their friends and allies who are still very much in power, that myth has been completely shattered. The ultimate consequence is that this will change the way we think about ourselves and the state that we love so much.

Perhaps, in the annuls of history, 2015 will be known as the year that Oregon truly lost its innocence. Prior to now, it would have been unthinkable to many that our beloved state could be associated with such blatant and high-level corruption in our public institutions. But it turned out that we were only kidding ourselves.

We thought we were clean, innocent, pure Oregon. The truth was much more painful, as decades of one-party rule in our executive branch seem to have turned this beautiful, majestic place in Chicago on the Willamette.

The people of this state deserve so much better than this, and I hope they never stop hoping for a future in which a similar set of circumstances could never possibly repeat themselves. In the meantime, though, I get the feeling there will be plenty of stories and revelations that have yet to come out that will show us exactly how bad and widespread this corruption actually has been.

None of this should stop Oregonians from demanding more from their institutions and leaders. If anything, it should have the opposite effect, and perhaps we can someday reclaim the innocence that we once had. And maybe we’ll be smart enough to guard it with a newfound sense of vigilance to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again.

On moving to Oregon . . .

This is "experimenting with new web media" weekend (especially since it turned out so much cooler and cloudier than expected). Yesterday, a new wiki on wikia.com about the Snake River Basin Adjudication. Today, a new lens on Squidoo about what to expect when moving to Oregon.

No explanation here about lenses and Squidoos (that's available via their main site). Here, just a note that the "lens" is just starting construction, and will be be substantially added to. Suggestions are welcome.

Over-value

How much is something worth? goes the old question. However much someone will pay, goes the traditional answer - except in recent years, as we know, in the case of the housing market, where prices ran up massively higher than people (viewed in aggregate) were able, at least, to pay; an increasingly, willing, too.

Washington and Oregon were among the relative latecomers to the mass housing price rampup, and they apparently are a little slower than some to slide back down. They have been sliding down, but indications are that they have a ways to go.

The consulting firms IHS Global Insight and The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. today released studies indicating which housing markets around the country remain most overvalued, and Washington and Oregon are high on the list.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer pulled out the numbers and said that of 330 metros analyzed, Seattle ranked 35th in the country, although "The report put the average house price at $366,500 in the Seattle area, down 1.6 percent from the previous quarter. Wenatchee and Longview were third and fourth on the overvalued list, with Bend, Ore., Bellingham and the Portland area (including Vancouver) seventh, eighth and ninth. Others in the top 26 were Mount Vernon (18th), Spokane (20th), Yakima (23rd) and Olympia (24th), in Washington, and Eugene (12th), Salem (16th), Corvalis (25th) and Medford (26th), in Oregon. The Tacoma area was 31st."

A mega-OR transport project

Major transportation projects were hard to come by in Idaho this legislative session, but easier in Washington (see Alaskan Way and the 520). And now Oregon seems to be about to set in motion a truly enormous effort of its own. The House today voted 38-22 in favor, enough to win support for the revenue-raising components (which need 60% support in each chamber). Since the odds in favor probably are better in the Senate than they were in the House, and since Governor Ted Kulongoski has backed the plan, it looks close to done.

That doesn't mean there's no controversy, and it comes from both left and right. On the left, there's concern both about the structure of the spending (exact projects and amounts are laid out) and concern that not enough is going for mass transit. On the right, there's concern about the hundreds of millions of dollars involved and the substantial increases in taxes and fees - a six-cent gas tax increase, substantial car registration fee increases and more.

But it seems to be slipping through with less angst than you might think. And less than in either Washington or Idaho. How good a thing that is, may depend on where you sit.

From our point of view . . . we'd be pleased to see the new Newberg-Dundee bypass (on Highway 99) put in place; the new bill funds a third of the expensive effort. That stretch of wine country road, smack between Portland and some of the most popular coast areas, can turn into a parking lot at times. The bypass - bypassing most of the cities of Newberg and Dundee - could help. And turned dirt within the next few years could be considered, locally, as miraculous.

The Oregon corporate minimum

Through a quirk - a perversion, some might say - of interpretation of the law, corporations are in many ways given the standing of human beings before the law. The reverse doesn't always work out; people, for example, tend to pay income taxes much higher on average than many corporations do.

That was once less true than it is now. In Oregon, state House Revenue Chair Phil Barnhart notes that “Corporations now pay less than 6% of income taxes paid in Oregon. It used to be closer to 18%. But now over 2/3rds of Oregon corporations pay the $10 minimum.”

Some of that is worth remembering, since the argument that these are tough time for businesses - which they are - will be flashed prominently in argument against the new proposed raising of corporation taxes in the state. But the background needs some bearing in mind: The point of comparison is almost absurdly low.

The tax battle - now that much of the discussion about budget cuts is winding up - already is solidly partisan.

The Republican argument sums up this way: "Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives announced plans last Thursday to pay for spending increases by raising taxes on Oregon small and family owned businesses. The plan to create a new tax bracket of 11% on filings greater than $125,000 targets Oregon LLCs, sole proprietorships, partnerships and s-corps, the typical organizational structure of Oregon small businesses."

The Democrats describe their proposal differently: "new revenue would come from increasing taxes on profitable corporations and increasing the top tax rate for households making over $250,000 per year. . . . The plan has several components, including increasing the state’s corporate minimum to $100, up from its current level of $10. A second change to the corporate minimum would apply only to C-Corps which earn gross receipts over $500,000. Those corporations would pay an additional marginal rate of 0.15% up to a cap of $60,000. For those companies paying more than the corporate minimum, the bill retains the 6.6% tax on the first $250,000 of net income. But it raises the rate to 8.2% on net income over $250,000."

Pick your details, and discuss.

40 years of the sound of Jefferson

The state of Jefferson - that area taking in part of southwest Oregon and California north of Redding - may be more a state of mind than it is anything else. But there is a media presence. At least one California weekly proclaims itself the newspaper of Jefferson.

And there's Jefferson Public Radio, now celebrating its 40th anniversary. A fine piece today in the Medford Mail Tribune runs through its history.

Based at Southern Oregon University at Ashland (at the FM station KSOR), JPR has helped keep that southern region a region apart from the rest of Oregon (the rest of which is served by Oregon Public Broadcasting). It does something else too in this time of large-scale broadcasting: It brings a genuinely local flavor to radio in the area.

You can celebrate too: Give 'em a listen.

An education lobby crackup

Here's a column out of Tacoma that some of the Salem budget-setters, and influencers upon budget-setters, might want to read. It could suggest where Oregon's education community may find itself a few months hence- not far from where Washington's does now.

A key quote: "To be specific, the Washington Education Association has decided it’s no longer friends with groups that have long been in its political clique. That includes the Washington State PTA, the union that represents school staffers, the League of Education Voters, the Children’s Alliance, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democrats in the state House and Senate."

Oregon's situation is no less severe than Washington's was. Could be that Oregon is a little less rigorous in unwillingness to go the tax route, but there's little doubt significant cuts are coming. As in Washington.

So, taxes in Oregon?

They wouldn't do it in Idaho - no surprise there.

They wouldn't do it in Washington either, which did take some people by surprise.

Now - will the Oregon Legislature raise taxes to cop with their state's huge revenue shortfall?

The exact situation will come into focus this week, when the May revenue estimate is delivered - the last major one this session is likely to get. Big cuts are almost certainly going to happen in any event. But will taxes, in some form or other, be raised to fill the gaps?

There doesn't seem to be much affirmative discussion of the idea at Salem, at least publicly. The Eugene Register-Guard's piece today on the matter may provide some clarity: "No detailed tax package has emerged so far this session, but behind-the-scenes discussions suggest that the Democratic majority in Salem wants to concentrate its pursuit of higher taxes on wealthy Oregonians and profitable corporations."

Consider that maybe an early indicator.