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Posts tagged as “Oregon”

Trends continuing

By way of followup tracking, here's where Oregon has gone since the November election in the area of voter and party registration . . .

The grand total in registered voters has hardly budged, as of the end of February stats: 2,154,384 - up 491, hardly a blip.

But there were some changes. The biggest is the increase in numbers for the Independent Party - up 2,328 to 45,358, a bigger increase than anyone else got in that period. (Non-affiliateds increased by exactly 100.)

Both Democrats and Republicans dropped in registered voters. While Democrats dropped 669, Republicans fell by 1,979 - extending the registration gap between the parties by more than 1,000, to 238,039.

Semi-fusion voting

If the Oregon Senate follows the track of the Oregon House (which in this case voted 52-8 in favor), Oregon may make one of the more interesting changes in Northwest election laws in years, but which once was commonplace: Something resembling fusion voting.

A century and more ago, many parts of the country (and the Northwest was prominent in this) had two major and a number of minor parties which often would split support of various candidates. Seldom would a candidate get both the Democratic and Republican nominations, but they might also pick up support of one or more smaller parties, and these levels of support could be enough to make a difference. (The Idaho governor who got the largest-ever voting percentage, in 1896, was a Democrat - but he got it with the support of a batch of splinters as well.)

Some states (New York, for one) still do remnants of this kind of voting but the Northwest has not for a long time. But Oregon, for one, has always allowed candidates to pick up the nominations of more than one party in a single election. It just hasn't placed more than one party's support on the ballot - you have to choose.

Now that seems likely to change, if House Bill 2414 passes - "will allow candidates for partisan office the option of listing the names of more than one nominating party on the general election ballot (i.e., Ben Westlund Democratic, Independent or Vicki Berger Republican, Independent)."

You may have picked up a trend line there; the new Oregon Independent Party did quite a bit of cross-nomination last cycle and probably will again, and the joint listing on the ballot could substantially increase the value of the joint nominations. (Some other smaller parties have done likewise; the Independent's press release on the subject today notes that bill co-sponsor Representative Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, in 2008 got both the Democratic and the Working Families nominations.)

There's a good chance, by the way, that the Senate will go along: Nearly half of the members of the Senate already have put down their names in support.

OR5: A possible contest?

Kari Chisholm has a forward-looking Blue Oregon piece on prospects in the Oregon 5th House district, one of two in the region (the Idaho 1st is the other) where a freshman will be doing defense.

5th district

As Chisholm notes, political wisdom is that the first run for re-elect is the best shot at taking out an incumbent; after that, it tends to get difficult. (A first-term takeout is how the Idaho 1st just changed hands.) So new Democratic Representative Kurt Schrader, who won by a substantial but not overwhelming 54.5%, is likely to be mid-level on the Republicans' target list.

He's logically on it partly because of his freshman status, because because White House parties tend to lose House seats in the mid-terms (as 2010 will be), and because the 5th district has plenty of Republicans and no lack of ambitious prospects. Some of them don't make a lot of sense, notably Mike Erickson, the businessman who has lost twice and imploded last year amid scandal-type headlines. Chisholm lists such other Republicans as a former failed congressional candidate (Jim Zupancic) and a slew of legislators (Vic Gilliam, Scott Bruun, Vicki Berger, Fred Girod) and one who has done both - former congressional candidate and current state Senator (mid-term in 2010) Brian Boquist, who just might be the overall politically strongest of the group. (We'll get into defending that evaluation later if it seems to have relevance.) But most of these people, and some others, could be credible congressional contenders. Schrader himself was a legislator too, a year ago.

Our sense is that Schrader will not be an easy target, though. The 5th district has a historically Republican cast, since its main population centers - Marion and Clackamas counties - have voted generally Republican in most elections for decades, up to the last few cycles. In the last two cycles, Clackamas seems to have moved clearly into the Democratic camp, and for a year now Marion has had a Democratic voter registration edge, a remarkable flip there. And while the the 5th voted for George W. Bush, it turned in 2008 to Barack Obama, whose percentage here almost exactly matched Schrader's.

Of course, all that can flip again, depending on how the news runs over the next year-plus. But at the moment, Republican prospects are reliant more on changing the dynamic than hoping to ride it. And that may influence the nature of the candidates ultimately interested in the race.

The biggest shifts

The presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 obviously had different partisan results, but they also registered distinctly different partisan numbers - a shift from Republicans to Democrats, nationwide, of about 10%. The only significant Republican percentage increases in the presidential were in Alaska (the biggest by far, at 26%), Arkansas, Louisiana and Tenneesee, plus sliver improvements in Oklahoma and West Virginia. The other 45 states, including those which voted Republican both times (such as Idaho), all moved in the Democratic direction.

The Center for American Progress has put together a map on this, showing in the Northwest that Democrats made the largest presidential-level gains in Idaho (13%), closely followed by Oregon (12%) and Washington (10%).

In Washington state, 18 counties (of 39) registered a Democratic shift of more than 10%. The largest shift was in one of the most Republican counties in the state, Chelan County just east of the Cascades, at 15%.

In Oregon, 24 counties of the 36 shifted 10% or more. The highest shift there was in Washington County, at 16% - seemingly a continuation of a general trend in that county.

In Idaho, 21 counties (of 44) shifted 10% or more. As in the other states, most were just above the 10% mark, but one of them - Teton County - registered the largest shift in the whole region, at 23%, as well as the second highest, Power County at 18%. Those are both small counties, but also of interest were the shifts in the two largest counties in the state - Ada (17%) and Canyon (16%).

None of the 119 counties in the Northwest shifted Republican in that pair of presidentials.

The hall in McMinnville

Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley at the McMinnville town hall/Stapilus

Town hall meeting number four for new Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, held (like Senator Ron Wyden's most recent in the same county) at the McMinnville Police Station, had some push and pull within the audience. Maybe there's something reflective of politics generally there: A majority of the crowd of about 100 who wanted to talk about the economy, finance reform and health care, and a smaller (albeit determined) group out to talk - as opposed to question or listen - on illegal immigrants and the citizenship of Barack Obama.

Merkley set up his town hall to run a lot like Wyden's; he was still new at it, and there were kinks to work out. The basics remained the same. There was the relatively nonpartisan nature of it, for one thing; Merkley gave over the floor for while at the beginning to Republican state Representative Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill. (His big topic, and a large one in the area, is the Highway 18 Newberg-Dundee bypass, a road improvement which has been sought after for a couple of decades and may be pursued for quite a few years yet.) Merkley opened with a description of his committee assignments, and what he was doing on them; much of the interest ran to his most recent appointment, to the banking committee, a slot he'd wanted but originally thought he might not be able to get. And the thing was dominated by questions. The audience for the most part seemed to center on the topics of economic recovery and health care.

And on that front he seemed well aligned with the audience, which probably leaned Democratic but wasn't monolithic. (Asking how many favored a single-payer health plan, he drew about 30-40 raised hands; just one raised a hand in opposition.) When he asked, "Did you see that outrageous story about AIG?" he drew an appreciative response from the group, or most of it, which was loaded for bear on the subject. What exactly Congress can or will do about the outrage, however, remained a little less clear.

The inevitable difficulty with the open format - which has the great advantage of fostering open discussion, which it did - is the ease with which it can be hijacked, which happened twice.

First was a person evidently suckered in by the web chatter that Obama was born in Kenya and wasn't a U.S. citizen. The other, longer, case involved a group determined that illegal immigrants were ruining the country and costing taxpayers massively; one called out, "Congress is the problem! You are the problem!" One seemed to argue in favor of an American equivalent of the Great Wall of China (apparently sufficiently unaware of history to know that it didn't work out well there either). That group seemed to want no other subject addressed. Merkley kept cool throughout, though, and pulled the discussion onward, over to health care.

Keeping the debate focused, and the facts in order . . . always a challenge . . .

Paying its way

Jeff Kropf

There are indicators that the idea of legalizing marijuana, or at least moves in that direction, are starting to take hold. Oregon may be one of the latest, best indicators, because there's now a bill in the Oregon House to create a state-run process for producing and distributing (medical) pot - and reaping state tax money from it as well. It would be a variation on the state's liquor control operation.

Here's the formal description of House Bill 3274:

Directs Department of Human Services to establish and operate marijuana production facility and distribute marijuana to pharmacies for dispensing to medical marijuana cardholders and designated primary caregivers.
Allows pharmacists to dispense marijuana to medical marijuana cardholders and designated primarycaregivers.
Disallows private marijuana grow sites.
Imposes tax of $98 per ounce on marijuana dispensed by pharmacies. Establishes Marijuana Production Facility Fund. Continuously appropriates moneys from fund to department for operation of production facility.

The list of sponsors here is highly interesting. The senators are Ginny Burdick (liberal Portland Democrat), Jeff Kruse (conservative rural Roseburg Republican) and Rick Metsger (rural/Portland area Democrat, considered moderate, and a former and probably future candidate for statewide office). That alone should give an indication that this is no personal windmill, or that the idea seems to be some sort of political third rail. That's even more true of the many House sponsors - 22 of them, approaching half the chamber, running the full gamut, including a bunch of conventional conservative Republicans Dennis Richardson, Ron Maurer, Jim Weidner, minority leader Bruce Hanna), the more moderate members of the caucus (Scott Bruun, Vicki Berger), relatively conservative Democrats (Mike Schaufler), along with caucus-centrist Democrats (Mitch Greenlick, Tina Kotak, Carolyn Tomei). This is a genuinely bipartisan, cross-ideological deal.

What do you want to bet it passes?

And what's the national context?

We posed the question to Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML (the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), and here's his reply.

To date, no state has formally adopted any taxation scheme for the distribution of medical cannabis.

NM...realizing the likely conflict with federal laws, opted for a ‘self-preservation’ medical cannabis model. The RI legislature is currently re-visiting their 2-year old medical cannabis laws to create a state-authorized distribution system (which, again, raises numerous state/federal issues), but no $ amounts have been discussed re any levied taxes or fees.

In CA...the only state with quasi-retail access to medical cannabis, in some parts of the state, their board of tax equalization has weighed in on possible revenue from medical cannabis; CA’s tax revenue bureacracies (city/county/state), whether they know it or not, have been collecting ‘taxes’ from some of the cannabis sales outlets—often in the form of the state’s junk food tax masking as cannabis tax.

Richard Lee, proprietor of two of Oakland’s five licensed medical cannabis dispensaries told CNBC that his stores paid over $900,000 last year to city, county and state agencies.

Oregon would be breaking ground.

Death/dignity/details

The Washington Death with Dignity (or, assisted suicide) initiative takes effect today, and a reader suggested we take a look at a web site packed with information about the new law and how it works. We did, and we'll recommend it, too.

It is called Compassion and Choices, and it offers a multi-media look at the law, and what it is and isn't. (It isn't, for example, nearly as sweeping as a lot of people probably imagine it is; only a small group of people have ever used it in the decade the nearly identical measure has been on the books in Oregon.) If you're interested in the subject at all, this is worth a look.

Paper to paper

Remember Steve Smith, the high-profile former editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, who quit a few months back when orders came for yet another big budget/staff cut? Part of what he wound up doing after that was returning to his college stomping grounds at the University of Oregon, and helping out with the student newspaper there.

Only, "helping out" wasn't quite the way some of the student journalists there saw it. What evolved was a fight, a walkout/strike by the student employees of the Daily Emerald paper, and finally a resignation by Smith.

A substantial rundown of the situation, a sad evolution, shows up at Oregon Media Insiders.

Multnomah’s Republicans

Just by way of bookmarking this story out of the Oregonian, about those forgotten political people - the Republicans of Multnomah County. Yes, they're there, and actually in considerable numbers, about 75,000 registered as such.

It's just that they're so heavily outnumbered (more than 3-1, with the gap growing rapidly in recent years).

The story's a good read, for the historic perspective and the viewpoint of a group too seldom acknowledged.

Closing the courts

Among the latest economic impacts: In Oregon, shutting down the courts, one day a week.

Oregon Chief Justice Paul J. De Muniz today announced that all state courts will be closed on Fridays beginning on Friday, March 13, 2009. The closures will remain in effect at least through June 30, 2009. Future closures depend on budget decisions the legislature will make later in its session.

“These budget reductions are a huge blow to Oregon’s courts and the people we serve and will affect public safety, the welfare of children, and everyone who needs their day in court,” Chief Justice De Muniz said. “Oregonians will have the unfortunate opportunity to learn how justice delayed means justice denied.”

Not to criticize the courts for the decision - which may be the best of several unpalatable options - but we should note that courts are among the lubricants in our economic system, part of what allows things like the credit system (which is at the heart of our current troubles) to function properly.