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Fixing, not repealing, 110

In November 2020, a near-landslide of Oregon voters – 58.5% – approved Measure 110, which generally decriminalized small-scale possession of illicit drugs. That passage was a call to change the state’s core policy.

Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the pro-110 Drug Policy Alliance, said, “This confirms a substantial shift in public support in favor of treating drug use with health services rather than with criminalization.”

That was the core idea: rejection of the long-standing general policy of criminal enforcement, the half-century “war on drugs” widely declared as a failure.

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, remarked, “We need to look at things outside of the traditional war on drugs approach. That’s been going on for 50 years. And I ask everyone, so what do we have to show for this? And it’s 50 years and how many billions, if not trillions, of dollars have been spent?”

The approach relied strongly on law enforcement, prison and the criminal justice system. Critics noted that relatively few people really kicked their problems in prison, and once out their lives were so constricted – with few practical choices about where to live or work – that they often relapsed.

Those concerns, aired widely in 2020, have faded from public view – though not from validity – amid arguments that Measure 110 hasn’t worked.

A number of county governments have called for 110’s repeal. An August Emerson poll suggested a majority of Oregonians felt the same, but there’s reason for skepticism. The poll was backed by the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, whose spokesman, Kavin Sabet, has blasted decriminalization, calling it “part of a very well thought out multi-decade plan by those who want to legalize drugs and the billionaires who are behind it.”

“I do think that if Oregon repeals or replaces Measure 110 or continues to have that buyer’s remorse, which is certainly where the momentum is, this could stop the legalization movement in its tracks because this really puts a dent in those plans of legalization advocates,” Sabet said.

For all the talk about repealing Measure 110, most legislative activity now seems to involve additions and fixes for its problems rather than changing the core direction, which is what approval of Measure 110 by voters signals the public wants. However, the will of voters can and should be met with changes on how to execute that new direction. The largest failure with Measure 110, so far, has been implementation: Prevention and treatment efforts have been slow, along with measures to ban activity, such as the public use of drugs, to mirror state law on alcohol and marijuana.

Measure 110 has suffered from its timeline – changing enforceable drug laws in just 13 weeks between the election and the law change and long before treatment and other efforts could be set up – along with several gaps in the law.

Many early complaints about the measure concerned the slow expansion of treatment efforts. More recently, however, those projects have expanded. The 2021 Senate Bill 755 set up Behavioral Health Resource Networks, described as “an entity or group of entities working together to provide comprehensive, community-based services and supports to people with substance use disorders or harmful substance use.” This took time. The state set up a network in each county and tribal area before using grant funds to cover the cost of services to individuals.

The measure probably was overly comprehensive and uniform: Different drugs may call for different responses. Approaches to dealing with opioids (many of which are legal in some cases) is a different proposition than going after methamphetamines or cocaine. Legislation could address the differences.

Even more important is the absence in 110 of serious leverage to pressure – even force – drug users away from bad behavior and into treatment or some other consequence. What might that leverage look like? One option might involve building on the drug courts, active in Oregon as in many other states for many years by giving public officials – and maybe judges – broad authority to compel people to comply with recovery efforts.

Policymakers can consider as well that much of Oregon’s law relating to drugs, establishing crimes and penalties relating to manufacture and trafficking, remains in force and continues to be a powerful tool.

In October a large Oregon delegation visited Portugal, which two decades ago moved from a crimalized-based to a health service approach to drug use, to pick up lessons from the experience. Portugal seems to have little interest in reversing its course.

One of the participants, Janie Gullickson, the executive director of the Portland-based Mental Health and Addiction Association, remarked that, “It took Portugal eight years to see results they were hoping to see from their drastic change from a criminal approach to addiction to a health care approach. So it’s going to take time, innovation and collaboration. We’re year three, right?”

Elected officials seldom are wise simply to smack down a clearly expressed will of the voters. Voters do tend to appreciate, though, efforts to make their will work better.

(This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.)

 

A union forges its own path

Is Oregon’s largest private-sector union going its own way politically?

It’s too early to say conclusively, but as it’s said in journalism, three instances make a trend, and a string of instances this year suggest the organization is already there.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 represents more than 30,000 workers, the core working at grocery stores but many in other businesses as well. Over the years, its political activities usually have aligned with those of most other Northwest union organizations in generally supporting Democratic candidates. It has been going through some changes, including by expanding.. It has long covered Oregon and southwest Washington, but in 2021 it merged with the local in southern Idaho, so that it now reaches from the Pacific to Jackson, Wyoming.

It also has sought to expand into the legal cannabis business sector. Since Oregon’s legalization, the local has tried to organize its workers and has pressed legislation to mandate cannabis businesses sign “labor peace agreements” as a condition of licensure.

When the local took the idea to the Oregon Legislature as House Bill 3183 (Cannabis Workers Rights), it drew questions about whether it would survive a court challenge. Rep. Paul Holvey, who chaired the House Committee on Business and Labor where the measure was assigned, shared that concern and, with time running out in the session, diverted the rules committee, where it died.

That result came amidst what probably felt to the local like a reversal of fortunes. As one labor newspaper noted, “from 2015 to 2017, Local 555 was a big player in a string of wins in the Oregon Legislature, including the 2015 paid sick leave law, the 2016 minimum wage law and the 2017 fair scheduling law. But in the last few years, Local 555 has had a tough time getting its proposed legislation passed.”

After the cannabis measure failed, Local 555 officials struck back. They targeted Holvey, a Eugene Democrat long close to the strong labor organizations in his district, for recall. Local 555 cited “a long list of Holvey’s anti-worker actions and questionable conduct that warrant his removal, including Holvey’s dishonest framing of his opposition to pro-worker legislation, his long-standing double standard advantaging big business interests over those of working people, a chronic lack of engagement and other instances of poor conduct.”

But they got no real support among other labor organizations. While umbrella groups like the state AFL-CIO stayed out of the fight, 14 other labor organizations in the area – including the Ironworkers Local 29, Lane Professional Fire Fighters (IAFF Local 851), Oregon AFSCME, Oregon and Southern Idaho District Council of Laborers, Oregon Building Trades Council, Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs and the Oregon Nurses Association – sided with Holvey.

With the help of paid signature gatherers, Local 555 did get the recall on the ballot. But the voters supported Holvey by a stunning margin: About 90% voted not to recall him, a number far larger than that in most contested races.

But even before that election the local was back into ballot issues, saying on June 23 it would try to reverse the recently passed House Bill 2426, which opened the door to self-serve gasoline dispensing across the state.

Oregon was known for many years as one of two states – the other is New Jersey – requiring that attendants pump gas, a rule imposed in 1951 and long thought to be immutable. It has been eroded steadily in recent years, however, first with exemptions for rural areas and then broader pandemic-era allowances. Polling showed steadily growing support for self-serve gas.

HB 2426, passed and enacted this year, did away with the self-serve ban statewide, though it still requires businesses generally to provide a staff-service option. That latter provision may keep some service positions intact. Advocates also point out that Oregon has been experiencing a labor shortage in recent years.

Local 555 does have an interest in this issue, since it said it represents “nearly 800 workers at 63 grocery store fuel stations in Oregon,” though there’s little clear information on how many jobs have been lost through the law change, and in its statement on the initiative the local didn’t offer an estimate.

Local 555 spokesman Miles Eshaia said, “We have fuel stations within some of our bargaining units and we have seen not necessarily layoffs, but job loss to attrition so people who quit, they just don’t replace them because they don’t necessarily need to, because the new law allows for half of what they had before.”

Local 555 would need to collect about 117,000 signatures by next July to get a proposed reversal on the ballot. If it succeeds at that,  the odds of passage are not good, especially considering that other organizations haven’t jumped on board. While it probably would get more than 10% support, the measure seems to be trying to swim upstream.

The local also is taking on the statehouse with a series of other ballot proposals, which aim to revamp the ethics commission, end some closed door meetings, require some financial transparency for hospitals and pass into law a measure along the lines of the cannabis worker bill that failed in the last session.

Local 555 appears to be going its own way. Will others join in?

 

Going its own way

Is Oregon’s largest private-sector union going its own way politically?

It’s too early to say conclusively, but as it’s said in journalism, three instances make a trend, and a string of instances this year suggest the organization is already there.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 represents more than 30,000 workers, the core working at grocery stores but many in other businesses as well. Over the years, its political activities usually have aligned with those of most other Northwest union organizations in generally supporting Democratic candidates. It has been going through some changes, including by expanding.. It has long covered Oregon and southwest Washington, but in 2021 it merged with the local in southern Idaho, so that it now reaches from the Pacific to Jackson, Wyoming.

It also has sought to expand into the legal cannabis business sector. Since Oregon’s legalization, the local has tried to organize its workers and has pressed legislation to mandate cannabis businesses sign “labor peace agreements” as a condition of licensure.

When the local took the idea to the Oregon Legislature as House Bill 3183 (Cannabis Workers Rights), it drew questions about whether it would survive a court challenge. Rep. Paul Holvey, who chaired the House Committee on Business and Labor where the measure was assigned, shared that concern and, with time running out in the session, diverted the rules committee, where it died.

That result came amidst what probably felt to the local like a reversal of fortunes. As one labor newspaper noted, “from 2015 to 2017, Local 555 was a big player in a string of wins in the Oregon Legislature, including the 2015 paid sick leave law, the 2016 minimum wage law and the 2017 fair scheduling law. But in the last few years, Local 555 has had a tough time getting its proposed legislation passed.”

After the cannabis measure failed, Local 555 officials struck back. They targeted Holvey, a Eugene Democrat long close to the strong labor organizations in his district, for recall. Local 555 cited “a long list of Holvey’s anti-worker actions and questionable conduct that warrant his removal, including Holvey’s dishonest framing of his opposition to pro-worker legislation, his long-standing double standard advantaging big business interests over those of working people, a chronic lack of engagement and other instances of poor conduct.”

But they got no real support among other labor organizations. While umbrella groups like the state AFL-CIO stayed out of the fight, 14 other labor organizations in the area – including the Ironworkers Local 29, Lane Professional Fire Fighters (IAFF Local 851), Oregon AFSCME, Oregon and Southern Idaho District Council of Laborers, Oregon Building Trades Council, Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs and the Oregon Nurses Association – sided with Holvey.

With the help of paid signature gatherers, Local 555 did get the recall on the ballot. But the voters supported Holvey by a stunning margin: About 90% voted not to recall him, a number far larger than that in most contested races.

But even before that election the local was back into ballot issues, saying on June 23 it would try to reverse the recently passed House Bill 2426, which opened the door to self-serve gasoline dispensing across the state.

Oregon was known for many years as one of two states – the other is New Jersey – requiring that attendants pump gas, a rule imposed in 1951 and long thought to be immutable. It has been eroded steadily in recent years, however, first with exemptions for rural areas and then broader pandemic-era allowances. Polling showed steadily growing support for self-serve gas.

HB 2426, passed and enacted this year, did away with the self-serve ban statewide, though it still requires businesses generally to provide a staff-service option. That latter provision may keep some service positions intact. Advocates also point out that Oregon has been experiencing a labor shortage in recent years.

Local 555 does have an interest in this issue, since it said it represents “nearly 800 workers at 63 grocery store fuel stations in Oregon,” though there’s little clear information on how many jobs have been lost through the law change, and in its statement on the initiative the local didn’t offer an estimate.

Local 555 spokesman Miles Eshaia said, “We have fuel stations within some of our bargaining units and we have seen not necessarily layoffs, but job loss to attrition so people who quit, they just don’t replace them because they don’t necessarily need to, because the new law allows for half of what they had before.”

Local 555 would need to collect about 117,000 signatures by next July to get a proposed reversal on the ballot. If it succeeds at that,  the odds of passage are not good, especially considering that other organizations haven’t jumped on board. While it probably would get more than 10% support, the measure seems to be trying to swim upstream.

The local also is taking on the statehouse with a series of other ballot proposals, which aim to revamp the ethics commission, end some closed door meetings, require some financial transparency for hospitals and pass into law a measure along the lines of the cannabis worker bill that failed in the last session.

Local 555 appears to be going its own way. Will others join in?

This column appeared originally in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

OR 3 will stay blue, but what shade?

In the broad picture, the departure after next year of longtime U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer will mean a change of personnel rather than a change of politics for Oregon.

The biggest immediate impact may be on how much more junior, in seniority terms, the Oregon delegation rapidly has become. After Blumenauer’s departure, the senior House member will be Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who has held the office just over a decade, and after that Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz, now in his second term. The other three members of the delegation all were elected for the first time just last year. Oregon has built significant seniority in its senators, but will have less in the House for years to come.

Seniority aside, Oregonians shouldn’t expect dramatic change in the representation of the 3rd after next year.

That’s not a commentary on Blumenauer but rather on his district. The Oregon 3rd has been for generations centered on Portland, and for the last couple of generations it has solidified as solidly liberal, much the most partisan district in Oregon in recent years. Even after the recent census-driven reapportionment, the 3rd is more Democratic than the eastern-Oregon 2nd district is Republican. In the Northwest overall, it is second only to the central Seattle district in Democratic lean, and is more Democratic than any Northwest district is Republican, including those in Idaho.

Blumenauer, who won the seat in 1996, following Ron Wyden’s move to the U.S. Senate, has had no tough elections since the day he was sworn in. He has not fallen below 67% of the vote in any general election in that district, and primaries have been no problem for him either. Considering the party registration in the district, Blumenauer was, if anything, slightly underperforming, but on the evidence of numbers, the district seems satisfied.

So let no one suggest that he has decided to retire at age 75 because of political difficulties; he was there for life if he’d so chosen.

But, given a fresh choice, what kind of representative might the district want at this point?

The question doesn’t relate to the usual broader issues, the way it does, for example, in the competitive Oregon 5th, which next election might choose a nominee of either party. But within the context of left-of-center Democratic prospects, variations exist.

As Bluemenauer was quoted as saying, “There are literally a dozen people salivating at the prospect of getting in this race.” And why not? Once past the primary, without any major errors, the Democratic nominee is likely to hold the seat without difficulty for a long time, as Blumenauer and Wyden did.

But different candidates – and none formally has announced plans to run yet – could bring different approaches.

You could illustrate that through two of the first names to be circulated broadly as prospects for the race.

One possibility is Deborah Kafoury, formerly chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. Much like Blumenauer, she has been deeply involved in Portland-area government – and in the state Legislature – for many years. It’s easy to imagine that her service in the district might look a lot like Blumenauer’s: Unmistakably liberal, supportive of much that’s on the metro area’s agenda, but not particularly cantankerous or high profile. A candidate like her might be seen as an establishment choice in the same sense Blumenauer has been.

Another name being bounced around is that of current Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, whose sister, Pramila Jayapal, represents that super-Democratic central Seattle district. Pramila Jayapal is more a national political figure, more an ideological leader in Congress, than Blumenauer has been; she chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

That’s not to say that Susheela Jayapal would follow exactly the same path; many of the headlines around Susheela Jayapal have concerned homelessness, budget issues and other local concerns.

But Portland voters may take note that the Seattle representative has been a strong supporter for the Multnomah candidate. She remarked, for example after her sister’s election to the Multnomah commission, “I am really proud of her. She did a lot of work listening to organizations dealing with housing and homelessness and she has very clear values. We have very similar values around treating people with respect and giving people a hand up.”

So, expect the next representative from Oregon’s 3rd to be a liberal Democrat. As to what kind of liberal Democrat the district will prefer, we have yet to see.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

 

The numbers and party attitudes

The midway point between the midterm election of 2022 and the presidential election of 2024 makes for a useful benchmark for examining the hardest political numbers, outside of actual elections, Oregon has to offer: Its voter registration statistics.

They tell a story of rise and fall, but not between Democrats and Republicans: Rather, between those willing to identify with a party and those who are not.

Overall, Oregon voter registration over the last five years has been growing steadily, in line with the population and maybe beyond that – from October 2018 to now it grew 8.4% – to just under three million people statewide  or 2,999,871 to be exact. Picking numbers from monthly reports in October or September of each year avoids upticks in the parties from people who only temporarily switch to vote in a contested primary, and comes before the point when general election ballots are sent out.

Even then, the growth has not been even, and some categories of voters showed sharp declines.

Part of the political story of 2024 will be told in how that roller coaster is shaped next.

All of Oregon’s counties except the smallest, Wheeler, grew their voter registrations over the last five years, but some much more than others. The three fastest were Crook, Jefferson and Morrow, not among the top suspects for developing big electorates. Because of their small sizes, they don’t change the picture drastically. Oregon’s largest county, Multnomah, was one of the slowest growers. Registration declined some years, but is now up 5.1%.

Much more striking has been the roller coaster of party registration in the last few years.

Democratic Party registration this month stands at 998,380, which is almost 15,000 lower than in 2022, which was 13,000 lower than in 2021, which was a stunning 30,000 lower than in 2020. That’s not a happy trend line for the party. But there are some mitigating factors.

One of those happened just before those years: During the year leading up to the 2020  election, Democratic registration grew by a whopping 82,277. Considering that increase and the more gradual erosion in the years since, the party’s registration level today is about where it was in 2019 if you account for population increase.

The second mitigator is Republican registration, where the picture, though also mixed, looks rougher. This month, 721,530 Republicans are registered in the state – fewer than three-fourths the number of Democrats. That, too, is a decline from the 2020 numbers, when 764,216 Republicans were registered. (Both parties seem to have gone all out to register party members in that presidential year, then lost many afterward.) Since 2020, Republicans lost registrants two of the last three years, with the largest share of losses coming in 2021.

So if lots of people have left the two big parties since 2020, but overall voter registration has remained generally stable, where did they go?

Some went to the Independent Party of Oregon, which has gained about 6,000 members since 2020. But by far the largest number went to the nonaffiliated voter category: It picked up about 14,000 registrants in that time. While the parties gained members in the year prior to 2020, those in the unaffiliated category diminished by 9,184 voters.

There’s some recent history backing the idea that Oregon voter registration is like an accordion, with the parties puffing up when presidential election year comes around, then losing a significant chunk of their members in between.

What’s happening?

The numbers reflect the trend of people becoming  disenchanted with major parties in a non-presidential election year while turning towards them when the office of president is on the ballot.

It also shows that as steadily Democratic as Oregon can seem on a surface level – and generally has been when voters weigh in with their ballots – that the blue majority rides rising and falling tides.

Watch the registration numbers month by month and see whether Democrats start picking up in the year ahead, leading up to the 2024 presidential election. If they do, traditional results are likely to appear. But the parties will have to work for support. It’s soft enough that it could falter if it’s not well tended.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

 

Easing up on the gas

Eugene was all set to host, just about now, one of Oregon’s top culture war battles of the year … and then it evaporated.

Is this an indicator that culture warriors on the left are a little less eager now than they once were, even in places like Eugene, to push at the edges of contentious policy?

The story of natural gas in Eugene may be something of a harbinger.

The political matter started on Feb. 6, when the Eugene City Council passed, on a 5-3 vote, an ordinance banning the use of fossil fuels, which mainly meant natural gas, in newly built low-rise residential buildings. The ordinance was intentionally limited in scope, allowing only electric power and appliances in newly built residential structures with three or fewer floors. Existing residential buildings were exempt as well as commercial and industrial structures. The ordinance was needed, advocates said, as part of an effort to diminish carbon emissions.

It would have been be the first ordinance of its kind in the state, and a number of city officials were happy to push it forward. Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis was quoted, “We have a governor who has pledged to build 36,000 new houses a year. We do not want those houses with natural gas hookups. And we can lead the way in the city of Eugene to say this is how it’s done.”

It was intended to be step one in moving away from natural gas; at least one council member alluded to the idea of eventually retrofitting existing buildings to be powered with electricity since by far the majority of gas emissions come from them rather than new structures.

Natural gas consists mainly of methane, and when it burns – usually to create heat – carbon dioxide is produced. The fuel can also cause methane leaks, though no one knows how large that problem is.

Desirée Plata, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the MIT Methane Network, said: “Leaks are so poorly quantified. Nobody knows that number for sure. It’s hard to sense methane comprehensively and finding those pipe-based leaks can be trickier than it sounds.”

The ordinance should not come as a great surprise in one of the green-minded centers of Oregon. If Eugene succeeded with the effort, similar approaches would be easy to imagine in Portland, Beaverton, Corvallis and other places.

But even as they passed the ordinance, the council in Eugene appears to have had a sense of unease. The Feb. 6 meeting originally was set up only to consider placing a natural gas question on the November election ballot, to allow the public to weigh in. Only during the meeting did the course change, and the council decided to adopt the ordinance outright.

The public proceeded to weigh in anyway.

Business interests involved with natural gas spoke in opposition, of course, but so did a number of labor union locals, and a broader group called Eugene for Energy Choice quickly organized.

It declared an effort to place a petition on the November ballot to kill the new ordinance. That effort was not easy, needing 6,460 valid signatures (almost 4% of the city’s total population) to take the case to ballot.

By early March, the anti-ordinance group had collected about 12,000 signatures. The group’s argument: “We believe having the option of using natural gas, along with other energy sources, keeps us all on a better path to a renewable future. Voting in favor of any gas ban will deprive Eugene residents of their ability to choose the system that works best for their family or business – and pave the way for a complete natural gas ban across all of Eugene.” The petition’s response suggested the group had a good shot at repeal.

The issue was set for the November ballot and a big political showdown. Both sides started to pitch their case, and in an odd-numbered year’s November season when elections are usually quiet, the prospect of a big culture war squabble was strong. Environmental groups weighed in, too, in support of a measure seen as helping with climate change.

And then, as abruptly as the conflict had started, it went away.

On July 10, the Eugene council revisited the issue and – this time unanimously – repealed the ordinance, which had the effect of removing the ballot question in November.

Councilor Emily Semple said, “I think it was a pragmatic decision. We need to wait for the right time.”

That suggests the city’s efforts on energy regulation aren’t necessarily over, and at least one council member said she would like to revisit the subject next year.

But if they do, their experience of 2023 might persuade them to move more cautiously. By averting a pitched battle in the culture wars, Eugene may be able to show a sounder path forward by developing energy policy through working with the full range of public interests in the city. Other cities, and even states, could draw a lesson from that.

This article (and image) originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

 

Heightened scrutiny

Oregon will get a new district judge, and probably soon. But how soon and who it might be depends on when and whether Democrats recapture a voting majority in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

When California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was a member of that committee, died last month, that vacancy left Democrats and Republicans on the panel tied. That may change with a new Democratic appointment to the panel, though Republicans could try to stop the appointment. If there is solid Republican opposition to a nominee, the appointee would not be approved.

The federal district court, with 11 judges, covers a large number and a vast range of cases, including many of the most controversial, such as a recent gun rights case and numerous environmental, criminal and economic cases, and notably cases involving constitutional rights.

This appointment emerged on Sept. 4 when five Biden Administration nominees for federal district judge seats appeared in a two-hour joint confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Four of them – two from Hawaii and one each from New Jersey and Texas – were barely noticed and received few questions.

Almost all of the attention and rough questioning was reserved for the other nominee: Mustafa T. Kasubhai of Oregon.

Kasubhai was nominated by the White House to replace U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez, who is scheduled to transition to senior status next Aug. 21. Since 2018, Kasubhai has been a federal magistrate judge based at Eugene and was the first Muslim American on the federal bench. Before that he served as a state circuit court judge for more than a decade. Those appointments followed years of private practice at Eugene and Klamath Falls. He has received a number of bar awards over the years, and within Oregon he has not been notably controversial. His parents were immigrants from Mumbai in India. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley gave him warm introductions at the hearing.

He quickly became a hot topic among the Senate Republicans, however. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (who didn’t bother questioning the Texas nominee) told Kasubhai, “I think your fellow nominees owe you a debt of gratitude, because many Biden nominees have been extreme, but your record is so far out of the mainstream that you have attracted virtually all of the questions.”

Of the judge’s 400 or so court decisions, only one drew the attention of the Republican senators: A ruling in the case Boudjerada v. City of Eugene, invalidating a citywide curfew during 2020 rioting and protests. The ruling did stop the curfew, since it followed the actual disturbance by about three years. The judge did not criticize a curfew set by the city in the downtown area, where the disruption occurred, but did say the citywide restriction went too far, “such that application of that citywide curfew could have criminalized people’s behavior of just trying to get home.”

Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina blasted the ruling. Lee asked “how does a seven-hour curfew in the middle of the night in the wave of such destruction and terror prevent ample means of communication?” Neither referenced the narrower curfew that was left undisturbed.

Elsewhere, the senators pulled quotes from more distant writing, some from college days, painting the picture of the judge as having radical tendencies. They also seized on his posting of “pronoun usage” on his court’s web page.

Graham bore into a book which Kasubhai referenced in an article. From “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” Graham quoted the writer Ibram X. Kendi, “the only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” He asked Kasubhai, “do you agree with that?” The judge said he didn’t.

Cruz spoke of a “flirtation with Marxism,” and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina at one point tossed his glasses aside and said, “you seem to be obsessed with race and sexuality … how are litigants going to be able to trust you?”

By contrast, the Democrats on the committee came to Kasubhai’s defense. Cory Booker of New Jersey asked, “you don’t care what their pronouns are when you’re applying the law?”

“No, senator,” the judge replied.

The committee’s chair, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, remarked in apparent rebuke to the Republicans: “Isn’t it interesting today that when we considered your life’s work and whether you’re prepared for the federal bench the only reference made was to a case in which you issued an opinion as a magistrate which was accepted by the district court?”

No votes were taken at the hearing, and more time is allowed for written questions and answers. But the hearing made clear that Kasubhai has become the latest exhibit in political culture wars, likely a familiar name in conservative media, a Republican cause celebre.

His confirmation may hinge on the question of how many Democrats are sitting on the Judiciary Committee when that vote comes. That leave Oregon’s federal judiciary in the balance in the meantime.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

 

Setting the path for some new issues

Oregon legislators have been burrowing into newsy topics like housing, road tolling, crime, Measure 110 and PAC-12 changes, but that’s not all.

Legislative days in Salem last week, when lawmakers spent much of their time at informational meetings, laid the groundwork for hot topics likely to return in upcoming regular sessions.

Here are five topics addressed last week in Salem that got enough legislative attention to win committee facetime.

Ransomware and internet security (Joint Information Management and Technology Committee). One attention-getter on the subject of cybersecurity was the leadoff witness: Curry County Commissioner Brad Alcorn, from a region not obviously on the tech cutting edge. But the choice was fitting. In May, his county was the target of a devastating online attack, and Alcorn remarked at the time, “Everything that relates to county operations that was online is now gone.”

Materials for the hearing prepared by a number of state agencies covered the wreckage of recent cyber attacks and vulnerability to them, and a description of the chain of command and communications system for responding, but little about proactive efforts to counter the problem. That sounds like a topic begging for legislative review in the next session or two.

Involuntary commitment (Senate Human Services Committee). As legislators circle around the amorphous problems of drug addiction and homelessness (which are not the same but do overlap), involuntary commitment may be a tempting leverage option.

The Senate’s Human Services Committee hearing on the subject focused on commitments “of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” but the legal device could be used as well in other areas. It is difficult to undertake – a complex set of legal requirements is involved – and not commonly used, as just 13 commitments have been undertaken statewide so far this year.

Not only that, according to the report from Anna Lansky, interim director of the Office of Developmental Disabilities Services,”Civil commitments conflict with the current (state disabilities) system’s requirements.”

Even so, the use of commitments as a tool for solving otherwise intractable problems is likely to be unavoidable for legislators in the next few sessions.

Professional employer organizations (House Business and Labor Committee). Obscure to many people, these organizations that provide permanent employees are becoming an increasingly significant sector of Oregon’s economy. A business database indicates Oregon licenses 58 of them.

Also called worker leasing companies, Oregon state code ORS 656.850 describes them as providing workers, “by contract and for a fee, to work for a client but does not include a person who provides workers to a client on a temporary basis.” (Temp worker companies are not included.) This can mean people considered permanent employees of one business legally are employed by another.

This can involve complex tax, insurance, regulatory and other considerations, and Oregon law may not have kept up. The Department of Consumer and Business Services and state unemployment insurance offices held an information session on this, and follow-up may be coming.

Taxes and electric vehicles (House Climate Energy and Environment Committee). This is not a new topic, but this presentation suggested the state is just now coming to an inflection point in the area of how electric and hybrid vehicles carry their load in paying for the upkeep of the state’s road system.

One slide in the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Powerpoint presentation said the state now estimates that battery electric and hybrid vehicles this year still account for less than 10% of the motor vehicle stock in the state, but that may rise to a third over the next decade, and jump to half a decade after that. Income from gas taxes will fall drastically.

In 2017, the Legislature ordered a study on “whether vehicles powered by different means are paying their fair share … (and) found high-efficiency vehicles are significantly underpaying

compared to lower efficiency gas-powered vehicles.” The Legislature is being told that time is fast running out to decide how to resolve the conflicting goals of energy efficiency and paying for roads.

Local journalism (House Rules Committee). This was possibly the most unusual topic to emerge during legislative days, with testimony from the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon and from Heidi Wright, publisher of The Bend Bulletin.

Jody Lawrence-Turner, executive director of the Fund for Oregon Rural Journalism, highlighted a survey of rural news organizations about the challenges they face. Some could implicate public action: 68% need help with grants and donors, 55% more need help training journalists and about a third are interested in converting a nonprofit status. The ideas raised easily could return in a future legislative session.

Whether any of these subjects gain traction in months ahead is another matter. But they have a head start.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

 

Oregon 5 and 6 lean differently

Oregon’s neighboring 5th and 6th Congressional districts are, politically, a lot more different than they may have seemed last November.

In the days following the November 2022 election, they were in a similar position: Both featured races so close that days would pass before the winner became clear.

The final result showed the 5th District going to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, leading her Democratic opponent by 2.1% of the vote, and the 6th to Democrat Andrea Salinas, who prevailed by 2.4%. DeRemer faced a stronger opponent than Salinas did.

Both will be competitive districts in the 2024 races, and both are expected to feature the incumbents. Opposition from the losing party in 2022 already has surfaced in both cases, and both may be targeted by national parties. Both incumbents have been doing what incumbents in close-margin districts ought to do: Staying close to home, visiting lots of organizations and activities. Their status is similar enough that the two of them, from different parties, have coordinated on many activities and policy ideas – likely to their mutual benefit.

But there are underlying differences. The Cook Index, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball all rate Oregon’s 5th, centered in Clackamas and Deschutes counties, as a “toss up” district. District 6, centered in Marion, Yamhill and southeastern Washington counties, is rated as “lean Democratic” by the first two and “likely Democratic” by Sabato.

The national analysts, whatever the data behind their choices, got their calls right last year.

While both districts lean Democratic, at least somewhat in the case of the 5th, it’s nowhere close to the Democratic-lock in the 1st and 3rd districts or the Republican hold on the 2nd. The Cook Political Report has developed partisan indexes based on voting records and party registration, and calculates that the 5th District has a lean toward Democrats of 2%, while the 6th has a lean of 4% – enough to matter when races get close.

The bigger factor, however, is this: DeRemer is swimming upstream in her district, running as a Republican in a Democratic district. Salinas is swimming with the current as a Democrat in a Democratic district.

The districts are changing. The biggest growth area in the 5th is Bend, which now has a population over 100,000 and has been trending steadily more Democratic as it grows.

Both candidates have some advantage in their roles as the first Latina members of Congress from Oregon. Salinas may have the bigger advantage there; the Hispanic population in the 6th District is about 20% compared with about 10% in the 5th.

At the same time, competition to run against the incumbents is stronger so far in the 5th District. DeRemer DeRemer’s three leading opponentsJamie McLeod-Skinner, Janelle Bynum and Lynn Peterson – have distinct strengths and weaknesses, but all look to be formidable opponents. All have a regional profile and strong organizational and fundraising networks. Two have strong experience as successful candidates – one of them, Bynum, actually defeated DeRemer in two legislative races a few years ago. The third contender, McLeod-Skinner, nearly defeated DeRemer last year.

Salinas has two Republican opponents so far, Denyc Boles and David Russ.

Russ, who has served for several terms as mayor at Dundee, was a candidate in the Republican primary in the 6th District in the 2022 election, but left little impression: He came in 6th in the primary, pulling just 3.8% of the vote.

The more likely Republican nominee at this point is Boles, who has a more extensive political track record in the area, but not one likely to give Salinas night terrors. She has served in the state House in two separate runs and in the Senate once, but arrived each time in those offices by appointment rather than election. (That would indicate strong connections within Salem-area Republican circles, but not necessarily in the voting public.) She won a general election once for a strongly Republican House district, running at the time as an incumbent, and as an incumbent lost once – in a Senate district that had long been Republican-held. Still, her experience and links to the area’s Republican leaders may be strong enough to hold off other prospective primary entrants.

To be clear, the 6th District is not a runaway Democratic district like Oregon’s 1st or 3rd, which are much more based in the Portland area. The margins here are still close enough that a strong Republican candidate and campaign, or a notably flawed Democratic one, could flip the district.

But the chances of that happening are stronger in the 5th.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.