Raising $2 Billion Won’t Be a Slam Dunk

 Democrats hold all the main levers of power in Salem, including supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate that could pass tax hikes without any Republican votes. But meeting Governor Brown’s $2 billion revenue challenge won’t be easy and certainly won’t be a slam dunk.

Democrats hold all the main levers of power in Salem, including supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate that could pass tax hikes without any Republican votes. But meeting Governor Brown’s $2 billion revenue challenge won’t be easy and certainly won’t be a slam dunk.

Democrats hold supermajorities in the House and Senate to pass revenue-raising measures without Republican votes. Business interests may be relegated to the political sidelines. Yet, Governor Brown’s $2 billion revenue challenge in the 2019-2021 biennium seems tenuous.

In her budget message, Brown didn’t specify how she wanted to raise an additional $2 billion in revenue to fund public education. However, she has been very clear she isn’t interested in tying a revenue increase to reduction in PERS benefits, which business interests have advocated. The implication is that legislative Democrats have the votes and can decide on the details.

It may not be that simple. 

For starters, the PERS unfunded liability is likely to be larger. As The Oregonian’s Ted Sickinger reported, PERS investments so far this year have fallen significantly short of the assumed 7.2 percent return rate, which actuaries say could balloon the unfunded liability by as much as $4 billion. 

That won’t affect the current public employer contribution rate, which is already fixed for the next two years and cost an additional $1.1 billion. The PERS actuary predicts even steeper contribution rate increases beginning in 2021. Such a prospect may propel public employers to press harder for legislative solutions.

Jody Wiser of Tax Fairness Oregon has suggested paying down the PERS unfunded liability with a one-time diversion of the personal income tax kicker, pegged at $724 million. Voting to redirect a kicker payment to PERS is not impossible to imagine in a Democratically controlled legislature, but it still wouldn’t be an easy vote. Most of the kicker benefits flow to middle- and upper-income Oregon taxpayers, the people who typically write campaign checks to legislators.

Democrats have a comfortable supermajority in the Oregon House, but a less reliable one in the Oregon Senate. Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, isn’t always a sure bet to go along with her 17 other Democratic colleagues on tax issues. As one of the two Senate co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, Johnson will be part of the Democratic leadership team, but also hold more political leverage. Johnson is one of those votes you have to earn, not just count on.

 Governor Brown touted her $2 billion revenue challenge by saying, “Our current strong economy gives us the best chance in a generation to address persistent, structural challenges so we can achieve our full potential.” Brown’s challenge drew this response from House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, “This is not a challenge to the legislature; it is a challenge to the wallets and pocketbooks of hardworking Oregonians.”

Governor Brown touted her $2 billion revenue challenge by saying, “Our current strong economy gives us the best chance in a generation to address persistent, structural challenges so we can achieve our full potential.” Brown’s challenge drew this response from House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, “This is not a challenge to the legislature; it is a challenge to the wallets and pocketbooks of hardworking Oregonians.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the $2 billion revenue challenge is the lack of a specific plan. Democrats pushed in the 2017 session a corporate tax restructuring proposal, but the proposal or something like it wouldn’t generate $2 billion. That means a tax plan would most likely need to affect business and personal income taxpayers.

A business tax hike might be a lighter lift after the congressional GOP tax cut that included several business tax breaks. But the federal legislation contained personal income tax provisions that limit state and local tax deductions, which will mean higher federal taxable income starting in 2018 for a chunk of Oregon taxpayers. Again, not insurmountable, but not necessarily easy.

Designing a tax proposal, especially one as large as $2 billion in Oregon’s context, will be messy. Tax ideas will be floated and dropped. The final product may not be a single tax increase, but a series of tax and fee increases. This revenue-raiser will be in addition to taxes and fees levied to fill the budget gap for Oregon’s Medicaid program.

How the $2 billion will be spent also will be the source of endless debate. A special committee traveled the state during the interim gathering ideas on how to improve public education in Oregon. It came up with a long list – and didn’t include suggestions for higher education.  

The slim 22-member House GOP caucus, with Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, as its new “superminority” leader, expects to be largely spectators on tax legislation this session. However, that doesn’t rule out a role as spoilers who seize every opportunity to take political pot shots at Democratically backed tax proposals – and rising PERS contributions by cities, counties and school districts.

There is always a possibility of a bipartisan revenue package, which might avoid a voter referral that would be costly and delay any revenue increases. Compromising on a $2 billion tax package would pose political risks for both Democrats and Republicans, but also afford potential political benefits.

Republican legislative control in a blue state seems remote, so negotiating for some “victories” as part of a tax package could be viewed by GOP voters as turning lemons into lemonade. Democrats could win accolades for leadership by including some GOP priorities instead of plowing them over in the legislative process.

One thing is sure. Raising $2 billion in the next biennium is not a slam dunk because there will be votes on one or more tax measures to raise that sum, huge debates over where the money should go and a dark shadow cast by PERS.

 

Brown’s Budget Focuses on Education, Human Services

 Fresh off her successful re-election, Governor Kate Brown unveils her $23.6 billion General Fund budget that includes a $2 billion revenue challenge to state lawmakers to eliminate structural deficits in public education.

Fresh off her successful re-election, Governor Kate Brown unveils her $23.6 billion General Fund budget that includes a $2 billion revenue challenge to state lawmakers to eliminate structural deficits in public education.

Governor Kate Brown released her 2019-2021 budget recommendations that roll out ideas to shore up state health care funding, continue to invest in affordable housing and pay for initiatives she announced in her re-election campaign.

Proposed budgets are also notable for what they don’t include. Brown’s $23.6 billion budget proposal omits any mention of Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) cost-cutting or investing to restart bi-state conversations about an I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement.

Her proposed budget did contain a $2 billion revenue challenge to legislators to bolster Oregon’s public education system. The challenge coincided with the rollout of the Coalition for the Common Good, consisting of Oregon public employee unions, a group of long-term care providers and Nike, in support of a major tax package.

“We want to bring a sole focus into revenue reform,” said James Carlson, president of the Oregon Health Care Association. “The reality is we can’t afford to waste another five years chasing a deal that may or may not happen” on cutting government costs.

Major business groups are positioned to resist a major tax overhaul without steps to reduce the $22 million unfunded PERS liability, which poses a drain on local government and school district budgets.

The $2 billion in new revenue would go to extend the school year, decrease class sizes, expand access to preschool and decrease college tuition at public universities. Brown faced sharp criticism in her re-election campaign for Oregon’s low high school graduation rate and failure to provide all of the funding voters authorized to expand career and technical education statewide.

Brown’s budget is heavy on aspiration and revenue projections. It also is very readable, has a reasonable amount of detail and is backed up by economic and revenue analysis. For example, it shows that $19 billion in revenue comes from Oregon personal income taxes, which represents 80 percent of the budget. Corporate income taxes and lottery proceeds contribute 4 and 5 percent, respectively. Roughly 50 percent of Brown’s proposed spending would go to education and 27 percent to human services.

Even though state lawmakers will have around $1 billion more in revenue than the previous biennium, Brown included tax increases in her budget, much of it to plug a funding hole for Medicaid. She proposed raising tobacco taxes by $2 and expanding taxes or assessments on hospitals, insurers and some employers.

In her budget, Brown proposes to shut down the Oregon Department of Energy and allow the state’s Chief Education Office to end. She asks for creation of an Oregon Climate Authority that would administer a “well-designed, market-based program to achieve our state climate emissions reduction goals at the least possible cost, while protecting our manufacturing industry and mitigating impacts on low-income and rural communities, communities of color, and Tribes.” 

Brown devotes substantial funding to her Children’s Agenda, including $285.8 million to provide preschool for an additional 10,000 children, $20 million for housing stability for homeless families, $13.8 million to integrate disorder treatment and behavioral health programs for families and $10 to increase “quality, affordable” child care. Brown wants to ensure 100 percent of Oregon children have health care access and proposes $47.1 million for a comprehensive child welfare system “based on positive human development” and that reduces the need for foster care.

Another campaign promise that showed up on Brown’s budget is incorporating standards from the federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts into state law. She also wants to fund an effort to eliminate a backlog in pending air quality permits.

Brown recommended expanding Oregon’s automatic voter registration system by including other public interactions with state agencies, such as applying for a hunting license, as triggers and sending voters ballots with return envelopes with pre-paid postage. 

After a gubernatorial election that broke state spending records and involved independent expenditures funded with dark money contributions, Brown committed to work on campaign finance reform.

The budget proposal sets aside money for earthquake preparedness, firearm safety, a university program dealing with threat assessment and immigrant defense. Some $5 million is earmarked for funding rural broadband infrastructure and $10 million for remediation of rural brownfields so they can be redeveloped.

Brown titled her budget proposal, “Turning Point: An Agenda for Oregon’s Future.” Here is the opening paragraph of the budget document:

“Oregon is at a turning point. Hundreds of thousands of people have moved here in the past 20 years, and a million more are on their way. We’ve done some good things over the years, but our state is changing, and changing rapidly. With the aging of Oregon’s baby boomer generation, and the impacts of recent dramatic federal tax changes and burgeoning federal deficits exacerbating these changes, one thing is clear: we can no longer do things the way we have in the past. We must grow up as a state, and we need to decide – together – what we want to be over the next 20 years. The challenges of affordability, of educating our kids, of mitigating the effects of climate change, and of maintaining a strong democracy will not get better unless we change our approach.”

She says Oregon must renew faith in democracy, spend money wisely, address affordability, prepare for the future and “finally fix our underfunded education system.”

 

An Unexpected Defeat and a Promising Victory

 GOP State Rep. Rich Vial, who didn’t have an opponent until July, may have been surprised on election night when he was defeated by political newcomer Courtney Neron. Both have interesting back stories that show political candidates have lives beyond politics.

GOP State Rep. Rich Vial, who didn’t have an opponent until July, may have been surprised on election night when he was defeated by political newcomer Courtney Neron. Both have interesting back stories that show political candidates have lives beyond politics.

First-term State Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls, wasn’t on many media ‘watch’ lists in the 2018 election and didn’t have an opponent until as late as July, but he was on the short list of defeated legislative incumbents the day after the election.

First-time candidate Courtney Neron, a mother of two and former high school Spanish and French teacher, rode a blue wave of support for Democratic women candidates to defeat Vial, whose campaign outspent her seven to one. Neron won by a 51 to 48 percent margin and her election contributed to House Democrats exceeding a three-fifths supermajority in the 2019 legislative session. 

Neron was selected to run for the House District 26 seat after Ryan Spiker, who won the Democratic primary in May, withdrew for health reasons in June.

Unlike Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, who also was unseated in the election, Vial wasn’t a high-profile or partisan political figure in Salem. A lawyer, family farmer and avid ‘birder,” Vial went to Salem, in his words, “to deal with serious and complex problems that affect Oregonians.” 

In his farewell legislative newsletter, Vial wished everyone a happy Veterans Day, thanked constituents for the chance in serve in the legislature and made a plea to end “gridlock and bitterness.”

 Former high school Spanish and French teacher Courtney Neron was pressed into service to run as the Democratic candidate opposing a first-term Republican House member. With strong Democratic support based on her activism as a volunteer, Neron rode Oregon’s blue wave to victory and will represent House District 26 in the 2019 Oregon legislature. [Photo Credit: Corey Buchanan/Wilsonville Spokesman]

Former high school Spanish and French teacher Courtney Neron was pressed into service to run as the Democratic candidate opposing a first-term Republican House member. With strong Democratic support based on her activism as a volunteer, Neron rode Oregon’s blue wave to victory and will represent House District 26 in the 2019 Oregon legislature. [Photo Credit: Corey Buchanan/Wilsonville Spokesman]

“Dealing with serious and complex policies that affect Oregonians, including education, health care and criminal justice, as well as land use, housing and transportation, has been both sobering and humbling,” Vial wrote. “It has also been an inspirational and gratifying journey.” 

“Moving forward, it is my hope that our elected officials strive to overcome the tribalism and partisanship that has so deeply divided our communities and our government, both here in Oregon and around the country,” he continued. “One of my personal goals as a legislator has been to rise above the partisan mentality in our government that has led to gridlock and bitterness at a time when we most need cooperation and compassion.”

Vial added, “I continue to hope that we will move beyond this polarization, reject radical ideology and return to civility, genuine dialogue and a focus on doing what is right, rather than what is politically expedient. In doing so, we must recognize that we have so much more in common than we are different.”

Often lost in political campaigns are the human lives beyond candidacies. In his initial legislative newsletter, Vial described his “uniquely large family” that includes six biological children and “dozens” of children they parented. Seven Vietnamese refugees became permanent parts of the Vial household. He has more than 42 grandchildren.

Neron has an interesting back story, too, that includes living in France, Mexico and Germany before settling into a home with her husband and two children in Wilsonville. She attended the University of Oregon, where she met her husband, and earned a graduate degree from Pacific University.  Neron has taught in Yamhill-Carlton, Tualatin and Tigard. She resigned her teaching position to run for the legislature.

One of Neron’s top issues as an Oregon lawmaker will be working for smaller class sizes, which she says are critical to greater student success in classrooms. Her other priorities are “safer communities, logical transportation solutions and necessary environmental protections.”

 

Committee Identifies Long List to Improve Public Education

 The 2019 Oregon legislature will have a long list of ideas to improve public education and increase high school graduation rates. Ideas range from a longer school year, adding back programs for gifted and special needs students and addressing the mental health needs of young people. And, of course, there is PERS to contend with, not to mention how to fund all those ideas.

The 2019 Oregon legislature will have a long list of ideas to improve public education and increase high school graduation rates. Ideas range from a longer school year, adding back programs for gifted and special needs students and addressing the mental health needs of young people. And, of course, there is PERS to contend with, not to mention how to fund all those ideas.

Improving K-12 education will once more top the agenda of the new Oregon legislature as Governor Brown and legislative leaders sort through a menu of ideas generated by the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success.

The committee trekked 2,700 miles, went to 10 communities and visited 50 schools before huddling last week in Salem to share ideas and settle on priorities. There were lots of ideas, some touted as game-changers. Many of them aren’t new ideas.

Shoring up public schools became a major issue in the gubernatorial election, with unsuccessful GOP challenger Knute Buehler pledging to scrape Oregon from the bottom five nationally in high school graduation rates to the top five in five years. Brown was more measured, pointing to the committee’s work as the basis for recommendations to the 2019 legislative session.

Brown did urge extending the K-12 school year, which was a popular idea among the welter of suggestions emerging from the committee, which sorted its exploration into three categories: school readiness, college preparation and high-quality classrooms.

Even the idea of extending the school year has options. Senator Mark Hass, D-Beaverton and chair of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee, suggested reimbursing K-12 schools based on the days they actually operate rather than on a calendar extension. “It’s $50 million a day, but it’s $1 billion if we add 20 days to the school calendar,” Hass said.

 Public education was a major debating point in the gubernatorial election, with  sharp differences  between Governor Brown and GOP challenge Knute Buehler. With Brown’s victory, the views that count the most heading into the 2019 session may be from her August 2018  education policy statement .

Public education was a major debating point in the gubernatorial election, with sharp differences between Governor Brown and GOP challenge Knute Buehler. With Brown’s victory, the views that count the most heading into the 2019 session may be from her August 2018 education policy statement.

Another popular idea is investing in career technical education so it is more widely available in high schools throughout Oregon. Voters approved Measure 98 in the 2016 election, but the legislature approved $170 million, not the full $300 million requested in the ballot measure. Expanded career and technical education is viewed as a way to prevent some students from dropping out.

One of the most impassioned parts of the committee session involved mental health. Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, was a school board member before her election to the House. “We’re hearing the same things I’ve heard for years. Mental health needs came up in every forum, every roundtable, every single time, every single school,” she told fellow committee members.

Concern also was expressed for students who show up in the classroom despite sketchy housing situations. Committee chair Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, acknowledged social problems bedeviling students and schools, but said efforts should be made to forge strong connections with existing social service and housing providers.

Senator Tim Knopp, R-Bend, offered other intriguing ideas, such as subsidies to ensure a supply of diversified classroom teachers and adding back TAG (talented and gifted) and special needs specialists, arts, music and physical education programs and increasing the number of librarians and counselors. He also reminded the committee that Oregon’s quality education model calls for smaller class sizes, which he said would cost an additional $2 billion per biennium to achieve. The Oregon School Boards Association says the quality education model has been chronically underfunded since its inception two decades ago.

How to pay for these ideas inevitably turns to revenue sources, including new or higher taxes. Democrats will hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate that would allow them to approve revenue-raisers without any Republican votes. However, the point of the joint committee was to reach some bipartisan consensus on an education improvement agenda heading into the 2019 session.

Any discussion of tax increases returns to the Public Employees Retirement System’s unfunded pension liability that has driven up costs to public employers, including school districts. Some observers called the PERS issue the most defining issue of the 2018 gubernatorial election. If so, voters sided with Brown’s cautious approach to whittling down the unfunded liability, though there may be pressure to take more substantial steps. In a post-election editorial, The Oregonian urged Brown to use the “political freedom” of her final term in office to exercise “courageous leadership” on the PERS issue.

Smith Warner asked committee members to prioritize the ideas they support. She also asked them to consider what she called “categorical spending,” which would tie new funding to specific programs or possibly educational outcomes. Committee members will be pushed to pair spending ideas with enhanced funding options.

Legislative Democrats and Republicans will meet soon to organize for next year’s session and to take the first steps toward solidifying their respective agendas. Public education will certainly be on the top of the list for both caucuses, even if priorities and funding plans are still in process.

 

Brown, Democrats Ride Strong Wave of Voter Turnout

 Oregon Governor Kate Brown overcame a trail of administrative miscues and an aggressive campaign by challenger Knute Buehler to win re-election to a full four-year term. High voter turnout also swept out three Republican House incumbents and gave Democrats supermajorities in both the House and Senate. [Photo Credit: Steve Dykes, AP]

Oregon Governor Kate Brown overcame a trail of administrative miscues and an aggressive campaign by challenger Knute Buehler to win re-election to a full four-year term. High voter turnout also swept out three Republican House incumbents and gave Democrats supermajorities in both the House and Senate. [Photo Credit: Steve Dykes, AP]

Governor Kate Brown turned back a spirited challenge from Republican Knute Buehler and Democrats earned super-majorities in both the Oregon House and Senate by unseating three sitting House GOP members.

Oregonians rejected ballot measures to end the state’s sanctuary status, ban public funding for abortions and block taxation on groceries. Voters approved a measure to allow local governments to use public money with private developers to build affordable housing. In Washington, voters defeated a carbon tax proposal.

In key local races, Kathryn Harrington won as Washington County Chair and Jo Ann Hardesty glided to victory on the Portland City Commission, becoming the first African-American woman to sit on the commission. Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay won re-election. A majority of local ballot measures passed. A full list of election results can be found here

The Brown-Buehler contest set campaign spending records in Oregon and may be the spark for campaign finance reform in the 2019 legislative session. Despite running an effective campaign, Buehler’s loss further dented the notion that a moderate Republican could defeat a Democrat in a race for governor in Oregon.

There may not have been a blue wave throughout the nation, but strong turnout by Democratic voters contributed to the defeats of incumbent GOP Reps. Julie Parrish (West Linn), Rich Vial (Sherwood) and Jeff Helfrich (Hood River). House Democrats increased their margin of control to 38-22, up from their 35-25 margin in the previous session. It takes 36 votes to reach a House supermajority required to pass revenue-raising measures.

Democrats managed to flip one seat in the Senate where Jeff Golden prevailed in a seat held last session by GOP Senator Alan DeBoer who didn’t seek re-election. That one seat was enough to give Democrats a Senate supermajority of 18-12.

No changes are anticipated in Democratic leadership. Senate President Peter Courtney easily won re-election to a sixth term and has led the Senate since the 2003 session. Speaker Tina Kotek was elected to the Oregon House in 2006 and became Speaker in the 2013 legislative session.

Brown’s seemingly comfortable 5-point lead over Buehler didn’t necessarily reflect the bruising intensity of the gubernatorial campaign and the closeness of the contest, which drew national attention because the race was unexpectedly tight. The race also attracted gobs of out-of-state money as Brown and Buehler combined to spend a record $30 million.

In her post-election comments, Brown said her priorities in the next legislative session will be campaign finance reform, affordable housing and boosting Oregon’s low high school graduation rate, something Buehler poked at during the campaign. During her campaign, Brown announced a plan to incorporate federal clean air and clean water protections into Oregon law.

Other issues that will demand attention in the upcoming session include how to keep paying for Oregon’s Medicaid program, bolstering community mental health resources and improving child welfare programs.

There will be continuing pressure to address the unfunded liability of the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System and realign the state’s corporate tax system. It is unlikely remnants of the culture wars – immigration, abortion, transgender rights – will rear their heads in the legislature during the next two years.

A well-coordinated campaign apparatus consisting of labor, environment and progressive groups contributed to Brown’s re-election and the defeat of several ballot measures. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, expected to return as Speaker of the US House, credited a similar coordinated effort with the discipline and financing to regain control of the House and win governorships across the country, including in Trump country. 

Washington Initiative 1631, dubbed the Green New Deal, lost after large industrial corporations poured $31 million into a campaign to defeat it. If passed, I-1631 would have imposed a new carbon fee to fund conservation projects, renewable energy farms and struggling communities. The measure was endorsed by Governor Jay Inslee who called it “well-balanced, thoughtful policy.”

 

 

PERS: The Defining ‘Hot-Button’ Issue in the Governor’s Race

 There have been grand bargains, court judgments, work groups, dire warnings, threats and inflated claims. Now there is a gubernatorial race that might turn on frustration over how to reform the Public Employees Retirement System. [Illustration Credit: Joan McGuire/Oregon Business]

There have been grand bargains, court judgments, work groups, dire warnings, threats and inflated claims. Now there is a gubernatorial race that might turn on frustration over how to reform the Public Employees Retirement System. [Illustration Credit: Joan McGuire/Oregon Business]

Ted Sickinger of The Oregonian has written a series of revealing articles about the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), which his latest story calls the “defining issue” of the 2018 Oregon gubernatorial race.

 Ted Sickinger is a long-time member of The Oregonian’s investigative team who has written extensively about the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, from its arcane actuarial realities to the political firestorms it has ignited.  https://muckrack.com/ted-sickinger/articles .

Ted Sickinger is a long-time member of The Oregonian’s investigative team who has written extensively about the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, from its arcane actuarial realities to the political firestorms it has ignited. https://muckrack.com/ted-sickinger/articles.

“Perhaps few issues more starkly delineate the views of Kate Brown and Knute Buehler in this fall’s gubernatorial election than Oregon’s public pension system,” Sickinger wrote. 

“Though PERS has been a hot-button issue in the state for decades, the political pressure may never have been higher,” he continued. “Schools, municipalities and government agencies are panicking as their required PERS contributions spiral to historic highs to help dig the system out of its $22 billion unfunded liability. There is no rescue in sight, and contribution rates are slated to jump again in July, pulling another $550 million a year out of public budgets statewide.”

Republican challenger Buehler has used the issue as a political club to criticize Governor Brown’s leadership. Brown has searched for ways to buy down the unfunded PERS liability and insists she won’t punish hardworking public employees. 

As Sickinger describes it, Buehler has promoted a set of PERS reforms closely paralleling those backed by Oregon’s business community. Brown dismisses Buehler’s “threats and bluster” and says she will concentrate on “actual solutions that solve the problem.” 

In reality, the window of possible changes isn’t very wide. “There is a limited menu of changes to the pension system considered economically meaningful and legally viable in light of past decisions by the Oregonian Supreme Court,” Sickinger says. “None would erase the pension deficit, though it is possible to make cost reductions that would help [public] employers.”

Sickinger walks through ideas on the table – public employee cost-sharing, which Oregon public employees already do, a $100,000 salary cap to limit large pension payouts and a transition to a 401(k) plan. 

Sickinger’s article touches on incentives and investments, including Brown-backed legislation to entice public employers to make an extra contribution to PERS and have the contributions matched by 25 cents on the dollar. Buehler calls the idea “political theater” with minimal impact on the unfunded liability.

Brown touts professional changes in the state treasurer’s office to achieve a higher rate of return. Buehler dismisses this, claiming the Oregon PERS portfolio has been one of the best performing funds in the nation.

Regardless of your politics or gubernatorial preference, Sickinger’s reporting on a major state issue is informative and cast illumination on claims, counter-claims and outright inaccuracies. 

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For starters, there were 145,963 Oregon PERS retirees through December 2017 – 127,687 of whom are considered Tier 1, the group with the most court-tested retirement benefits. Another 67,840 Oregon public employees are eligible to retire – 22,300 of whom are in Tier 1.

For the rest of the story, read Sickinger’s story, including a YouTube video on how Oregon got $22 billion in the hole.

 

How Oregon Might Look with a GOP Governor

 Polls show the Oregon gubernatorial race is close enough heading into the November 6 election to wonder what a Republican governor in reliably blue-state Oregon would look like. (Photo Credit: E.J. Harris/East Oregonian)

Polls show the Oregon gubernatorial race is close enough heading into the November 6 election to wonder what a Republican governor in reliably blue-state Oregon would look like. (Photo Credit: E.J. Harris/East Oregonian)

Polls show the Oregon gubernatorial race is tighter than expected, at least by Democrats, and suggests it’s possible a Republican could capture the governor’s chair for the first time since 1978.

Buehler’s challenge to incumbent Governor Kate Brown is serious enough to ask what Oregon politics would look like if the state had a Republican governor while Democrats retained control of the Oregon House and Senate. Here are some thoughts:

Oregon Land Board

The three-member board that oversees state lands, from forests to submersible lands, would have two votes sympathetic to commercial interests – Governor Buehler and GOP Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. Some of Buehler’s biggest campaign contributors have come from leaders in the forest products industry, which could tip decisions in a different direction, such as the previously proposed sale of the Elliott State Forest.

Raising taxes and PERS

On the campaign trail, Buehler says he will block any tax increases until the legislature enacts cost-saving reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System. This has been a stand-off waiting to happen. Business interests – and more quietly school boards – would welcome this kind of pressure to force a compromise that reduces the unfunded PERS liability. A task force named by Brown spent months searching for ways to cut into the deficit and came away with a scant list of possibilities. Buehler may not fare any better, but he might bring fresh energy to the challenge.

State agency management

A Buehler victory would mean wholesale changes at the top of state agencies. Buehler has called out management lapses under Brown and he wouldn’t miss the chance to replace Brown appointees, especially since many Republicans may line up at his door seeking those jobs. 

Health care and human services

Under Democrats, Oregon carved out a niche in health care and long-term care delivery. These innovations have long enough roots that can’t be ripped out, but Buehler, who is a doctor, would covet the chance to put his own mark on Oregon’s health care system. He would likely face strong legislative opposition to Trump-like limitations on Medicaid and he might choose instead to focus on shoring up or even reinventing the state’s embattled child welfare system.

Homelessness

A politically opportune opening for Buehler would be combating the homelessness issue by significantly increasing community-based mental health resources, promoting innovative approaches to substance abuse and expanding options for victims of domestic abuse. In campaign ads, he has promised some “tough love,” which presumably means a coordinated effort to end camping in parks and on streets by providing more temporary shelters and affordable housing connected with services. Homelessness has emerged as a raw-nerve issue that has some urban Democrats weighing a vote against the incumbent they have supported in the past.

Redistricting

The quiet issue in the corner of this election is congressional and legislative redistricting, which will occur after the 2020 Census. GOP control of the governorship and secretary of state could give Republicans a bigger grip on how maps are redrawn. That could be especially significant if Oregon earns a sixth congressional district, which would be carved out of existing districts held by Democrats and potentially make one or more seats competitive in the 2022 election. Redistricting could also make a few House and Senate districts more competitive, making Democratic legislative control less a fait accompli. 

Legislative process
A Republican governor and Democratic legislative leaders could be like mixing oil and water. However, there has been a history in Oregon of bipartisan collaboration between moderate Republicans and Democrats. That is more likely if Buehler sticks to his moderate positioning and isn’t tempted to channel Trump policies on deregulation and tax policy. In fact, a Republican governor could be the galvanizing factor that breaks some logjams on policy issues in Salem by requiring bipartisan compromises.

Political Style
Brown has admitted she has a reserved, personable style that may not resonate with everyone, especially in the shadow of more flamboyant politicians, even though it has produced significant successes such as a higher minimum wage, major transportation funding package and a clean air initiative.

Buehler’s political persona isn’t over the top, but he has campaigned as a problem-solver willing to butt heads in Salem to get things done. His projection of himself as an action figure contrasts with the quieter approach of Brown and might be a better match for the political moment of this election, even if it results in inevitable public confrontations with Democratic legislative leaders in 2019.

 

Non-Unanimous Jury Convictions and Echoes of Jim Crow

 Oregon is only one of two states that allow felony convictions with non-unanimous jury verdicts. Louisiana voters will decide this fall whether to scrap its provision, which detractors call the ‘last vestige of Jim Crow’ laws. Oregon’s constitutional amendment may share some of the same heritage.

Oregon is only one of two states that allow felony convictions with non-unanimous jury verdicts. Louisiana voters will decide this fall whether to scrap its provision, which detractors call the ‘last vestige of Jim Crow’ laws. Oregon’s constitutional amendment may share some of the same heritage.

Is Oregon’s law allowing a conviction without a unanimous jury verdict a vestige of the Jim Crow era in America? A report carried by Oregon Public Broadcasting suggests it may be.

Oregon is one of only two states that allow a felony conviction, except for first-degree murder, without a unanimous jury verdict. The other state is Louisiana, which is set to vote this fall on a ballot measure to scrap non-unanimous jury verdicts. Louisiana proponents of the ballot measure call it the state’s “last remaining Jim Crow law.”

OPB’s Conrad Wilson quotes Thomas Aiello, a professor of history and African-American studies at Valdosta State University: “Louisiana lawmakers adopted its system after the Civil War as part of a series of laws that enshrined white supremacy in the state…. Louisiana did so by making it easier to convict African-American defendants. Those convicts were then leased by the state to do the work that had been done by slaves.”

Oregon amended its constitution in 1934 to allow non-unanimous jury convictions. According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, the ballot measure was approved by voters following a 1933 trial involving a Portland hotel proprietor charged with murdering a Scappoose man. Eleven jurors favored conviction, but one didn’t. The jury compromised and convicted the hotel operator of manslaughter, which evidently enraged Oregonians enough to approve the non-unanimous jury provision in the Oregon Constitution with 58 percent majority.

The Oregonian editorialized, “The increased urbanization of American life and the vast immigration into America from southern and eastern Europe of people untrained in the jury system have combined to make the jury of twelve increasingly unwieldy and unsatisfactory.”

Passage of the non-unanimous jury ballot measure in Oregon followed a decade in the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan flourished here, reaching 35,000 members and 60 local chapters in 1923, according to the Oregon Encyclopedia. In 1922, Klansmen were elected across the state in local, county and legislative offices. The Klan provided crucial support to elect LaGrande Democrat Walter M. Pierce as governor. While Oregon Klan members targeted their venom at Catholics, they also pursued legislation to ban land ownership by “aliens.”

Klan membership faded in the 1930s, but many of its members redirected their energies through a variety of local organizations. No one can say for sure whether the Klan or its sympathizers had any significant direct role in pushing the 1934 ballot measure. Nevertheless, the timing is suspect. 

Aliza Kaplan, director of the criminal justice reform clinic at the Lewis & Cark Law School, says flatly, “Both laws were based on discrimination and are relics of those times.”

The main impetus now to revisit non-unanimous jury convictions comes from the Oregon Innocence Project, which points out that it can lead to convicting innocent people. Wilson’s report cites the case of Brad Holbrook who was indicted by a grand jury for sexual abuse of a child and convicted by a non-unanimous jury. Holbrook was exonerated earlier this year after serving six years in prison.

Steve Wax, legal director of the Oregon Innocence project,” is quoted by Wilson as saying, “[Holbrook] would have died in prison without 12 jurors having said you did it. That’s wrong.”

District attorneys have expressed support for non-unanimous jury verdicts, claiming they help to avoid hung juries, court congestion and taxpayer expense. Wilson quotes Tim Colahan, executive director of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, “it clearly saves scarce resources in our criminal justice system.”

While the US Constitution guarantees everyone a jury trial, the US Supreme Court has stopped short of saying a conviction requires a unanimous jury in state criminal trials. A new challenge to that view may be rising through the Oregon Court of Appeals that highlights the challenge of minorities in a state such as Oregon to have a “jury of peers” and thus fall short of the US Constitution’s equal protection clause. Wilson says some Oregon lawmakers don’t want to wait years for a court ruling and prefer to address the issue directly.

Oregon’s Vicarious Congressional Race in Southwest Washington

 Democrat Carolyn Long is mounting what many consider a more serious challenge than expected to GOP incumbent Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. The House seat is on the watch list of ones that could flip in the midterm election if the so-called “Blue Wave” materializes.

Democrat Carolyn Long is mounting what many consider a more serious challenge than expected to GOP incumbent Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. The House seat is on the watch list of ones that could flip in the midterm election if the so-called “Blue Wave” materializes.

Oregon’s five congressional races are a snore, but there is a competitive contest in Southwest Washington that Oregonians can enjoy vicariously via Portland TV.

Incumbent GOP Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler faces a stiffer-than-expected challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long. The best evidence Washington’s 3rd Congressional District is in play are the negative TV ads both candidates are running.

Herrera Beutler’s ad claims Long supports a Medicare for All health care proposal, which she says would bankrupt the nation. Long has countered with an ad that calls Herrera Beutler a career politician who has sold out to special interests and voted multiple times to scuttle the Affordable Care Act without offering an alternative.

The spirited race attracted a standing-room-only crowd for a debate in Woodland September 18. They jointly appeared before The Columbian’s editorial board in August for what turned out to be a two-hour debate that touched on health care, tax reform, border security, President Trump and impeachment. Another debate is scheduled October 17 in Goldendale.

Political pundits believe Democrats have a serious chance to flip control in the House in the 2018 midterm election. They identify around 80 congressional seats, mostly held now by Republicans, that could flip. Washington’s 8th Congressional District, which stretches east from Seattle’s suburbs to Ellensburg, is held by GOP Congressman Dave Reichert, has been in Republican hands since 1983 and is on the list. Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, which has been won by both Republicans and Democrats, is on the list, but viewed as likely to stay in GOP control.

Competitive congressional races have been fueled in significant part by women, either as candidates or as mobilizers around issues such as the #MeToo movement. The Herrera Beutler-Long race is one of 33 congressional races nationwide that features a woman running against another woman.

As election day nears, the performance and behavior of Trump is becoming a larger issue, especially in districts where international trade is a critical part of a local economy, as it is in Southwest Washington. Another motivating issue is the fear continued GOP control in the House will lead to cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to reduce a growing federal budget deficit.

Herrera Beutler has not been an outspoken defender of Trump, but generally has supported his agenda and that of the House GOP leadership. Long has followed a typical Democratic campaign script, condemning the GOP-backed tax cut, warning about Medicare budget cuts and expressing support for impeaching Trump.

The candidates’ base of support tracks with the red-blue political divide. Primary results showed Herrera Beutler leading in more rural parts of Southwest Washington and Long leading in Clark County, which includes Vancouver.

Herrera Beutler grew up in Southwest Washington, played varsity basketball at Prairie High School, graduate from the University of Washington and lives in Battle Ground. After serving in the Washington legislature, she was elected to Congress in 2010 at the age of 31 and is the first Hispanic to represent Washington in Congress. She and her husband started their family – they have a daughter and son – while she served in Congress, leading her to champion maternity care issues.

Long grew up in Oregon, attended the University of Oregon and paid for college by working for Safeway, eventually becoming a produce department manager and a journeyman with UFCW Local 555. After earning her graduate degree from Rutgers, Long joined the faculty of Washington State University’s campus in Vancouver in 1995 and has worked there since then. She is married and has a 12-yer-old daughter. Her campaign website features her “award-winning jam recipes.”

 

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.