Brown Signals Her Course of Action

Kate Brown held her first press conference today as Oregon's governor and sent clear signals about her legislative priorities, views on key issues and plan to move into Mahonia Hall.

Kate Brown held her first press conference today as Oregon's governor and sent clear signals about her legislative priorities, views on key issues and plan to move into Mahonia Hall.

Governor Kate Brown gave the first indications of her immediate priorities at a press conference today. She called dealing with stalled negotiations that have caused shipping delays at West Coast ports, including Portland, a top priority.

Just two days after replacing John Kitzhaber, who resigned amid an influence-peddling scandal, Brown said her predecessor didn't ask for a pardon and it would be too soon and too speculative for her to comment on whether she would consider granting one. The new governor indicated  she would work to release public records related to Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes as soon as possible.

Brown said she will maintain Kitzhaber's focus on early childhood learning, as well push for reductions in K-12 classroom size and closing the achievement gap in public schools. She said she supported requiring vaccinations for all children attending public schools, with exemptions only for medical reasons.

Following up on her own agenda as secretary of state, Brown said she will urge the legislature to approve her voter registration bill that would sign up anyone automatically if they have a driver's license. House Bill 2177 passed out of the Oregon House shortly after Brown press conference.

On other important issues, Brown said:

  • She supports increasing Oregon's minimum wage;
  • She expressed support for lower carbon fuel standards;
  • She will keep in the place the moratorium on state executions and agrees with Kitzhaber on the need for a broader conversation over the death penalty;
  •  She will work with legislative leaders on a possible transportation funding package;
  • She will engage legislators in negotiations over the 2015-2017 budget; and
  • She has dedicated a staff member to deal with ethics and public records reform issues.

On more personal issues, Brown said she plans to move into Mahonia Hall and decided to keep several senior staff members who worked for Kitzhaber to maintain policy continuity. She has named her own staff director, legal counsel and communications chief.

Not Just Another Day at the Capitol

Kate Brown assumed the governorship in Oregon, but her swearing in was hardly more than a coffee break in a legislative session off to a very fast start.

Kate Brown assumed the governorship in Oregon, but her swearing in was hardly more than a coffee break in a legislative session off to a very fast start.

The Oregon legislature took time out Wednesday morning to witness the swearing in of new Governor Kate Brown before returning to its fast-paced start that has startled many observers and caused lobbyists and staffers to hustle like they do at the end of sessions.

In a brief six-minute speech, Brown paid respect to the contributions made by former Governor John Kitzhaber, who resigned amid an influence-peddling scandal, then made clear she wouldn't allow any family members close to state policymaking or payrolls.

While no one downplayed the significance of Brown's ascension to the governorship (she is the 38th governor, but only the second female governor in the state's history), neither she nor legislative leaders made a big deal of the transition. Legislative work continued as if nothing really big had happened. That may be because Brown is no stranger to the building or the process. She is a known quantity in Salem.

On her first day in office, Brown joined the governors of California and Washington in calling for an end to a labor dispute that has crippled West Coast ports and stranded cargos, including perishable farm products from rural parts of Oregon. Trouble on the docks was doubly on Brown's first-day agenda after Hanjin announced last week it was abandoning use of Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland because of what it called low productivity.

Day two of the Brown tenure was greeted by the release of the latest quarterly economic forecast, which predicted the state's quirky personal income tax kicker would be triggered. The good news is that the state's economy is performing better than projected. The bad news is that state tax revenue will exceed the 2 percent threshold that triggers the kicker and rebates to taxpayers.

The projected kicker rebate, which would take the form of credits on 2015 tax year returns, is $349 million. For legislators — and the governor — that represents a sizable hole in the state budget.

State economists took the occasion to remind Oregonians we have one of the most volatile tax systems because of a heavy reliance on personal and corporate income taxes, which ebb and flow along with economic downturns and upturns. The economists also noted that states such as Washington that rely heavily on sales taxes face the challenge of an eroding tax base as populations age and they buy fewer big-ticket items.

These are just a few of the challenges raining down on Brown. She also must try to satisfy demands for more K-12 public education spending, continue health care transformation efforts that include an extension of a hospital provider tax and address a push from higher education for more financial support.

When Brown served in the legislature, including as Senate majority leader, she focused much of her personal energy on civil rights, mental health and juvenile justice issues. As secretary of state, Brown pushed for Oregon's initiative and referendum system reforms, performance audits and more accessible voter registration.

Because Brown has been thrown into an already boiling pot, she is unlikely to recommend a hugely different menu of priorities than her predecessor. What will be most noticeable is a difference in style. As majority leader, Brown was available to meet and listen to advocates. She looked for compromise. She dispensed realistic political advice. That's unlikely to change, even though she has changed offices.

Estella's Brilliant Bus

Estella Pyfrom brings computer technology to underprivileged students and underserved neighborhoods on the Brilliant Bus that she bought and equipped using her own public school teacher retirement savings.

Estella Pyfrom brings computer technology to underprivileged students and underserved neighborhoods on the Brilliant Bus that she bought and equipped using her own public school teacher retirement savings.

Super Bowl ads may be a strange place to look for great education reform ideas, but the one about Estella's Brilliant Bus may qualify.

Estella Pyfrom, who retired after 50 years as a Florida public school teacher and guidance counselor, is doing something about the digital divide in classrooms, which she says is real and getting worse. Her Brilliant Bus mobile learning center brings technology to under-served communities and underprivileged students.

Pyfrom's work has not gone unnoticed. She was named a CNN "Hero," but she didn't become a household word until Microsoft made her the center of a Super Bowl commercial. That exposure could lead to a rapid expansion of her program or clones just like it in other parts of the country.

After she retired in 2009, Pyfrom took money from her personal savings to buy and equip a bus with 17 computer stations and high-speed Internet access. Since then, she's plugged in thousands of kids without access to a computer at home or school and who would otherwise be unplugged to the opportunities for online learning.

The Brilliant Bus is all business. Students must log into their own accounts. Gum is a no-no, along with Facebook. What students will find is a busload of educational software linked to the educational curricula in public schools. Pyfrom and members of her team monitor student progress and only allow students to advance to the next level when they display 90 percent proficiency in a subject area. Older students can get help with GED or college preparatory material, as well as tune into anti-bullying classes.

By all indications, Pyfrom and her Brilliant Bus are making a difference in the academic success of the students they reach.

Parents learn about computers through the program, too, so they feel less embarrassed and can be more supportive of their students. The Brilliant Bus has been used to train up entire neighborhoods as well on things such as online banking, job searches and resume writing.

Nearing 80, Pyfrom shows no signs of slowing down or trimming her aspirations. She has become a symbol of human empowerment.

"I don't think about what I'm not able to do or not going to be able to do," Pyfrom told CNN. "I plan for the things that I think I'm going to do, need to do and want to do. And I think most of them are going to happen. We've got to keep rolling. We're going to keep taking the service to the neighborhoods, and we are going to keep making a difference."

Sewage Brewage

Oregon is known for its creative microbrews. Now it may be known for sewage brewage.

Oregon is known for its creative microbrews. Now it may be known for sewage brewage.

Oregon is known for its creative microbrews. Now it may be known for sewage brewage.

Clean Water Services (CWS), Washington County's wastewater and stormwater utility, wants to stage a competition this summer for brew-masters using water coming directly from its water treatment plant pipes.

Coors touts Rocky Mountain spring water as the source for its beer, but brew-masters in the CWS competition will work with water some say has questionable purity. However, CWS spokesman Mark Jockers says, the water undergoes extensive high-purification treatment and "is the cleanest water on the planet." 

A cold beer on a sunny summer day is reason enough to set up a brewing kettle, but Jockers says the friendly competition is intended to demonstrate there is life for sewer water after treatment. If people will drink it, then they will be comfortable with many other uses, which in turn can conserve precious water resources. 

Clean Water Services is not your typical wastewater utility. It is sponsoring a program called Tree for All with the goal of planting 1 million native trees and shrubs in a single planting season. A CWS insider said the program may miss its goal and wind up planting closer to 2 million trees and shrubs. This is not the kind of "failure" most people identify with government.

The utility mines its wastewater streams to extract minerals and nutrients that, through a patented process, it turns into what it calls a stream-friendly fertilizer. CWS is restoring a large wetland adjacent to its Forest Grove wastewater treatment plant to expand its capacity with what it calls green infrastructure. 

So making beer at the tap end of a sewage treatment plant pipe doesn't seem all that out of character.

According to press reports, at least 12 home brew-masters have signed up for the CWS competition. Home brewer Jeremy Landers told Keely Chalmers of KGW-TV that he is looking forward to the opportunity to use water purer than what he can get out of the faucet in his house.

More pristine water, Landers says, gives brewers more latitude of what to add to create a unique beer flavor. The taste, he explains, comes totally from the brewer's creativity, not the DNA of the water in the beer.

Faint-hearted folks may turn up their nose for so-called sewage brewage. But a lot of people will be eager to stick their noses into a pint.

Asking the Right Questions

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What is the state getting for the money it is spending?NOTE: A version of this blog, written by CFM Senior Partner Dave Fiskum, first ran in this space two years ago. As legislators return to the Capitol early next month for the 2015 session, it is appropriate to run it again.

If state government is going to operate more effectively and efficiently, then there are three questions policymakers should ask as they review individual pieces of legislation.

1.  Is there an appropriate role for government to play?

This is a question seldom asked, at least on the record. Many policymakers simply assume that, if there is a problem, then there should be a state response to it.  The evidence is found in the 3,500 to 5,000 bills introduced every legislative session.

If the question was asked routinely, the answer would not automatically be "yes" or "no," but would depend on the specific situation. Often, the simple act of asking the question and considering the answer would be a step in the direction of aligning state government programs to available resources.

Policymakers should reserve the right to say there is no appropriate role for state government in, for example, a battle between two business groups.

A "yes" answer, by contrast, could apply to a question about organizing health care for indigent Oregonians or offer financial and/or parenting support for single parents and their children.

2.  What is the state getting for the money it is spending?

Call this "performance-based contracting." It sounds obvious that state contracts should be based on this premise. But performance-based contracting is the exception rather than the rule. In fact, in social services law in Oregon, the first instance of the use of the phrase occurred in the 2011 legislative session when lawmakers passed and the governor signed Senate Bill 964, now ORS 418.190-195. It deals with programs designed to provide services to Oregon's foster children.

If you are a state government services provider, you should compete for a contract on the basis of what you pledge to deliver.  Then, you should keep a contract if you deliver on the pledge — or lose the contract if you don't.

3.  How will state action affect the private sector – especially individual and corporate taxpayers on whom the state depends for the money to fund its operations?

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, now a nearly declared candidate for President in 2016, wrote this in a Wall Street Journal piece:

"We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And, we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

"That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or to do nothing. People understand this. Freedom of speech, for example, means that we have to put up with a lot of verbal and visual garbage in order to make sure that individuals have the right to say what needs to be said, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular. We forgive the sacrifices of free speech because we value its blessings.

"But when it comes to economic freedom, we are less forgiving of the cycles or growth and loss, and of failure and success that are part of the realities of the marketplace and life itself.

"Increasingly, we have let our elected officials abridge our own economic freedom through the annual passage of thousands of laws and their associated regulations. We see human tragedy and we demand a regulation to prevent it. We see a criminal fraud and we demand more laws. We see an industry dying and we demand it be saved. Each time, we demand, "Do something...anything."

Asking and answering the issues Bush poses would go a long way toward creating appropriate limitations on the role of government, both in Oregon and nationally.

Expecting Oregon policymakers to ask and answer all three of these questions would produce a more effective and efficient state government.

State Taxes, Volatility and the Kicker

As tax revenues in Oregon once again reach the level to trigger corporate and personal kickers, we’re likely to see lawmakers talking about tax reform.

As tax revenues in Oregon once again reach the level to trigger corporate and personal kickers, we’re likely to see lawmakers talking about tax reform.

Oregon's tax revenue system is slightly more volatile than the all-state average, but less than some critics think based on a new study by Pew Research. One volatile element not included in the Pew assessment is the personal income tax kicker, a unique and quirky procedure that rebates to taxpayers money that exceeds projected revenues by two percent or more.

According to Pew, Oregon's state tax regime volatility rating is 6.4 percent, compared to an all-state average of 5 percent. The most volatile state tax regimes are ones heavily dependent on severance or extraction taxes. Alaska has the most volatile state tax system at 34 percent.

Oregon depends heavily on personal and corporate income tax revenues, which rise and fall in concert with broader economic trends. When times are good, Oregon's income tax system generates a growing pot of money.

If times are too good, Oregon's personal income tax kicker is triggered, requiring a chunk of incremental revenue to go back to taxpayers.

Triggering the personal and corporate income tax kickers could happen again this year, forcing state lawmakers to contend with a hole in their budgets. In the latest quarterly economic forecast, state economists said the corporate kicker is almost certain to be triggered and we are very close to triggering the personal kicker.

The corporate kicker is in the $50 million range and poses less of a problem because that revenue is now dedicated to schools instead of business bottom lines. The personal income tax kicker, if triggered, would likely be in the $300 to $500 million range, enough to pinch the state budget, but not anything like the $1 billion bite in the 2005-2007 biennium, which at the time represented 10 percent of Oregon's General Fund. 

Reducing volatility has been a long-time goal of governors and legislators. It is the source of most drives for "tax reform." Arguments generally come down to finding a "balanced" state tax system, which usually means one that derives revenue from both income and sales. The argument for less volatility is that it makes it easier for state budget writers to do their jobs. 

Sales tax advocates point to Washington, which has a sales tax but not personal income tax, as an example of a more stable tax system. The Pew research shows Washington's tax system volatility is 4.6 percent. 

South Dakota, which relies on a sales tax, has the least volatile tax regime at 3.6 percent, Pew says. The next lowest state in the ranking at 2.9 percent is Kentucky, which has both personal income and sales taxes.

The Process of Regulating Pot

Marijuana edibles are just one of the significant differences and public health challenges facing regulators in Oregon who now regulate liquor.

Marijuana edibles are just one of the significant differences and public health challenges facing regulators in Oregon who now regulate liquor.

With voter approval of marijuana use comes the challenge of regulating it. Liquor regulation provides important precedents, but may not go far enough.

There will be similarities in regulating where marijuana can be sold, requiring accurate labels and preventing sales to minors.

But marijuana poses other challenges that have been highlighted by people knee-deep in developing original regulation in Colorado and elsewhere. For example, the amount of alcohol and its effect on individual adults can be roughly calculated arithmetically. That may be less true of the potency of different types of marijuana.

Marijuana edibles represent a significant challenge. Candy is sold with small amounts of liquor, but they convey far less of a potential jolt than a marijuana cookie, which is designed to transport the buzz offered by marijuana.

Another unique challenge is how to integrate the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana with recreational marijuana .

Rachel O'Bryan, cofounder of Smart Colorado, a nonprofit formed to weigh in on marijuana regulation, wrote in an op-ed in The Sunday Oregonian that someone who represents public health concerns, especially for youth, must be at the table writing rules for Oregon. She wrote: 

"Provisions that likely would not have existed but for Smart Colorado included: potency and contaminate testing; health warnings and a universal marijuana symbol; childproof packaging; per-serving and per-package THC limits; and restrictions on marketing and advertising targeted at youth." 

The backdrop for the regulation of marijuana is not law enforcement versus recreational drug users. Legalized marijuana is a hot new product category that financiers and corporate interests are pursuing. They will be the big rollers in the room when rules are discussed and their motivation, O'Bryan says, will be to sell product and turn a profit.

Oregon is a so-called "control" state for distilled spirits. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission sets the rules, with a strong influence from a constituency that includes groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which counterbalance pressure from liquor manufacturers, liquor agents and others who would like to sell liquor. O'Bryan argues a similar constituency will be needed to keep marijuana regulation in balance.

Kitzhaber Wins Re-election, But by Narrow Margin

Governor John Kitzhaber claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority, and the measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana.

Governor John Kitzhaber claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority, and the measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana.

Democrats retained and even strengthened their grip on control of the state house and legislature as Oregonians said yes to legal weed and no to labeling of genetically modified foods and the much touted top-two primary. The story wasn't so good for Democrats nationally as they saw their majority in the U.S. Senate evaporate, giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress.

The story of the night was the relatively narrow victory by Governor John Kitzhaber, who claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority. On a series of critical news reports about First Lady Cylvia Hayes, including charges she may have leveraged her influence with the governor for personal gain, Kitzhaber's double-digit lead in the polls shrunk to a 5 percentage point victory.

The tighter-than-expected race appears to be more a reflection on Kitzhaber than his GOP opponent Dennis Richardson and raises questions about how the governor will fare going forward, especially if the Hayes scandals continue to dog his administration.

The other race of interest and significance involved a rematch between former Rep. Chuck Riley and incumbent GOP Senator Bruce Starr. Riley led in early voting results, but Starr now hows a thin 123-vote lead in a race that may be headed for a recount. If Riley manages to upset Starr, it would give Senate Democrats an 18-vote majority, enough to pass funding measures without any Republican votes.

Democrats retained control of the Oregon House by a margin of 35-25, one vote shy of the three-fifths majority to move tax measures without help from across the political aisle.

All of Oregon's incumbent congressional delegation up for re-election, including Senator Jeff Merkley, won handily.

Senate President Peter Courtney, whom some thought might face a tough re-election battle, prevailed with more than 53 percent of the vote. On the flip side, Rep. Jim Weidner, a Republican representing McMinnville and one of the most Republican-leaning districts in the state, won by a surprisingly narrow 51 to 46 percent measure over Democratic challenger Ken Moore. Moore campaign vigorously, while Weidner didn't.

A lot of attention and money focused on ballot measures and none more than Measure 92, which would have required GMO labeling. This is the second time Oregonians have rejected a similar measure, but this time the margin was razor thin at 50.6 to 49.4 percent, or something like 17,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast. (Interestingly, a GMO moratorium in Maui, which also attracted deep-pocket opponents, narrowly passed.)

The biggest loser was Measure 90, the top-two primary, which went down to defeat 68 to 32 percent. Measure 88, a referendum to overturn legislation to allow driver cards for non-residents, was defeated almost as soundly at 67 to 33 percent.

The biggest winner was Measure 89, the equal rights amendment, which passed by 63 to 37 percent.

The measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana. Alaska also approved a similar measure and the District of Columbia passed a somewhat more restricted legalization. They join Washington and Colorado, which already have passed and implemented marijuana legalization schemes. Oregon's regulatory challenge will fall to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which announced it will move forward a policy that reflects the "Oregon way."

Quirky Attracts College Educated Young Adults

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Young college grads are moving to Portland to create a life in a place with the attributes they like."Portlandia" has added anecdotes to flesh out Portland's quirky reputation, but what may not be so quirky is the city's attraction of young, college-educated adults.

In an article inThe Washington Post, local economist Joe Cortright says data disputes the "Portlandia"-perpetuated view that young adults come to Portland to retire. Cortright says the unemployment rate for 25-to-34-year-olds with college degrees in Portland is 4.8 percent, which he claims is lower than comparable rates in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta or New York.

That Portland is a young person's mecca is borne out by statistics showing the city added 34,545 young college graduates since 2000, which as a percentage of growth outstrips New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

It appears to be true, Cortright says, that young people move to Portland without a job. That's because, he explains, they are coming here to create a future life in a place with the attributes they like — a compact downtown, cultural amenities, public transit options, proximity to nature and good food.

The Post article mentioned one Portland business that provides space to would-be entrepreneurs to create prototypes of their products and suggested there is a budding "cottage industry in helping people launch cottage industries."

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is quoted as applauding the arrival of new young bloods who bask in and extend the sharing economy. This is a generation willing to share everything from cars to tools to bikes. They want an authentic experience in a place where they can visit the farm that grew the food on their table.

People commuting from Keizer and Newberg to work in Portland may not share that zeal for the sharing economy, but the newcomers may be reaching critical mass as a new form of economic diversity for Portland. They also may be people voting with their feet who want to put down roots somewhere where other people share their values.

Outsiders and even many Portlanders may shake their head that former City Hall parking spaces have been converted to a community garden growing Swiss chard. But the economic impact of a continuously growing stream of educated Millennials may be headed toward shaking up the status quo of a city known for its bridges, park blocks and brewpubs.

Legal Money Transfers May Lead to Legal Weed

Contributions in support of Measure 91 to legalize marijuana are abundant and are moving around like a pea under shells in a street hustle.

Contributions in support of Measure 91 to legalize marijuana are abundant and are moving around like a pea under shells in a street hustle.

The money supporting legalizing marijuana through Oregon’s Measure 91 is messy. You need a timeline and map to follow all the moving money. However, with strict campaign reporting laws enforced by the Secretary of State, it’s easier to track this kind of green than the illegal kind.

There are three Political Actions Committees (PACs) in support of Measure 91 – Yes on 91, New Approach Oregon and Drug Policy Action of Oregon. A large portion of the money raised has been transferred from one of the other PACs, in a shuffle that resembles a street hustler moving a pea around under shells.

Drug Policy Action of Oregon PAC is the simplest to track, which isn’t saying much. The PAC  is on record donating $240,000 –—$90,000 to Yes on 91 PAC and $150,000 to the New Approach Oregon PAC.

But Drug Policy Action actually has contributed an estimated $1.4 million, using variations on the name including Drug Policy Alliance and Drug Policy Action Fund for Oregon.

A group in New York calling itself Drug Policy Alliance uses its Political Action Committee, Drug Policy Action, to funnel money to campaigns. The Oregon branch, named the Drug Policy Action Fund of Oregon, associates with an Oregon address. George Soros is one of the largest donors to the Drug Policy Alliance (the organization behind the Drug Policy Action committee), donating $5 million dollars to the alliance annually.

The Yes on 91 PAC has raised $2.1 million this year, reporting $775,000 still on hand. The majority of the money in this PAC came from the other two PACs. New Approach Oregon gave $700,000 and $500,000 came from New Approach PAC. Another $900,000 came from Drug Policy Action and Drug Policy Action of Oregon.

Despite being the largest PAC and raising $3.3 million this year, New Approach Oregon only has about $150,000 left on hand. For the most part, the money going into this supportive PAC has been gathered from a few sources with deep pockets such as Henry van Ameringen, a New York fragrance corporation heir, and Phillip Harvey, an online sex-toy mogul. Each has given at least $100,000.

Then there is New Approach PAC, which you would assume is a political action committee associated with New Approach Oregon. However, New Approach PAC is not officially registered as a PAC. This “other” type of contributor lists a Washington DC address in its campaign reports. The Oregonian has reported family members of the late Peter Lewis, a billionaire insurance executive, are its main benefactors. The only association this “PAC” has to New Approach Oregon is giving it $750,000 and then another $500,000 to Yes on 91.

On the other side of the campaign efforts, it is as clear as it can get. The No on 91 PAC has raised only $168,000 and still has $43,000 on hand, based on numbers supplied by Orestar.

It’s a good thing Measure 91 isn’t as confusing as the money behind it. The convulsion of transfers and similar PAC names mystifies the true players behind the money. Why this strategy, with multiples PACs, multiple surnames and multiple transfers? Who and what is being hidden behind the puff of smoke?

This smoke screen doesn't appear to disturb voters. According to recent polling, Measure 91 is passing with 53 percent certain or likely "yes" voters, with 41 percent against and less than 7 percent undecided. Oregonians voted down a similar measure in the last election cycle, so now the question hangs in the air of whether all the green put down in favor of Measure 91 will roll up into a victory.

Oregon's History with Ballot Slogans

Ballot slogans were a legendary part of Oregon politics and provide a time capsule of issues from the past – and some that are still roiling. [Source: The Oregonian 1946]

Ballot slogans were a legendary part of Oregon politics and provide a time capsule of issues from the past – and some that are still roiling. [Source: The Oregonian 1946]

In a story that proves, among other things, that concise, clear writing was always in style, The Washington Post examines the history of ballot slogans in Oregon. It was a bit like Twitter without the computer.

Called “campaign capsules” by The Oregonian in 1946, ballot slogans were 12 words that candidates could have printed on official ballots, right next to the their name.

Campaign slogans ranged from pithy to pitiful. Some simply wanted you to know they were “Not a lawyer.” Others broke out the Thesaurus to let you know alliteratively they were for “Proper places for people, not pachyderm palaces.”

Quoting past presidents and political leaders was as popular then as now, though I haven’t heard anyone quote FDR lately. But maybe that’s because Eleanor Roosevelt asked them to stop. 

Many sound like something you might have read recently. “Say NO to rat-poison fluorine in your drinking water” or “Oregon still needs a doctor in the House.” There were even ballot slogans campaigning against ballot slogans.

Then as now, one journalist noted that “most of the slogans are dull and uninspired.”

According to Jamie Fuller, ballot slogans appeared on Oregon ballots from 1909 until 1983, when the state legislature abolished them – arguments against them included saving money on ballot printing and the law that precludes candidates from campaigning at polling locations.

Speculation on what the current crop of candidates would have used for a ballot slogan might be a fun way to pass the time on election day. Dennis Richardson wants to Reboot, Reform, Restore – that would fit nicely, with room left over for a jibe about CoverOregon.

First Lady Faces Conflict of Interest Charge

Governor Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes woke up this week reading a Willamette Week article accusing Hayes of conflict of interest, which the governor denies.

Governor Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes woke up this week reading a Willamette Week article accusing Hayes of conflict of interest, which the governor denies.

Willamette Week delivered a pre-election wallop to Governor John Kitzhaber's re-election campaign this week with an investigative report suggesting First Lady Cylvia Hayes may have benefitted financially from her special relationship with the governor. 

Rep. Dennis Richardson, Kitzhaber's underdog Republican challenger, seized on the story and said via a statement,"The latest scandal shows once again that the State of Oregon is being run more like a mafia than a public entity. The governor and first lady are not above the law."

Kitzhaber denies any wrongdoing by himself and Hayes. He said Hayes' contracts were reviewed carefully for any conflict of interest. "We were very proactive," Kitzhaber told The Associated Press. "Very rigorous and very transparent." AP reported Hayes declared three conflicts of interest in August 2013. Kitzhaber said Hayes has no current contracts that touch on state government.

The conflict of interest charge against Kitzhaber and Hayes comes amid a continuing controversy involving GOP Senate challenger Monica Wehby, whom Buzzfeed has accused of plagiarizing health care policy talking points from Karl Rove and her Republican primary challenger, Rep. Jason Conger. 

Neither charge may affect the outcome of the November election. Polls show Wehby trailing incumbent Senator Jeff Merkley by double digits and Kitzhaber's re-election has been assumed since he announced his bid for an unprecedented fourth term. However, the charges mark a significant turn in elections in Oregon, known as one of the most politically polite places in the country.

The piece about Kitzhaber, and its timing just before general election ballots arrive in voter mailboxes, is vintage Willamette Week. The lengthy story about Hayes' work was written by Nigel Jaquiss and carried the edgy headline: "First Lady Inc./Cylvia Hayes has two careers. She pursues both out of the governor’s office."

Jaquiss' piece details when Kitzhaber and Hayes became a couple and earlier brushes with conflict of interest that popped up before Kitzhaber was elected to his third term as governor. Neither Kitzhaber nor Hayes agreed to be interviewed by Jaquiss.

Behind the Scenes of a Gubernatorial Debate

The Oregon Association of Broadcasters hosted a gubernatorial debate that revealed sharp differences between incumbent Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber and his Republican challenger Dennis Richardson.

The Oregon Association of Broadcasters hosted a gubernatorial debate that revealed sharp differences between incumbent Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber and his Republican challenger Dennis Richardson.

Hosting a live political debate starts with convincing candidates to attend and extends through coordinating the format and posing provocative questions. Over the past few weeks, CFM had the opportunity to assist the Oregon Association of Broadcasters (OAB) organize and stage the September 26 gubernatorial debate in Sunriver.

There were numerous conference calls and lots of personal persuasion that resulted in the debate, which sparked sharp exchanges and defined significant differences between Governor John Kitzhaber, seeking an unprecedented fourth term, and his GOP challenger Dennis Richardson, a state legislator from Central Point.

CFM staff researched previous political debates to discover what formats worked best and made recommendations to OAB and the Kitzhaber and Richardson campaigns. They worked closely to ensure everyone involved was comfortable with the process and the program to avoid any awkward last-minute back-outs.

Special attention was given to what questions were asked. CFM staffers took the view that questions should reflect what Oregonians want to know from candidates. They aided OAB in canvassing broadcasters statewide for the most pertinent and sharp-edged questions. Working with debate moderator Matt McDonald of KTVZ, they winnowed more than 90 questions submitted by broadcasters to the ones actually asked of the candidates.

The debate started with a haymaker, "How would each candidate assure Oregonians that your administration will operate in an ethical manner?" The question arose from recent controversial allegations around in-kind contributions received by both campaigns that may violate election reporting law.

Richardson lambasted Kitzhaber for allowing one of his transportation advisers to receive $500,000 in consulting fees from an engineering firm working on the Columbia River Crossing. Kitzhaber snapped back with an implication that Richardson may have a problem with powerful women.

As the debate proceeded, Kitzhaber's emphasized his accomplishments, including helping Oregon pull out of the recession and expanding access to health care. Richardson focused on the controversies surrounding Kitzhaber's term in office, including the Cover Oregon website debacle. 

Kitzhaber and Richardson further disagreed over additional cuts to PERS benefits and support for Measure 88, which would allow driver's cards for individuals without proof of legal residency.

More than 250 radio and television stations carried the debate to every corner of Oregon. It also was broadcast nationally on C-SPAN.

Wheeler Urges Steps to Boost Savings

A failure of many Oregonians to save enough for retirement could pose a financial threat to the state, Treasurer Ted Wheeler warned today in testimony to Oregon lawmakers. 

Calling the lack of savings a "generational crisis that threatens to plunge seniors into poverty, disrupt entire families and impact our overall economy,​" Wheeler said more than half of Oregon adults have less than $25,000 set aside for their retirement and one quarter have $1,000 or less in reserve.

One reason people don't save more, Wheeler said, is the shrinking number of employer-sponsored retirement plans and easy payroll access to a retirement saving vehicle. 

Wheeler's comments came in the form of recommendations from the Retirement Security Task Force, which he has chaired for the last eight months. One of the biggest recommendations was for the state to step in and provide a retirement savings plan that anyone could use.

In a press statement, Wheeler included a quote from Jose Gonzalez, who runs a Salem real estate agency: “As a small business owner I want to do the right thing and offer my employees strong retirement savings options. The Task Force recommendations released today give me hope that Oregon can come up with a way to make it easy for my employees to save without burdening small business owners with additional administrative hassle.” 

Perils of Driving and Texting

One way to make your point is to turn it into a video game. AT&T is using a simulator to show the dangers of driving while texting.

The Salem Statesman Journal staged a competition between Senate President Peter Courtney and political reporter Anna Staver to see who could drive the safest on the simulator while texting. Both crashed. Courtney crashed several times.

The PR stunt served to underline the point that more than 3,300 people were killed and 420,000 injured in the United States in distracted-driving crashes, according to a 2012 report from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.​ Yet texting while driving is on the rise.

Loss of Wine a Reality Shake-up

A magnitude 6.0 temblor in the wine nirvana of Napa Valley may shake West Coast residents into realizing they need to prepare for earthquakes, including the inevitable Big One.

Many Napa wineries saw bottles and barrels of wine strewn in warehouses and cellars. Some placed damage estimates at as much as $1 billion, as insurance brokers reported many Napa and Sonoma wineries opted against supplemental earthquake coverage because of its relatively high cost.

Oregon wineries and other small businesses may be in the same boat. You know the threat is real, yet the price for insurance is prohibitive. The price of basic preparation, however, is within reach if people can be shaken into a realization it is smart and necessary.

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney is again pushing for a major bonding campaign to retrofit Oregon schools.

Geologists and volcanologists in Oregon cite evidence that this area has experienced a major quake every 500 years or so. The last "Big One" was 314 years ago.

Natural disasters on this scale produce gallows humor. But officials stress that preparedness is not really a laughing matter. They note a major earthquake could level buildings, knock out bridges and disrupt basic utilities such as electricity, natural gas and water. Your house may still be standing, but the lifelines you normally depend on may be destroyed.

There are three faults running under Portland. Another major fault is just off the Oregon Coast. There are more in the Willamette Valley. The 1700 Cascadia earthquake occurred along the subduction zone running from northern California to British Columbia. Evidence shows it produced a giant tsunami that belted Japan. The Big One before that was in 1310, a span of only 390 years.

Different Issues May Dog Education ​

Education is always the big-dog issue in the legislature, but this year it may be dogged by animals of a different stripe.

Budgets for K-12 schools and public colleges and universities are the dominant issues because they command so much of the state budget. But in the 2015 legislative session, education advocates may be on the hot seat explaining why so few Oregon high school graduates can pass college-level writing and math classes and so many young women are subject to sexual abuse on campus.

The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond reported that only 30 percent of 2014 Oregon public high school students who took the ACT scored as college-ready in language, reading, math and science. Hammond said that low percentage could undermine Oregon's goal of having 80 percent of its adult population earning a college degree or credential.

The data were worse for minority students, Hammond wrote. "Fewer than 20 percent of Oregon's African-American, American Indian, Hispanic and Pacific Islander students who took the ACT scored college-ready in at least three of the four areas tested."

Dog Days of Politics

Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville, rode down the elevator this week in the Portland office building where he works as a real estate attorney and encountered a business executive dressed in a suit who engaged Davis in a conversation about politics.

"When do you have to run again?" the executive asked Davis. 

"Every two years and the election is in November," the state representative politely responded.

"Oh, I'm a Republican and would like to help," the executive said. "When is the primary?" 

"Well, it was in May," Davis answered gingerly.

By then, the elevator had reached the ground floor and Davis and the executive got off and exchanged greetings. For the business executive, it was at worst an awkward moment on an elevator. For Davis, and every other political candidate, it is a way of life. 

Campaigning for office, Davis told the executive on the elevator, "never stops." Including in the dog days of August.​

The part of the campaign that occurs in August is the part most people never see. It involves intense phone calling for campaign cash to pay for staff, brochures, press releases and maybe paid media. Asking for contributions is easily the toughest aspect of being a political candidate. You have to ask family members, friends, lobbyists and, often, total strangers.

Seeking Pots of Gold from Pot

Oregon voters won't decide on legalizing marijuana until November, but Portland and Ashland — and perhaps, before long, more cities — are exploring whether they can tax it if becomes legal. 

There is an urgency to the municipal inquiries because the legalization ballot initiative specifically reserves the right to tax marijuana to the State of Oregon. However, if cities impose a sales tax before legalization becomes effective, the tax might stick.

The perceived bonanza to government tax coffers from legalizing marijuana took a body blow when ECONorthwest estimated first-year sales would net $16 million in tax revenue, not the $38.5 million touted by the measure's supporters. 

Key variables cited by ECONorthwest would be the number of licensed pot shops to open up — and the willingness of pot smokers to shift to legal, but more expensive marijuana sold in state-licensed stores. The economists predicted 60 percent of pot users would continue to shop in the black market.

Cities as Labs for Climate Change Policies

Action on climate change may be stalled in Congress, but it is picking up at the local level in places such as Eugene and Corvallis. The trend may reflect much more than college towns appeasing liberal constituencies.

The Eugene City Council approved an ordinance this week that requires the home of the University of Oregon to be carbon neutral by 2020 and a community-wide 50 percent cut in fossil fuel use by 2030.

During his visit to Oregon last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated Corvallis as one of seven "climate hubs" that will serve as "repositories for data" to assist researchers and government officials in developing science-based climate change strategies. 

Neither action is a game-changer, but reflects a groundswell of support for steps to address climate change. Admittedly, the action centers in cities with large universities and more plugged-in constituencies, but that is often how movements get started.

The climate hub designation in Corvallis may signal a significant break in the partisan gridlock over climate change action. The hubs, many located in swing presidential states, are positioned to work closely with rural agricultural interests. Farmers, who tend to side with political conservatives on most issues, are feeling the effects of climate change and are asking for help to adjust to changing conditions.