Governor

New Workplace Battlefront Opens on Flexible Scheduling

The next workplace battlefield is emerging over flexible scheduling of workers in sectors such as fast food restaurants. The situation further rankles Oregon business leaders who are still upset over paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage and Measure 97.

The next workplace battlefield is emerging over flexible scheduling of workers in sectors such as fast food restaurants. The situation further rankles Oregon business leaders who are still upset over paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage and Measure 97.

Democratic lawmakers are teeing up legislation for the 2017 session to mandate scheduling rules for some workers, which could make testy relations with Oregon’s business community even testier.

Senator Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat, says it’s timely to tackle the legislation next session. He noted the 2015 Oregon legislature imposed a moratorium on municipalities passing “flexible schedule” ordinances. That moratorium expires next year.

Dembrow’s legislation probably would mirror ordinances adopted in Seattle and San Francisco that require employers with large numbers of part-time workers to provide advance schedules or pay extra compensation.

Supporters say sudden work schedule changes make it hard and costly for low-wage workers to arrange for child care or balance work for second and third jobs. Business advocates say employers need the ability to adjust worker schedules to deal with emergencies and when employees call in sick.

Business groups are already rankled about workplace legislation following the 2015 session when Democrats pushed through bills to mandate paid sick leave and raise the state’s minimum wage.

They haven’t cooled down as business representatives walked away after Dembrow's first interim work group meeting on the flexible scheduling bill.

There is broad business opposition to Measure 97, the initiative appearing on the November 8 general election ballot that would impose a gross receipts tax on corporations with more than $25 million in annual sales in Oregon. Business leaders predict business closures or departures if the measure passes and warn they will be reluctant participants in any negotiations on an alternative if it fails. That wariness could extend to other issues, including the flexible scheduling bill.

After demurring, Governor Kate Brown endorsed Measure 97, even though she says she hates it. Brown based her support on the need for substantial additional revenue to plug a $1.25 billion or larger projected budget hole in the 2017-2019 biennium. Brown and her GOP challenger Bud Pierce will hold their first gubernatorial debate Saturday in Bend and can expect to be asked about the flexible scheduling bill.

When push comes to shove, some business leaders may prefer statewide flexible scheduling legislation as opposed to the specter of cities such as Portland and Eugene adopting their own local ordinances. But bruised political feelings among business leaders also could diminish or even extinguish their willingness to compromise.

Pierce Dumps Trump as Gubernatorial Debates Loom

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce jettisoned his endorsement of Donald Trump on the run-up to this Saturday’s first debate with Governor Kate Brown in Bend. Four more debates will follow into mid-October.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce jettisoned his endorsement of Donald Trump on the run-up to this Saturday’s first debate with Governor Kate Brown in Bend. Four more debates will follow into mid-October.

Few people aside from Donald Trump believe the unconventional GOP presidential candidate can capture Oregon in the November 8 general election. Now Oregon’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce has joined the chorus.

Pierce withdrew his endorsement of Trump this week, claiming the New York real estate magnate isn’t unifying the Republican party and is driving away Hispanic voters. Pierce says Hispanic voters have a natural attraction to political conservatives and he is actively seeking their support to upset Governor Kate Brown.

In an interview last month, Brown urged Pierce to disavow Trump and “do the right thing.” Whatever the right thing might be, Pierce stopped short of pledging to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton. He said he won't cast a ballot for anyone in the presidential race this year.

Jacob Daniels, Trump’s Oregon campaign chairman and perhaps the only person in the state who thinks his man will win here, dismissed Pierce’s dropped endorsement as insignificant.

The most recent public polling shows Brown with a comfortable double-digit lead over Pierce, but some Oregon Democrats have been uneasy over her largely invisible campaign while she hit the campaign fundraising trail. Pierce hit the airwaves with hard-hitting TV ads last month. Brown went up in the last few days with a softer ad that describes her political start as a children’s advocate and her achievement s governor boosting state K-12 school funding.

Brown and Pierce are scheduled to square off in their first face-to-face debate on Saturday in Bend, which may only rate second billing to home football games in Eugene and Corvallis. The gubernatorial candidates debate again September 30 in front of the Portland City Club, October 6 in Eugene, October 13 in Medford and October 20 in Portland.

Pierce has called for fresh thinking in Salem while Brown has touted her leadership as the successor to John Kitzhaber, who resigned at the beginning of his unprecedented fourth term. No seminal issues have created a sharp division in the race, though the Oregon-Oracle $100 million settlement of the Cover Oregon fiasco may have averted a flash point in the race. The settlement that involved six separate legal actions came just before Brown was scheduled to be deposed.

The debates are likely to underscore Pierce’s opposition to and Brown’s endorsement of Measure 97, the initiative that would impose a gross receipts tax on corporations with more than $25 million in annual sales in Oregon. Proponents and opponents of the tax measure are waging a vigorous campaign that pivots on how much of the tax will filter down to small businesses and ultimately Oregon consumers. Early polling indicates the measure has strong support.

The gubernatorial candidates should be pressed on how they would respond if the tax measure passes or fails. Measure 97 is projected to generate $3 billion in new state tax revenue annually, which would more than plug the state’s anticipated $1.5 billion biennial budget hole. However, the state will face severe spending challenges on education and health care spending if the measure fails.

As the debates unfold, a key target for each candidate will be attracting non-affiliated voters. Brown can generally count on the Democratic majority in urban areas from Portland to Eugene. To win, Pierce may need to catch some of the same populist wind that propelled voters in Oregon to support Trump and Bernie Sanders.

What an Effective Lobbyist Really Does

Good lobbyists do a lot more than schmoozing and handing out campaign cash. Their work to pass or kill bills is strenuous, stressful and sometimes monotonous, and it can span multiple legislative sessions.

Good lobbyists do a lot more than schmoozing and handing out campaign cash. Their work to pass or kill bills is strenuous, stressful and sometimes monotonous, and it can span multiple legislative sessions.

Getting a bill passed is a lot more complicated than you may think. Rarely does legislation follow a straight line from its introduction to the day it lands on the governor's desk for a signature. And big campaign contributions don’t always mean success.

Lobbyists earn their pay by doing much more than drafting legislation, talking it up with the lawmakers on the committee where it will be sent and schmoozing in the lobby to round up enough votes. Lobbyists are worth their weight in gold when they anticipate what could go wrong on the legislative journey and take steps to avoid deadly detours.

To outsiders, lobbyists look like men and women who live the life – golfing, dining and hanging out with people with voting cards and the power to pass or kill a bill. If that’s all a lobbyist did, he or she might not be all that successful.

Anticipation starts before a bill is written or dropped. Lobbyists read the situation to see if the climate is right for a measure to make it. If, for example, Democrats control the legislature, right-to-work legislation has a slim to no chance of seeing the light of day, let alone getting adopted.

Assuming the climate is either conducive, or at least not problematic, the next thing to anticipate is the attitudes toward the bill of the chairs of the House and Senate committees where it would be referred. In the Oregon legislature, committee chairs have the power to “sit” on a bill and never give it a hearing or give it merely a perfunctory hearing.

A lobbyist will talk with committee chairs to see if they support or are at least okay with a bill and to find out what questions they have and background information they want. Some bills can be referred to more than one committee. This can be both a problem and an opportunity for a lobbyist. One way to get around a dissenting committee chair is to seek a referral to another committee with a more welcoming chair. Double committee referrals can be encouraged, which provides a lobbyist who opposes a bill twice the opportunity to erect roadblocks to stop it.

While committee chairs have the power over bills when they arrive in their possession, the presiding officers of the House and Senate are the ones with the power to decide where or where not to send bills. This is the next stop on the lobbyist's path to success to ensure the House Speaker or Senate President doesn’t send a bill to a committee where it will wind up stillborn.

All this activity occurs – or should occur – before a bill is introduced. Then the fun really begins.

Lobbyists need to prepare materials that explain the bill and its purpose. Complex bills require detailed explanations, which have to be clear and crisp or risk having the eyes of lawmakers glaze over.

Lobbyists will meet with legislators, especially the ones who sit on the committees where legislation would be considered. These meetings may involve bringing along a constituent to underscore the bill’s importance. In some cases, lobbyists will arrange tours to “see” the problem the bill seeks to solve. The same approach holds true if the lobbyist opposes a bill.

The preparation and meetings have another critical purpose – to ask for and confirm a legislator’s support for or opposition to the bill. Nailing down a “yes” or “no” may require more than a single meeting. Many legislators are reluctant to commit until they have heard the other side.

Eventually lobbyists develop a vote count, which becomes their real leverage. Even a reticent committee chair may yield to the wishes of his or her committee on a bill. A smart committee chair might use the opportunity to line up votes he or she wants on another, unrelated bill. Lobbyists have to keep track of this horse trading to avoid letting their legislation become manure tossed into the compost bin.

For most bills, lobbyists have to ask for a hearing. If they have the votes lined up in committee, they also ask for a work session, which allows the committee chair to call for a vote on the measure.

Once a hearing has been scheduled, lobbyists coordinate testimony. This can be as complicated as inviting a busload of people to testify or, at the request of a sympathetic chair, giving short-and-sweet testimony so the bill can be quickly moved along. Skilled lobbyists understand how to show the flag and fly under the radar.

An emerging trend is the need for coalitions of support, especially for bills that are contentious. It is not enough for a single lobbyist to tout a measure. Lawmakers want to know who else supports the bill, or at least who doesn’t oppose it.

When a bill makes it out of committee, it heads to the House or Senate floor, unless it has a fiscal impact, which means in most cases it then goes to the Joint Ways and Means Committee. In the Oregon legislative set-up, Ways and Means is an appropriations committee. It's also like a parole board. You have to show up and make a case for the release of your bill. Without approval, your legislation will rot in a fiscal jail.

A good chunk of bills that pass on the House and Senate floors draw minimal comment and debate. More often, even on non-controversial bills, legislators pose questions that the legislator carrying the bill attempts to answer. Lobbyists work with committee staff to anticipate questions and generate responsive, accurate answers. Under their code of ethics, Oregon lobbyists are obliged to correct any misinformation they provide, whether it's inadvertent or intentional.

Passing the House or Senate is just the start. Some House-Senate standoffs inevitably turn innocent bills into hapless hostages. Lobbyists have to use their political GPS to see an impediment coming and do what they can to skirt or manage the detour.

Even with reliable vote counts, nervous lobbyists typically pace outside the House and Senate chambers waiting for their bill to come up in debate and a vote. They also have to be available in case a lawmaker wanders out of the chamber to ask a random question about the bill.

If a bill is on its way through the legislative gauntlet, lobbyists must brief the governor’s staff. Unlike a committee chair who has the power of a pocket veto, the governor is required to sign or veto bills that reach his or her desk. If a bill faced serious opposition in the legislature, governors will usually scrutinize it carefully, seeking advice from their legal counsel and policy staffs. Bills with partisan overtones or ones that pass on largely party-line votes can present special lobbying challenges.

Of course, politics do play a role in legislation. Lobbyists court political relationships by contributing to legislative candidates, House and Senate leadership and Republican and Democratic caucuses, which can make a difference when a lobbyist calls for a meeting. But donating campaign cash doesn’t guarantee a legislative victory. That's why good lobbyists work to build trust by carefully validating their claims and by credibly and fairly telling their opponent’s story. Some lobbyists have even won the day by telling their opposition’s story better than their opponent. But all lobbyists are gauged on their propensity to tell the truth.

Some bills take more than a single session to make it all the way through the process to become law. That means repeating the drill – improving the bill and its support, perhaps with a stronger grassroots network, more powerful testimony or a more persuasive argument.

Bills that pass can be targets for amendments or even repeal in subsequent sessions. So the lobbyist’s job is seemingly never finished.

Lobbying involves hard, persistent and often monotonous work. The best lobbyists aren’t necessarily the ones with the most flash, but the ones with the creativity to see a path to success and the perseverance to follow that path. And it never hurts to have a really good vote count.

Oregon’s Pending Political Divorce

Measure 97, which would raise taxes on corporations with more than $25 million in annual sales in Oregon, faces an uncertain future in the general election. However, it does seem certain that it's causing a political divorce in Oregon that will fuel polarization and make compromise harder to find.

Measure 97, which would raise taxes on corporations with more than $25 million in annual sales in Oregon, faces an uncertain future in the general election. However, it does seem certain that it's causing a political divorce in Oregon that will fuel polarization and make compromise harder to find.

Oregon voters can expect political rhetoric to escalate over Measure 97, the initiative to impose a gross receipts tax on corporations with large sales in the state, as the November 8 general election approaches.

However, the more intriguing question may be what will or should happen after the election, regardless of whether Measure 97 passes or fails? Chances are whatever happens will feel like a divorce. Andrew Bulkily, writing for Oregon Business, summed up the situation as going from “gridlock to civil war."

No one disputes that the stakes are huge. Oregon officials estimate Measure 97 will generate $3 billion per year in new state tax revenue. Proponents say most of that tax will be shouldered by large out-of-state corporations that currently don’t pay their fair share of the tax burden in Oregon. Opponents insist that the tax measure will result in higher consumer prices.

Emily Powell, the third generation owner of Powell’s Books, says higher taxes resulting from the passage of Measure 97 could drive the iconic Portland-based independent bookstore out of business. Powell says profit margins in the book business are too small and competition is too stiff to allow the store to raise its prices.

Measure 97 revenues have been touted by supporters, including Governor Kate Brown, as a badly needed and long overdue revenue make-up for K-12 school funding, health care and senior services. Opponents argue that the initiative can’t guarantee how legislators will spend the added tax money and that a big chunk of it will go to cover huge Public Employees Retirement System shortfalls.

There are people on both sides of the initiative who wish a compromise could have been reached to avoid a ballot measure mash-up that could be the most expensive political campaign in state history. Proponents and opponents have each raised double-digit millions of dollars to trade televised jabs this fall. Measure 97 backers weren’t in the mood to compromise, feeling that 2016 could be a moment to push through a major tax change on the ballot.

Which brings us to what happens after the election. If Measure 97 passes, the state’s available discretionary revenue will sharply expand. That would probably erase the projected $1.3 billion state biennial budget hole, but it wouldn’t necessarily determine how the balance of money would be spent. You could expect fierce arguments among interest groups over how much should go to K-12 schools versus investments in health care and senior services – and in higher education. You also could expect some high-profile business response, such as a business like Powell’s Books shuttering.

If Measure 97 fails, the state budget hole will loom even larger, potentially threatening cuts to K-12 and higher education funding and threatening Medicaid expansion. Perhaps worse, many in the business community may refuse to enter into discussions about how to meet that budget shortfall, PERS underfunding or tax reform because of the fractious fight they had to wage to defeat Measure 97. Oregon lawmakers may see hearing rooms full of angry faces unwilling to sit together in work groups to explore solutions.

It’s likely that the political zombie of a state sales tax would re-emerge. The sales tax has been the default idea for how to reduce the volatility of Oregon’s existing income-tax-heavy revenue system. However, sales taxes face their own haunting challenges, such as Internet sales. In Oregon, the appetite for a sales tax by voters has the same taste notes as brussels sprout ice cream.

If Measure 97 passes and Brown wins election, it will give her an effective mandate to guide how the new tax revenue should be allocated. However, it could dampen enthusiasm for climbing the steep hill to craft, pass and avoid a referral on a major transportation funding measure.

If Brown wins, but Measure 97 fails, Brown will have the challenge of trying to patch together a balanced budget, with limited credibility to court business support for alternative tax-generating options.

Brown’s position also would be weakened because she must run for election again in 2018 for a full four-year term. As secretary of state, Brown succeeded John Kitzhaber as governor after he resigned in 2015 and is running this year to fill out the final two years of the former governor’s four-year term.

This is a fairly grim picture. Sort of like a family portrait after a divorce.

Over time, views will soften, the more contentious personalities will be pushed aside and a dialogue can resume. But as the 2016 presidential election has revealed, strong political undercurrents can be unleashed, deepening polarization and crippling efforts to find common ground – or even a table where everyone can sit around to talk.

Trump Tackling the Left Coast

As Republicans open their national convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump has pledged to put some surprising states in play in November, including Oregon and Washington. What does Trump know that most political observers in the Pacific Northwest fail to see? (Photo Credit:  Christopher Dolan/The Times & Tribune via AP)  

As Republicans open their national convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump has pledged to put some surprising states in play in November, including Oregon and Washington. What does Trump know that most political observers in the Pacific Northwest fail to see? (Photo Credit: Christopher Dolan/The Times & Tribune via AP) 

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump raised eyebrows when he told Republican congressmen that he expects to run competitively in November on the Left Coast, especially in Oregon and Washington.

Trump didn’t give away his secret formula for turning dark blue states into electoral votes for him, but it is interesting to speculate on what is behind his audacious claim.

The Statesman Journal reported what it called a “surprise result” from the latest batch of party affiliation sign-ups from motorists automatically registered to vote under Oregon’s new Motor Voter law – more people registered as Republicans than Democrats. Some 3,455 new voters aligned with the GOP compared to only 3.023 with the Democrats.

Before you get too excited over that news, note that 124,912 Oregonians have been registered to vote under the new law, but only about 8,500 declared a party preference, according to the secretary of state’s elections division. The small gain in voter registration by Republicans hardly makes a dent in the overwhelming Democratic majority in Oregon. Trump carried Oregon with 252,748 votes in the Republican primary, which was fewer votes than Hillary Clinton received (269,846) in soundly losing to Bernie Sanders (360,829).

But primary results and new voter registrations may not be what Trump and his lieutenants are pondering. They see a whole lot of people, including a vast majority of new voters, who don’t align with either party. There are more non-affiliated voters in Oregon than registered Republicans and almost as many as registered Democrats. This pool of voters could represent just the kind of uncharted electoral waters Trump plans to ply this fall.

Trump also may be planning to appeal to Democratic and independent voters in Oregon and Washington who voted for Bernie Sanders and are disenchanted with Hillary Clinton. Despite national polls showing nearly three-quarters of Sanders Democratic primary voters plan to vote for Clinton, that still leaves the other 25 percent for Trump to court.

Sanders did well in more than just Portland, so Trump’s campaign may try to pry away voters who oppose trade deals and still harbor ill feelings toward the Clintons on timber policies that reduced cuts on public forests and forced mills to close. He might even reach out to “Rust Belt” manufacturing workers in Portland and Seattle who feel left behind.

An active Trump campaign in Oregon and Washington, whatever that turns out to be from this unconventional politician, could give a boost to down-ballot Republican candidates. GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce seems disinclined to hook his hope to Trump, but Dennis Richardson, who is running for secretary of state, might find some common cause with the Trumpster.

Even if Pacific Northwest Republicans don’t enthusiastically embrace Trump and his message, they might still be willing to collaborate on campaign basics such as get-out-the-vote efforts, aiming to turn out voters who aren’t exactly in the political mainstream.

Win or lose in November, Trump has given the Republican Party a jolt and potentially set the stage for a larger, longer-term political realignment affecting both major parties. His unpredictability as a candidate has allowed doubt to creep in about the reliability of old political maxims, like red states and blue states.

Voter turnout, and to some degree voter mood, can be influenced in Oregon and Washington by ballot measures. Oregonians will be voting on a major tax increase on large corporations, which Republicans generally oppose, but also may fetch opposition from lower-income voters who fear the tax increase will be passed along to them in higher prices for groceries and gas.

Portland-area voters will be asked to approve a major a $750 million bond for Portland Public School renovations, a City of Portland gas tax increase and renewal of a Metro levy to fund regional natural areas. The cumulative impact of tax measures on the ballot could make Portland voters poutier than usual and more open to the kind of messages Trump traffics in.

Washington voters will decide on measures that would impose a carbon emission tax and urge a constitutional amendment that limits constitutional rights to people, not corporations. A gun control measure also may qualify for the fall ballot.

A Republican hasn’t won the governorship of Washington since the 1980s, but the last three elections have been tight. Governor Jay Inslee is seeking re-election, but with sagging approval ratings. He only won in 2012 by a whisker over his Republican rival, former state attorney general Rob McKenna. Pundits predict a vigorous battle for legislative control in the House, where Democrats hold a thin two-seat majority, and the Senate, where Republicans cling to an even thinner one-seat advantage.

If you were betting, you would be smart to keep your chips on blue in Oregon and Washington. But you might not want to lift your finger off the chips just quite yet.

A Barnstorming Debate for Secretary of State

Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson may be missing their only window of opportunity this summer to make their case on why each should become Oregon’s next secretary of state – and the person next in line to become governor.

Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson may be missing their only window of opportunity this summer to make their case on why each should become Oregon’s next secretary of state – and the person next in line to become governor.

How quickly we forget that Oregon’s secretary of state is next in line to become governor. Oregon’s sitting governor, Kate Brown, is a case in point. Yet the general election battle for this significant statewide post hasn’t generated even a water fight so far.

A Google search showed no news stories about the race between Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson since election night when each won contested primary fights.

The candidates are undoubtedly busy raising campaign cash, but that doesn’t explain why Avakian and Richardson, who couldn’t be further apart on the political spectrum, haven’t taken their campaigns to the airwaves to earn valuable – and basically free – media coverage.

Avakian, a former legislator and currently Oregon’s Labor Commissioner, and Richardson, a former legislator and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, aren’t shy and retiring personalities. These former trial lawyers seldom hesitate to share their views. This summer may be their only window to talk to and be heard by Oregonians before the sprawling, brawling presidential race overwhelms all else political this fall.

Richardson and Avakian have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain. They certainly have a lot to debate. Richardson is viewed as an arch conservative, while Avakian has projected himself as an all-in progressive. Avakian wants to prosecute polluters. Richardson wants to strip away regulation that he says strangles business growth.

Avakian took flak in the Democratic primary for expressing views on issues that go well beyond the immediate purview of the secretary of state’s office in Oregon, but not necessarily beyond what we expect from a governor. A wider canvass of policy issues wouldn’t be a challenge for Richardson, who campaigned better than most expected against former Governor John Kitzhaber who sought and won an unprecedented fourth term in 2014 before resigning amid a scandal in early 2015.

An early poll suggests Richardson is leading the race against Avakian and Independent Party candidate Paul Damian Wells. In fact, Richardson received 60,000 more votes in the primary than Avakian, though total Democratic votes cast in the primary dwarfed Republican ballots by around 130,000 votes.

There may be some tactical advantage in running a “dark” campaign during the summer, but it isn’t advantageous for Oregonians who would benefit by a round of statewide hot weather debates by the three secretary of state candidates, who could in the blink of an eye wind up as governor. There apparently won’t be gubernatorial debates between Brown and GOP challenger Bud Pierce until the fall, so the coast is clear for Avakian, Richardson and Wells.

It might take some creative staging to draw crowds, like teaming the debate with a summer concert series featuring bands from different parts of the state. The prospect of two major candidates in shirtsleeves barnstorming through Oregon’s warmer summer weather to talk about the future of the state might be a lot more compelling than you think. Political passions are running high, so why not put on a movable political passion play.

Like we said, there is a lot to debate, despite the relatively confined role of secretary of state, but with an officeholder with the potential to play a much bigger, consequential role. And no one could say they didn’t have a chance to see and hear the candidates in the flesh when voting time rolls around in November, which is a real possibility if this race stays invisible.

Trump’s Bad News is Every Republican’s Bad News

Former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith lost his seat in 2008 in part because GOP presidential candidate John McCain pulled out of the state while Barack Obama pursued a vigorous grassroots campaign that boosted Democratic voter turnout. Similarly, the absence of a national campaign structure in Oregon this year will be a huge loss for the state's Republicans.

Former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith lost his seat in 2008 in part because GOP presidential candidate John McCain pulled out of the state while Barack Obama pursued a vigorous grassroots campaign that boosted Democratic voter turnout. Similarly, the absence of a national campaign structure in Oregon this year will be a huge loss for the state's Republicans.

News this week that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign war chest is down to $1.3 million is sounding alarms for Oregon Republicans.

In stark contrast, Hillary Clinton raised nearly nine times more money than Trump in May, and she entered June with about $42 million to spend. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager through the primaries who was fired on Monday, has called Trump’s campaign lean, with only 30 paid staffers. What cash and manpower there is will likely go to swing states, but Oregon isn’t viewed as one of those.

Donald Trump's decision to fire embattled campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is one of many signs of trouble for the presumptive Republican nominee's campaign leading into the November general election. 

Donald Trump's decision to fire embattled campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is one of many signs of trouble for the presumptive Republican nominee's campaign leading into the November general election. 

The bad news for Oregon Republicans is they won’t get much if any help from Trump to bolster their own campaigns. The absence of a national campaign structure is a huge loss. Just ask former two-term Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, who lost in 2008 to Jeff Merkley.

Smith became the first incumbent Oregon senator to lose re-election in 40 years. A key reason for his loss was the near absence of a campaign in Oregon by GOP presidential nominee John McCain compared to a vigorous grassroots effort by Barack Obama. What Republican apparatus there was got pulled in the latter stages of the campaign when McCain, strapped for money, concentrated on other states instead.

There is virtually no chance Trump will even try to score an upset victory in Oregon, which casts an even darker shadow over the nearly invisible campaigns of Republicans running for statewide office this year.

Donald Trump has less cash on hand than Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, whose campaigns have been suspended.  (Source:  NPR )

Donald Trump has less cash on hand than Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, whose campaigns have been suspended. (Source: NPR)

What seemed not that long ago to be a blockbuster election year in Oregon has turned into a bust. There are little known challengers trying to unseat Senator Ron Wyden and Governor Kate Brown. Dennis Richardson, the best known Republican running for statewide office after a better-than-expected challenge in 2014 to John Kitzhaber’s re-election, has so far run a low-profile campaign for secretary of state.

Figures from the FEC show Hillary Clinton with a robust campaign war chest approaching the general election. (Source:  NPR )

Figures from the FEC show Hillary Clinton with a robust campaign war chest approaching the general election. (Source: NPR)

Without the oomph of a national campaign, these GOP candidates may be left further in the fumes to their Democratic counterparts who will have the benefit of added fuel from an expected Hillary Clinton campaign team in Oregon.

The other political sparks that can incite higher voter turnout are ballot measures. Those don’t look too good for Republicans either. So far, only two measures have been certified for the November general election ballot in Oregon – one to repeal the mandatory 75-year-old retirement age for judges and the other to slap a major tax increase on corporations with $25 million or more in annual sales in the state. IP 28 is more likely to generate voter enthusiasm on the political left than the political right, even if it winds up losing.

A number of other measures, such as ones dealing with a higher minimum wage that might have bumped up turnout, have been scrapped because of the anticipated electoral brawl over IP 28. It's expected to suck up a lot of campaign cash.

Many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are voters who have hung out in the fringes of politics, many without casting ballots. Fundraising, campaign organizations and message discipline aren’t important to them and may even be antithetical to their vision of an ideal “tell-it-like-it-is" candidate. For political insiders who know through experience what it takes to win big-time races, Trump is a nightmare unfolding in slow motion.

Trump’s puny fundraising, his tiny staff and his ubiquitous media appearances in lieu of political advertising will affect more than his own poll numbers. They will affect many down-ballot candidates seeking re-election or, in Oregon’s case, trying to get noticed. Just ask Trump's 16 frustrated and defeated primary opponents.

Oregon’s Primary a Microcosm of the National Election

    Political outsiders dominated in the Oregon primary as Democrat Bernie Sanders scored a double-digit win over frontrunner Hillary Clinton and newcomer Bud Pierce captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

 

Political outsiders dominated in the Oregon primary as Democrat Bernie Sanders scored a double-digit win over frontrunner Hillary Clinton and newcomer Bud Pierce captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Oregon’s presidential primary Tuesday serves as a microcosm of the national election. Democrat Bernie Sanders keeps winning to complicate frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s pivot to the general election and Republican Donald Trump glided to victory even though 32 percent of Oregon GOP voters cast ballots for candidates who had dropped out of the race.

Republicans chose Bud Pierce, a first-time candidate who largely self-funded his campaign, to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown. Portland voters swept in Ted Wheeler as mayor-elect, Brad Avakian won a hotly contested race as the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, and Clackamas County will see a fall runoff for commission chair pitting Jim Bernard against incumbent John Ludlow.

Hood River County voters approved a ban on a water bottling plant, parting ways with voters in Cascade Locks who supported Nestlé Waters plan to build the facility there. Meanwhile, Klamath and Grant county voters rejected marijuana-related businesses, Portlanders narrowly okayed a 10-cent gas tax increase and Multnomah County voters gave solid approval to an Oregon Historical Museum bond.

The Sanders victory in Oregon defied widely published polling results that showed Clinton holding a double-digit lead. With almost 90 percent of the vote counted, Sanders posted a 12 percent lead, and his dominance didn’t stop in Portland and Eugene. He outpolled Clinton in every Oregon county except Gilliam.

Sanders’ success in Oregon sends a troubling message to Clinton’s campaign. He likely would have done even better here if independents and non-affiliated voters could have voted for him in the primary.

Trump carried all Oregon counties, which isn’t surprising since no one else was campaigning. A year ago, when Trump announced his candidacy, it was unimaginable he would still be in the race at this point, let alone on what amounts to a victory lap to the GOP presidential nomination. 

Pierce handily defeated Allen Alley, a former Oregon GOP chairman, by running a campaign as a fresh outsider face. In his campaign victory speech, Pierce, who is a Salem medical doctor, told supporters, “I am not corrupt. I am not corruptible."

Raw vote totals confirm that Oregon is a blue state. Sanders and Clinton received around 550,000 votes compared 350,000 GOP votes for a presidential candidate. Brown, who faced only marginal opposition in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, racked up more than 400,000 votes while all GOP candidates received a combined total of 286,000 votes. 

Avakian overcame strong opposition from fellow Democrats Val Hoyle and Richard Devlin in what emerged as the most bruising campaign in Oregon’s primary. Avakian, who is state labor commissioner, now will face Republican Dennis Richardson, who lost to John Kitzhaber in the 2014 gubernatorial race. The wounds inflicted on Avakian in the primary may make this a more interesting race in the fall, giving Republicans at least a glimmer of hope to capture a statewide office.

Wheeler, who is state treasurer, will be in an interesting position as Portland’s mayor in the wings until he is officially sworn in next January. Wheeler was recruited by a coalition of business and labor to challenge Mayor Charlie Hales, who decided not to seek re-election. Hales has continued to fester a contentious relationship with groups such as the Portland Business Alliance, which Wheeler may be asked to mediate over the next few months.

Democrat Tobias Read will face Republican John Gudman to succeed Wheeler, who was term-limited as state treasurer.

Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz easily won re-election, but Steve Novick will be forced into a fall runoff, probably against architect Stuart Emmons, after capturing only around 43 percent of the vote.

Clackamas County Chairman John Ludlow finds himself in the same situation, only he trailed fellow Commissioner Jim Bernard who collected 37 percent of the vote to Ludlow’s 28 percent. They will scramble to win the other 45 percent of votes cast that were split between Commissioner Paul Savas and Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay. Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith also will compete in a fall runoff against challenger Ken Humbertson. Commissioner Martha Schrader won re-election.

Victories in November by Bernard and Humbertson would change the tilt on the Clackamas County Commission to more middle-of-the-road politics.

Incumbent Washington County Commissioners Roy Rogers and Dick Schouten were re-elected, as were Metro Councilors Craig Dirksen, Sam Chase and Bob Stacey. Schouten and Stacey ran unopposed.

Perhaps the most interesting legislative primary race saw newcomer Rich Vial capture the GOP nomination in Oregon House District 26 over former Rep. Matt Wingard who sought a comeback. Wingard faced stinging opposition centered on his previous conduct that forced him to resign.

House Speaker Tina Kotek turned back a primary challenge from Sharon Nasset, whose campaign was tied to questionable tactics involving misleading mailings.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden won the Democratic nomination after threats failed to materialize for a challenge to his re-election from the political left. Congressman Kurt Schrader overcame a challenge from progressive candidate Dave McTeague. Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici walked over token opposition in their respective primary contests.

Results on local school elections were mixed. Bond measures in Gaston and McMinnville won, but ones in the Corbett, Molalla and Centennial districts lost. Clackamas County voters gave the green light to commissioners to explore funding for road improvements. Rogue Valley Transit won voter approval for a property tax increase and Rogue Community College passed a $20 million bond measure.

Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins predicted 1 million votes would be cast in this year’s primary, marking only the second time that threshold has been reached. The first was in 2008, sparked by the Democratic presidential runoff between Clinton and Barack Obama.

The primary was the first statewide election since Oregon’s Motor Voter law went into effect, which automatically registered people to vote when they took out a driver’s license. Atkins previously reported that many newly registered voters affiliated with a political party, with Democratic registration far outstripping Republican registration. 

Oregon's Mailed In Gubernatorial Race

Oregon pioneered mail-in balloting and now may be spearheading a new innovation – the mailed in gubernatorial campaign.

Oregon pioneered mail-in balloting and now may be spearheading a new innovation – the mailed in gubernatorial campaign.

The 2016 presidential race is a tornado of tweets, debates and name-calling. Meanwhile, the 2016 Oregon gubernatorial race is more like a still wind with few Facebook posts and a couple of press releases. Oregon has led the nation in mail-in voting. Now we may be leading it with mailed in campaigning.

Democratic Governor Kate Brown seems to have her foot on the pause button. Republican challenger Bud Pierce is running a campaign that resembles an earnest, sleepy Sunday morning political talk show. Allen Alley, who has run for governor before and entered the race late this go-round, appears to be resting on his name familiarity and party ties to win the GOP nomination.

For Oregon voters looking for a roll-up-your-sleeves discussion of policy, there is mostly silence. For voters rooting for a raucous, bare-knuckles campaign, there is just an empty prize-fighting ring. The political combatants are evidently occupied elsewhere.

Chances are the fireworks will come. There is partisan animosity about a Democratically-backed minimum wage boost, a requirement for paid sick leave and a utility-negotiated deal to end coal power in Oregon. Partisans on both sides of the political aisle may be annoyed by the lack of a vigorous exchange on policy or politics by the candidates.

It’s almost as if Oregon politicians are withdrawing in the face of a tumultuous and coarse political primary battle, as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz wage war in the gutter, and while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spar over her Wall Street speeches and the realism of his policy proposals.

This year shaped up as a show-stopper election in Oregon with just about everyone except Senator Jeff Merkley appearing on the ballot. But the promise of a blockbuster ballot has shriveled into a deflated balloon as serious races failed to materialize and the races that exist have resembled junior high school dances with the girls hugging one wall and the boys the other. 

The gubernatorial race so far has been a non-starter. Brown, who took over for Governor John Kitzhaber amid an influence-peddling scandal, got high marks for a strong start. She demonstrated leadership and wielded her friendly personality to good stead. But since then, Brown has grown more cautious, even as the Democratic-led legislature punched through liberal legislative measures in the short 2016 session.

While Brown’s reticence could be explained as politically expedient, it is harder to understand the political logic of Pierce and Alley. Challengers have to lay siege to an incumbent, creating voter willingness to consider an alternative. The best blow Pierce has landed is that things aren’t quite up to snuff in Salem. Alley has basically said we can do better than what we’ve got. It usually takes more than that to unseat an incumbent, even one running for the job for the first time.

Oregon has become a reliable blue state, making a statewide election victory for a Republican a dubious prospect any time. Prospects in 2016 could be even dimmer if Donald Trump is the party’s national standard-bearer, forcing down ballot candidates to spend time disavowing his statements and stands. Neither Pierce nor Alley seem on the same wave length as Trump or his closest rival, Ted Cruz. Maybe they figure the less said, the better.

The closest to political excitement so far in Oregon was a Bernie Sanders rally last week, which was timed to boost his support in the Washington state Democratic presidential caucus. Sanders also filled the Portland TV airwaves with his commercials.

The Oregon primary is now only a few weeks away, so you expect the political pace here to pick up with a gubernatorial debate or a major policy speech or something. Maybe the candidates were waiting for spring break to end to launch their real campaigns. Or maybe they are on an extended spring beak themselves.

Portlanders have seen a respectful contest to replace Charlie Hales as mayor. The candidates have talked about policy differences, which are tiny, and the two frontrunners insisted that other candidates be included in mayoral forums. All very polite, very Portland, very much material for the next season of Portlandia. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

The Legislative Trail from Salem to Olympia

Passing bills in the Oregon and Washington legislatures is similar, but markedly different in key ways, such as a power Rules Committee and permitting floor amendments in Washington. But Oregon knows how to adjourn on time; Washington not so much.

Passing bills in the Oregon and Washington legislatures is similar, but markedly different in key ways, such as a power Rules Committee and permitting floor amendments in Washington. But Oregon knows how to adjourn on time; Washington not so much.

Early adjournment of Oregon's short 2016 legislative session provided an opportunity to hop on a train and see the waning days of the Washington Legislature in Olympia. I was looking for similarities and differences, and I found plenty of both. 

Generally, Oregon's and Washington’s legislatures are similar. They are both “citizen” legislatures. They meet annually, with longer sessions in odd-numbered years and shorter ones in even-numbered years. They also tend to wait until the last minute to pass major bills, after extended periods of political jockeying and horse-trading.

Now, here are are some key differences I noticed. 

Washington's Rules Committee wields real power: All Washington policy bills must go to through the Rules Committee before reaching the floor. This gives the Rules Committee significant authority, ultimately deciding, on almost all of the bills, whether they die or go to the floor for a vote. Oregon also has a politically driven Rules Committee, but leadership only sends select bills there for review – or to wait until a political compromise is worked out behind closed doors. 

Washington’s Senate operates more like Congress: Washington has a lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate but only can vote in case of a tie, much like the vice president. Washington’s lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor and serves with no term limit. Oregon doesn’t have a lieutenant governor. The independently elected secretary of state is next in line, as we saw last year when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned and Secretary of State Kate Brown replaced him. Oregon’s Senate selects its own presiding officer from its membership, who votes on all bills just like his or her colleagues.

Floor amendments are permitted in Washington, but not in Oregon: Washington lawmakers can and often do offer floor amendments. On the day I visited, a public school bill that had been jerked to the House floor without going through the Rules Committee faced a floor debate over 27 separate amendments. After a lengthy debate, eight amendments passed, including one that replaced the entire original bill. Oregon lawmakers can petition to have a bill pulled out of committee, but it rarely happens. Once a bill reaches the Oregon House or Senate floor, it is not subject to amendment. Lawmakers can defeat a bill, vote to send it back to committee or vote for or against a minority report, if one is approved in committee. Most of the time floor votes on “amendments” are stalling tactics in Oregon. Overall, the committees have more sway in the Oregon legislative system. 

Oregon gets out on time, Washington does not: In six of the last seven years, Washington has developed a habit of missing constitutionally established deadlines on the budget, forcing one or more special sessions each time. Again this session, the Washington Legislature fell short of reaching a budget agreement by Thursday at midnight and went into a special session almost immediately. Governor Jay Inslee vetoed 27 bills as punishment for not reaching a budget deal in time. The intention behind his actions is to stop the cycle of consistently late budgets.

In Oregon, experienced legislative leaders have been able to adjourn early, including in the shorter even-year sessions during which Oregon has 35 days compared to Washington’s 60 days to hammer out bills and adjust the budget. Washington, unlike Oregon, has tried to skate around a state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature inadequately funds public schools, which puts knots in the budget process.

Seeing the differences between legislating in Salem and Olympia firsthand was insightful. It was a reminder that the intricacies of how a bill becomes a law can vary from state to state and from bill to bill, but it’s never quite as simple as the Schoolhouse Rock interpretation of how a bill becomes a law.

What if Oregon Voted First

The 2016 presidential sweepstakes may have a very different complexion – and different winners – if voting started in Oregon rather than Iowa.

The 2016 presidential sweepstakes may have a very different complexion – and different winners – if voting started in Oregon rather than Iowa.

Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn wondered aloud over the weekend how the presidential sweepstakes would differ if the first voter test was in Oregon instead of Iowa. It is a fascinating question. And it is not ridiculous to believe Oregon should have the honor of voting first since the state invented the idea of presidential preference voting in 1910. 

If the first test of presidential timber was in Oregon, chances are good early momentum in the race would go to candidates known for being more practical and less ideological, even if the ultimate party nominee would be unchanged.

For example, in the contested 1964 GOP primary, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller captured Oregon, defeating eventual nominee Barry Goldwater. In 1968, Robert Kennedy picked up momentum in Oregon, even though he lost to Eugene McCarthy, that vaulted him to victory in the California primary. Kennedy may have gone on to win the Democratic nomination, and perhaps defeated Richard Nixon, if not for his election-night assassination in Los Angeles.

In the past three Iowa caucuses, Hawkeye state Republicans have given the edge to Mike Huckabee (2008), Rick Santorum (2012) and Ted Cruz (2016). All three were the favorite of Christian evangelicals. In a relative unchurched state such as Oregon, Sarasohn speculates none of the three might have gained as much political traction as they did in Iowa. Neither Huckabee nor Santorum rode their Iowa caucus victories to much further electoral success and Cruz is already facing strong headwinds in New Hampshire, where Republicans view themselves more as a constituency than a congregation.

The Republican tradition in Oregon has centered on conservative pragmatism. Vic Atiyeh, the last GOP governor in Oregon, tried to make state government more efficient, not make it smaller. Republican lawmakers in Oregon today battle against many tax increases and additional regulations, but they generally avoid fighting culture wars over contentious social issues. They fiercely defend gun rights but rarely talk about their personal religious views.

Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are perhaps the best matches in the 2016 GOP presidential field for Oregon’s Republican constituency. Kasich was an also-ran in Iowa, but appears to be gaining some momentum in New Hampshire, which like Oregon puts some value on experience and pragmatism. Bush, who has conducted a clumsy campaign, is lagging in the polls, but you could imagine he might have gotten off to a stronger start if the first vote occurred in Oregon rather than Iowa.

Cruz, the Iowa winner, had trouble with ethanol subsidies, a big deal for corn farmers. You can imagine the difficulty he would have had in Oregon coming to terms with voter-approved recreational marijuana and a burgeoning business sector to supply it.

Republican candidates also would have been tested this year by the occupation of the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge. They would have been unable to dodge questions about the illegal confiscation of federal property and simmering grazing rights issues.

In recent times, both the Republican and Democratic nominees have been coronated by the time the Oregon primary arrives in May. That may not be the case this year. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is facing an unexpectedly vigorous challenge from Bernie Sanders that could go all the way until this summer’s Democratic convention. If Oregon had voted first, Sanders may have carried away the victory, giving his looming landslide in New Hampshire tomorrow even greater weight.

As Oregon has become a more reliably blue state in presidential and statewide electoral voting, Oregon also has become more liberal on issues such as physician-assisted suicide, an issue that just popped up in New Hampshire. With virtually no military presence in Oregon and relatively few defense contractors, voting against going to war is a bipartisan pattern, from Senators Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield to Oregon’s current Democratic congressional delegation. Rand Paul – who was the most dovish GOP presidential candidate until he ended his campaign over the weekend – might have found a more welcoming audience for his foreign policy views.

Oregon is one of the most trade-dependent states in the union and almost all of its congressional delegation supports free-trade agreements, which could have made it awkward for Clinton and Sanders to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, at least without some stiff questioning.

Oregon Democrats and Republicans have a record of nominating and electing women to high office, which Iowa only recently embraced with the election of Joni Ernst to the U.S. Senate. Clinton might have found an edge in soliciting the active support of Governor Kate Brown, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, former House Majority Leader Val Hoyle and candidate for secretary of state and current House Speaker Tina Kotek, all of whom will be in the 2016 ballot, too.

The Republican candidate who earned the endorsement of Congressman Greg Walden, who represents Oregon east of the Cascade Range – and who contracted for the best helicopter service – may have had the clear advantage. Walden was a close ally of former Speaker John Boehner who was forced out by conservative Tea Party House members.

Caucus winners in Iowa generally are the candidates with the best ground game and who press the flesh. Cruz appeared in every Iowa county. So did Barack Obama in his startling political arrival in 2008. Oregon is bigger and its rural, red-leaning voters are harder to canvass. However, Democratic candidates can campaign pretty much along I-5 from Portland to Eugene, giving them a logistical edge, but not anything requiring the same kind of retail politics that Iowans demand.

Iowa Democrats are found largely in cities with universities and industry with organized labor. Iowans may not be as hip as Portlanders view themselves, but they aren't mugwumps, either. They produced a virtual dead-heat between Clinton and Sanders.

It does make you wonder what the outcome would have been if Hillary and Bernie had to impress Oregon Democrats first. It does make you wonder whether Republicans Lindsey Graham or Rand Paul would have dropped out before or after the Oregon primary.

What if…

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

“Emergencies” Top Short Session Docket

Senate President Peter Courtney helped to convince Oregonians to approve annual sessions and now presides over a 35-day session packed with legislative “emergencies."

Senate President Peter Courtney helped to convince Oregonians to approve annual sessions and now presides over a 35-day session packed with legislative “emergencies."

The strains of a short even-year legislative session sprouted on day one as Republicans in the Oregon House and Senate demanded each of the 260 bills introduced be read aloud word by word.

The message sent by GOP lawmakers is that a 35-day session is too short to consider legislation raising the minimum wage, altering corporate taxation, addressing affordable housing and adopting a pair of far-reaching energy bills.

Those measures are on the legislative docket as a last-ditch effort to keep the issues they raise off the November ballot.

Oregon’s election-year annual session has evolved into a different, though perhaps inevitable role from its original conception. Senate President Peter Courtney, who led the push for annual sessions, sold the plan as a way to update the state’s biennial budget, pass minor legislative fixes and deal with emergencies that couldn’t wait.

Emergencies that can’t wait now apparently include blockbuster ballot measures that would raise the minimum wage as high as $15 per hour, slap a gross receipts tax on large corporate taxpayers and force Oregon utilities to ditch coal-generated electricity.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli tweaked Courtney’s memory of the purpose of the short even-year legislative session by saying, “As I recall, Oregonians were sold on the idea of annual meetings with the promise that the ‘short session' would focus on balancing the budget, making small legislative ‘fixes' and responding to emergencies that need immediate attention.  I'm sorry to report that the 'short session' has become little more than a setting for the majority party to pursue an over-reaching agenda of tax increases, regulation and ideological issues dear to the progressives who rule Portland and to a great extent, the rest of Oregon.”

The last part of Ferrioli’s statement reflects his underlying opposition to all of the heavy-duty legislative proposals that are on the table thanks largely to Democratic-leaning activists. The exception is the coal-to-clean bill that was negotiated by utilities and environmental groups.

Governor Brown has offered an alternative minimum wage proposal and Senator Mark Hass, chair of Senate Finance, is proposing a scaled down corporate tax measure.

While those high-profile issues command attention, other significant legislation has been introduced to address marijuana industry regulation, gun sales, processing of rape kits and a few bills that didn’t make it out of the longer 2015 legislative session.

The racer-fast pace of a short session – if a bill can’t get a hearing, markup and a vote in the first two weeks, it is basically dead – provides plenty of fodder for skeptics. House Republican Leader Mike McLane said one-hour notice for a hearing on a major bill doesn’t allow enough time from someone from Eastern Oregon to show up to testify.

In the end, emergencies are in the eye of the beholder. For many Portland-area legislators, for example, the growing housing affordability problem in the city has elevated to a crisis that requires a legislative response. Their proposed response, which requires construction of affordable housing and puts limits on evictions of renters, may not seem so urgent in other parts of Oregon.

Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Top Readers’ 2016 Policy Priority List

Affordable housing is top of mind for many Oregonians heading into 2016. In September, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Portland had fallen into a housing crisis. The announcement helped set the stage for difficult state-level discussions about how to solve the problem. 

Affordable housing is top of mind for many Oregonians heading into 2016. In September, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Portland had fallen into a housing crisis. The announcement helped set the stage for difficult state-level discussions about how to solve the problem. 

We asked about top 2016 policy priorities, and you answered. The two most mentioned policy priorities were tax reform and affordable housing. A transportation funding plan and changes to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) also drew mentions.

As expected, when we asked about leadership, most comments zeroed in on Governor Kate Brown and her role in making needed changes, even as she faces election this November to complete the last two year’s of John Kitzhaber’s term.

Here are some highlights from what you told us.

Tax Reform

Jan Lee, a former state representative from Clackamas County and lobbyist, said it’s again time to explore a sales tax in Oregon. “We need a sales tax with some compensating features to reduce income or property tax a bit so that we have a system that fares better in all economic climes,” Lee says. 

While Oregon’s employment figures have shown strong growth over the past year, incomes have largely remained stagnant. But Lee believes changing the state’s tax system while raising the minimum wage could be enough to spur creation of higher paying jobs across the income spectrum.  

“The legislature can raise the minimum wage; if not one of this fall's ballot measures can achieve that result,” she says. “Maybe instead of some of the other tax credits now made available, there could be more tax breaks that businesses can earn by providing higher paying blue collar and white collar jobs to drive our economy and meet families' needs.”

“As always, close coordination with the Governor's office and open communication between the two party caucuses sets up a better opportunity for leadership to bring people together,” Lee explains. “Consensus is not expected, but achieving a little higher majority on important issues makes the system more workable.”

Tom Wilson, vice president of Campbell & Company, said it’s time to put the clean fuels bill approved during the 2015 Oregon legislative session and a proposed 10-cent per gallon gas tax back on the table. That’s just the start of a series of changes Wilson envisions for Oregon’s tax system, which he says will require top-down leadership.

“Governor Brown needs to lead the charge on this by reminding all the Multnomah County Democrats and Tina (Kotek) that there is actually another part of Oregon that needs to be served,” Wilson says. “Start to fix PERs by requiring members to contribute to their retirement like the rest so do. Do not allow the unions to jam through another tax on corporations.”

Affordable Housing

Four months ago, Mayor Charlie Hales declared a housing crisis in Portland, and news stories continue to surface about Oregonians struggling to keep up with skyrocketing rents and day-to-day housing costs. So, it’s no surprise that affordable housing is top of mind.  

Chris Vetter of  the Vetter Group and Don Mazziotti,  the former head of the Portland Development Commission and now a Portland-based management consultant, listed housing as their primary concern for Oregon in 2016.

“We need more affordable apartments and opportunities for urban professionals,” Vetter says.

Mazziotti says Oregon lawmakers should focus on easing the financial burden on homeowners and renters across the state.  

Jim Standring, president of Tigard-based Westland Industries, took another angle, suggesting lawmakers approach the affordable housing crisis with an eye toward improving Oregon’s land-use laws. 

“Oregon's land use system is totally broken and needs significant change,” Standring says. “Concerns about affordability and homeownership will continue to suffer without these changes.”

We hope you will keep talking to us about the priorities you want addresses in Oregon. We’re listening. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist

What Matters Most to You in 2016?

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done .

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done.

From tackling Portland’s housing crisis to negotiating a plan for an unprecedented minimum wage hike, Oregon lawmakers have their work cut out for them in 2016.  

Education, health care, transportation, human services, consumer protection, environmental preservation, criminal justice, taxation: Those are just some of the priority areas calling for swift action and firm leadership in Salem as we look ahead to the next year. 

The Oregon legislature convenes February 1 for a brisk 35-day session. Soon after, statewide elected positions will be contested in the May primary and November general elections.

In the meantime, CFM wants to know what issues matter most to you. Is it finding more revenue for education and social services? Improving transportation infrastructure? Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

As we ponder the political battles ahead, CFM invites you to share what you believe demands the most attention from Oregon's elected leaders. Here’s what we’re looking for:

•  What are the top two policy priorities facing Oregon? 

•  For each of your two priorities, provide a short explanation of what you think should be done and how it should get done. Is legislation needed? Better enforcement? Bully pulpit leadership? Bipartisan support? Be as specific as you can.

•  In addition to your top two policy priorities, tell us what you expect in terms of leadership from Oregon's governor and from House and Senate leaders. What would you regard as real leadership? How can leadership be manifested so it produces positive results? What would you see as a lack of leadership?

Send us your submissions through Friday, January 8, and we’ll share them shortly after on our Oregon Insider blog.

This isn't a contest or a survey. Our intention is to reflect the range of thoughts and concerns that everyone shares with us. We will point out areas where a number of people's priorities overlap, but we also will include priorities that may generate only a single recommendation.

Please send your submissions to Justin Runquist, CFM’s communications counsel, at justinr@cfmpdx.com.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

A Closer Look at Oregon's Public Records Law

Gov. Kate Brown is seizing on an opportunity to explore public records law improvements. 

Gov. Kate Brown is seizing on an opportunity to explore public records law improvements. 

It's strange to imagine anyone feeling a sense of gratitude in pondering John Kitzhaber's tarnished legacy.

But somewhere down the line – after many years of healing and fading memories – Oregonians may actually thank the former governor for making one particular lasting difference for the better. At least that's the hope after Gov. Kate Brown recently commissioned a task force of lawmakers, lobbyists and an accomplished investigative reporter from The Oregonian to take a closer look at Oregon's public records law.

It was, after all, Kitzhaber's questionable dealings with his ever-puzzling fiancée Cylvia Hayes that served as the impetus for revisiting the law. Without the famous scandal that ultimately pushed him out of office amid a criminal investigation – and Kitzhaber’s attempts to block and delay the release of many telling emails – we honestly wouldn’t be at this point.

The crux of the issue is the question of where the balance lies between the public’s right to know what’s going on inside the government and our elected officials’ right to privacy.   

Of course, the whole situation is actually driven by the media. If Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss hadn’t dug into what was going on behind the scenes, the Kitzhaber stories may have never seen the light of day.

The task force is also getting started in a critical era for the media. As news organizations continue to struggle with dwindling staffs and shrinking ad revenue, the future of watchdog journalism looks less and less certain. With an ailing press, the propensity for undetected government corruption only grows, leaving the public out of touch with what their elected officials are doing.  

Kitzhaber’s story aside, maybe it was just time to take another look at the rules anyway. The Oregon Association of Broadcasters and the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association argue we need to bring order to all of Oregon’s public and private record statutes.  

A report released this week from the Center for Public Integrity ranks the quality of Oregon’s ethics and public records laws 44th in the nation. Overall, that report handed Oregon an “F” in government accountability, directly referencing the Oregon Government Ethics Commission’s slow response to the Kitzhaber scandal.

It sounds bad, but the picture actually isn’t that simple.

Oregon has a basic public records law with an assumption that everything is public. In the strongest possible terms, all attorneys general in recent memory have advised state officials that they should assume all records are public and that they can be protected only if they qualify under one of the exemptions.

The law was created in 1973, and today it has more than a few dozen exemptions. Many of those are justified, of course, so don’t expect all of them to be stricken from the books. Trade secrets, records pertaining to pending litigation, evidence compiled in an open criminal investigation. All of that is exempt from disclosure under the law, and for good reason.  

But then one also has to wonder whether the law as it stands is to blame for why Kitzhaber and Hayes were able to keep their scandal under the radar so long.

If government officials want to keep records private, even in contravention of Oregon law, they can do so in a couple ways. They can stall on making records available, contending that it’s too time consuming to produce them. Or, they can charge too much for the task of retrieving the documents.

Charging a minor fee is legal under the law, but the size of the fee can become an obstacle. Metro, for instance, demanded KOIN pay about $17,000 for records in an investigation of the Oregon Zoo’s elephant facility. In some newsrooms, such a cost can be a deterrent to pursuing a story. 

The increased use of email systems in recent years has made public records issues far more complex since the law’s genesis 42 years ago. In fact, that hits at the central question of the investigation into Kitzhaber and Hayes: Did they use private email systems to conduct public business and then shield the emails from public scrutiny?  

As it turns out, news organizations have also played a role in complicating the public records issue. Occasionally, reporters make blanket requests for access to email records over a long period of time, which only adds to the government’s difficulty in complying.

Those are some of the biggest questions the task force will have to tackle in the coming year.

But of course, no matter where you stand on the question of the effectiveness of the law, there’s no denying that without a solid system of public access to government records, democracy suffers.

CFM Partner Emeritus Dave Fiskum contributed to this post.  

The Approachable, Pragmatic Governor Brown

Governor Kate Brown is a self-described people person and a stark contrast to her predecessor, John Kitzhaber.

Governor Kate Brown is a self-described people person and a stark contrast to her predecessor, John Kitzhaber.

In a New York Times feature story published earlier this month, Governor Kate Brown comes across as the life of the party, in stark contrast to the reclusive reputation of her predecessor, John Kitzhaber.

Brown says of herself, "I'm a people person." Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, was often characterized by friends and foes alike as someone happy to sew up a patient without having to strike up a conversation.

Brown's ascension as Oregon's governor when Kitzhaber resigned amid a building ethics scandal was serendipitous because of the marked difference in their personalities. She bounds down Capitol hallways where Kitzhaber was rarely spotted. She banters with lobbyists, whereas Kitzhaber tried to avoid them. She chose to live in Mahonia Hall, the governor's official residence, which Kitzhaber treated more like a Salem bed and breakfast.

By all accounts, Brown's more outgoing, approachable style has been viewed as a welcome respite from Kitzhaber, who one lobbyist called a political ghost. She is seen as politically popular, which doesn't hurt as she faces an election in 2016 to fill the remaining two years of what was Kitzhaber's unprecedented fourth term.

The Times cites a poll taken in May showing Brown has earned a 55 percent job approval rating. She gets good marks in the poll from 40 percent of people who identify themselves as Republicans. Numbers like that tend to scare off would-be challengers, even those who whisper that Brown is a liberal Portland Democrat. That's not always a good thing for voters living outside Portland, even just outside Portland.

While Brown's voting record supports the label of "liberal," her political style is more inclusive. As Senate majority leader, Brown listened to almost anyone willing to schedule an appointment, without turning a conversation into a polemic. The term "pragmatic" would have been fairly applied to her as she understood her role was to find common ground, not stake out high-minded positions.

Brown has stepped into the higher pay-grade as governor with political grace. She encircled herself with new staff, but retained the policy staff left behind by Kitzhaber, which provided a smooth transition working with a legislature already underway.

Brown generally supported the main thrust of Kitzhaber's agenda and didn't try to imprint them with her own stamp to gain glory. Instead, she focused on ethics legislation, much of which she had introduced in her role as secretary of state.

Late in the 2015 session, Brown attempted to engineer a compromise to pass a transportation funding bill that business and labor groups had pushed. The compromise required backing off somewhat or entirely from a clean fuels carbon reduction measure passed earlier in the session, despite strong Republican protests, in part because the bill had been tainted in their minds by its association with Cylvia Hayes, the first lady under the Kitzhaber administration.

Some in the environmental community were upset at Brown's willingness to roll back the clean fuels measure, but others took it as a positive sign that she wasn't a captive to our ideology.

Kitzhaber was renowned for his ability to get people with disparate interests in a room and pound out a path to progress that often avoided politically divisive ballot measures. That is role Brown has yet to fill, but may have a chance as the November 2016 general election ballot could be loaded with initiatives from a variety of political directions.

For now, the Times noted, Brown is demonstrating she isn't anything like Kitzhaber. When a group of Chinese tourists wandered into the Governor's office, Brown came over to talk, encouraged them to take the formal tour and posed for a picture. There aren't many pictures of Kitzhaber doing that.

Brown Signals Her Course of Action

Kate Brown held her first press conference today as Oregon's governor and sent clear signals about her legislative priorities, views on key issues and plan to move into Mahonia Hall.

Kate Brown held her first press conference today as Oregon's governor and sent clear signals about her legislative priorities, views on key issues and plan to move into Mahonia Hall.

Governor Kate Brown gave the first indications of her immediate priorities at a press conference today. She called dealing with stalled negotiations that have caused shipping delays at West Coast ports, including Portland, a top priority.

Just two days after replacing John Kitzhaber, who resigned amid an influence-peddling scandal, Brown said her predecessor didn't ask for a pardon and it would be too soon and too speculative for her to comment on whether she would consider granting one. The new governor indicated  she would work to release public records related to Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes as soon as possible.

Brown said she will maintain Kitzhaber's focus on early childhood learning, as well push for reductions in K-12 classroom size and closing the achievement gap in public schools. She said she supported requiring vaccinations for all children attending public schools, with exemptions only for medical reasons.

Following up on her own agenda as secretary of state, Brown said she will urge the legislature to approve her voter registration bill that would sign up anyone automatically if they have a driver's license. House Bill 2177 passed out of the Oregon House shortly after Brown press conference.

On other important issues, Brown said:

  • She supports increasing Oregon's minimum wage;
  • She expressed support for lower carbon fuel standards;
  • She will keep in the place the moratorium on state executions and agrees with Kitzhaber on the need for a broader conversation over the death penalty;
  •  She will work with legislative leaders on a possible transportation funding package;
  • She will engage legislators in negotiations over the 2015-2017 budget; and
  • She has dedicated a staff member to deal with ethics and public records reform issues.

On more personal issues, Brown said she plans to move into Mahonia Hall and decided to keep several senior staff members who worked for Kitzhaber to maintain policy continuity. She has named her own staff director, legal counsel and communications chief.

Not Just Another Day at the Capitol

Kate Brown assumed the governorship in Oregon, but her swearing in was hardly more than a coffee break in a legislative session off to a very fast start.

Kate Brown assumed the governorship in Oregon, but her swearing in was hardly more than a coffee break in a legislative session off to a very fast start.

The Oregon legislature took time out Wednesday morning to witness the swearing in of new Governor Kate Brown before returning to its fast-paced start that has startled many observers and caused lobbyists and staffers to hustle like they do at the end of sessions.

In a brief six-minute speech, Brown paid respect to the contributions made by former Governor John Kitzhaber, who resigned amid an influence-peddling scandal, then made clear she wouldn't allow any family members close to state policymaking or payrolls.

While no one downplayed the significance of Brown's ascension to the governorship (she is the 38th governor, but only the second female governor in the state's history), neither she nor legislative leaders made a big deal of the transition. Legislative work continued as if nothing really big had happened. That may be because Brown is no stranger to the building or the process. She is a known quantity in Salem.

On her first day in office, Brown joined the governors of California and Washington in calling for an end to a labor dispute that has crippled West Coast ports and stranded cargos, including perishable farm products from rural parts of Oregon. Trouble on the docks was doubly on Brown's first-day agenda after Hanjin announced last week it was abandoning use of Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland because of what it called low productivity.

Day two of the Brown tenure was greeted by the release of the latest quarterly economic forecast, which predicted the state's quirky personal income tax kicker would be triggered. The good news is that the state's economy is performing better than projected. The bad news is that state tax revenue will exceed the 2 percent threshold that triggers the kicker and rebates to taxpayers.

The projected kicker rebate, which would take the form of credits on 2015 tax year returns, is $349 million. For legislators — and the governor — that represents a sizable hole in the state budget.

State economists took the occasion to remind Oregonians we have one of the most volatile tax systems because of a heavy reliance on personal and corporate income taxes, which ebb and flow along with economic downturns and upturns. The economists also noted that states such as Washington that rely heavily on sales taxes face the challenge of an eroding tax base as populations age and they buy fewer big-ticket items.

These are just a few of the challenges raining down on Brown. She also must try to satisfy demands for more K-12 public education spending, continue health care transformation efforts that include an extension of a hospital provider tax and address a push from higher education for more financial support.

When Brown served in the legislature, including as Senate majority leader, she focused much of her personal energy on civil rights, mental health and juvenile justice issues. As secretary of state, Brown pushed for Oregon's initiative and referendum system reforms, performance audits and more accessible voter registration.

Because Brown has been thrown into an already boiling pot, she is unlikely to recommend a hugely different menu of priorities than her predecessor. What will be most noticeable is a difference in style. As majority leader, Brown was available to meet and listen to advocates. She looked for compromise. She dispensed realistic political advice. That's unlikely to change, even though she has changed offices.

Kitzhaber Wins Re-election, But by Narrow Margin

Governor John Kitzhaber claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority, and the measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana.

Governor John Kitzhaber claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority, and the measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana.

Democrats retained and even strengthened their grip on control of the state house and legislature as Oregonians said yes to legal weed and no to labeling of genetically modified foods and the much touted top-two primary. The story wasn't so good for Democrats nationally as they saw their majority in the U.S. Senate evaporate, giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress.

The story of the night was the relatively narrow victory by Governor John Kitzhaber, who claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority. On a series of critical news reports about First Lady Cylvia Hayes, including charges she may have leveraged her influence with the governor for personal gain, Kitzhaber's double-digit lead in the polls shrunk to a 5 percentage point victory.

The tighter-than-expected race appears to be more a reflection on Kitzhaber than his GOP opponent Dennis Richardson and raises questions about how the governor will fare going forward, especially if the Hayes scandals continue to dog his administration.

The other race of interest and significance involved a rematch between former Rep. Chuck Riley and incumbent GOP Senator Bruce Starr. Riley led in early voting results, but Starr now hows a thin 123-vote lead in a race that may be headed for a recount. If Riley manages to upset Starr, it would give Senate Democrats an 18-vote majority, enough to pass funding measures without any Republican votes.

Democrats retained control of the Oregon House by a margin of 35-25, one vote shy of the three-fifths majority to move tax measures without help from across the political aisle.

All of Oregon's incumbent congressional delegation up for re-election, including Senator Jeff Merkley, won handily.

Senate President Peter Courtney, whom some thought might face a tough re-election battle, prevailed with more than 53 percent of the vote. On the flip side, Rep. Jim Weidner, a Republican representing McMinnville and one of the most Republican-leaning districts in the state, won by a surprisingly narrow 51 to 46 percent measure over Democratic challenger Ken Moore. Moore campaign vigorously, while Weidner didn't.

A lot of attention and money focused on ballot measures and none more than Measure 92, which would have required GMO labeling. This is the second time Oregonians have rejected a similar measure, but this time the margin was razor thin at 50.6 to 49.4 percent, or something like 17,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast. (Interestingly, a GMO moratorium in Maui, which also attracted deep-pocket opponents, narrowly passed.)

The biggest loser was Measure 90, the top-two primary, which went down to defeat 68 to 32 percent. Measure 88, a referendum to overturn legislation to allow driver cards for non-residents, was defeated almost as soundly at 67 to 33 percent.

The biggest winner was Measure 89, the equal rights amendment, which passed by 63 to 37 percent.

The measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana. Alaska also approved a similar measure and the District of Columbia passed a somewhat more restricted legalization. They join Washington and Colorado, which already have passed and implemented marijuana legalization schemes. Oregon's regulatory challenge will fall to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which announced it will move forward a policy that reflects the "Oregon way."

First Lady Faces Conflict of Interest Charge

Governor Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes woke up this week reading a Willamette Week article accusing Hayes of conflict of interest, which the governor denies.

Governor Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes woke up this week reading a Willamette Week article accusing Hayes of conflict of interest, which the governor denies.

Willamette Week delivered a pre-election wallop to Governor John Kitzhaber's re-election campaign this week with an investigative report suggesting First Lady Cylvia Hayes may have benefitted financially from her special relationship with the governor. 

Rep. Dennis Richardson, Kitzhaber's underdog Republican challenger, seized on the story and said via a statement,"The latest scandal shows once again that the State of Oregon is being run more like a mafia than a public entity. The governor and first lady are not above the law."

Kitzhaber denies any wrongdoing by himself and Hayes. He said Hayes' contracts were reviewed carefully for any conflict of interest. "We were very proactive," Kitzhaber told The Associated Press. "Very rigorous and very transparent." AP reported Hayes declared three conflicts of interest in August 2013. Kitzhaber said Hayes has no current contracts that touch on state government.

The conflict of interest charge against Kitzhaber and Hayes comes amid a continuing controversy involving GOP Senate challenger Monica Wehby, whom Buzzfeed has accused of plagiarizing health care policy talking points from Karl Rove and her Republican primary challenger, Rep. Jason Conger. 

Neither charge may affect the outcome of the November election. Polls show Wehby trailing incumbent Senator Jeff Merkley by double digits and Kitzhaber's re-election has been assumed since he announced his bid for an unprecedented fourth term. However, the charges mark a significant turn in elections in Oregon, known as one of the most politically polite places in the country.

The piece about Kitzhaber, and its timing just before general election ballots arrive in voter mailboxes, is vintage Willamette Week. The lengthy story about Hayes' work was written by Nigel Jaquiss and carried the edgy headline: "First Lady Inc./Cylvia Hayes has two careers. She pursues both out of the governor’s office."

Jaquiss' piece details when Kitzhaber and Hayes became a couple and earlier brushes with conflict of interest that popped up before Kitzhaber was elected to his third term as governor. Neither Kitzhaber nor Hayes agreed to be interviewed by Jaquiss.