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Entries in The Oregonian (8)

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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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
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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Tuesday
Jun252013

"They Are Here;" Now What Will We Do?

As the Oregon legislature appears headed for adjournment, possibly without a grand budget deal, The Oregonian is publishing a multi-part series by investigative reporter Les Zaitz revealing deep inroads into Oregon's drug scene by Mexican cartels.

Too bad legislative attention couldn't have been given this session to the underlying facts Zaitz has uncovered — bombings and shootings linked to the cartels, our own state drug lords, drug dealers in our neighborhoods, deaths from drug overdoses and challenges to law enforcement to bring perpetrators to justice.

"They Are Here," the headline on the lead story of the series published Sunday, is a scary reminder that we could see — or maybe already have seen — first-hand the kind of violence we usually associate with U.S.-Mexico border towns. It also hints at the long, grasping coils of criminal organizations that pursue drug trafficking like a business, hooking customers, bribing local officials and terrifying anyone who gets in their way.

Zaitz has won plaudits for his eye-opening reporting, which come ironically as The Oregonian scales back its profile as a print publication in pursuit of becoming a digital enterprise. Questions arise about whether stories like this will continue to be chased and reported in the new, emerging journalistic landscape.

While that is an important question, the more immediate issue is what response will Oregon law enforcement leaders give to Zaitz's story?

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Friday
Nov022012

Prison Sentencing and Politics

A 12-member commission is wrestling with costly mandatory minimum jail sentences, while one incumbent senator is being grilled for supporting early-release legislation.If you want to understand some of the political issues around prison sentencing reform, look no further than House Bill 3508, which passed in the 2009 legislature.

The legislation is still making waves in current political campaigns, including the East Multnomah County race between Democratic incumbent Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson and her Republican challenger, Scott Hansen.

Some prognosticators believe the Monnes Anderson/Hansen race could go either way and, if it turns Republican, it could change the balance of power in the Senate where Democrats currently hold a 16-14 edge.

If you go back and read HB 3508, its 29 pages are hard to decipher. But it passed by clear majorities in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Ted Kulongoski. In general, the bill revised a number of statutes with the effect of reducing the time some prisoners serve in state prison. And that has become fodder for political ads aimed at Monnes Anderson for supporting increased "good time" provisions for certain offenders, which meant they got out of prison earlier.

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Tuesday
Jul242012

Oregon's Virtual Presidential Campaign

Oregon isn't a presidential battleground state, which means it has been reduced, in the phrasing of The Oregonian's David Sarasohn, to the role of "campaign ATM."

President Obama made a pit stop in Portland today to appear at a pair of fundraisers. His plane's vapor trail lingered longer than he did. The national press corps was here long enough, though, to scarf down some VooDoo donuts.

Obama followed in the footsteps of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who has visited Oregon twice to collect campaign cash. Romney stayed longer because he scheduled more fundraising events. 

Neither candidate has staged a public event or submitted to an interview with local reporters to comment on issues of interest to Oregonians. Obama's visit was originally to include a grassroots event, but the shooting in Theater 9 in Colorado led to a schedule disruption. He did make a short stop at a breakfast place and visited with some veterans.

In previous election cycles, Oregon has been a state in play, attracting candidates from both major parties and often those from minor parties, such as the Green Party’s Ralph Nader. But the 2012 presidential election, so entertaining and unexpected in the GOP primary season, has turned into a predictable trench war targeting a shrinking number of undecided voters in a handful of battleground states. 

The election may be a foregone conclusion before the major party nominating conventions officially select the candidates in late August and early September. Naturally, both nominating conventions are on the other side of the continent.

So far, Oregonians haven't complained much about the presidential political slight. One reason is they have been spared the annoyance and anger sparked by endless attack ads, many funded by shadowy groups with unknown donors.

It is true, the absence of presidential attention has meant our job-producing manufacturing sector has gone largely unnoticed at press conferences and photo opportunities, which could produce memory-making pictures for their company walls.

Political operatives are quick to assure Oregonians they haven't been forgotten or, for that matter, taken for granted. Our votes count, even if the political assumption is that they already have been cast.

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Monday
May072012

Kitzhaber Brings Home Bacon

The big news last week revolved around Governor Kitzhaber's successful, last-minute trip to Washington, D.C. where he negotiated final terms of a deal that will bring Oregon almost $2 billion in federal money over the next four years to finance health care reform. The first installment — $620 million — is expected to arrive in Oregon by July 1.

As The Oregonian put it in its lead story on the successful trip: "Kitzhaber saves Oregon budget and his reputation in health care deal with Obama Administration." Both points are true. Oregon needs the money to fund reform. And, Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor who thinks, lives and breaths health care policy, had almost no choice but to succeed in D.C.

What remains is a question about whether the new federal money can be used to fill budget holes or must be devoted to new health care reforms. But that question, as important as it may be to budget analysts, ignores the basic policy point — the money will go to reform and that will mean that the reforms have a better chance for success here.

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Wednesday
Mar142012

Contrasting Views on Jobs Legislation

The Oregonian headline tells the story: "Congratulations and complaints."  Congratulations for handling the big issues of health, education and early learning reform. Complaints about the failure of a number of jobs bills.

Issues directly related to Oregon's economy tended to take a back seat during the short session in Salem, notwithstanding claims to the contrary in various post-session communications by legislators to their constituents.

In floor speeches on the Health Insurance Exchange (House Bill 4164), achievement compacts for school districts (Senate Bill 1581) and health care transformation (Senate Bill 1580), Democrats painted a picture of those major reforms mattering to small businesses in Oregon. Major business associations supported all of the reforms, but it is not clear that any of the bills will create jobs on their own. 

Democratic leaders said as health care costs go down, businesses will have more money to invest in creating jobs. Legislators on both sides of the political aisle and Governor Kitzhaber deserve credit for taking on big issues such as health and education reform.  

House Democratic Leader Tina Kotek, D-Portland, continued that theme in a piece in the Statesman-Journal, "We promised to give businesses the tools they need to grow and hire, stand up for middle-class Oregonians and prioritize the essential services Oregonians need most. Now that the dust has settled after last week's adjournment, I am happy to report that we delivered on those promises."

Republicans pointed out what was left on the cutting room floor during the legislative session and pointed the finger at Democratic opposition.

“With 190,000 unemployed Oregonians, the legislature’s inaction on jobs and the economy is inexcusable,” said House Republican Leader Kevin Cameron, R-Salem. “Nonetheless, House Republicans continued to work with the Governor and legislative Democrats to find common ground on other issues. We’ll continue to provide lea

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