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Entries in John Kitzhaber (53)

Wednesday
Jan222014

Large House Turnover Looms for 2015 Session

The 2015 Oregon House will be a substantially different from the one that convened just a year ago. Nearly a quarter of House members who were sworn in during the 2013 session have announced their intention not to seek re-election or are pursuing other electoral opportunities (some in the Oregon Senate).

In a state where relationships are key to legislative victories, the turnover in the House may break Oregon’s recent streak in passing major reforms.

The 14 House members not seeking re-election include nine Republicans and five Democrats. Together, they have served a whopping 117 years as elected members of the Oregon House through 103 regular sessions (and, for some, countless special sessions).

Rep. Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton), the longest serving member of the Oregon House, is among those who will retire this year after serving 18 years as a state representative.

Legislative service is a tough business — long hours, low pay, months away from families and friends, all combined with an election cycle that is increasingly hostile. Yet, the service for many is rewarding, finding ways to pass legislation that is important to their districts, working collaboratively balance budgets and make important reforms.

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Tuesday
Dec172013

Oregon’s Holiday Wish List

Like children, policymakers in Oregon make out holiday wish lists. Here are some the wishes we think are on the list.Children across Oregon are preparing their lists for Santa ahead of the holiday next week. Legislators and the governor, in preparation for the February session and election year ,are developing their own wish lists — none of which are likely to stop with “my two front teeth.”

Here are a few items that may find their way onto policymaker wish lists this holiday season:

Money for the General Fund

A perennial wish for almost all policymakers is additional money to spend in the upcoming session. Each member has his/her policy priority and nearly every one comes with an additional resource request. Despite increased revenues from the special session, legislators will arrive in February to find few uncommitted dollars available for their shiny priorities. Legislators and the governor will be awaiting the revenue forecast with the same anticipation of children on Christmas Eve.

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Tuesday
Dec032013

Business Leaders Tackle Persistent Poverty

Oregon's poverty rate has continued to club even after the end of the last recession. Oregon business leaders will discuss how to meet their goal of reducing poverty sharply in the next six years.Oregon business leaders will gather a week from now and focus on a very untypical business topic — how to reduce Oregon's poverty level.

The Oregon Business Plan calls for reducing the level of poverty in the state from 17.2 percent to less than 10 percent by 2020. Sounds good, but how? And why do business leaders care?

The answer stretches over several subjects — ensuring a trained, available workforce, restoring economic prosperity to rural communities and making Oregon an appealing place for outside investors. After all, who wants to invest in a state that some call the Appalachia of the West?

Leadership summits often hover at the grasstops of problematic issues, but this year the Oregon Business planners are definitely getting into the thick weeds. After the obligatory morning sessions about success stories, the afternoon sessions dive into subjects such how to connect workforce training with actual careers, grow profitable minority and women-owned small businesses, finance public works that make communities ready for new development and tap the natural resources key to returning rural economic health.

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Wednesday
Nov272013

Oregon Finds Itself in Dunce Chair

Oregon finds itself sitting on the unusual and embarrassing dunce chair for shortcomings in healthcare and education reforms.

At times, Oregon under Governor John Kitzhaber has seemed like the prize pupil of the Obama administration. But recent events have plopped Oregon on the dunce chair.

Oregon may be dead last in enrolling zero people online for health insurance under its health exchange, Cover Oregon. And now the U.S. Department of Education is threatening to withdraw the state's waiver from complying with the No Child Left Behind education requirements. 

Neither represents a policy divergence between Oregon's Democratic government and the Obama team. They reflect a bad poker hand.

Like the federal health care website, Oregon's electronic health insurance portal hasn't performed.  Oregon has pushed to enroll people using paper applications. And the state has added significant numbers of Oregonians to the Oregon Health Plan.

Kitzhaber said the state is too far downstream to change computer consultants, but promises a full accounting when the Cover Oregon website is up and running as intended. The governor has enlisted former Providence CEO Greg Van Pelt and Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg to lend their management and medical expertise to unsnarling the IT logjam.

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Thursday
Oct172013

Deregulating Booze; Regulating Pot

The current tight regulation of alcohol and prohibition of marijuana may no longer reflect majority public sentiment leaning in Oregon, pointing to some combination of legislative and ballot measure action as early as next year.

At the center of this changing landscape is the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which may see part of its job slip while picking up a whole new portfolio of regulation. The OLCC is an agency in the midst of its own transition, with a new chair, Rob Patridge, and a newly nominated executive director, Steve Marks. Both have strong ties to Governor Kitzhaber, who can be expected at some point to weigh in on these countervailing directions.

Oregonians have voted on marijuana measures before. In 1998, Oregon voters approved the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, allowing patients to use marijuana for an expanding range of medical conditions. Following the implementation of the medical marijuana act, Oregon legislators moved to decriminalize possession and use of small amounts of marijuana.

In 2012, despite pressure from national interest groups to take a more balanced approach, Oregon advocates placed the most liberal marijuana possession and legalization framework in the country on the Oregon ballot. Despite its failure, recent polling still shows that more than 60 percent of Oregonians favor a “legalize and tax it” strategy on marijuana. 

Today, three ballot measures addressing marijuana legalization are approved for circulation. This reality led Rep. Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene) to tell The Oregonian he was unimpressed with people who use marijuana, but if legislators didn’t figure out a solution to combat the failure of the prohibition of the drug, activists would. And, Oregonians would regret the outcome.

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Thursday
Oct102013

Change from Within

Recent appointments of Nancy Golden as Chief Education Officer and Ben Cannon as Executive Director of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission are a reminder of a unique Oregon truism — change comes from within.

Governor Kitzhaber took office in 2011 with a distinct interest in reforming major sectors of Oregon government. He pushed for significant reforms in health care, early learning and education. Kitzhaber has seen success in all of those within the walls of the Capitol, but true change happens at the agency level and among stakeholders who implement those changes every day.

The healthcare industry came to the table to craft a transformation plan that didn’t just pass the legislature, but became part of the DNA of the key public and private leaders in the healthcare industry in Oregon. Kitzhaber’s early learning initiatives were crafted by Oregon practitioners who understood the pitfalls of the current system, including its lack of outcome-based accountability.  

Education, however, took a much different road. Trusted advisors and key stakeholders familiar with Oregon’s political landscape drew the outline of a newly aligned K-20 education system. But unlike with other major initiatives, Kitzhaber turned the reins of implementation over to a distinct outsider — so-called change agent Rudy Crew.

Despite his reformer reputation, Crew didn’t make a dent in the mountain of change he was supposed to effect during his time in Oregon. Granted, he spent a great deal of time traveling the country on other pursuits, but the bigger issue, for him or any other reformer, was a fundamental lack of ability to see and understand the Oregon political landscape.

The education community — not unlike healthcare or corrections or any other major sector — is widely varied. Agreement is hard to come by, even among similarly interested parties. Interest groups include elected officials, business leaders, on-the-ground practitioners and parents — all of whom claim to be experts because, at a minimum, each individual went to school.

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Friday
Oct042013

Kitzhaber, Courtney Legacies Grow

The successful five-bill, three-day Oregon special legislative session will enhance John Kitzhaber's legacy as governor. It also signals a constructive working relationship between House Speaker Tina Kotek and GOP Leader Mike McLane. And the session provided campaign platforms for Reps. Dennis Richardson and Jules Bailey.

Almost lost in the shuffle was Senator Peter Courtney's win in establishing a dedicated funding source for expanded community mental health programs, which was his top priority before the start of the 2013 regular legislative session.

News coverage of the conclusion of the special session Wednesday showed a beaming Kitzhaber. For good reason. He took the tatters of a budget deal left on the cutting room floor in the waning hours of the regular session and wove them into a complicated deal that will result in more money going to K-12 schools and higher education. 

Kitzhaber's unwavering confidence he could find common ground among skeptical House Democrats and legislative Republicans stands in sharp contrast to his defeatist views expressed at the end of his second term of governor. His third term has been an unbroken string of negotiating successes that prove Oregon can be governed after all. And he gets much of the credit.

The Oregonian's Friday edition challenged Kitzhaber now to turn his attention and political capital to comprehensive tax reform, a goal that has eluded him as well as many of his predecessors. Hopefully, The Oregonian will forgive Kitzhaber if he takes the weekend off before starting his new quest.

The Kotek-McLane tandem held together well and under extreme political pressure. To make the multiple-bill compromise work, all five bills had to pass for any to survive. Kotek and McLane knew it would take different cross-sections of lawmakers from both party caucuses to pass the most controversial measures dealing with taxation, PERS cuts and a local pre-emption on genetically modified crops.

Only 22 out of 90 lawmakers voted for all five measures. Kotek and McLane were two of them. More important, they showed they could deliver key votes when it counted. The tax measure, a combination of increases and cuts, began in the House and came up three votes short. Kotek delayed declaring the final vote until she mustered three votes — all from her Democratic caucus.

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Wednesday
Sep182013

Sausage-Making in Full View

Watching a special legislative session is unavoidably like watching sausage being made, with all the ingredients spilled on the political table in full view.As the saying goes, it may be best not to see either laws or sausages being made. But that is hard to avoid when contemplating a legislative special session.

Governor Kitzhaber has hosted Oregon legislative leaders at Mahonia Hall this week to barter a deal to make deeper cuts in public employee retirement spending and raise taxes on large corporations and wealthier Oregonians to pump more money into K-12 education, higher education and mental health care. 

The so-called grand bargain Kitzhaber seeks isn't new. It was debated in the regular legislative session but never quite got enough political traction. 

Gaining political traction often requires introducing new components into the policy machinery. Senate Republicans, for example, want to include a tax cut for businesses that file as S corporations. The idea goes in the opposite direction of raising money, but at least it involves taxation.

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Wednesday
Sep112013

The Might-Be, Could-Be Special Session

The September 30 legislative special session is the picture of conjecture. It might happen. Then again, it might not. If it does, we know when. If it doesn't, we may never completely know why.

Governor Kitzhaber and Senate President Peter Courtney appear to be in roughly the same position as President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Kitzhaber and Courtney see a grand budget deal as tantalizingly close, but face reticence or outright opposition from the political right and political left. 

Obama and Reid got a sprinkle of fairy dust on the Syrian issue with a possible diplomatic breakthrough by Russia convincing its ally to surrender chemical weapons to international authorities. Kitzhaber and Courtney might not be so lucky.

Republicans aren't eager to support a tax hike, which some business supporters see as the best antidote to a divisive ballot measure on taxation next year. House Democrats aren't thrilled about another round of benefit cuts to public employee retirees.

And the special session has another major component — the plan for Oregon to forge ahead alone on a new I-5 Columbia River bridge. Kitzhaber strongly supports this idea, but some of his allies aren't quite so firm. Courtney doesn't want to act unilaterally and offend Washington. Portland-area Democrats want assurance Tri-Met won't be on the hook to pay for operations and maintenance of light rail once it is extended into Clark County.

A Portland Democrat said he attended a fundraiser this week where half his colleagues were confident there would be a special session and the other half were equally confident there wouldn't be.

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Wednesday
Sep042013

Political Pot Continues to Boil

The September 15 deadline is creeping up for Governor Kitzhaber to decide whether to move forward with a legislative special session to consider further cuts to public employee pensions, business tax cuts and an Oregon-led approach to building a replacement I-5 Columbia River bridge.

The path to all three is littered with political obstacles. One thing is clear, however. If there is a special session, it will be by September 30, the date that Oregon's offer expires to share the state costs on the bridge with Washington.

The Kitzhaber camp isn't saying whether he has lined up the votes for the grand bargain or bridge funding. The pieces may not fall into place – or fall apart – until Treasurer Ted Wheeler releases his financial analysis of the risks involved in Oregon leading the way on replacing the Columbia River bridge. When the Oregon-in-the-lead strategy was unveiled last month, Wheeler questioned whether there was enough time for an analysis before a special session would be called. Now he has until September 15.

Bridge financing is not a new subject for Wheeler, the former Multnomah County chair who pieced together the bucks to replace the aging Sellwood Bridge, which is now under construction. But the timing of the Columbia River bridge financial analysis couldn't have occurred at a stickier time for Wheeler, who might be the odds-on favorite to succeed Kitzhaber as governor if he decides not to seek re-election.

As it turns out, Kitzhaber is fundraising, presumably for his yet-to-be-announced 2014 gubernatorial re-election campaign. The three-term governor also showed his political flag at a Labor Day union function, declaring firm opposition to an initiative that would ban mandatory payments by public employees to public unions. The Oregonian speculated his comments – which caused Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain to quip: 'Damn, Governor, you sounded like the president of the AFL-CIO" – were aimed at politically defusing political opposition caused by his continued support for deeper cuts in public employee pensions.

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