Vote-by-Mail Might Save the Day on Secure Elections

 Oregon’s vote-by-mail got its start more than three decades ago because it saved money. Now vote-by-mail may grow in popularity nationwide because it is more secure. Oh yeah, it also boosts voter turnout.

Oregon’s vote-by-mail got its start more than three decades ago because it saved money. Now vote-by-mail may grow in popularity nationwide because it is more secure. Oh yeah, it also boosts voter turnout.

In the face of foreign meddling in US elections, officials such as Oregon Senator Ron Wyden are urging a return to paper ballots.

For Oregon, that would be no big deal because of its vote-by-mail election system, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling wrote a recent op-ed for The Oregonian tracing the history of Oregon’s groundbreaking vote-by-mail system. Its genesis began when Linn County Clerk Del Riley asked a simple question: Why send every registered voter a sample paper ballot, then make them troop to a polling place on election day?

He answered his own question by saying it was cheaper and more voter-friendly just to send an actual ballot and let people fill it out over their kitchen table, then mail it in or drop it off. This kind of plainsong logic has been a mainstay of Oregon political innovation for a long time.

 Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling is often called the father of the state’s innovative vote-by-mail, but he says the idea originated with Linn County Clerk Del Riley and was initially championed by Secretary of State Norma Paulus.

Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling is often called the father of the state’s innovative vote-by-mail, but he says the idea originated with Linn County Clerk Del Riley and was initially championed by Secretary of State Norma Paulus.

Like any disruptive idea, vote-by-mail faced political headwinds. Even though Riley was a Democrat, his party’s leaders worried that vote-by-mail would tend to favor Republicans who fare better in absentee balloting. Keisling admits his own initial skepticism led him to vote against vote-by-mail. Despite reservations, the 1981 Oregon legislature approved a 2-year trial.

In the first trial, appropriately in Linn County, Keisling said voter turnout reached 75 percent – in a special election.

Acceptance remained grudging, Keisling recalled. Only a few counties used vote-by-mail in 1985-86. The 1995 Oregon legislature approved a measure to allow vote-by-mail for any election, but Governor John Kitzhaber, at the urging of the Democratic National Committee, vetoed it.

“It took until 1998 with a push from a successful, all-volunteer ballot initiative effort to overwhelmingly enshrine the idea in Oregon law,” Keisling wrote.

Actual experience has shown vote-by-mail has increased voter participation. Keisling noted Oregon achieved a 71 percent voter turnout in the 2014 midterm election. The national average for turnout was 48 percent.

Keisling co-founded the National Vote at Home Institute that promotes vote-by-mail. Washington and Colorado have followed Oregon’s example and 27 out of 29 counties in Utah use it. There are experiments in Alaska, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota and California. Vote-by-mail continues to improve voter turnout in blue, red and purple states.

Even so, the biggest boost for vote-by-mail could be it is a paper ballot, hard to hack and easy to recount and audit. “Americans must move to paper ballots, marked by hand. Until that system is adopted, every election that goes by is an election that Russia could hack,” according to Wyden as he introduced the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act.

If voting machines are scrapped and replaced by paper, why not follow the wily intuition of Del Riley. Vote-by-mail is cheaper and encourages higher voter turnout. 

Voting that is more secure, cheaper and convenient would seem to be irresistible – and inevitable. We’ll see. If vote-by-mail does prevail nationwide, Del Riley and Oregonians can take a victory lap.

 

Gubernatorial Slam Dunk May Not Be a Slam Dunk

 A gubernatorial election in reliably blue Oregon in a midterm election with an activated Democratic base should be a slam dunk for a Democratic incumbent. However, the race so far seems anything but a slam dunk.

A gubernatorial election in reliably blue Oregon in a midterm election with an activated Democratic base should be a slam dunk for a Democratic incumbent. However, the race so far seems anything but a slam dunk.

It’s hard to watch television without seeing a barrage of spots touting or trashing Oregon’s gubernatorial candidates. Even the Washington Post has taken notice.

Oregon is considered a comfortably blue state with an urban, liberal corridor from Portland to Eugene that virtually guarantees Democrats victories in statewide elections. In a midterm election when Democratic activism seems to be surging, Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s re-election would seem like a political slam dunk. And yet, it may not be.

Brown faces a challenge from Knute Buehler, who swatted away more ideologically conservative competitors in the May primary and has positioned himself in the general election as a pro-choice, moderate Republican committed to solving the homeless crisis and improving health care.

Aided by business-backed Priority Oregon, Buehler is conducting the equivalent of saturation bombing on television, pummeling Brown for a “failing” state education system, numerous administrative missteps and weak leadership.

Brown has begun pushing back. She cites her leadership that preserved Oregon’s health plan for lower-income Oregon families. And she has taken a shot at Buehler’s legislative record on preserving Oregon’s health plan and attempting to reduce the price of prescription drugs. Planned Parenthood is running TV ads in support of Brown that challenge Buehler’s pro-choice claim.

Under the smoke of political gunfire, there is a palpable sense that Buehler is succeeding in Step One of any successful challenge to an incumbent – create doubt and someone to blame. Many people worry about low K-12 graduation rates, are disquieted by the growing specter of homelessness and tremble at rising drug prices. Buehler doesn’t exactly pin the blame for all that on Brown; he simply claims she isn’t doing enough to make a difference.

Step two in a successful incumbent challenge is to gain respect as a reasonable alternative. Tim Craig, national correspondent for the Washington Post, provides an interest anecdote suggesting Buehler may be making progress on Step Two.

“After handing out pamphlets touting his support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Knute Buehler stepped to the microphone at a recent campaign event and promised that ‘opportunity will ‘replace poverty’ and ‘hope will replace despair’ in the state. And if elected, Buehler added, he would govern with an ‘open mind and a caring heart.’”

“As Buehler spoke in this working-class Portland neighborhood, Rachelle Dixon slipped into the audience, frequently nodding her approval. That was notable, considering that Dixon is the vice chairwoman of the Multnomah County Democrats, in a year in which Democrats hope to punish Republicans up and down the ballot because of disillusionment with President Trump.’

“There are Republicans I know for sure, ‘I would never vote for this person,’ said Dixon, 51. ‘But when I look at this man and his voting record, I don’t say, ‘Gosh, I’d be scared to be in the room with this guy.’”

Not exactly an endorsement, but also not the kind of rebuke you might expect from a Democratic partisan. 

A robust state economy, with a low unemployment rate, would ordinarily be a major selling point for an incumbent governor. However, Brown hasn’t tried to take credit for the good economic times. 

Buehler hasn’t, at least so far, made the economy a major theme in his challenge, even though it’s clear state business leaders smell blood and are salivating at the chance to have a Republican occupy the governor’s chair in Oregon for the first time since Vic Atiyeh left the office in 1987. Nike founder Phil Knight has reportedly contributed a total of $1.5 million to Buehler’s gubernatorial campaign.

Buehler’s election is far from certain – and possibly not plausible amid the turmoil that has ripped the GOP into pro-Trump and anti-Trump camps. Buehler has tried to steer clear of the wreckage, but that may grow more difficult as the November election approaches, exposés about the White House continue to surface and additional indictments are handed down. 

Brown faces her own intra-party challenges. As witnessed in primary elections in New York and last week in Massachusetts, the progressive wing of the Democratic party has unseated long-time Democratic incumbents with solid records and seniority. Restive progressives expressed impatience with what they called the status quo. Brown could suffer some of that same political fatigue.

The Brown campaign does appear to understand it is in an unexpected political dogfight, especially considering the state’s gaping Democratic registered voter edge. Like an experienced political incumbent, Brown has begun to raise doubts about Buehler, who is still trying to boost his voter recognition. She challenges his pro-choice bona fides and warns that “progressive voter values” could be at risk if Buehler wins.

“All the progressive work we have done, from minimum wage to women’s reproductive health to racial justice issues, will grind to a halt if my opponent gets elected,” Brown is quoted as saying in the Washington Post article.

Political observers suggest Brown has conceded Republican strongholds in Eastern and Southern Oregon and will rely on retaining Democratic votes in the Willamette Valley. That accounts for why Buehler and his supporters have zeroed in on issues of concern to urban voters such as homelessness, drug prices and abortion rights.

By all accounts, it is Brown’s race to lose. Those are always dangerous races to run.

Norway, Oregon’s Bottle Bill and Plastic Recycling

 China’s refusal to keep buying US-sourced recyclable materials and the mounting threat of plastic pollution in the ocean have redirected attention to schemes such as beverage container redemption, in which Oregon has been a leader.

China’s refusal to keep buying US-sourced recyclable materials and the mounting threat of plastic pollution in the ocean have redirected attention to schemes such as beverage container redemption, in which Oregon has been a leader.

The HuffPost headline was breathless: “Norway has radical approach to plastic pollution and it’s working.” The radical approach: Bottle deposits.

For Oregonians, bottle deposits and redemption hardly sound radical or new. Oregon passed its Bottle Bill in 1971 and implemented it the following year. The containers covered under the Bottle Bill were expanded in 2011. And now Oregon has something called BottleDrop, strategically located regional redemption centers with reverse vending machines that swallow cans, glass container and plastic bottles.

On a typical weekend afternoon, people stand in line waiting to feed a redemption unit that spits out a receipt at a rate of 10 cents per container. Some people drive up in trucks heaped with bottles and cans.

Oregon’s original deposit was a nickel. It was increased to a dime when recycling rates fell below a legislatively set target. The higher redemption rate was predicted to double Oregon’s container recycling rate.

Norway’s system is set up somewhat differently and boasts an impressive 97 percent plastic bottle recycling rate. Norway achieved that recycling rate by hiking the redemption fee on plastic bottles to 15 to 30 cents, depending on container size. There are reverse vending machines all over the place, including schools. Norwegian supermarkets accept used bottles in return for store credit.

The biggest difference is Norway imposes a tax on plastic bottles that aren’t recycled. Higher redemption fees can be built into prices for textiles and packaging (including “new” plastic bottles) made from recycled plastic bottles. Plastic bottles in Norway are limited to types of plastic that can be recycled in Norway.

 Oregon is moving toward regional beverage container redemption centers that feature units capable of accepting aluminum cans and glass and plastic bottles.

Oregon is moving toward regional beverage container redemption centers that feature units capable of accepting aluminum cans and glass and plastic bottles.

What’s interesting, at least to long-time Oregonians, is the failure to the HuffPost story to mention Oregon. It cites Vermont’s copy-cat bottle bill enacted in 1972 and California’s more recent recycling efforts with beverage containers.

Despite the oversight, it is a fair question to ask why bottle bills haven’t been enacted more broadly in the United States. Instead, a number of states passed bottle bill bans, often with the financial backing of beverage producers.

As concern grows about discard plastics flooding into the ocean and affecting ocean ecosystems, plastic recycling has attracted attention. According to HuffPost, the PepsiCo Foundation has donated $10 million to make municipal plastic recycling easier. The Strawless in Seattle movement has taken aim at single-use plastic products and persuaded brands such as Starbucks to forego plastic straws.

However, none of these efforts replicates Norway’s closed-loop system for plastic bottles. Scaling up such as a closed-loop system would require changes in the way plastic products are manufactured. After all, redeeming plastic bottles is only useful if the plastic can be recycled. China’s refusal to continue to buy mixed loads of potentially recyclable material has raised questions about the viability of plastic bottle recycling.

There may be some hopeful developments. “London-based Polymateria is developing next-generation plastics that biodegrade or can be recycled, depending on where they end up,” HuffPost reported. “Polymateria CEO Niall Dunne says many plastic brands use multiple resins and additives that the system cannot deal with and prioritize marketing over solutions for when plastic products reach the end of their lives.”

An overlooked aspect of Oregon’s original Bottle Bill was redemption of refillable glass bottles. Breweries such as Portland-based Blitz-Weinhard featured reusable glass bottles. Customers brought them back to grocery stores that redeemed them and returned them to the brewery. Average glass bottles could withstand three or four reuses.

The refillable bottle gave way under pressure from grocers who disliked the hassle, hand counts and mess in their backrooms. Retailers like Winco reached the point of refusing to stock beer in reusable bottles.

Now there is a movement to bring back the refillable bottle. Brewers such as Double Mountain brewery are working with the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative and Owens-Illinois on standardized glass bottles that are thicker and have a special finish to hold up to repeated washings.

 

Oregon Newspapers Join #FreePress Editorial Campaign

 Oregon newspapers join the Boston Globe-inspired #Free Press editorial today to rebut attacks about fake news, reaffirm the role of a free press and remind readers of the value of newspaper coverage.

Oregon newspapers join the Boston Globe-inspired #Free Press editorial today to rebut attacks about fake news, reaffirm the role of a free press and remind readers of the value of newspaper coverage.

Oregon newspapers participated in a coordinated campaign to publish editorials today defending a free press and decrying President Trump’s persistent attacks about fake news.

Organized by the Boston Globe, more than 300 publications, ranging from The New York Times to small community newspapers, communicated to their readers in response to what the Globe’s editors call “the dirty war against the free press.”

The Oregonian editorial urged “Rising above the toxic rhetoric.” The Portland Tribune wrote, “We aren’t fake news; we are the people.” The Register Guard titled its editorial, “Trump shouldn’t expect media to be his friends.” The Bend Bulletin carried a commentary from the Chicago Tribune that said, “[Trump’s] attacks on journalists exemplify his tendency to bully and humiliate.”

“To be sure, the hostile verbal attacks and the insipid ‘fake news’ name-calling coming out of Washington, DC have reached unprecedented lows,” wrote Laura Gunderson of The Oregonian. “Yet attempts to silence the press with bullying and lies is by no means unprecedented. These attacks come from all political levels, all political stripes.”

The Portland Tribune editorial, adapted from comments by the New York Press Association, said, “We’ve been complacent. We thought everybody knew how important a free press was to our world and our communities and that all this talk about us being the enemy of the people would be dismissed for the silliness that it is.”

“But the reckless attacks have continued, instigated and encouraged by our president. The time has come for us to stand up to the bullying. The role journalism plays in our free society is too crucial to allow this degradation to continue.”

The Tribune editorial spelled out local news beats its reporters and photojournalists cover, adding:

“At the Tribune, we pride ourselves on prioritizing news that citizens, and voters, need to know in a healthy democracy – vital public policies rather than ‘gotchas’ and juicy gossip that would boost our readership and web hits. We dissect and explain crucial issues that affect your neighborhood and your world, such as homelessness, gentrification and climate change. 

“We are always by your side. We shop the same stores, worship at the same places and hike the same trails. We struggle with daycare and worry about paying for retirement.”

“Reporters and editors have a keen appreciation for the power of words and would feel a cold wind if a President described any group of Americans as ‘enemies of the people.’ Editorialized the Register Guard. “A President who feels free to describe the media in that way can easily add other enemies to the list. It is a responsibility of a free press to call upon President Trump to stop employing such destructive language. He should not expect the media to be his friends and should recognize instead that their true loyalty is to good government and the values of the republic.”

The Bend Bulletin’s repurposed editorial concludes, “We aren’t enemies of the American people. But many of us have fielded enough angry threats – in the streets, on our phones and at our computers – to chafe when a President calls us that. That’s why we’re adding our voices to those of other journalists nationwide.”

The Boston Globe said, “We are not the enemy of the people. We are a free and independent press; it is one of most sacred principles enshrined in the Constitution.”

 

Vancouver Acts to Relaunch Effort to Replace I-5 Bridge

 Untimely bridge lifts delay and irritate motorists and freight haulers crossing the Columbia River on I-5. The City of Vancouver has stepped forward with a resolution seeking to restart a conversation to replace the bridge.

Untimely bridge lifts delay and irritate motorists and freight haulers crossing the Columbia River on I-5. The City of Vancouver has stepped forward with a resolution seeking to restart a conversation to replace the bridge.

Traffic and backups on I-5 haven’t abated and untimely Columbia River bridge lifts continue to slow and frustrate commuters, shippers and motorists just trying to get through. An effort to resume discussions of a new bridge is beginning to take shape.

The Vancouver City Council voted unanimously this week in support of replacing the I-5 Columbia River bridge. The Council resolution also asked Governor Jay Inslee to “provide adequate funding” for the Washington Department of Transportation to relaunch the process that came to a sudden stop in 2015 after Washington lawmakers refused to commit their share of costs and Oregon officials pulled the plug.

Other Southwest Washington municipalities may follow suit, with the goal of creating momentum that brings – or drags – Oregon policymakers back to the table.

That may be more complicated as Oregon transportation officials are finishing up recommendations to toll some or all of I-5 and I-205. The purpose of the tolling is to reduce congestion. Revenue raised from tolls would go to Oregon roadway investments, not a new I-5 Columbia River bridge.

Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler has threatened to block Oregon Interstate highway tolls because of what she views as their disproportionate impact on her constituents.

If bridge talks do restart, the extension of light rail to Vancouver may remain a sticking point. Attitudes north of the river may have changed, but a transit component may be a precondition for Oregon officials to re-engage.

The Vancouver resolution addresses this challenge by seeking a bridge replacement that includes “high capacity transit with a dedicated guideway.” This language would allow for either light rail or bus rapid transit on a new bridge, and presumably would provide some breathing room for future debate on both options. Bus rapid transit has been embraced as a more affordable alternative in some areas in Clark County outside of Vancouver.

The timing of renewed discussion also presents challenges. Oregon lawmakers passed a major transportation and transit measure in the 2017 legislative session. It contained no provisions relating to a replacement I-5 Columbia River bridge,  but did create a panel to review mega projects in the state moving forward. Based on past experience, another major transportation funding proposal would be difficult unless party leaders put their full weight behind a new bridge project. Veteran legislative leaders such as Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek may see this as an opening on a legacy project.

One of the failings of the Columbia River Crossing effort was its single focus on a new bridge and related highway improvements. In reality, Portland-area and Southwest Washington residents and businesses have broader transportation interests in common as population growth and business expansion continues on both sides of the river.

Vancouver officials have signaled a willingness to pursue some kind of bi-state partnership to identify common ground, regional transportation objectives and a strategy to find a bridge solution.

Collaboration has occurred at the ODOT-WSDOT level and there have been coalitions in both states supporting a new bridge, but elected officials haven’t driven the strategy or policy decisions.

 

Oregon’s Fiscal Discipline Positions It for Inevitable Recession

 Economist Bill Conerly gives Oregon some love in a Forbes article that praises state policymakers for the fiscal discipline to create a Rainy Day Fund that now has grown to a size that should protect the state budget during an average-size downturn.

Economist Bill Conerly gives Oregon some love in a Forbes article that praises state policymakers for the fiscal discipline to create a Rainy Day Fund that now has grown to a size that should protect the state budget during an average-size downturn.

The economy is still growing, but someday it will stop. Economist Bill Conerly says Oregon state government, despite its liberal bent, is better prepared to meet the fiscal challenges of a recession than most states, including traditionally conservative ones.

“Oregon has built up its rainy-day funds to 9.7 percent of current expenditures, compared to an expected decline in a typical recession of 10 percent,” Conerly wrote in an article published last week by Forbes. “Further growth will occur next year, barring an immediate recession. That will cover the revenue shortfall of an average recession, but still leave difficult decisions about spending more on social services as people lose jobs.”

In the article, Conerly cites his personal experience advising Oregon policymakers following the crippling recession in the early 1980s. “State revenue fell so much in 1982 that the Governor [Atiyeh] had to call four special sessions of the legislature in one two-year budget period, plus two more special sessions the next biennium,” he said. That led to formation of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As a member of the Council, initially appointed by Atiyeh, a Republican, and subsequently retained by five Democratic governors, Conerly said it became painfully obvious that revenue forecasts aren’t always accurate.

Oregon’s fiscal situation is complicated by the state’s heavy reliance on personal and corporate income tax revenues, which can balloon in good times and tank in bad times. “The state’s revenues swing wildly with fluctuations in corporate profits, capital gains and the earnings of small business owners, commissioned sales people and corporate executives on bonus plans,” Conerly explained. 

To compensate for sharp fluctuations in tax revenues, Conerly and his Council colleagues suggested creating a rainy-day fund.

“Building up a rainy day-fund means choosing not to spend available money,” Conerly wrote. “It’s difficult for any of us in our family budgeting, it’s difficult for politicians who gain votes by funding projects desired by constituencies, and it’s especially difficult for liberals, who believe in a larger role for government in healthcare and social services along with more funding for government schools. Though difficult, building up a rainy-day fund can be done.”

And it can be done, noted Conerly, a self-described free-market economist, in a “state with liberal political leadership that had the will to build a substantial reserve despite their desire to expand government spending.”

The secret, he said, is “to have that discipline, as Oregon and other states have demonstrated.”

 

Candidates May Be Able to Accept Bitcoin Contributions

 Secretary of State Dennis Richardson says allowing Oregon candidates to accept cryptocurrency contributions would be an innovative way to expand political participation. Others like Treasurer Tobias Read aren’t so sure as they worry about cryptocurrency’s “secretive nature” that could be used to cloak the identity of campaign contributors.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson says allowing Oregon candidates to accept cryptocurrency contributions would be an innovative way to expand political participation. Others like Treasurer Tobias Read aren’t so sure as they worry about cryptocurrency’s “secretive nature” that could be used to cloak the identity of campaign contributors.

With political insults flying freely, it would be easy to miss this quirky bit of political news – Oregon may allow candidates to accept cryptocurrency campaign contributions.

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is proposing a rule that he says mirrors a 2014 Federal Elections Commissions rule permitting Bitcoin contributions. Richardson said cryptocurrency donations to candidates would be treated the same as stock contributions and, in his view, would expand participation in state elections. “Cryptocurrency is here to stay,” Richardson said.

While cryptocurrency has gained in popularity and use, but at least one former FEC commissioner questions whether they meet transparency laws intended to reveal the source of political contributions. While cryptocurrency transactions are tracked, identities in transactions aren’t.  Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read echoes that concern, warning straw donors could be employed to cloak actual donors because of “cryptocurrency’s secretive nature.”

Cryptocurrency exists digitally, not physically.  It is encrypted for security reasons, but not issued by any governmental authority. Its value is determined organically and can fluctuate. Under Richardson’s proposed rule, a candidate receiving a cryptocurrency contribution would be required to report at its market value the day of receipt. If the cryptocurrency rises in value, the candidate must report the gain. Similarly, if the currency loses value, the candidate must list the loss as if it were an expenditure.

The FEC rule allows cryptocurrency contributions up to $100 in federal elections. However, Oregon doesn’t have limitations on contribution amounts, which is potentially significant since the value of a Bitcoin is hovering around $6,000. It has ranged as high as $20,000. Despite limits, the Register-Guard said one California Democratic House candidate reported nearly $200,000 in cryptocurrency contributions.

The public will have a chance to comment July 23 in Salem on the proposed state rule allowing cryptocurrency contributions.

 

Report Reveals Diversity, Lingering Bias in Washington County

 A new report by the Coalition of Communities of Color dispels the image of Washington County as an all-white enclave by revealing its growing racial and ethnic diversity – and pointing to lingering inequities and bias.

A new report by the Coalition of Communities of Color dispels the image of Washington County as an all-white enclave by revealing its growing racial and ethnic diversity – and pointing to lingering inequities and bias.

Washington County is often referred to as the heavily white and well-off suburbs to the west of Portland. That description falls far short of being complete or accurate, as demonstrated by a new report released this week by the Coalition of Communities of Color.

“People of color have always lived in Washington County,” the report says. “We are part of the economy and social fabric. It’s our home and we like living here.”

Washington County’s population in 2017 was estimated at 591,350. The report calculates that 223,748 of those residents, or almost 38 percent, are from communities of color, led by a Latino population totaling 96,034.

A main purpose in conducting research and preparing the report was to measure the racial and social justice of this sizable chunk of Washington County’s population. “Communities of color in Washington County, compared to their white neighbors, experience disproportionately negative outcomes in employment, income, education, community safety and health,” the report says. 

Some specific data in the report highlighting continuing bias:

  • Vietnamese and Filipino workers have lower incomes than white counterparts with the same level of education.
  • High-income black and Latino applicants are more likely to be denied home loans compared to while applicants.
  • Somali-speaking students are 197 percent more likely than white students to be expelled or suspended from school.
  • 68 percent of Native American single mothers with children live in poverty, which is substantially higher than the national average of 48 percent.

“Our reality consists of both experiencing oppression by racist institutions and practices and our resilience and resistance to that,” the report says. “We are made to feel invisible and hyper-visible.”

The methodology to prepare the report is referred to as “research justice.” “[We] start with the premise that the research process needs to be just and equitable, and to shift communities of color from research subjects into researchers, knowledge producers and communicators. Research practices should be anti-racist to achieve the racial equity we seek to achieve in the region.”

The report includes sections about different communities of color including Native American, African, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern and North African, Pacific Islanders and Slavic. Each section shows the size of that community in Washington County and offers a few factoids. For example, 50 percent of Middle Eastern and North African community members have at least a bachelor’s degree and 57 percent of the county’s Asian population are immigrants.

Organizers of the research say the findings aren’t intended as a commentary on current events affecting immigrants. "We were mindful that we were writing this report under the current dispensation, but this report isn't just about the current dispensation," Shweta Moorthy, who wrote the report, said in a Beaverton Valley Times interview.

The report concludes with an 8-point call to action that include pay equity, political representation, celebration of diversity, educational opportunity and culturally specific services. It also includes a plea to continue research justice to track progress.

“Communities of color are experts in their own lives, possessing experiential, historical and cultural knowledge. Mainstream research and data do not capture the full lived experiences of communities of color.”

The full report and an executive summary can be downloaded at no cost at http://www.coalitioncommunitiescolor.org/research-and-publications/leadingwithrace-es

 

 

Federal Legislation Seeks to Reduce Need for Foster Care

 There has been a dearth of attention to federal legislation tucked away in the congressional budget package earlier this year that could be a game-changer for many young people facing the prospect of entering the foster care system.

There has been a dearth of attention to federal legislation tucked away in the congressional budget package earlier this year that could be a game-changer for many young people facing the prospect of entering the foster care system.

Foster care has drawn a lot of attention in Oregon, but surprisingly little of that attention has focused on under-the-radar congressional passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act as part of the budget deal approved in February.

Appearing on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Out Loud,” Senator Sara Gelser, a Corvallis Democrat who has led the charge on foster care reforms in Oregon, praised the federal legislation for reimbursing services intended to prevent children from entering the foster care system.

The legislation allows for federal reimbursement of up to 12 months of mental health services, substance abuse treatment and in-home parenting skill training. Language in the bill seeks to give states an incentive to reduce foster care placements in congregate care facilities. States are required to develop a plan to use the enhanced federal resources to find safe alternatives to foster care. 

 Senator Sara Gelser has been a strong advocate for foster care reforms in Oregon and is leading a work group to develop Oregon’s plan to tke advantage of new federal resources made available by the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Senator Sara Gelser has been a strong advocate for foster care reforms in Oregon and is leading a work group to develop Oregon’s plan to tke advantage of new federal resources made available by the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Provisions continue and enhance child and family service support programs, including $8 million for competitive grants to support recruitment and retention of “high-quality” foster families. The legislation reauthorized the Stephanie Tubbs Jones child welfare services program, the Court Improvement program and the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. Chafee supports can continue until a youth reaches age 23 and training vouchers can be extended until age 26.

The legislation also reauthorized the Adoption and Legal Guardianship Incentive Payment Program, which is viewed as a crucial tool to keep children out of foster care. Compared to other states of similar size, Oregon has nearly double the foster care utilization rate with an average of 7,600 kids receiving care every day (based on 2016 numbers). This results in high caseworker turnover in Department of Human Services due to burnout, extreme stress on existing foster parents and a more difficult time recruiting new foster families to help with the caseload.

Gelser says work is underway on the required Oregon plan to take advantage of the legislation. She recently convened a work group made up of advocates, providers, agency leadership and other lawmakers to dive into the policy implications of FFA and prepare a roadmap for success. How the feds interpret key provisions of the new law will directly impact Oregon and this group will prepare recommendations and advice to the US Department of Health and Human Services before guidelines are released this October.

Interested parties can review materials and contribute to the conversation by checking out the work group's website:  https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/gelser/Pages/Family-First.aspx.Senator Sara Gelser Family-First

Dale - prof color photo.jpg

Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 12 years and was active on behalf of a range of clients in the 2018 Oregon legislative session.

 

Hass: Boost Student Success and Curb Tax Volatility

 Oregon’s economic forecast continues to look rosy, but also a little “bizarre,” according to State Senator Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, because the strong economy contrasts with struggling schools and Oregon’s unique personal income tax kicker law.

Oregon’s economic forecast continues to look rosy, but also a little “bizarre,” according to State Senator Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, because the strong economy contrasts with struggling schools and Oregon’s unique personal income tax kicker law.

Legislative newsletters and press releases can be informational, but not always newsy. The one dispatched today by Senator Mark Hass combines informational and newsy.

 Senator Mark Hass, whom the Portland Business Journal referred to as Oregon’s Mr. Fix-It, hopes the work of the Joint Committee on Student Success, a rosy economic forecast and the prospect of returning a half billion dollars to state taxpayers could prompt action on Oregon’s volatile tax system.

Senator Mark Hass, whom the Portland Business Journal referred to as Oregon’s Mr. Fix-It, hopes the work of the Joint Committee on Student Success, a rosy economic forecast and the prospect of returning a half billion dollars to state taxpayers could prompt action on Oregon’s volatile tax system.

The occasion for the communication from Hass, a Beaverton Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee, was the release of the latest quarterly Oregon economic forecast.

“I want to update you with my impression of the remarkable economic forecast released today,” Hass wrote. “Most indicators – including jobs, income and gross domestic product (GDP) – are all improving. This suggests Oregon’s booming economy will continue into the foreseeable future.”

A booming economy also means higher-than-projected state tax revenues – quite a bit higher. Hass says state coffers will have $911 million more revenue than was projected in the state’s two-year budget approved during the 2017 Oregon legislative session.

“Because revenues grew faster than what economists estimated, the state will send back $555.3 million to taxpayers due to Oregon's unique ‘Kicker’ law,” Hass said. “So, we have this bizarre confluence of a strong economy, struggling schools and sending back a half billion dollars to taxpayers.”

Hass has tried unsuccessfully to convince his legislative colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to look seriously at ideas to reduce the volatility of Oregon’s income-tax-dominant taxation system and modernize state taxation of corporations. Here’s how he explains the dilemma:

“Oregon's volatile tax code is too reliant on the income tax. In good times when unemployment is low, the state brings in too much revenue and we send it back to the taxpayers. In bad times when people are struggling, Oregon has a train wreck. While today's forecast paints a rosy picture, it is important to remember the big jump in projected revenue is emblematic of Oregon's boom-and-bust revenue cycle.”

This may not be new “news,” but it isn’t information that makes its way into a lot of political discussions these days. When it does, it is usually in the context of calling for more revenue or blaming the Public Employees Retirement System for Oregon’s unsustainable spending.

Hass threads the needle differently. He says fixing Oregon’s “bizarre confluence” of a strong economy, struggling schools and a personal income tax kicker should occur during economic good times, not economic bad times. Warning signs abound, he says. Oregon’s economy is still growing, but the pace of its growth is slowing. The housing affordability crisis is taking its toll on many Oregonians. Personal income taxes make up 80 percent of the state’s General Fund, while corporate taxes contribute 6 percent.

Hass hasn’t given up on some type of tax reform, but is concentrating his efforts leading up to the 2019 legislative session on traveling around Oregon as part of the Joint Committee on Student Success, talking to students and education and business leaders.

“My hope,” Hass wrote, “is that through the work of the Student Success Committee and this economic forecast, we end up mixing new educational policies with structural tax reform for stable, well-funded schools, community colleges and universities.”

Brown to Face Buehler in November

 State Rep. Knute Buehler overcame more conservative GOP candidates to win the right to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown this fall in what could emerge as a marquee matchup this fall when a “Blue Wave” is anticipated nationally in the mid-term election after Donald Trump’s captured the White House in 2016.

State Rep. Knute Buehler overcame more conservative GOP candidates to win the right to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown this fall in what could emerge as a marquee matchup this fall when a “Blue Wave” is anticipated nationally in the mid-term election after Donald Trump’s captured the White House in 2016.

Oregon’s primary election didn’t excite voters as reflected by historically low turnout, but it did set the stage for what could be engaging contests in November.

Knute Buehler overcame a handful of more conservative GOP candidates to grab the Republican gubernatorial nomination, giving him a chance to carry on his vigorous campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown.

Both wasted little time launching their general election campaigns. Before the votes were tallied Tuesday, Brown called for three formal debates and urged as many joint appearances as possible hosted by media outlets. Buehler scheduled a press conference Wednesday morning at the headquarters of Portland Public Schools to lambast a teachers’ union for “protecting a predator” who allegedly abused children and was transferred from school to school.

JoAnn Hardesty and Loretta Smith face a runoff in the fall for a Portland City Commission position, ensuring the election of the first African-American woman on the council.

Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington and Bob Terry will vie in November for the Washington County chair position. Terry is currently the Commission’s vice chair. Former lawmaker Ryan Deckert, whom some observers saw as the frontrunner, finished third in Tuesday’s voting.

All five Oregon congressional incumbents easily won their largely ceremonial primary contests. None seem in trouble in the general election, though Republican Congressman Greg Walden may face a spirited challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who defeated six other Democratic candidates to win the chance to poke at Walden for his support of Trump administration policies. Oregon Democrats have set up a website called “Repeal Walden,” a gibe at his leading role in the failed congressional attempt to repeal Obamacare.

Some races were settled in Tuesday’s voting. Shemia Fagan unseated five-term Democratic Senator Rod Monroe in a race that centered on affordable housing policies. With no Republican on the ballot in the East Portland Senate district, Fagan is basically a shoo-in this fall and will help tilt the Senate Democratic Caucus more to the left.

Former Eugene lawmaker Val Hoyle defeated long-time Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden to win the Oregon Labor Commissioner post, replacing Brad Avakian who didn’t seek re-election. Hoyle previously lost in her bid to become secretary of state, but now will become only the second woman to hold the Labor position in the 115-year history of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Lynn Peterson, a transportation planner and former chair of the Clackamas County Commission, cruised to an easy victory to become Metro president, replacing Tom Hughes who has served the maximum of two terms in the post. Nonprofit executive Juan Carlos Gonzalez received 55 percent of the vote to capture the Metro Council representing the western part of urbanized Washington County that Harrington has represented.

Kevin Barton handily defeated Max Wall for Washington County district attorney in what was one of the more visible local races. Barton, who is chief deputy district attorney, withstood a barrage of TV advertising from Wall, a former Polk County prosecutor and now a Beaverton criminal defense attorney. Election filings show the two candidates raised and spent around $900,000 in the campaign.

Pam Treece, executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, defeated incumbent Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski. Former Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey won the Commission seat vacated by Terry.

Senate President Peter Courtney easily shrugged off a primary challenge, the first in a decade. Democrats hope to pick up a pivotal 18th Senate seat in Southern Oregon is a district where GOP Senator Alan DeBoer chose not to seek re-election. They also hope they can capture the Hood River House seat previously held by Rep. Mark Johnson who resigned to head the newly merged Oregon Business & Industry.

Oregon was one of four states holding a primary election Tuesday. Voting in Pennsylvania was marked by the primary victories of left-leaning candidates, including two members of the Democratic Socialists of America who won nominations in two Pittsburgh congressional districts. All of Pennsylvania’s 20 House seats are held by males, but that is expected to change with as many as four seats up for grabs for female candidates.

In Idaho, Democrat Paulette Jordan defeated an establishment candidate, running on a platform of protecting public lands, Medicaid expansion and relaxed marijuana laws. If Jordan prevails in November, she would be the state’s first Native American governor.

National Democrats are hailing Tuesday’s voting, noting larger turnouts and more voter enthusiasm for its candidates. The result of the voting, however, only produced one House Democratic gain in a special Pennsylvania congressional election.

Buehler Amps Up His Incumbent Challenge

 Bend Republican Knute Buehler casts himself as the best GOP hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Governor Kate Brown, but he will have to overcome political conservatives in his own party in Tuesday’s Oregon primary election to get the chance to test Brown this fall. [Photo Credit: AP]

Bend Republican Knute Buehler casts himself as the best GOP hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Governor Kate Brown, but he will have to overcome political conservatives in his own party in Tuesday’s Oregon primary election to get the chance to test Brown this fall. [Photo Credit: AP]

The classic way for a challenger to take down an incumbent is to 1) raise doubts about the incumbent’s performance and 2) position yourself as a preferred alternative.

Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), the presumptive front-running GOP gubernatorial challenger, has been taking whacks at Governor Kate Brown for months and insisting he could do better. But his political challenge runs deeper. Buehler has to prove in next week’s GOP primary that he is a more attractive candidate than his more politically conservative fellow Republicans.

Buehler has raised and spent vastly more money than his GOP competitors, called out one opponent for having 21 tax liens against him and generally avoided mixing it up with fellow candidates in the hustings. This week, Buehler came up with a new tactic: a dress rehearsal for GOP voters on how he would campaign against Brown if he wins the GOP nomination.

Buehler tried to upstage Brown at her media event in Eugene to tout her support for improved foster care in Oregon. Buehler, who has been a fierce critic of Brown’s leadership on foster care, scheduled his own media event at the same location, blasted Brown’s performance and recalled his legislative proposal to increase spending on foster care in Oregon by $50 million.

The political troll of Brown was itself a prime example of what challengers have to do to unseat incumbents. But the timing and intensity of Buehler’s media event was probably intended to impress undecided GOP voters that the Bend Republican will do more than recite conservative doctrine if he is the Republican who wins the job.

Buehler has taken pains to create a political image outside the shadow of Donald Trump on the fairly safe grounds that Oregon is anything but Trump-friendly. His purported variance from conservative orthodoxy, including on emotion-charged issues such as abortion, haven’t necessarily swayed a segment of Oregon’s conservative political base. That’s why Oregon Right to Life threw its support behind Sam Carpenter, the opponent Buehler pointed out who has all those tax liens.

Since primary elections in Oregon and generally are bastions for the partisan faithful, Buehler could wind up next Tuesday as the candidate with the best chance to test Brown, but who can’t win his own primary. His best hope is to convince Republicans that having a chance to win in November is more rewarding than basking in the defeat of a political moderate in May.

His struggle to convince GOP conservatives was evident when he barely squeaked out a victory in a straw ballot among generally more moderate Washington County Republicans. It should be noted that only 75 Republicans showed up for the unusual pre-primary event.

And that’s the problem with the formula for defeating incumbents. It takes one more element to pull off the upset. After beating up the incumbent and touting your own competence, you need to make sure voter turnout favors your candidacy. That may not be the case on Tuesday for Buehler.

In what is viewed as a lackluster primary, turnout could be relatively low, which could mean a higher percentage of bedrock conservative voters. Much of Buehler’s general election appeal is to the growing group of non-affiliated Oregon voters. Unfortunately for Buehler, independent voters won’t get the chance to weigh in his primary gubernatorial bid.

Meanwhile, Brown faces only token opposition in the Democratic primary and will enter the general election with her campaign war chest intact and robust. Buehler may represent her toughest opponent, but only if he earns the GOP nomination on Tuesday.

 

Protecting Farmland Depends on Keeping Farming Financially Viable

 As odd as it may sound, the only way to protect valuable farmland in Oregon may be to train a new generation of farmers who can make a decent living farming that land.

As odd as it may sound, the only way to protect valuable farmland in Oregon may be to train a new generation of farmers who can make a decent living farming that land.

Despite Oregon’s pioneering land-use system designed to protect farmland from development, other factors are putting pressure on agricultural enterprises in the state.

“The tidal wave of farmland transition isn’t coming – we’re in the middle of it,” proclaims Nellie McAdams, farm preservation program director for Rogue Farm Corps, in a blog posted by EcoTrust.

Between 2012 and 2032, McAdams says, almost two-thirds of Oregon’s 16.3 million acres of ag land will change hands, in large part because the average age of Oregon farmers and ranchers is 59.6 years old. She claims many farmers and ranchers lack a solid succession plan and the number of beginning farmers and ranchers is on the decline.

What’s happening to farming and ranching in Oregon is part of a global migration of people to urban areas. Family farms are harder to run profitably, which makes selling off the land to investors or industrial farms more attractive. Farms close to cities are prime targets for urban expansion to provide housing for new city dwellers, when their land becomes irresistibly more valuable than their crops. In more sparsely populated rural areas, smaller ranches can easily be converted into trophy home estates.

Oregon’s land-use system has slowed the loss of valuable farmland, McAdams says, with the conversion of 500,000 acres in the four decades since land-use protections were enacted. Compare that to the loss of 678,000 acres of farmland in Washington in just the last 10 years.

However, farmland without farmers is a problem. The goal of the Rogue Farm Corps is to “offer hands-on, on-farm training in four regions of the state to build capacity in the next generation,” McAdams writes. Training farmers may sound oddly out of character, but it may be a key to the survival of agriculture and preservation of farm and ranch lands. One piece of the training is how to hand down farming and ranching operations to a new generation of non-family members.

Sustaining robust agricultural enterprise also will require urban assistance. Farmers need savvy consumers. As McAdams describes, EcoTrust is sponsoring an accelerator program to give farmers business training and instruction on how to enter wholesale and international markets. The program also encourages institutional food service buyers to invest in stronger regional food networks.

The Oregon Community Food Systems Network, McAdams says, is a collaborative of 40 organizations “dedicated to strengthening local and regional food systems to deliver better economic, social, health and environmental outcomes across the state.”

Even these efforts may not be enough to stem the steady creep of urbanization of farmlands, but they are an impressive start that recognize urban growth boundaries can’t make farms profitable – or convince families to make farming their business. “The best long-term defense for Oregon’s agricultural lands,” McAdams insists, “is ensuring that farming and ranching are financially viable enterprises.”

 

2018 Oregon General Election Could Be Dark and Spicy

 Oregon has prided itself on polite politics and transparent campaign finance. But that reputation could be tested in this election cycle with bruising political battles and a rise of dark money financing for ballot measures.

Oregon has prided itself on polite politics and transparent campaign finance. But that reputation could be tested in this election cycle with bruising political battles and a rise of dark money financing for ballot measures.

Oregon has a reputation for polite, transparent politics. That reputation may change in this election cycle because of “hardball tactics” by Priority Oregon, a pro-business organization committed to challenging the hegemony of Democrats in the state.

Formed a year ago, Priority Oregon entered the political field by opposing efforts by legislators in 2017 to craft a gross receipts tax that would have assessed businesses on sales versus profits. Now it is spearheading four initiatives that take aim at unions, state spending and legislative approval of tax increases.

OPB’s Jeff Mapes has reported business lobbyists describing Priority Oregon as “designed to take a more hard-nosed approach to politics, unencumbered by the mainstream business community’s need to maintain ties to the Democrats who largely run state government.” Priority Oregon’s task is apparently not to make nice with Democrats.

So far, Priority Oregon also isn’t making it clear who is funding its political activities. In his story, Mapes said, “While sharpening its rhetoric, the group seems to be protecting its backers from any blowback.”

So-called dark money is no stranger to politics, but isn’t common in Oregon, where public disclosure is the rule and the routine practice. Erica Hetfeld, who is heading Priority Oregon, has promised the group will be more visible this election cycle, but not necessarily more transparent. Priority Oregon was established as a nonprofit 501(c)(4) entity that is allowed to engage in public activities without the same disclosure requirements as a political action committee.

Financial disclosure forms filed with the Elections Division indicate the Oregon Farm Bureau, Associated Oregon Loggers and Automobile Dealers Association of Portland have contributed to political action committees aligned with Priority Oregon-backed ballot measures, which are collecting signatures. Initiative backers must turn in the required number of signatures by July 6 to qualify for the November Oregon general election ballot.

Political Action Committees supporting Initiative Petition 31, which would require legislative supermajorities for any state tax revenue increases, and several other petitions (IP 34, 36 and 33), have collectively spent $146,000 during this election cycle with Ballot Access, LLC to collect signatures, according to state records.

Initiative Petition 34, which would make Oregon a right-to-work state, seems relatively quiet awaiting a ruling by the US Supreme Court in the matter of Janus v. AFSCME. The court heard arguments February 26 on the potentially precedent-splintering case. If that decision results in a victory for Union supporters, you can expect fundraising and advocacy to increase.

Initiative Petition 36 would create a state government spending limit and require excess revenue to reduce the Public Employees Retirement System unfunded liability. 

Another major effort expected on the ballot in November, Initiative Petition 37 would ban a tax on groceries.  IP 37, as you might imagine, has attracted substantial financial support from major grocers like Costco and Albertsons-Safeway. In addition, it's spent over $300,000 for petition signature gatherers and management support from conservative firm Morning in America since December of 2017.

More rough-and-tumble politics also is expected in the gubernatorial race. Democratic Governor Kate Brown is running for a full 4-year term and may face Republican Knute Buehler who has positioned himself as a politically moderate alternative. Like a running back on a bad football team, Buehler’s biggest challenge may be getting past the line of scrimmage in the GOP primary that often is dominated by more conservative voters. While Buehler has raised more campaign funds than his conservative fellow candidates, their views may be more in line with current thinking within the Republican Party.

There is an interesting twist to Buehler’s campaign. Rebecca Tweed, his campaign manager, also runs Grow Oregon, which major business leaders created in 2012 to counter the success of Our Oregon, a union-backed political group that advocates for tax hikes in the name of economic and social fairness. Grow Oregon and Our Oregon are both nonprofits, not PACs. Before leaving for Priority Oregon, Hetfeld was director of Grow Oregon.

It is a recipe for a ripe family feud with plenty of money spread around to make a lot of noise. Toss in a few additional spicy ballot measures that are circulating for signatures and you could have one of the hottest elections in some time. Some of the measures in circulation include restoring legislative term limits, requiring publicly traded corporations to disclose their state taxes, requiring proof of citizenship to vote and repeal of Oregon’s sanctuary state law.

 

A Look at the Relatively Quiet Oregon Gubernatorial Race

 Oregon’s 2018 gubernatorial election has been relatively quiet so far, with Governor Kate Brown biding her time until the fall general election and front-running GOP challenger Knute Buehler trying to find a way to win the primary without getting beaten up on the campaign trail.

Oregon’s 2018 gubernatorial election has been relatively quiet so far, with Governor Kate Brown biding her time until the fall general election and front-running GOP challenger Knute Buehler trying to find a way to win the primary without getting beaten up on the campaign trail.

Oregon’s gubernatorial race continues to be a low-key affair with the election now just six weeks away and ballots due to arrive in mailboxes before then.

Democratic Governor Kate Brown doesn’t face any credible primary opposition and seems to be waiting to see who Oregon Republicans will choose to face her in the fall general election.

Rep. Knute Buehler from Bend has raised the most money among GOP candidates and struck a moderate political posture on abortion and guns, making him potentially a strong candidate to woo independent and alienated Democratic voters in November. However, Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, has to win the May 15 primary against more right-leaning opponents, including former Blue Angels Commander Greg Wooldridge, who has been endorsed by Oregon Right to Life, and Bend businessman Sam Carpenter, who is an unapologetic supporter of President Trump.

The annual Republican Dorchester Conference straw ballot early in March favored Wooldridge over Buehler. Buehler downplayed the result, saying he had little time to mix and mingle with Dorchester conferees because he was in Salem for the short Oregon legislative session that adjourned just when the conference was beginning. Others viewed Buehler’s loss as his weakness with what have come to be called Trump voters.

Since then, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports Buehler has skipped several candidate forums attended by his GOP gubernatorial rivals, which has raised questions. “People are asking why. You know, it’s peculiar,” Baker County GOP Chairwoman Suzan Ellis Jones told OPB. Wooldridge’s campaign team has been blunter. “What is he hiding from. If he’s not willing to meet people face-to-face, I’m not sure he’s really ready to represent the people of Oregon,” said Russ Walker, a Woolridge campaign strategist.

There are 10 Republicans vying to take on Brown. Buehler has reported a campaign war chest of more than $3 million, while Wooldridge and Carpenter are the only other two hopefuls who have raised more than $100,000. Nobody’s campaign has taken to the airwaves so far.

Buehler is betting his experience serving two terms in the Oregon legislature, fundraising connections and moderate policy positions on reproductive rights and gun control will convince Republicans that he is the only GOP candidate with a chance to defeat Brown and become the first Republican since Vic Atiyeh to sit in the governor’s chair. Most of Buehler’s statements have come in the form of criticizing Brown.

Buehler reportedly bypassed challenging Brown in 2016, when she ran to fill the remaining two years of former Governor John Kitzhaber’s fourth term, because Democratic turnout was expected to be high in a presidential election year. However, 2018 may not be all that different as Democrats have energized their political base in response to actions by Trump, such as undermining Obamacare, challenging legalization of marijuana and dismantling environmental regulations. The Trump tax plan that will limit federal tax deductions for state and local taxes and Trump’s tariffs on trade with China have irritated upper-income Oregonians and alarmed farmers. Trump’s overall favorability rating in Oregon hovers below 40 percent.

Voters along the I-5 corridor from Eugene to Portland are reliably Democratic, but there will likely be more Democratic electoral efforts in rural Oregon aimed at Greg Walden, Oregon’s lone GOP congressman. The Republican gubernatorial nominee, whoever it is, may be forced to spend time and resources to defend the Red State part of Oregon.

In the general election, Brown will be attacked as a weak leader who has presided over state agency foul-ups and resulted in a fairly high turnover rate of agency leaders. Brown will cite her leadership in a major transportation funding measure, a hike in the state minimum wage and create of a state-sponsored retirement savings plan.

Buehler probably will need to dig into his campaign fund to raise his visibility before the primary, while Brown probably will hold off any major media outreach until the general election campaign is underway. She has the luxury of using the next few months to bolster her $3.2 million campaign bank account.

That means for now, Oregonians can enjoy the relative quietude of the gubernatorial race. It promises to get a lot noisier and nastier.

 

Oregon Not Exempt from National Opioid Epidemic and Its Painful Price

 The opioid crisis is not some distant national epidemic. It affects Oregon communities and families every day. Addressing the opioid crisis will require more than bumper sticker policies, especially for the people hooked on painkillers because of excruciating chronic pain.

The opioid crisis is not some distant national epidemic. It affects Oregon communities and families every day. Addressing the opioid crisis will require more than bumper sticker policies, especially for the people hooked on painkillers because of excruciating chronic pain.

Opioid addiction is a national epidemic, but its toll is actually exacted at the local and family level. Just ask Oregonians who live in a state ranked with the sixth worst drug problem in the nation.

If you want to see the opioid epidemic up close, you don’t have to book a flight to Appalachia. Oregon ranks fourth for teenage drug abusers. And, Oregon ranks first, according to federal data, for older adults hospitalized for opioid-related issues.

"We have a massive problem," Mark Kruger, a 23-year veteran who is now a captain with the Portland Police Bureau’s drugs and vice division, told KATU-TV. "We're seizing larger quantities of methamphetamine and heroin and cocaine in Portland than we have historically ever seized."

Now there is a new threat from street fentanyl, which is an opiate on steroids, available online and often a one-way ticket to the morgue. "Children now can buy fentanyl on the dark web using bitcoins for currency and they can overdose in their own bedrooms on a substance that no one really knew about a couple of years ago," Kruger said.

This is shocking news for many Oregonians who imagine they live far from the madding crowd. Like many other American communities, we live in ground zero of a drug epidemic.

That reality is painful for Oregonians who were blazing a trail through a pair of ballot measures in the 1990s that weighed “death with dignity” measures with the shortcomings of pain management. Medical practitioners admitted they were negligent in recognizing the pain endured by terminally ill patients. Doctors kept their word and found ways to curb pain, not just for the terminally ill, but also for those suffering from numbing chronic pain.

 "Painkiller misuse in Oregon is higher than the national average, especially in the 18 to 25 age group, as an average of three Oregonians die every week from prescription opioid overdoses.”     https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/heroin-pain-reliever-misuse-prevalence-estimates-vs-apgar-cissp/?trackingId=qd4s4%2F4T3QpBJPvIJ2xioQ%3D%3D

"Painkiller misuse in Oregon is higher than the national average, especially in the 18 to 25 age group, as an average of three Oregonians die every week from prescription opioid overdoses.”  

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/heroin-pain-reliever-misuse-prevalence-estimates-vs-apgar-cissp/?trackingId=qd4s4%2F4T3QpBJPvIJ2xioQ%3D%3D

But it wasn’t enough. In 1998, Oregonians voted to allow the use of doctor-recommended medical marijuana, ostensibly for pain related to cancer treatment, but often for men and women suffering from work-related back pain. Twenty years later, Oregonians are still auditioning painkillers, from heroin to a synthetic version of anesthesia.

A common temptation is to hang the drug dealer from the highest tree. However, that overlooks the demand side of the equation. Many people hooked on opioids and other painkillers aren’t looking for a thrill; they are trying to find a way to get through the day without debilitating pain.

Like a lot of complex problems without simple solutions, drug addiction has many contributors. There are the thrill-seekers. There are people who think life is better when they are high. But there are a whole lot of people who just want to get through an afternoon without excruciating pain.

Prescription drugs are in the cross-hairs of lots of politicians because of high prices and increasing levels of addiction. The coziness between doctors and drug companies has come under scrutiny. So has over-prescribing of painkillers and flimsy rationale for medical marijuana cards. Recreational use of drugs has blurred with medical use. The financial opportunities for legal and illegal distribution of drugs makes the mix even more lethal.

The proximity of the opioid problem to Oregon communities should provoke empathy and kindle an instinct for nuanced responses. People who get hooked on drugs for fun is one problem. People who get hooked on drugs to dull pain is another. Both require human responses, not criminal indictments. A nuanced response may require people to accept approaches and practices they otherwise would reject out of hand.

Hopefully as a civilization we have advanced beyond dealing with contagion by burning the bodies. The men, women and children afflicted by drug addiction deserve something better. They deserve policies that strike at the root of addiction, not the symptoms.

Statistics can be barren and devoid of sympathy. But statistics also arouse human instincts that people are in pain. We need to find a way to ease that pain without addiction. It is an assignment Oregonians have debated for decades, and now it’s time to do the homework and hand in a winning essay.

Dale - prof color photo.jpg

Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 12 years and was active on behalf of a range of clients in the 2018 Oregon legislative session.

 

Lawmakers Still Puzzling over Purpose of Short Session

 The 2018 Oregon legislative short session is over, but lawmakers are still trying to figure out how to use the even-year session fruitfully amid its unavoidable frenetic pace

The 2018 Oregon legislative short session is over, but lawmakers are still trying to figure out how to use the even-year session fruitfully amid its unavoidable frenetic pace

Oregon lawmakers continue to struggle to find the right mix for the short, even-year legislative session. They adjourned last Saturday after leaving a much-ballyhooed cap-and-invest bill sitting in committee along with a constitutional amendment to treat health care as a right.

Yet, lawmakers did notch notable accomplishments by tightening gun restrictions on domestic abusers, updating the state’s advance directives statute, requiring more transparency on drug pricing and changing the governance structure of Salem-Keizer Transit in return for future access to a local payroll tax.

And lawmakers didn’t totally avoid controversy. With largely Democratic votes, the legislature approved a bill that disconnected from the recently adopted federal tax cut to prevent Oregon small businesses from taking advantage of a previous Oregon tax concession and a new lower 20 percent federal tax rate. There were rumblings Governor Kate Brown might veto the state tax measure, which drew strong opposition from business groups.

The short session also served as a shadow boxing venue for Brown, who is seeking re-election this fall, and her most prominent GOP challenger, Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend. During the session, Buehler laid out his planks of his campaign platform, such as additional investments in child welfare and taking stronger measures to curb the opioid epidemic in Oregon. Brown responded by asking for $14.5 million more for child welfare case workers and pushing her own priority opioid measure.

The shadow boxing hasn’t stopped with legislative adjournment. Buehler called on Brown to veto the Democratic tax bill scrapping a small business tax break. If Brown vetoes the legislation, Buehler will claim credit. If she doesn’t veto the bill, he will condemn her for denying a tax break to small businesses.

The short session was shorter than the 35 days constitutionally allowed. Republicans wanted to head to the beach for the annual Dorchester Conference. Others sped north on the freeway to attend a retirement roast for veteran homebuilder lobbyist and stand-up comic Jon Chandler. Still others braced for filing deadline Tuesday.

As predicted after Senate Democrats hoisted the white flag on cap-and-invest legislation before the short session started, there wasn’t a lot of drama in the Capitol hallways. There was a lot of pressure, however. Short sessions resemble the flurry typical in the last month of a regular legislative session. One lawmaker observed, “In a regular session, there are deadlines followed by time to get work done. In the short session, there are just deadlines.”

Perhaps notwithstanding Brown’s potential veto of tax legislation, GOP Senator Brian Boquist is entertaining a legal challenge clarifying what legislation is truly a “revenue raiser” and on whether a measure to disconnect from the federal tax code that generates new revenue can be approved without a three-fifths majority vote.

In all likelihood, the dawning of primary election season will overshadow what did or didn’t happen in the short session. The primary will be held May 15, which is less than 10 weeks from now – plenty of time for campaign coffees, lawn signs and mailers.

Dale - prof color photo.jpg

Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 12 years and was active on behalf of a range of clients in the 2018 Oregon legislative session.

 

Short 2018 Session May Have Less Drama

 No single issue is likely to dominate the Oregon 2018 legislative session that begins Monday, but lawmakers will still be busy with issues ranging from reconnecting to the federal tax code to gun restrictions. And there will be some political jockeying in advance of the Oregon primary in May and general election this fall.

No single issue is likely to dominate the Oregon 2018 legislative session that begins Monday, but lawmakers will still be busy with issues ranging from reconnecting to the federal tax code to gun restrictions. And there will be some political jockeying in advance of the Oregon primary in May and general election this fall.

Voter approval of Measure 101 and Senate Democratic cold water on cap-and-invest legislation may remove much of the anticipated drama at the 2018 Oregon legislative session, which convenes Monday. Of course, any legislative session during an election year can have outsized political tensions.

Without a focus on patching a big budget hole or trying to thread the needle for a compromise on cap-and-invest provisions, there isn’t an apparent single issue that will dominate the session with an adjournment deadline of March 11.

One of the sleeper bills likely to draw attention is legislation to connect Oregon’s personal and corporate income tax system with federal tax changes enacted by Congress late last year. Oregon lawmakers have tended to favor connecting Oregon’s tax provisions with their federal counterparts for the ease of taxpayer filing. But there may be other considerations this time around, including how the new federal limitation on state and local tax deductions will affect Oregon taxpayers.

The Oregon business community wants to see substantial progress on reducing the unfunded liability of the Public Employees Retirement System, but that appears unlikely in the short 2018 session and during an election year. Governor Brown will ask lawmakers to create an Employer Incentive Fund to provide matching money for public employers that accelerate their contributions to PERS. The pressure to act also was relieved by the Oregon State Treasury’s announcement that the PERS fund posted a 15.3 percent gain in 2017, which is good news, but not enough to stem rising costs.

Other priorities for Brown in the short session include a measure to encourage construction industry startups in rural areas that can access low-rate loans from Business Oregon to build affordable housing. Licensing requirements also would be relaxed and grants would be available to defray the costs of apprentices.

Brown wants all licensed opioid prescribers in Oregon to register with a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to generate information about opioid use and identify illegal prescribers. Her proposal also would provide for mentors in emergency departments to counsel people who have overdosed.

Another Brown priority is to create a reverse auction for state procurement as a way to squeeze more value and less cost for state expenditures. Her concept is to generate more competition among state vendors who benefit from the $8 billion Brown says state agencies spend every biennium. 

The governor is seeking a bill to prohibit people convicted of domestic violence or stalking from purchasing firearms. Oregon lawmakers approved legislation last year to empower courts to order the confiscation of guns owned by people deemed at risk of suicide or hurting others.

Passage of Measure 101, which secures funding for Oregon’s Medicaid program through this biennium, prompted Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, to propose a constitutional amendment that declares health care is a right of every Oregonian. He has attracted 40 cosponsors for his referral that would appear on November 2018 general election ballot.

Likely GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Knute Buehler, R-Bend, is pushing legislation to force coordinated care organizations to repay up to $74 million in Medicaid overpayments and address transparency and management issues by the Oregon Health Authority. Buehler has called for bipartisan action, but his measure will invariably have a vapor trail of politics following it.

Some familiar legislative faces will be missing. Long-time Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli and Senator Richard Devlin, the Democrat’s budget guru, have moved on to appointed posts on the Northwest Power Council. Cliff Bentz, who has served in the Oregon House since the 2009 session, assumed Ferrioli’s seat and Senator Jackie Winters was chosen to succeed Ferrioli as minority leader. Rob Wagner, a Lake Oswego School Board member, was appointed to fill Devlin’s seat.

Oregon Voters Give Overwhelming Support for Measure 101

 Governor Kate Brown told Measure 101 supporters at Tuesday night’s victory party that voter approval of the Medicaid funding plan shows Oregonians support a GSD (Get Stuff Done) agenda.

Governor Kate Brown told Measure 101 supporters at Tuesday night’s victory party that voter approval of the Medicaid funding plan shows Oregonians support a GSD (Get Stuff Done) agenda.

Voters in yesterday’s special election overwhelmingly approved of Measure 101, which leaves in place the Medicaid funding plan approved by the 2017 Oregon legislature. It also lifts a huge fiscal burden off the shoulders of lawmakers in the short 2018 session that begins February 5.

The die was cast when, early in the evening, results indicated nearly 80 percent of Multnomah County voters approved Measure 101. Even though half of Oregon’s 36 counties, many of them rural, voted against Measure 101, they were heavily outvoted with strong support among higher population centers across the state.

In a low-turnout election, the side that wins is usually the side that can motivate voters to cast ballots. The pro-Measure 101 campaign had the broad coalition support, cash to advertise and the foot-power to get out the vote. Measure 101 opponents had none of those things. More than 180 organizations, both large and small, came together in dozens of advocacy events to show support in protecting healthcare coverage funding approved during the 2017 legislative session.

Referenda usually start as political quarrels in legislative sessions, which was the case for Measure 101. Whereas in recent sessions, funding mechanisms paying for Oregon’s Medicaid program had enjoyed bipartisan support, the enhanced tax proposal in 2017 met with partisan objections from some Republican lawmakers.

Led by Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn/Tualatin) and Rep. Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg), opponents called it unfair and declared it a “sales tax on health care.” Similar messaging was used successfully during last year’s M97 debate and opponents were trying to drum up support from Oregon voters who reacted to that rhetoric.

Supporters of the admittedly complicated Medicaid funding mechanism fought back, saying it was the best bipartisan plan to raise the money necessary to attract federal Medicaid matching dollars. They said opponents raised objections, but offered no politically viable alternative funding plan.

In the end, the $3.6 million campaign drowned out the opposition campaign, which reportedly spent less than $150,000 (a significant chunk of that raised in personal loans from Rep. Hayden). While TV ads provided air cover, the real difference was in the get-out-the-vote drive, aided by union and hospital supporters of Measure 101.

A key takeaway from this election may be the impact on future efforts by minority legislators or interests who seek to alter agreements they oppose. With M101 receiving more than a 6o percent majority, those parties may think twice before attempting similar fights on other legislative packages. Oregon’s referendum process is there for a reason, but legislators already have a mechanism for debating the validity and appropriateness of these type of budget and policy issues. Through the election process, voters can hold their elected leaders accountable for their work.

More than 1 million Oregonians are covered by Medicaid, which represented a fertile target audience to turn out to vote. In a relatively low-turnout election, a motivated group of voters can make the difference.

This was an election decided by urban Oregon voters. Majorities in big counties for Measure 101 ranged from 79 percent in Multnomah County to more than 65 percent in Benton and Lane counties. Jackson County in Southern Oregon went 58 percent for Measure 101. Suburban Washington County favored Measure 101 by more than 60 percent and Clackamas County, which Parrish represents, gave the measure a 58 percent plurality. Marion County went for Measure 101 by a 55 to 45 percent margin.

Oregon’s last special election was in 2010 when the state debated M66/67, which raised personal income tax revenue on the state’s highest-earning individuals and corporations. In that election, 1.28 million Oregonians cast ballots, representing 62.7 percent of eligible voters. Final numbers for M101 are yet to be released, but estimates are significantly lower.

The victory for Measure 101 was declared at 8 pm when the first batch of ballot totals were released.

Worker Shortage Looms as Economic Growth Barrier

 Oregon state economists say worker shortages, especially in skilled trades, have bedeviled the state’s economy for some time, but that shortage may become more serious and long-term as retirements outstrip new job market entrants and immigration is curtailed.

Oregon state economists say worker shortages, especially in skilled trades, have bedeviled the state’s economy for some time, but that shortage may become more serious and long-term as retirements outstrip new job market entrants and immigration is curtailed.

When you think of impediments to economic growth, you don’t typically think of worker shortages. But Oregon state economists say that is becoming one of the most pressing problems job-creators here face.

“The labor market is tight,” says Josh Lehner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. “The difficulty finding and retaining workers is the biggest challenge many businesses face today.”

After nine consecutive years of US economic expansion, a tight labor market isn’t a huge surprise. But the availability of labor is being impacted by non-economic factors such as demographics. Baby Boomers are retiring and immigration is being restricted.

“Yes, the working-age population in Oregon is continuing to increase,” Lehner writes in his blog. “There are more warm bodies available to work, or potentially available to work, however that increase is smaller today due to the uptick in retirements.”

Nearly 80 percent of the prime-age working adults (ages 25-54) in Oregon have a job, which is the same level as pre-recession employment levels. Lehner says there is still a little more leeway. The average employment level for this age group between 1993 and 2001 was 82 percent. But it may not be enough to offset the sheer number of retirements.

Employers have faced skilled worker shortages for some time and retirements could aggravate that shortage even more. Automation in manufacturing and service sectors may relieve some pressure, but at the same time may increase the demand for workers who know how to operate and maintain robotic systems.

In-migration and immigration could help. Oregon has benefitted from an influx of younger people working or seeking work in creative fields, but not so much in skilled trades. Some Oregon employers are redoubling efforts to create opportunities for under-represented populations in manufacturing and other business sectors, but that could take years to realize and still not meet demand.

The cost of housing is another factor influencing worker availability. Portland is a hot housing market, which has driven up rents and home values. Some potential workers, especially at entry professional levels, may seek elsewhere with lower costs of living.

Of course, a recession could impact the labor market by shrinking the number of jobs. Lehner says Oregon has reached a tipping point where even an economic downturn may not reverse a tight labor market.

“The cyclical issues will come and go,” he says. “However, the demographic crunch is finally upon us and here to stay for the foreseeable future.”