What if Oregon Voted First

The 2016 presidential sweepstakes may have a very different complexion – and different winners – if voting started in Oregon rather than Iowa.

The 2016 presidential sweepstakes may have a very different complexion – and different winners – if voting started in Oregon rather than Iowa.

Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn wondered aloud over the weekend how the presidential sweepstakes would differ if the first voter test was in Oregon instead of Iowa. It is a fascinating question. And it is not ridiculous to believe Oregon should have the honor of voting first since the state invented the idea of presidential preference voting in 1910. 

If the first test of presidential timber was in Oregon, chances are good early momentum in the race would go to candidates known for being more practical and less ideological, even if the ultimate party nominee would be unchanged.

For example, in the contested 1964 GOP primary, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller captured Oregon, defeating eventual nominee Barry Goldwater. In 1968, Robert Kennedy picked up momentum in Oregon, even though he lost to Eugene McCarthy, that vaulted him to victory in the California primary. Kennedy may have gone on to win the Democratic nomination, and perhaps defeated Richard Nixon, if not for his election-night assassination in Los Angeles.

In the past three Iowa caucuses, Hawkeye state Republicans have given the edge to Mike Huckabee (2008), Rick Santorum (2012) and Ted Cruz (2016). All three were the favorite of Christian evangelicals. In a relative unchurched state such as Oregon, Sarasohn speculates none of the three might have gained as much political traction as they did in Iowa. Neither Huckabee nor Santorum rode their Iowa caucus victories to much further electoral success and Cruz is already facing strong headwinds in New Hampshire, where Republicans view themselves more as a constituency than a congregation.

The Republican tradition in Oregon has centered on conservative pragmatism. Vic Atiyeh, the last GOP governor in Oregon, tried to make state government more efficient, not make it smaller. Republican lawmakers in Oregon today battle against many tax increases and additional regulations, but they generally avoid fighting culture wars over contentious social issues. They fiercely defend gun rights but rarely talk about their personal religious views.

Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are perhaps the best matches in the 2016 GOP presidential field for Oregon’s Republican constituency. Kasich was an also-ran in Iowa, but appears to be gaining some momentum in New Hampshire, which like Oregon puts some value on experience and pragmatism. Bush, who has conducted a clumsy campaign, is lagging in the polls, but you could imagine he might have gotten off to a stronger start if the first vote occurred in Oregon rather than Iowa.

Cruz, the Iowa winner, had trouble with ethanol subsidies, a big deal for corn farmers. You can imagine the difficulty he would have had in Oregon coming to terms with voter-approved recreational marijuana and a burgeoning business sector to supply it.

Republican candidates also would have been tested this year by the occupation of the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge. They would have been unable to dodge questions about the illegal confiscation of federal property and simmering grazing rights issues.

In recent times, both the Republican and Democratic nominees have been coronated by the time the Oregon primary arrives in May. That may not be the case this year. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is facing an unexpectedly vigorous challenge from Bernie Sanders that could go all the way until this summer’s Democratic convention. If Oregon had voted first, Sanders may have carried away the victory, giving his looming landslide in New Hampshire tomorrow even greater weight.

As Oregon has become a more reliably blue state in presidential and statewide electoral voting, Oregon also has become more liberal on issues such as physician-assisted suicide, an issue that just popped up in New Hampshire. With virtually no military presence in Oregon and relatively few defense contractors, voting against going to war is a bipartisan pattern, from Senators Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield to Oregon’s current Democratic congressional delegation. Rand Paul – who was the most dovish GOP presidential candidate until he ended his campaign over the weekend – might have found a more welcoming audience for his foreign policy views.

Oregon is one of the most trade-dependent states in the union and almost all of its congressional delegation supports free-trade agreements, which could have made it awkward for Clinton and Sanders to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, at least without some stiff questioning.

Oregon Democrats and Republicans have a record of nominating and electing women to high office, which Iowa only recently embraced with the election of Joni Ernst to the U.S. Senate. Clinton might have found an edge in soliciting the active support of Governor Kate Brown, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, former House Majority Leader Val Hoyle and candidate for secretary of state and current House Speaker Tina Kotek, all of whom will be in the 2016 ballot, too.

The Republican candidate who earned the endorsement of Congressman Greg Walden, who represents Oregon east of the Cascade Range – and who contracted for the best helicopter service – may have had the clear advantage. Walden was a close ally of former Speaker John Boehner who was forced out by conservative Tea Party House members.

Caucus winners in Iowa generally are the candidates with the best ground game and who press the flesh. Cruz appeared in every Iowa county. So did Barack Obama in his startling political arrival in 2008. Oregon is bigger and its rural, red-leaning voters are harder to canvass. However, Democratic candidates can campaign pretty much along I-5 from Portland to Eugene, giving them a logistical edge, but not anything requiring the same kind of retail politics that Iowans demand.

Iowa Democrats are found largely in cities with universities and industry with organized labor. Iowans may not be as hip as Portlanders view themselves, but they aren't mugwumps, either. They produced a virtual dead-heat between Clinton and Sanders.

It does make you wonder what the outcome would have been if Hillary and Bernie had to impress Oregon Democrats first. It does make you wonder whether Republicans Lindsey Graham or Rand Paul would have dropped out before or after the Oregon primary.

What if…

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

“Emergencies” Top Short Session Docket

Senate President Peter Courtney helped to convince Oregonians to approve annual sessions and now presides over a 35-day session packed with legislative “emergencies."

Senate President Peter Courtney helped to convince Oregonians to approve annual sessions and now presides over a 35-day session packed with legislative “emergencies."

The strains of a short even-year legislative session sprouted on day one as Republicans in the Oregon House and Senate demanded each of the 260 bills introduced be read aloud word by word.

The message sent by GOP lawmakers is that a 35-day session is too short to consider legislation raising the minimum wage, altering corporate taxation, addressing affordable housing and adopting a pair of far-reaching energy bills.

Those measures are on the legislative docket as a last-ditch effort to keep the issues they raise off the November ballot.

Oregon’s election-year annual session has evolved into a different, though perhaps inevitable role from its original conception. Senate President Peter Courtney, who led the push for annual sessions, sold the plan as a way to update the state’s biennial budget, pass minor legislative fixes and deal with emergencies that couldn’t wait.

Emergencies that can’t wait now apparently include blockbuster ballot measures that would raise the minimum wage as high as $15 per hour, slap a gross receipts tax on large corporate taxpayers and force Oregon utilities to ditch coal-generated electricity.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli tweaked Courtney’s memory of the purpose of the short even-year legislative session by saying, “As I recall, Oregonians were sold on the idea of annual meetings with the promise that the ‘short session' would focus on balancing the budget, making small legislative ‘fixes' and responding to emergencies that need immediate attention.  I'm sorry to report that the 'short session' has become little more than a setting for the majority party to pursue an over-reaching agenda of tax increases, regulation and ideological issues dear to the progressives who rule Portland and to a great extent, the rest of Oregon.”

The last part of Ferrioli’s statement reflects his underlying opposition to all of the heavy-duty legislative proposals that are on the table thanks largely to Democratic-leaning activists. The exception is the coal-to-clean bill that was negotiated by utilities and environmental groups.

Governor Brown has offered an alternative minimum wage proposal and Senator Mark Hass, chair of Senate Finance, is proposing a scaled down corporate tax measure.

While those high-profile issues command attention, other significant legislation has been introduced to address marijuana industry regulation, gun sales, processing of rape kits and a few bills that didn’t make it out of the longer 2015 legislative session.

The racer-fast pace of a short session – if a bill can’t get a hearing, markup and a vote in the first two weeks, it is basically dead – provides plenty of fodder for skeptics. House Republican Leader Mike McLane said one-hour notice for a hearing on a major bill doesn’t allow enough time from someone from Eastern Oregon to show up to testify.

In the end, emergencies are in the eye of the beholder. For many Portland-area legislators, for example, the growing housing affordability problem in the city has elevated to a crisis that requires a legislative response. Their proposed response, which requires construction of affordable housing and puts limits on evictions of renters, may not seem so urgent in other parts of Oregon.

Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Top Readers’ 2016 Policy Priority List

Affordable housing is top of mind for many Oregonians heading into 2016. In September, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Portland had fallen into a housing crisis. The announcement helped set the stage for difficult state-level discussions about how to solve the problem. 

Affordable housing is top of mind for many Oregonians heading into 2016. In September, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Portland had fallen into a housing crisis. The announcement helped set the stage for difficult state-level discussions about how to solve the problem. 

We asked about top 2016 policy priorities, and you answered. The two most mentioned policy priorities were tax reform and affordable housing. A transportation funding plan and changes to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) also drew mentions.

As expected, when we asked about leadership, most comments zeroed in on Governor Kate Brown and her role in making needed changes, even as she faces election this November to complete the last two year’s of John Kitzhaber’s term.

Here are some highlights from what you told us.

Tax Reform

Jan Lee, a former state representative from Clackamas County and lobbyist, said it’s again time to explore a sales tax in Oregon. “We need a sales tax with some compensating features to reduce income or property tax a bit so that we have a system that fares better in all economic climes,” Lee says. 

While Oregon’s employment figures have shown strong growth over the past year, incomes have largely remained stagnant. But Lee believes changing the state’s tax system while raising the minimum wage could be enough to spur creation of higher paying jobs across the income spectrum.  

“The legislature can raise the minimum wage; if not one of this fall's ballot measures can achieve that result,” she says. “Maybe instead of some of the other tax credits now made available, there could be more tax breaks that businesses can earn by providing higher paying blue collar and white collar jobs to drive our economy and meet families' needs.”

“As always, close coordination with the Governor's office and open communication between the two party caucuses sets up a better opportunity for leadership to bring people together,” Lee explains. “Consensus is not expected, but achieving a little higher majority on important issues makes the system more workable.”

Tom Wilson, vice president of Campbell & Company, said it’s time to put the clean fuels bill approved during the 2015 Oregon legislative session and a proposed 10-cent per gallon gas tax back on the table. That’s just the start of a series of changes Wilson envisions for Oregon’s tax system, which he says will require top-down leadership.

“Governor Brown needs to lead the charge on this by reminding all the Multnomah County Democrats and Tina (Kotek) that there is actually another part of Oregon that needs to be served,” Wilson says. “Start to fix PERs by requiring members to contribute to their retirement like the rest so do. Do not allow the unions to jam through another tax on corporations.”

Affordable Housing

Four months ago, Mayor Charlie Hales declared a housing crisis in Portland, and news stories continue to surface about Oregonians struggling to keep up with skyrocketing rents and day-to-day housing costs. So, it’s no surprise that affordable housing is top of mind.  

Chris Vetter of  the Vetter Group and Don Mazziotti,  the former head of the Portland Development Commission and now a Portland-based management consultant, listed housing as their primary concern for Oregon in 2016.

“We need more affordable apartments and opportunities for urban professionals,” Vetter says.

Mazziotti says Oregon lawmakers should focus on easing the financial burden on homeowners and renters across the state.  

Jim Standring, president of Tigard-based Westland Industries, took another angle, suggesting lawmakers approach the affordable housing crisis with an eye toward improving Oregon’s land-use laws. 

“Oregon's land use system is totally broken and needs significant change,” Standring says. “Concerns about affordability and homeownership will continue to suffer without these changes.”

We hope you will keep talking to us about the priorities you want addresses in Oregon. We’re listening. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist

What Matters Most to You in 2016?

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done.

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done.

From tackling Portland’s housing crisis to negotiating a plan for an unprecedented minimum wage hike, Oregon lawmakers have their work cut out for them in 2016.  

Education, health care, transportation, human services, consumer protection, environmental preservation, criminal justice, taxation: Those are just some of the priority areas calling for swift action and firm leadership in Salem as we look ahead to the next year. 

The Oregon legislature convenes February 1 for a brisk 35-day session. Soon after, statewide elected positions will be contested in the May primary and November general elections.

In the meantime, CFM wants to know what issues matter most to you. Is it finding more revenue for education and social services? Improving transportation infrastructure? Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

As we ponder the political battles ahead, CFM invites you to share what you believe demands the most attention from Oregon's elected leaders. Here’s what we’re looking for:

•  What are the top two policy priorities facing Oregon? 

•  For each of your two priorities, provide a short explanation of what you think should be done and how it should get done. Is legislation needed? Better enforcement? Bully pulpit leadership? Bipartisan support? Be as specific as you can.

•  In addition to your top two policy priorities, tell us what you expect in terms of leadership from Oregon's governor and from House and Senate leaders. What would you regard as real leadership? How can leadership be manifested so it produces positive results? What would you see as a lack of leadership?

Send us your submissions through Friday, January 8, and we’ll share them shortly after on our Oregon Insider blog.

This isn't a contest or a survey. Our intention is to reflect the range of thoughts and concerns that everyone shares with us. We will point out areas where a number of people's priorities overlap, but we also will include priorities that may generate only a single recommendation.

Please send your submissions to Justin Runquist, CFM’s communications counsel, at justinr@cfmpdx.com.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

A Voice of Refugee Reason

Frank Bauman, left, dining with his grandson, Tim. Bauman passed away in November. His sense of reason and open-mindedness is sorely missed as the U.S. debates whether to open its borders to Syrian refugees. Among his many achievements, Bauman is remembered for helping thousands of refugees during the Vietnam War find new homes in Australia. 

Frank Bauman, left, dining with his grandson, Tim. Bauman passed away in November. His sense of reason and open-mindedness is sorely missed as the U.S. debates whether to open its borders to Syrian refugees. Among his many achievements, Bauman is remembered for helping thousands of refugees during the Vietnam War find new homes in Australia. 

For Frank Bauman, refugees commanded compassion, not condemnation. What some saw as pariahs, he viewed as oppressed, stateless people who deserved a chance to live free from persecution.

Finding secure homes for refugees and shielding them from discrimination is the decent thing to do, the responsibility of civilized countries and quite possibly a Christian duty, according to Bauman.

Bauman’s view of refugees wasn’t cooked up in a kitchen debate. It came from a series of indelible life experiences, which included defending voting rights in Mississippi, assessing the damage of U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and resettling Indochinese refugees in Australia during the Vietnam War.

Wearing his favorite straw hat, Frank Bauman at Christchurch International Airport in New Zealand.

Wearing his favorite straw hat, Frank Bauman at Christchurch International Airport in New Zealand.

Bauman, a native Oregonian, Grant High School graduate and Yale-educated attorney, died Nov. 19 at the age of 94. His voice of experience would have been a welcome one in today’s shrill debate over Syrian refugees and Islamic faith.

How he reached his view of refugees is the story of his life.

While attending Stanford, where he majored in economics, Bauman enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He understood what WWII was about, but chose to serve in ways that didn’t involve killing. He passed a rigorous aptitude test and was assigned to the Navy language school in Boulder, Colorado where he learned Japanese in a crash nine-month course.

Bauman’s job often involved interviewing captured Japanese soldiers. But he also spent time on the front lines and was part of the First Marine Division that stormed Peleliu in the Palau Islands. More than 6,500 Marines lost their lives in an intense two-month battle, which military historians said produced a U.S. victory with little strategic value and persuaded military leaders to adopt smarter strategies.

Hiroshima in the aftermath of the world's first atomic bomb deployed in combat on Aug. 6, 1945. The blast instantly killed about 80,000 people, wiping 90 percent of the city's population.  

Hiroshima in the aftermath of the world's first atomic bomb deployed in combat on Aug. 6, 1945. The blast instantly killed about 80,000 people, wiping 90 percent of the city's population.  

After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrendered, Bauman was chosen by Paul Nitze, who later would become the architect of major nuclear arms deals, as part of a 4-man team to survey the damage. The sight of so much devastation cemented Bauman’s conviction to further international understanding and promote global governance as an alternative to war.

Following the war, Bauman returned to Portland. He helped his parents with their Seaside motel, went to law school, got married and practiced law. He also took time to attend the University of London where he studied international law. He stepped away from his traditional law practice to become a volunteer in Mississippi to protect voter rights after passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Frank Bauman, right, in his role as Australia's chief diplomat to the United Nations. 

Frank Bauman, right, in his role as Australia's chief diplomat to the United Nations. 

Tiring of practicing law and influenced by swirling events, Bauman sought a job with the United Nations as its principal diplomat/administrator in Australia. With a political nudge from former Oregon Congressman Wendell Wyatt, Bauman landed the job and moved his family to Sydney in 1971.

During his five-year stint, Bauman oversaw the establishment of Papua New Guinea, a land where 700 dialects were spoken, as a sovereign state. His other principal job was to sponsor thousands of displaced Vietnamese as well as Croatian and Chilean refugees in Australia.

In those days, Australia wasn’t very diverse. It banned non-white immigration. Through persistent, respectful diplomacy, Bauman persuaded a newly elected Labour government to repeal the ban and accept thousands of Vietnamese refugees stranded on a small island in the Pacific.

Indochinese refugees fleeing their homeland by boat during the Vietnam War. Thousands of them found safety in Australia after Frank Bauman convinced the government to overturn a ban on non-white immigration.  

Indochinese refugees fleeing their homeland by boat during the Vietnam War. Thousands of them found safety in Australia after Frank Bauman convinced the government to overturn a ban on non-white immigration.  

An oral history provided by Bauman recounts how his advocacy on behalf of the refugees occurred as Australian sympathies for the Vietnam War soured. Bauman kept emphasizing that “wars create refugees” and civilized countries, especially ones involved in the wars, need to take responsibility to help victims of those wars.

Todd Bauman, Frank’s son who followed him into the practice of law, said his father, a Christian Scientist, believed helping refugees was the “Christian thing to do.” It wasn’t a condescending perspective. Bauman saw the world as a whole and his faith encouraged him to embrace that world and all of its people.

After his tour in Australia ended, Bauman returned to Portland, where he taught international law at Lewis & Clark College and served as president of the World Affairs Council of Oregon and the United Nations Association of Oregon. He and his wife travelled extensively, further expanding his world view.

Frank Bauman believed helping refugees was simply the "Christian thing to do," his son, Todd Bauman says.

Frank Bauman believed helping refugees was simply the "Christian thing to do," his son, Todd Bauman says.

As time passed, Bauman’s unique experience and personal commitment to refugee assistance slipped from public awareness. A voice with first-hand experience was never asked to speak when more strident voices called for banning Syrian refugees from American shores and even denying Muslims to come here.

Through his own eyes, Bauman saw the damage mankind can do to one another. He also saw the character leaders can exhibit. Bauman told of being aboard a creaky transport carrying 300 Japanese prisoners from the South Pacific to Honolulu. Bad weather slowed the journey and rations ran short. The ship’s commander issued an order that prisoners should receive priority for available food. He told his officers and men the prisoners were in their charge and were their responsibility to treat with respect.

It was an order and a life lesson Bauman took to heart.

The Risky Business of Government Risk-Taking

Risk-taking in government can be risky, as the authors of the Cover Oregon fiasco discovered.

Risk-taking in government can be risky, as the authors of the Cover Oregon fiasco discovered.

Government risk-taking is risky business. If government officials take a policy or program risk and it flops, they are criticized for wasting taxpayer money. If officials avoid taking a risk and a problem festers, they also get criticized for wasting taxpayer money.

Dick Hughes, editorial page editor for the Statesman Journal, says risk-taking is a good idea for government. "If we want government to succeed at a higher level, we must be willing to tolerate failures," Hughes said. "That sounds counter-intuitive, but most great leaders also have a string of failures – ones from which they learned.” 

That sounds good in theory, but maybe less so in practice. In many ways, the deck is stacked against government risk-taking. My 15 years in government service says no risk-taking, however successful, goes unpunished.

It is hard to quarrel with brickbats aimed at foolish risk-taking such as Cover Oregon's over-reaching attempt to build a health insurance exchange website. Other risk-taking, especially the kind that might take a while to prove out, still earns "gotcha" reporting in the media. Many public managers, who are no fools, quickly grasp the odds are low for risk-taking in government that earns kudos.

There is room for reasonable risk-taking in government, but it requires planning, strategy and discipline, not taking a spin on a roulette wheel. Here are some suggestions based on my experience:

•  The risk should result from a consensus. Even good ideas get better when a diverse team vets them and frontline people have a chance to suggest them. When I worked as part of the Executive Department's management team under Fred Miller, we launched the "Good Ideas Program" (we couldn't think of a better name), which encouraged fresh thinking and responsible risk-taking. None of the ideas were revolutionary, but many were very good and made a noticeable difference in program efficiency and effectiveness.

•  Risk-taking must be able to pass what I call the "front-page test." You should be able to make a cogent defense of the risk that would stand up in the light of front-page exposure. If an idea couldn't withstand that kind of public scrutiny, it probably isn't worth trying.

•  Reduce a bright idea to writing. The idea may sound good until you start laying it out on paper. When you write about an idea, you will think it through more clearly –  the rationale, the methods, the answers to tough questions and the results you can realistically achieve. If you can fill in those blanks, you probably have an idea worth considering and implementing.

•  Make sure someone is accountable for the good or bad. There will be plenty of people eager to crowd into the picture of a ribbon-cutting, but few willing to be seen on the podium explaining a failure. Make sure the risk has a clear chief risk-taker. Also make sure he or she won't be tossed to the wolves if there is a failure.

If lawmakers want public managers to take reasonable risks, they need to give them the elbow room to succeed or fail and not pounce on them if they fail. They need to accept some of Dick Hughes' advice and regard failure as a step toward ultimate success.

That may be harder to do for the news media, but at least reporters and editors can provide a context for risk-taking and explore lessons learned, not just scapegoats to blame.

Risk-taking will always be risky. That's why you need to do everything possible to make sure the benefits outweigh the risk and responsible risk-takers aren't skewered for taking risks.

[This blog was based on a post written by CFM Senior Partner Dave Fiskum for his personal blog, Perspective from the 19th Hole, and it draws on his extensive experience working for state government and as an Oregon lobbyist.]

 

A Closer Look at Oregon's Public Records Law

Gov. Kate Brown is seizing on an opportunity to explore public records law improvements. 

Gov. Kate Brown is seizing on an opportunity to explore public records law improvements. 

It's strange to imagine anyone feeling a sense of gratitude in pondering John Kitzhaber's tarnished legacy.

But somewhere down the line – after many years of healing and fading memories – Oregonians may actually thank the former governor for making one particular lasting difference for the better. At least that's the hope after Gov. Kate Brown recently commissioned a task force of lawmakers, lobbyists and an accomplished investigative reporter from The Oregonian to take a closer look at Oregon's public records law.

It was, after all, Kitzhaber's questionable dealings with his ever-puzzling fiancée Cylvia Hayes that served as the impetus for revisiting the law. Without the famous scandal that ultimately pushed him out of office amid a criminal investigation – and Kitzhaber’s attempts to block and delay the release of many telling emails – we honestly wouldn’t be at this point.

The crux of the issue is the question of where the balance lies between the public’s right to know what’s going on inside the government and our elected officials’ right to privacy.   

Of course, the whole situation is actually driven by the media. If Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss hadn’t dug into what was going on behind the scenes, the Kitzhaber stories may have never seen the light of day.

The task force is also getting started in a critical era for the media. As news organizations continue to struggle with dwindling staffs and shrinking ad revenue, the future of watchdog journalism looks less and less certain. With an ailing press, the propensity for undetected government corruption only grows, leaving the public out of touch with what their elected officials are doing.  

Kitzhaber’s story aside, maybe it was just time to take another look at the rules anyway. The Oregon Association of Broadcasters and the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association argue we need to bring order to all of Oregon’s public and private record statutes.  

A report released this week from the Center for Public Integrity ranks the quality of Oregon’s ethics and public records laws 44th in the nation. Overall, that report handed Oregon an “F” in government accountability, directly referencing the Oregon Government Ethics Commission’s slow response to the Kitzhaber scandal.

It sounds bad, but the picture actually isn’t that simple.

Oregon has a basic public records law with an assumption that everything is public. In the strongest possible terms, all attorneys general in recent memory have advised state officials that they should assume all records are public and that they can be protected only if they qualify under one of the exemptions.

The law was created in 1973, and today it has more than a few dozen exemptions. Many of those are justified, of course, so don’t expect all of them to be stricken from the books. Trade secrets, records pertaining to pending litigation, evidence compiled in an open criminal investigation. All of that is exempt from disclosure under the law, and for good reason.  

But then one also has to wonder whether the law as it stands is to blame for why Kitzhaber and Hayes were able to keep their scandal under the radar so long.

If government officials want to keep records private, even in contravention of Oregon law, they can do so in a couple ways. They can stall on making records available, contending that it’s too time consuming to produce them. Or, they can charge too much for the task of retrieving the documents.

Charging a minor fee is legal under the law, but the size of the fee can become an obstacle. Metro, for instance, demanded KOIN pay about $17,000 for records in an investigation of the Oregon Zoo’s elephant facility. In some newsrooms, such a cost can be a deterrent to pursuing a story. 

The increased use of email systems in recent years has made public records issues far more complex since the law’s genesis 42 years ago. In fact, that hits at the central question of the investigation into Kitzhaber and Hayes: Did they use private email systems to conduct public business and then shield the emails from public scrutiny?  

As it turns out, news organizations have also played a role in complicating the public records issue. Occasionally, reporters make blanket requests for access to email records over a long period of time, which only adds to the government’s difficulty in complying.

Those are some of the biggest questions the task force will have to tackle in the coming year.

But of course, no matter where you stand on the question of the effectiveness of the law, there’s no denying that without a solid system of public access to government records, democracy suffers.

CFM Partner Emeritus Dave Fiskum contributed to this post.  

A Tale of Two Cannabis Experiments

Oregon and Washington are now the only contiguous states with a regulated recreational marijuana system. But the two systems have a number of key differences in tax structure and the rules governing possession, retail and other aspects of the budding industry. (Humans Developer) 

Oregon and Washington are now the only contiguous states with a regulated recreational marijuana system. But the two systems have a number of key differences in tax structure and the rules governing possession, retail and other aspects of the budding industry. (Humans Developer) 

The banks of the Columbia River became something of a novelty this month with the early launch of recreational marijuana sales in Oregon. 

More than 200 of Oregon's medical pot dispensaries notified the state this fall with intentions to sell recreational marijuana until pot shops open late next year. The stopgap measure went live October 1, leaving the imaginary line between Oregon and Washington as the only place in the nation where you can find legal recreational marijuana for sale in state-sanctioned stores on either side of a state border. 

But Washington and Oregon actually tell two very different stories of experiments with how a regulated marijuana marketplace could work, and all eyes around the nation are eager to see how they will play out. 

Sales began in the aptly named Evergreen State in July 2014, nearly two years after voters approved a monumental move to legalize production, retail and consumption of the drug for recreation. Washington, however, did not begin with an early sales program. 

As a consequence, store owners faced daunting challenges including product shortages, establishing a supply chain from the ground up, price gouging from growers with overwhelming overhead costs and even temporary closures for the earliest retailers to open their doors. Most difficult of all: A burdensome tax system that charged a 25 percent excise tax three times along the supply chain from growers to retailers. 

More than a year later, most of those kinks have been worked out of Washington's marijuana system. Supply shortages are now a thing of the past, and prices have dropped markedly at the sales counter. 

Part of the shift can be attributed to a shakeout in the tax structure. This summer, state lawmakers agreed to get rid of the 25 percent excise tax at the producer/processor level and raise the tax rate for retailers to 37 percent. 

Altogether, the move effectively allowed store owners to lower prices for consumers. For retailers in Vancouver – home to two of Washington's most lucrative pot shops – that was a big deal before sales went live in Portland. 

So far, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has issued 205 licenses for marijuana retailers. Interestingly enough, nearly as many Oregon medical dispensaries are already selling recreational marijuana. 

Marijuana advocates are often quick to praise Oregon's system over that of its neighbor to the north. The early sales come with no sales tax attached for now. When the Oregon tax does kick in, it will be significantly lower than Washington's, meaning that consumers will likely find lower prices in Oregon. 

With a well-established system of medical growers, Oregon's stopgap measure leaves the state at virtually no risk of running into the kind of supply shortages seen early on in Washington.  

On top of that, Oregonians can grow up to four plants per home, out of public view, of course. In Washington, no one is allowed to grow at home for recreational purposes. 

Washington initially capped the number of marijuana retail licenses at 334. That could change, but for the sake of contrast, it's worth noting that Oregon has no limit. 

In the first week alone, Oregon's dispensaries have sold an estimated $11 million worth of marijuana. That mark puts the state on pace to surpass early projections. 

In Washington, sales continue to climb month after month. In the first year, the market brought in more than $64 million in tax revenue for the state, and the upward sales trend suggests that sum will look much larger by the end of this second year of legal sales.

Marijuana tax revenue will be big in Oregon, as well, but just how big is hard to tell at this point. And as for which state's experiment will prove more successful, we'll have to wait and see as the marketplace and the rules governing it continue to evolve.

A Ballot Brimming with Measures

The 2016 election could be bulging with ballot measures from a higher minimum wage to making English the official language of Oregon.

The 2016 election could be bulging with ballot measures from a higher minimum wage to making English the official language of Oregon.

Oregon's 2016 primary and general election ballots could be brimming with measures such as a gas tax in Portland, a gross receipts tax on businesses and a higher statewide minimum wage.

There also may be ballot measures touching on raw nerves related to immigration, universal background checks on gun sales, immigration and stricter penalties for lethal force to pets.

Combined with a wide open presidential race, the advent of Super PACs and a high-profile challenge to the re-election of Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, the 2016 election shapes up as a bonanza year for advertising venues. It's possible there could be more money to spend than there is advertising space to buy on television and radio.

As AP's Jonathan Cooper reported over the weekend, the only for-sure Oregon ballot measure at this moment is a legislative referral to make judicial retirement mandatory at age 75. But this is just the lull before the expected storm.

Our Oregon is shopping seven possible ballot measures to raise taxes on corporations and wealthier Oregonians. Two groups are vying to place a higher minimum wage on the ballot, one at $13.50 per hour and the other at $15 per hour.

There are at least two measures kicking around dealing with energy. Backed by oil companies, one would repeal the low-carbon fuel standard approved by the 2015 Oregon legislature. The other, put forward by environmental activists, would ban the expansion of any infrastructure in Oregon to extract, produce, process, ship or distribute fossil fuels.

In the absence of legislative action, Portland Commissioner Steve Novick has proposed a local gas tax to help pay for street repairs. His earlier idea of a street utility bill was shouted down, but Novick said Portland can't wait until the 2017 legislative session when Senate President Peter Courtney says he will take up a statewide funding proposal. There is a slim chance a transportation measure could be hammered out for consideration during the short 2016 legislative session.

Consumer activists have submitted a potential initiative to amend the Oregon Bottle Bill to make all consumer packaging, except what is compostable or refundable, subject to a 10-cent redemption fee. Grocers may elect to push an initiative to privatize liquor distribution and sales in Oregon.

Health care advocates are looking at measures to create a constitutional right to health care and require the Oregon legislature to adopt a system of universal health care. There also is a potential measure that would define maximum allowable charges for health care services.

Immigration foes, fresh from their success in 2014 blocking a driver's license bill, are toying with new measures to require employers to use the E-Verify system and designate English as the official language of Oregon.

Several measures could affect local governments. One prospective measure would hand over 50 percent of lottery proceeds to Oregon counties. Another would strip away Metro's ability to manage its regional urban growth boundary.

A second measure affecting the Oregon Lottery would carve off 5 percent to pay for veterans' services.

Other issues bouncing around, such as rules governing legalization of recreational marijuana, could result in even more ballot measures. 

The Impact of the Independent Party of Oregon

Former Oregon legislator Chris Telfer wants to find out as she has filed as an Independent to run for state treasurer. The most prominent "independent" in Oregon these days may be Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. 

Former Oregon legislator Chris Telfer wants to find out as she has filed as an Independent to run for state treasurer. The most prominent "independent" in Oregon these days may be Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. 

Oregon is officially a three-party state and questions abound whether the Independent Party of Oregon will alter the state's increasingly blue-state electoral performance. The first test could be a candidate running for state treasurer.

The Independent Party of Oregon achieved recognized party status August 17 after nailing down almost 110,000 registered voters. Recognition means the Independent Party will have its own primary election, paid for by the state, just like the Democratic and Republican parties.

The newly recognized party has benefitted by a name that many people associate with non-affiliation with the two major parties. People who registered as Independents may think less of it as a party than as a way to vote in the primary without being either a Democrat or Republican.

The absence of what the party itself stands for makes it hard to predict the party's impact on the 2016 elections, which will see almost every statewide office up for grabs, as well as a bucket load of ballot measures. Independent-minded voters have become a critical part of the Oregon electorate, often capable of swinging an election. But can the Independent Party nominate candidates that can win elections?

Former Oregon legislator Chris Telfer wants to find out as she has filed as an Independent to run for state treasurer, while, a position that will be open because Ted Wheeler is term-limited from seeking re-election. Telfer, who was elected to the Oregon Senate from Bend as a Republican, but defeated in a primary in 2012. A CPA, she ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer as a Republican in 2010.

The most prominent "independent" in Oregon these days may be Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose.  A Pamplin Media Group editorial last week speculated Johnson may be exploring a run for governor under the Independent Party banner. The editorial noted Johnson, who has toyed with a gubernatorial run before, is on tour through Oregon. It could be a political scouting mission or just a summer road trip.

A potential Johnson candidacy underscores the challenge facing the new party. While Johnson herself is well known as a long-time legislator, her platform as an Independent Party candidate for governor would have to be carved out of new stone. Okay, she's independent, but what does that mean for health care reform, funding for K-12 schools, transportation investment and income inequality? Democratic and Republican candidates would have a leg up on those issues because their political parties and their core constituencies line up behind fairly well defined positions.

Former Secretary of State Phil Keisling noted that initially the Independent Party impact may be greatest at the legislative level, where a few hundred votes in a swing district could make a difference. It also is a more fertile opportunity for an Independent Party candidate with local name familiarity to win a House or Senate seat.


Non-affiliated candidates have won before. In 1974 Charles Hanlon, who ran as an independent, defeated incumbent Senator Bill Holmstrom, even though he was Senate majority leader and co-chairman of the Joint Ways and Means Committee. Holmstrom was mired in a scandal and Hanlon emerged as a credible alternative in a coastal Senate district that no Republican at that time would have had a chance to win.


Another trend that could come into play is a relatively new option that allows a candidate to bear the nomination of more than one political party. Under fusion voting, a candidate can be the Democratic nominee, as well as the Green Party nominee, with both affiliations appearing on the ballot. This has given smaller parties a chance to have an influence on candidates with a chance to win, other than just being an election spoiler to split the votes. Until the Independent Party develops its own brand, this could be its more powerful weapon to gain at least a share of credit for a candidate victory.

As the Pamplin Media Group editorial says, "Being called independent is inherently attractive, but even Independents will have to stand for something."

Trump, Clinton and 'Don't Know' Top Oregon Poll

While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton topped an Oregon poll, a significant number of voters are still undecided.

While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton topped an Oregon poll, a significant number of voters are still undecided.

Oregonians may not be so different after all. A new political poll conducted for Oregon Public Broadcasting shows Donald Trump has the largest percentage of Republican support and Hillary Clinton holding onto her frontrunner status with Bernie Sanders in hot pursuit.

The poll, conducted by DHM by surveying 536 Oregonians in late July, showed Trump capturing 18 percent of Republican support. The survey occurred before the first GOP presidential debate, so the results may be different now. But it still provides a window into GOP preferences and awareness of candidates. Lindsay Graham and George Pataki, for example, registered a goose egg on the survey.

Scott Walker was the nearest competitor to Trump at 12 percent. Walker was tied with "don't know." Jeb Bush, the presumed frontrunner among establishment Republicans, received 11 percent and Ted Cruz 10 percent.

Candidates that some observers believe will survive the culling of the current 17-candidate GOP field and become major factors – Marco Rubio and Chris Christie – didn't poll at that well. Rubio had 3 percent and Christie just 2 percent.

On the Democratic side of the race, Clinton checked in with 44 percent support, but Sanders attracted 39 percent. And that was before his overflow political rally last weekend in Portland.

Clinton polled strong among Democratic women and older voters. Sanders appealed to younger voters.

Even though Trump sat on top of the poll, only 12 percent of GOP respondents believe he has a chance to win their party's nomination. Almost 40 percent predicted Bush would become the 2016 Republican standard-bearer.

Early polling can prove inconsequential and dead wrong as the actual primary season nears, starting with presidential caucuses in Iowa next January. More debates and candidate dropouts also will influence the outcome.

Oregon Lags in Full-Time Job Growth

Oregon is still not an easy place to find full time employment.

Oregon is still not an easy place to find full time employment.

Oregon finds itself in uncomfortable company as one of the hardest states in the nation to find a full-time job, according to an analysis by a group called 24/7 Wall Street.

While Oregon's unemployment rate has dropped to 5.5 percent, its underemployment rate stands at 12.8 percent, largely because of a high number of people who are involuntarily part-time workers.

"Individuals employed part-time for economic reasons accounted for 5.4 percentage points of Oregon’s underemployment rate of 12.8 percent, the fourth highest incidence of involuntary part-time employment nationwide," writes Thomas Frohlich on the 24/7 Wall Street website.

"These workers cited seasonal declines in demand, inability to find full-time work or unfavorable business conditions as reasons for seeking part-time employment," Frohich says. "Such high levels of financial stress, even among the state’s employed population, likely led to greater reliance on government subsidies. Nearly one in five Oregon residents relied on food stamps, the highest proportion nationwide. Many SNAP recipients were likely also part of the underemployed population."

If any consolation, Oregon wasn't the hardest state in which to find a full-time job. That honor fell to Nevada, with an underemployment rate of 15.2 percent. Involuntary part-time workers made up 6.4 percent of the underemployment percentage. Other states with worse underemployment percentages than Oregon were California (14 percent), Arizona (13.8 percent) and West Virginia (13 percent).

Rounding out the bottom 10 were Mississippi (12.8 percent), South Carolina (12.8 percent), Michigan (12.6 percent), Georgia (12.5 percent) and Rhode Island (12.4 percent). South Carolina and Mississippi ranked slightly better than Oregon because their unemployment rates were higher at 6.6 percent and their involuntary part-time worker percentages were lower. South Carolina also experienced a 3.4 percent labor force growth rate from 2007-2014, compared to only a 1.1 percent growth rate in Oregon.

California and Nevada ranked worse than Oregon even though both states have more robust labor force growth at  5.1 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. Arizona's labor force growth rate only totaled 1.9 percent, while West Virginia's labor force actually declined by 2.6 percent.

24/7 Wall Street calculated the underemployment rate in individual states by adding together those who are unemployed, marginally attached workers, discouraged workers and involuntary part-time workers.

Oregon Senate Republicans tweeted about the report, noting "It's time to put family-wage job creation 1st in the #orleg."

24/7 Wall Street is based in New York and publishes online financial news and opinion. The article was based on statistics generated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Standards.

The Approachable, Pragmatic Governor Brown

Governor Kate Brown is a self-described people person and a stark contrast to her predecessor, John Kitzhaber.

Governor Kate Brown is a self-described people person and a stark contrast to her predecessor, John Kitzhaber.

In a New York Times feature story published earlier this month, Governor Kate Brown comes across as the life of the party, in stark contrast to the reclusive reputation of her predecessor, John Kitzhaber.

Brown says of herself, "I'm a people person." Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, was often characterized by friends and foes alike as someone happy to sew up a patient without having to strike up a conversation.

Brown's ascension as Oregon's governor when Kitzhaber resigned amid a building ethics scandal was serendipitous because of the marked difference in their personalities. She bounds down Capitol hallways where Kitzhaber was rarely spotted. She banters with lobbyists, whereas Kitzhaber tried to avoid them. She chose to live in Mahonia Hall, the governor's official residence, which Kitzhaber treated more like a Salem bed and breakfast.

By all accounts, Brown's more outgoing, approachable style has been viewed as a welcome respite from Kitzhaber, who one lobbyist called a political ghost. She is seen as politically popular, which doesn't hurt as she faces an election in 2016 to fill the remaining two years of what was Kitzhaber's unprecedented fourth term.

The Times cites a poll taken in May showing Brown has earned a 55 percent job approval rating. She gets good marks in the poll from 40 percent of people who identify themselves as Republicans. Numbers like that tend to scare off would-be challengers, even those who whisper that Brown is a liberal Portland Democrat. That's not always a good thing for voters living outside Portland, even just outside Portland.

While Brown's voting record supports the label of "liberal," her political style is more inclusive. As Senate majority leader, Brown listened to almost anyone willing to schedule an appointment, without turning a conversation into a polemic. The term "pragmatic" would have been fairly applied to her as she understood her role was to find common ground, not stake out high-minded positions.

Brown has stepped into the higher pay-grade as governor with political grace. She encircled herself with new staff, but retained the policy staff left behind by Kitzhaber, which provided a smooth transition working with a legislature already underway.

Brown generally supported the main thrust of Kitzhaber's agenda and didn't try to imprint them with her own stamp to gain glory. Instead, she focused on ethics legislation, much of which she had introduced in her role as secretary of state.

Late in the 2015 session, Brown attempted to engineer a compromise to pass a transportation funding bill that business and labor groups had pushed. The compromise required backing off somewhat or entirely from a clean fuels carbon reduction measure passed earlier in the session, despite strong Republican protests, in part because the bill had been tainted in their minds by its association with Cylvia Hayes, the first lady under the Kitzhaber administration.

Some in the environmental community were upset at Brown's willingness to roll back the clean fuels measure, but others took it as a positive sign that she wasn't a captive to our ideology.

Kitzhaber was renowned for his ability to get people with disparate interests in a room and pound out a path to progress that often avoided politically divisive ballot measures. That is role Brown has yet to fill, but may have a chance as the November 2016 general election ballot could be loaded with initiatives from a variety of political directions.

For now, the Times noted, Brown is demonstrating she isn't anything like Kitzhaber. When a group of Chinese tourists wandered into the Governor's office, Brown came over to talk, encouraged them to take the formal tour and posed for a picture. There aren't many pictures of Kitzhaber doing that.

A Session of Accomplishment and Failure

The 2015 Legislative session ended last night, and it included a mixture of wins and losses.

The 2015 Legislative session ended last night, and it included a mixture of wins and losses.

Legislative sessions are remembered for what they accomplished – or what they didn't. The 2015 session might be remembered for both.

The Democratically controlled House and Senate pushed through bills that automatically register to vote anyone with a driver's license, require criminal checks for private gun sales, expand access to contraception for women, require paid sick leave and retain a low carbon fuel standard for motor vehicles.

There was broad consensus on a 4-year extension of the hospital tax as part of a package to sustain Medicaid funding and an early vote on a K-12 budget that gives local school districts time to plan around the actual amount of money they will receive. Legislation passed to regulate police body cameras and forbid racial profiling by law enforcement officers.

Legislators avoided an uglier battle by finding a compromise on gain-share revenues – the amount of state tax revenues returned to communities that enter into large property tax abatement-for-jobs deals with major employers such as Intel. Just before adjournment, legislators approved a $1 billion bonding measure that includes $300 million for school construction.

On the flip side, the 2015 legislative session failed to pass a transportation funding package, which Republicans refused to support unless some or all of the low carbon fuels measure was repealed. There were frantic negotiations around some compromise, but in the end a core of House Democrats refused to budge and the plan died.

Speaker Kotek's attempt to raise the state's minimum wage faltered, as did the effort to require so-called inclusionary zoning for affordable housing units. Senate President Courtney also suffered a high profile defeat when House Democrats failed to go along with $300 million in bonding for seismic retrofitting and restoration of the Oregon Capitol, Courtney’s pet project these past several years.

Lawmakers didn't try to undo the personal income tax kicker, which will send back around $500 million to Oregon taxpayers next year. They also did very little to deal with rapidly rising pharmaceutical costs that threaten to overrun cost savings elsewhere in the health care system.

The 2015 session started fast as Democrats punched through their key agenda items and as Governor Kitzhaber's ethics scandal deepened, leading him to resign in February. Secretary of State Kate Brown, herself a former lawmaker, stepped in and provided a seamless transition and leadership on most legislative issues. Brown put her personal signature on several ethics bills that passed.

The entire session took place under the cloud of how and when to implement Measure 91, the voter-approved initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. Lawmakers allowed the legalization to take effect July 1, even though state-approved dispensaries won't open until later. They settled on how and by whom marijuana can be taxed, but stalled on issues such as the sale of edibles made from marijuana.

Lawmakers return to Salem next February for a short 35-day session. A number of state officials and legislators will have decided by then whether to run for other or higher office in the 2016 general election. House Majority Leader Val Hoyle already has stepped down to start her campaign for secretary of state. Brown is expected to run for the remaining two years of Kitzhaber's gubernatorial term. Democratic Rep. Tobias Read of Beaverton wasted little time in announcing his bid to run for state treasurer. Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who is barred from seeking re-election, has been mentioned as a potential candidate for another statewide office or mayor of Portland. Kotek's name also has been mentioned as a mayoral challenger in Portland. 

Legislative End Games in Play

Every legislative end game boils down to budgets and taxes, but in Washington, the end game may involve furloughs for some state employees, while in Oregon it may mean higher prices for cigar smokers.

Every legislative end game boils down to budgets and taxes, but in Washington, the end game may involve furloughs for some state employees, while in Oregon it may mean higher prices for cigar smokers.

The final countdowns in the Washington and Oregon legislatures have very different characters. Washington's governor is sending out notices to state employees about a partial government shutdown, while Oregon's governor is working across party lines to negotiate a transportation funding measure.

End games in state legislatures can be very similar. Big issues left to the end become magnets for marathon haggling. Lawmakers who have some political leverage in theirs committees or caucuses exert it to bring home a prize for his or her district or salvage a personal legislative priority. Almost always, end games center on budgets and taxes.

The Washington budget hovers around $38 billion, but negotiators are hung up over a difference of about $350 million. Democrats, who control the Washington House, wanted to close the gap with a capital gains tax. Republicans, who control the Senate, wanted to plug the hole with spending cuts.

The compromise, which House Democrats have floated, is to generate some additional revenue by closing "loopholes." One of those loopholes is the sales tax exemption for Oregon residents.

There is little chance in Oregon, where Democrats control the House and Senate by solid margins, of a budget meltdown. Oregon lawmakers much earlier in the session approved the K-12 school budget and continuation of Medicaid funding. Big budgets for the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority are on their way to passage.

Lawmakers in Oregon are wrestling with how to pass a transportation funding bill, increase the minimum wage and a relatively small tax measure that affects things such as fine cigars and long-term insurance tax credits to pay for extension of low-income tax credits, which will expire.

The tax hike married to extending tax credits has drawn partisan boos from House Republicans who see it as a way to skirt the constitutional requirement for a three-fifths majority to pass tax increases. A key Senate Democratic leader hasn't sounded too thrilled with the idea, either.

Tensions will build and lawmakers will be run through the gauntlet so they are weary enough to bend just enough to vote for what is needed to go home. But the road home in Washington is significantly more dicey, especially for the state employees who will be receiving furlough notices.

The Return of Monica Wehby

Monica Wehby resurfaced today on Oregon's political map by announcing a relaunch of her campaign website, which she says will be dedicate to electing Real Republicans  and holding all politicians accountable.

Monica Wehby resurfaced today on Oregon's political map by announcing a relaunch of her campaign website, which she says will be dedicate to electing Real Republicans  and holding all politicians accountable.

Unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Monica Wehby is returning to the political ring with a PAC, a legislative scorecard and data analytics that she says will hold politicians accountable.

Wehby disclaims any interest in running for office again. In an email to her previous supporters, she writes, "We are dedicated to bringing us back to the sort of fundamentals that define realistic Republicans who can win in Oregon and across the Pacific Northwest."

She elaborated on realistic Republicans, "We need the backing of fellow Real Republicans and other like-minded Americans dedicated to holding our representatives and government servants accountable to fiscally conservative principles, dedication to pro-business polices and private sector job growth, as well as the protection of individual freedom from government intrusion into our private lives."

The announcement of a relaunched Monica PAC seemed a nudge ahead of much new content. The website still has a lot of leftover material from Wehby's race to unseat Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley last year. Her email to past supporters mentions a legislative scorecard, but it doesn't appear on the website, either.

Nor does the name appear of the "lawmaker who doesn’t stand up for the principles central to our democracy and backs policies that undermine your individual liberty," which the email highlights. Speculation is this refers to Senator Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro. A call to the Monica PAC office asking for a link to the legislative scorecard wasn't fruitful.

All in all, the announcement of Monica PAC didn't exactly have the feel of a complete sentence.

Wehby, who has returned to full-time work as a pediatric neurosurgeon, gave an interview to Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian in which she said she wasn't ready to drop out of politics, even if not running herself for office. " I may have lost my election fight, but I’m not giving up on my dedication to public service. It’s too important to the future of Oregon and our nation."

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Wehby's announcement was the use of analytics to ferret out the views of Oregonians. "Monica’s Scorecard will soon incorporate real-time data on what Oregonians really think – what they say to their friends, family, and others on the Internet and social media, not just to pollsters. We will make our elected officials and government bureaucrats understand what they don’t want to, what real voters actually need and want, not just what they are told by special interests."

Using the names Monica PAC and Monica's Scorecard are tells that Wehby may have other political ideas in mind. In a state with few high-profile Republicans, Wehby has some degree of name familiarity. She could argue that her failed Senate campaign was a trial run that helped her learn the ropes and become a more viable statewide candidate.

With just about every major statewide office in play, Republicans could use some candidates. The real message of Monica's PAC is that she is warming up for a future political role.

With PERS Benefits Off the Table, Time to Reduce Costs

Oregon's gamble on trimming public retiree benefits failed and it now faces a $13.75 billion Public Employee Retirement System deficit, with few ideas on the table of what to do next. Photo by The Oregonian. 

Oregon's gamble on trimming public retiree benefits failed and it now faces a $13.75 billion Public Employee Retirement System deficit, with few ideas on the table of what to do next. Photo by The Oregonian. 

A lot of hand-wringing, but not much action has followed the Oregon Supreme Court's decision invalidating many of the Public Employee Retirement System changes aimed at reducing the state's unfunded liability.

Public employee union officials are clucking, "We told you so." Legislators are conceding there is little more that could be done to trim retiree benefits. And state and local public agencies are bracing for a round of stiff PERS contribution rate hikes in 2017.

If you can't touch retiree benefits, all that's left is reducing costs associated with PERS. And lo and behold, the legislature is sitting on a bill that backers say could save $2.7 billion over the next 20 years in expenses to manage public retirement investments.Under Senate Bill 134, an Oregon Investment Department would be formed as an independent agency, much like SAIF Corporation. The department would be overseen by the Oregon Investment Council and responsibility to administer public retirement funds would fall to a professional investment manager, not the state treasurer. The treasurer would be the vice chair of the Council.

Even though this set-up would require hiring more staff members to manage a portfolio and assess risk, it would enable Oregon to free itself from the higher-priced consultants it pays for now. One benchmarking analyst said Oregon is a “high-cost fund compared to its peers, in large part because of Treasury's heavy reliance on outsourcing.” This is where the projected savings comes into play.

Cost-cutting has the drawback of not appearing to reduce the unfunded liability, but the advantage of reducing the outflow of cash to manage public retirement funds, while "in-sourcing" investment management duties.

Republican lawmakers may fret about hiring more state workers, but they may see increased local employment as a better alternative than sending big sums to Wall Street investment management firms.

The legislation, introduced by Treasurer Ted Wheeler, nearly passed in the short 2014 legislative session. The Oregon Investment Council expected it to fly through the 2015 session. But it hasn't.

Senate President Peter Courtney has sat on the legislation this session out of fear of creating another "Cover Oregon" calamity. But that was before the Oregon Supreme Court ruling on so-called PERS reforms. Now the legislature is staring at a financial tsunami far worse than Cover Oregon.

Wheeler's uncertain political status may be another contributing factor. Deemed constitutionally unable to run for another term as state treasurer, Wheeler appears to be considering his options. Many of those options could involve other elected officials – in the governor's office and in key legislative leadership positions. These potential opponents may not feel a need to give Wheeler a perceived "political victory."

While Courtney's reluctance and other elected officials' wariness are part of the normal political process, the PERS problem may force everyone to rise above "normal."

At a minimum, giving the Oregon Investment Department and the savings it might generate a second look could form the basis of a broad coalition business-labor coalition willing to find ways to nibble away at the problem without threatening retiree benefits. It seems like a much better use of time than hand-wringing.

Links: 

2016 Election for All Seasons

Oregon voters will have lots to ponder next year, including a potential primary challenge from the left to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. Photo by Ron Wyden Flickr Account. 

Oregon voters will have lots to ponder next year, including a potential primary challenge from the left to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. Photo by Ron Wyden Flickr Account. 

Next year's election is shaping up as a doozy, with an open race for President, a potential challenge on the left to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and a bid by Governor Kate Brown to serve the final two years of what would have been John Kitzhaber's unprecedented fourth term.

There also will be open races for Oregon secretary of state and treasurer and possibly for Oregon labor commissioner if incumbent Brad Avakian decides to seek another office. Republicans will try to chip away at the firm grip of Democratic control in the Oregon House and Senate. And there could be a wild assortment of ballot measures.

The only Oregon statewide elected official not on the ballot in 2016 is Senator Jeff Merkley, who won re-election last year.

The most intriguing race involves Wyden, who has served in the U.S. Senate since he succeeded Bob Packwood following his resignation. His hardworking style and his rising Senate seniority should make his re-election bid a walk-over. However, labor and environmental interests, upset with Wyden's support for fast-track authority on international trade agreements, are threatening a primary challenge. Nobody so far has taken the bait. Congressman Peter DeFazio, who lost to Wyden in a tightly contested Democratic primary in 1996, has ruled out a challenge in 2016.

Brown, who ascended to the governorship as secretary of state when Kitzhaber resigned, could face opposition in both the primary and general election. One possibility is Treasurer Ted Wheeler, a Democrat who has been ruled ineligible to run for re-election because of term limits. Wheeler was appointed to fill the remainder of a term won by Ben Westlund who died in office. Wheeler had trained his political sights on succeeding Kitzhaber in 2018.

Several lower-profile Republicans have signaled interest in the gubernatorial race, but the GOP is likely to field a more well-known candidate for what is essentially an open race for governor, such as former candidate Allen Alley. Two interesting hopefuls are popular Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis and Rep. Sherrie Sprenger from Lebanon, who is a former school board member and police officer.

Jeanne Atkins was appointed secretary of state by Brown, but took the position as a caretaker. This is a seat that may be attractive to Avakian or Wheeler on the Democratic side. It also is being eyed by House Majority Leader Val Hoyle and Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum. Chances are these four potential candidates will try to sort out who runs for what office, especially since the treasurer's seat will have no incumbent either. No Republican has burst into frontrunner status for secretary of state or treasurer.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is expected to seek re-election and may not face any serious challenge. Oregon's five members of Congress will be up for re-election, but none of them have attracted what appears at this point to be a serious challenger.

Oregon has become a solid blue state, making it hard for Republicans, especially ones who can make it through their own party's primary, to vie seriously for statewide positions. But there are a lot of questions going into 2016 that center on the open presidential race. While Hillary Clinton looks like a shoo-in to win the Democratic nomination, the GOP field is a jumble with as many as a dozen potential candidates, none of whom have at this point more than low double-digit support in polls.

While Oregon is rarely a presidential nominee kingmaker, the race could still be raging by next May, which means there will be intense GOP political activity that could elevate the name familiarity of down-ballot candidates for statewide office. A strong ground game is an absolute necessity for Republicans who have to make a dent in the Willamette Valley vote count.

A competitive presidential election and emotionally charged ballot measures can generate a large voter turnout, which can influence some legislative and local elections.

Oregon GOP strategists may opt for an all-out effort to shrink the Democratic majority in the legislature. The vast majority of legislative seats are heavily dominated by one party or the other, so the swing votes tend to be in a handful of suburban districts in Clackamas and Washington counties. Democrats will seek to hold on to their grip and possibly strengthening it in the Oregon Senate.

Some reports suggest House Speaker Tina Kotek is weighing a challenge to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. Kotek also has been listed as a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate, though her political appeal overlaps with Brown's.

If Kotek and Hoyle run for other offices, then House Democratic leadership will face a shakeup after two sessions of relative political stability. That would open the door of political opportunity to move up for ambitious legislators such as Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson of Portland. 

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.