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Entries in Peter Wong (3)


Judging Oregon's First Annual Session

Wolves.  Guns.  Trees.  Bar pilots.  Teen dating.

Before the recently completed legislative session in Salem, you would not have expected those subjects to make the short list of issues to be considered during the four-week sojourn at the Capitol. But they all came up.

To many observers, the list of not-so-important, complicated and controversial issues made for a confusing session. Every legislator had the freedom to introduce two bills each and almost all used it, meaning there were 180 bills in the hopper at the start of the session. Each interim committee had authority to introduce five bills each, which is how you get to nearly 300 bills.

Governor Kitzhaber, for his first official experience with a short, regular legislative session, came to the Capitol with the next steps on four ambitious reform proposals — health care transformation, education, early learning and health care exchange. Those four measures would tax any legislative session, regardless of length

Officials who pushed for the annual session would have called out three issues that should occupy legislators for those four weeks — rebalancing the sometimes-volatile state budget, handling emergencies (fires, floods, other natural disasters) and fixing unintended problems in bills passed the previous session.

To veteran Salem observers, those issue priorities made sense, especially adjusting the budget at a time when tax revenues dipped more than expected, caseloads for some state agencies grew and federal revenue vaporized.  

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Oregon's Last Republican Governor

A piece in the Salem Statesman-Journal brought back a lot of memories for me.

In a column entitled "Atiyeh Laid Foundation for Oregon Economic Diversity," state government reporter Peter Wong recalled the last Republican governor of the state, Vic Atiyeh, who is approaching his 89th birthday. He still goes to his office in Portland and often shows up for ceremonial events at the Capitol he loved where he served as a state senator and held the governor's office for eight years.

I had the privilege of working for the Atiyeh Administration from 1979 through 1987.

Here are excerpts from Wong's piece:

"He (Atiyeh) turns 89 on Monday – and this month also marks 30 years since he took part in the longest special session of the Oregon legislature in state history. Officially, that session lasted 37 days, ending on March 1. But lawmakers took a weeklong break in the middle of the session after they found that the gap between tax collections and state spending was $100 million more than had been projected.

"The unlikely combination of a Republican governor and Democratic legislative majorities — with some Republican support — cut spending and raised taxes to balance the budget. They started the two-year cycle in mid-1981 with a spending plan for $3.2 billion — the Oregon Lottery did not exist then — and ended it with $2.9 billion, even after the tax increases. The unspent balance in the tax-supported general fund was around $3 million.

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Political Fundraisers Mark Political Landscape

It seems like there is a fundraiser almost every day as Democrats and Republicans jockey for position heading into the 2012 election year. Of course, the key to setting the stage for tough campaigns is raising the money to fund them, and that is aggressively under way.

As Statesman-Journal political writer Peter Wong commented, many eyes are focused on the House, where currently control is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. To be sure, there will be campaigns for many House seats that could turn the tide in the direction of one party or the other.

Two examples:

  • House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, has announced he will run for the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Joanne Verger, also a Democrat. That puts the Roblan House seat in play.
  • Farther north on the Coast, Rep. Jean Cowan, D-Newport, indicated she will retire at the end of her term. Republicans have a genuine shot at reclaiming the seat they held for several terms before Cowan took the seat.

Democrats expect to retain House seats they hold in the Portland and Eugene areas. But to win back control, Democrats must regain seats in suburban areas of Portland that they lost in a sweep that erased their supermajority in the 2009 session and resulted in the 30-30 split in the 2011 session. This won't be easy, the GOP victors in 2010 are now incumbents and many can boast solid freshmen years in the legislature.

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