Oregon History

The Ghost of Willis Hawley, Good Intentions and Trade Tariffs

Donald Trump said he would tear up trade deals and negotiate new ones that put America first. He might revisit what happened when an Oregon congressman had the same good intention, but not so great an outcome.

Donald Trump said he would tear up trade deals and negotiate new ones that put America first. He might revisit what happened when an Oregon congressman had the same good intention, but not so great an outcome.

House Speaker Tina Kotek will have a featured place at this week’s Democratic National Convention. Former Oregon Congressman Willis Hawley played a key role at the Republican National Convention.

Kotek, a Democrat, can be expected to talk about inclusion, a higher minimum wage, family leave and free college education. Hawley, a Republican, provided the RNC with an example of what can happen when America erects trade walls.

Of course, Hawley wasn’t actually in Cleveland for the convention. He represented Oregon in Congress from 1907 to 1933 and died in 1941. But his ghost was there.

Former Oregon Congressman Willis Hawley lost his bid for re-election in 1932 after the bill he passed quadrupling U.S. trade tariffs deepened the Great Depression.

Former Oregon Congressman Willis Hawley lost his bid for re-election in 1932 after the bill he passed quadrupling U.S. trade tariffs deepened the Great Depression.

Hawley’s legacy is the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which was passed in 1930 and triggered a trade war that most economists credit for deepening the Great Depression and Henry Ford called “economic stupidity." 

Senator Reed Smoot was a Republican senator from Utah and chaired the Senate Finance Committee. Hawley, who had been president of Willamette University where he taught history and economics, was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The first signs of a global depression had emerged in 1929 as countries trying to rebound from the devastation of World War I lacked currency reserves and gold, so relied heavily on trade to pay their bills. Farmers and workers felt threatened.

The United States had passed a tariff bill in 1922. The League of Nations attempted as late as 1928 to persuade nations to end tariffs, to no avail. Smoot and Hawley pressed their tariff bill in the name of protecting U.S. farmers and workers from unfair foreign trade.

President Herbert Hoover agreed with higher tariffs on farm commodities, but wanted lower tariffs for manufactured goods. Hoover called the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which raised tariffs on farm and manufactured goods, “vicious, extortionate and obnoxious.” But he declined to veto it, despite desperate pleas from 1,028 economists who signed a petition and many industrial leaders.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek will speak at the Democratic National Convention about how to move a liberal agenda at the state level.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek will speak at the Democratic National Convention about how to move a liberal agenda at the state level.

The first country to retaliate was America’s most loyal trading partner at the time, Canada, which directed more of its commercial attention to Great Britain. European nations looked to each other to bolster trading relationships as tariffs on more than 3,200 U.S. products quadrupled.

The result: U.S imports dropped 66 percent and exports declined 61 percent. Unemployment rose from 8 percent when the tariffs were imposed to 16 percent by 1931.

By 1932, the Depression was in full swing. Workers were thrown out of jobs. Farmers struggled and many lost their farms. Meanwhile, Smoot and Hawley were defeated in their re-election bids.

This chart shows the strong relationship to Gross Domestic Product and international trade. When trade drops, so does GDP, forcing job reductions, business closures and consumer belt-tightening.

This chart shows the strong relationship to Gross Domestic Product and international trade. When trade drops, so does GDP, forcing job reductions, business closures and consumer belt-tightening.

Generally speaking, people think of globalization rising in the late 20th century. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act is evidence that globalization was a significant economic factor much earlier.

Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders didn’t exactly call for trade walls in their presidential primary campaigns, but they argued that existing multi-national trade deals are bad for American workers. Sanders focused his attention on not allowing the Trans-Pacific Partnership go into effect. Trump went further and said he would tear up previous trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and renegotiate them, putting American interests first. While possibly unintended, those actions could trigger the eruption of a trade war, adding to the people and regions of the country suffering most from economic dislocation.

Oregon and other West Coast states have benefitted economically from international trade. The Port of Portland is known as an “export” port, with much of its outgoing cargo in the form of bulk agricultural commodities. Oregon manufacturing has declined, but not disappeared because of productivity advances by basic industries and diversification into high tech manufacturing. Consequently, Oregon’s political landscape is more favorable to international trade and trade deals, such as the TPP.

No one from the Oregon delegation to the RNC was likely to hold up a sign saying “Willis Hawley was our hero.” Maybe no one in the delegation ever heard of Willis Hawley. It’s likely Trump doesn’t know who Hawley is.

Too bad, though, because Hawley was a politician who thought he was helping everyday Oregonians and Americans, but wound up compounding their already bad situation so much that he lost his job and slipped into historical obscurity. He might have been a useful delegate at the convention to remind his colleagues that good intentions don’t always equate to great outcomes.

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.

Payers Fret Over ‘Lowballed' EPA Cleanup Cost for Portland Harbor

The business and public agencies criticized an earlier EPA cost estimate to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund site as too high. Now they worry a revised estimate is too low, while environmental activists think the EPA plan doesn’t go far enough. (Photo courtesy: The Oregonian/Oregonlive)

The business and public agencies criticized an earlier EPA cost estimate to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund site as too high. Now they worry a revised estimate is too low, while environmental activists think the EPA plan doesn’t go far enough. (Photo courtesy: The Oregonian/Oregonlive)

Businesses and public agencies that will foot the bill for cleaning up Portland Harbor find themselves in the awkward position of questioning whether the Environmental Protection Agency lowballed a cost estimate in its plan released in June.

Some 150 potentially responsible parties who are on the hook to pay for pollution remediation earlier complained the price tag was too high. EPA officials say they agreed and lowered the Superfund cleanup cost estimate from $1.4 billion to  $746 million. An even earlier EPA estimate was pegged at $2 billion.

Payers worry because they say the EPA didn’t alter its cleanup recommendations that much to justify cutting the cost in half. The Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group, which advises the EPA, has a similar concern, as the Portland Tribune's Steve Law reported this week.

“We asked them how can costs suddenly be so much less,” said Barbara Quinn, a member of the advisory group who lives near Portland Harbor, “and we really didn’t get any good answers.” EPA officials say they have refined the cost estimate for the cleanup, which is expected to take seven years to complete, after making adjustments to their recommendations.

Meanwhile, environmental activists have chastised the EPA plan as a “capitulation to industrial polluters,” a violation of tribal fishing rights and something far short of what is needed to clean up the Willamette River.

Environmental discontent with the EPA plan stems largely from its reliance on natural recovery, rather than dredging, to cleanse a significant portion of the Superfund site. The EPA defended natural recovery as “the most cost-effective approach” to cleaning up 1,900 acres of the 2,200-acre site. Activists want the EPA to require dredging for half or more of the site.

The EPA is accepting comments on its plan and cost estimate. The 30-day window for comments also irked environmental activists who complained it was foolish to rush public input after the EPA took 16 years to study the problem and come up with its recommendation.

While business and public sector payers aren’t rooting for higher costs, they also don’t want to sign on to a plan only to discover later that the actual cost is much higher, plus the cost of litigation to settle who pays what.

Based on other Superfund cleanups, initial cost estimates have been off by as much as 100 percent, according to Michael Jordan, the director of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services. Jessica Hamilton, who manages the Port of Portland’s harbor environmental activities, said the new price tag appears “artificially too low.”

The challenge for any major project like this is to find the sweet spot where investments generate the maximum benefits. At some point, additional investment only drives diminished benefits. By way of example, Jordan said Portland spent $1.44 billion on the Big Pipe project to keep 96 percent of city sewage from spilling into the Willamette River. He said it would have cost $4.5 billion to achieve a 100 percent reduction.

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.

A Voice of Refugee Reason

Frank Bauman, left, dining with his grandson, Tim. Bauman passed away in November. His sense of reason and open-mindedness is sorely missed as the U.S. debates whether to open its borders to Syrian refugees. Among his many achievements, Bauman is remembered for helping thousands of refugees during the Vietnam War find new homes in Australia. 

Frank Bauman, left, dining with his grandson, Tim. Bauman passed away in November. His sense of reason and open-mindedness is sorely missed as the U.S. debates whether to open its borders to Syrian refugees. Among his many achievements, Bauman is remembered for helping thousands of refugees during the Vietnam War find new homes in Australia. 

For Frank Bauman, refugees commanded compassion, not condemnation. What some saw as pariahs, he viewed as oppressed, stateless people who deserved a chance to live free from persecution.

Finding secure homes for refugees and shielding them from discrimination is the decent thing to do, the responsibility of civilized countries and quite possibly a Christian duty, according to Bauman.

Bauman’s view of refugees wasn’t cooked up in a kitchen debate. It came from a series of indelible life experiences, which included defending voting rights in Mississippi, assessing the damage of U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and resettling Indochinese refugees in Australia during the Vietnam War.

Wearing his favorite straw hat, Frank Bauman at Christchurch International Airport in New Zealand.

Wearing his favorite straw hat, Frank Bauman at Christchurch International Airport in New Zealand.

Bauman, a native Oregonian, Grant High School graduate and Yale-educated attorney, died Nov. 19 at the age of 94. His voice of experience would have been a welcome one in today’s shrill debate over Syrian refugees and Islamic faith.

How he reached his view of refugees is the story of his life.

While attending Stanford, where he majored in economics, Bauman enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He understood what WWII was about, but chose to serve in ways that didn’t involve killing. He passed a rigorous aptitude test and was assigned to the Navy language school in Boulder, Colorado where he learned Japanese in a crash nine-month course.

Bauman’s job often involved interviewing captured Japanese soldiers. But he also spent time on the front lines and was part of the First Marine Division that stormed Peleliu in the Palau Islands. More than 6,500 Marines lost their lives in an intense two-month battle, which military historians said produced a U.S. victory with little strategic value and persuaded military leaders to adopt smarter strategies.

Hiroshima in the aftermath of the world's first atomic bomb deployed in combat on Aug. 6, 1945. The blast instantly killed about 80,000 people, wiping 90 percent of the city's population.  

Hiroshima in the aftermath of the world's first atomic bomb deployed in combat on Aug. 6, 1945. The blast instantly killed about 80,000 people, wiping 90 percent of the city's population.  

After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrendered, Bauman was chosen by Paul Nitze, who later would become the architect of major nuclear arms deals, as part of a 4-man team to survey the damage. The sight of so much devastation cemented Bauman’s conviction to further international understanding and promote global governance as an alternative to war.

Following the war, Bauman returned to Portland. He helped his parents with their Seaside motel, went to law school, got married and practiced law. He also took time to attend the University of London where he studied international law. He stepped away from his traditional law practice to become a volunteer in Mississippi to protect voter rights after passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Frank Bauman, right, in his role as Australia's chief diplomat to the United Nations. 

Frank Bauman, right, in his role as Australia's chief diplomat to the United Nations. 

Tiring of practicing law and influenced by swirling events, Bauman sought a job with the United Nations as its principal diplomat/administrator in Australia. With a political nudge from former Oregon Congressman Wendell Wyatt, Bauman landed the job and moved his family to Sydney in 1971.

During his five-year stint, Bauman oversaw the establishment of Papua New Guinea, a land where 700 dialects were spoken, as a sovereign state. His other principal job was to sponsor thousands of displaced Vietnamese as well as Croatian and Chilean refugees in Australia.

In those days, Australia wasn’t very diverse. It banned non-white immigration. Through persistent, respectful diplomacy, Bauman persuaded a newly elected Labour government to repeal the ban and accept thousands of Vietnamese refugees stranded on a small island in the Pacific.

Indochinese refugees fleeing their homeland by boat during the Vietnam War. Thousands of them found safety in Australia after Frank Bauman convinced the government to overturn a ban on non-white immigration.  

Indochinese refugees fleeing their homeland by boat during the Vietnam War. Thousands of them found safety in Australia after Frank Bauman convinced the government to overturn a ban on non-white immigration.  

An oral history provided by Bauman recounts how his advocacy on behalf of the refugees occurred as Australian sympathies for the Vietnam War soured. Bauman kept emphasizing that “wars create refugees” and civilized countries, especially ones involved in the wars, need to take responsibility to help victims of those wars.

Todd Bauman, Frank’s son who followed him into the practice of law, said his father, a Christian Scientist, believed helping refugees was the “Christian thing to do.” It wasn’t a condescending perspective. Bauman saw the world as a whole and his faith encouraged him to embrace that world and all of its people.

After his tour in Australia ended, Bauman returned to Portland, where he taught international law at Lewis & Clark College and served as president of the World Affairs Council of Oregon and the United Nations Association of Oregon. He and his wife travelled extensively, further expanding his world view.

Frank Bauman believed helping refugees was simply the "Christian thing to do," his son, Todd Bauman says.

Frank Bauman believed helping refugees was simply the "Christian thing to do," his son, Todd Bauman says.

As time passed, Bauman’s unique experience and personal commitment to refugee assistance slipped from public awareness. A voice with first-hand experience was never asked to speak when more strident voices called for banning Syrian refugees from American shores and even denying Muslims to come here.

Through his own eyes, Bauman saw the damage mankind can do to one another. He also saw the character leaders can exhibit. Bauman told of being aboard a creaky transport carrying 300 Japanese prisoners from the South Pacific to Honolulu. Bad weather slowed the journey and rations ran short. The ship’s commander issued an order that prisoners should receive priority for available food. He told his officers and men the prisoners were in their charge and were their responsibility to treat with respect.

It was an order and a life lesson Bauman took to heart.

Oregon's History with Ballot Slogans

Ballot slogans were a legendary part of Oregon politics and provide a time capsule of issues from the past – and some that are still roiling. [Source: The Oregonian 1946]

Ballot slogans were a legendary part of Oregon politics and provide a time capsule of issues from the past – and some that are still roiling. [Source: The Oregonian 1946]

In a story that proves, among other things, that concise, clear writing was always in style, The Washington Post examines the history of ballot slogans in Oregon. It was a bit like Twitter without the computer.

Called “campaign capsules” by The Oregonian in 1946, ballot slogans were 12 words that candidates could have printed on official ballots, right next to the their name.

Campaign slogans ranged from pithy to pitiful. Some simply wanted you to know they were “Not a lawyer.” Others broke out the Thesaurus to let you know alliteratively they were for “Proper places for people, not pachyderm palaces.”

Quoting past presidents and political leaders was as popular then as now, though I haven’t heard anyone quote FDR lately. But maybe that’s because Eleanor Roosevelt asked them to stop. 

Many sound like something you might have read recently. “Say NO to rat-poison fluorine in your drinking water” or “Oregon still needs a doctor in the House.” There were even ballot slogans campaigning against ballot slogans.

Then as now, one journalist noted that “most of the slogans are dull and uninspired.”

According to Jamie Fuller, ballot slogans appeared on Oregon ballots from 1909 until 1983, when the state legislature abolished them – arguments against them included saving money on ballot printing and the law that precludes candidates from campaigning at polling locations.

Speculation on what the current crop of candidates would have used for a ballot slogan might be a fun way to pass the time on election day. Dennis Richardson wants to Reboot, Reform, Restore – that would fit nicely, with room left over for a jibe about CoverOregon.

Loss of Wine a Reality Shake-up

A magnitude 6.0 temblor in the wine nirvana of Napa Valley may shake West Coast residents into realizing they need to prepare for earthquakes, including the inevitable Big One.

Many Napa wineries saw bottles and barrels of wine strewn in warehouses and cellars. Some placed damage estimates at as much as $1 billion, as insurance brokers reported many Napa and Sonoma wineries opted against supplemental earthquake coverage because of its relatively high cost.

Oregon wineries and other small businesses may be in the same boat. You know the threat is real, yet the price for insurance is prohibitive. The price of basic preparation, however, is within reach if people can be shaken into a realization it is smart and necessary.

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney is again pushing for a major bonding campaign to retrofit Oregon schools.

Geologists and volcanologists in Oregon cite evidence that this area has experienced a major quake every 500 years or so. The last "Big One" was 314 years ago.

Natural disasters on this scale produce gallows humor. But officials stress that preparedness is not really a laughing matter. They note a major earthquake could level buildings, knock out bridges and disrupt basic utilities such as electricity, natural gas and water. Your house may still be standing, but the lifelines you normally depend on may be destroyed.

There are three faults running under Portland. Another major fault is just off the Oregon Coast. There are more in the Willamette Valley. The 1700 Cascadia earthquake occurred along the subduction zone running from northern California to British Columbia. Evidence shows it produced a giant tsunami that belted Japan. The Big One before that was in 1310, a span of only 390 years.

The Passing of an Oregon Hero

The passing of former Oregon Governor Victor Atiyeh earlier this week has prompted an outpouring of positive comments about the last Republican governor in Oregon, both for his accomplishments as well as for the positive way he conducted himself while he held the state's top political job.

Memories abound for me because I had the privilege of serving in the Atiyeh Administration and did a stint as the Governor's press secretary. 

Senator Peter Courtney captured the man well in his tribute:  "Governor Vic Atiyeh was a kind and gentle man. He had a great smile and a great way of dealing with people. He was the ultimate public servant in the truest sense of the word. There was no greater role model.  He led our state during the most difficult of times. He found a way to make things work when everything was going against us. He brought out the best in people by appealing to the best in each and every person. He never focused on the negative. Oregon is saying goodbye to one of its greatest statesmen and one of its most remarkable citizens."

Here is a quick collection of my own memories:

Coming back to Oregon:  After working in Washington, D.C., for Democratic Congressman Les AuCoin, I returned to Oregon and joined the Republican Atiyeh administration.  Like AuCoin before him, Victor — as we sometimes called the Governor — never asked me or any other staff member about political affiliation.  The only question was whether I could do the job. (AuCoin didn't ask about my political affiliation, either, in what was in the 1980s a far different political moment.)

The governor's favorite sayings:  His staff heard certain phrases repeatedly, so much so that they stick in my mind today, 30 years later. He liked to say, "Well, that's just part of the great pageant of life."  Or:  "There never are any problems — just opportunities." Or, as The Oregonian paraphrased this week, "You can do a lot if you don't care who gets the credit." 

Lobbyist Memory of Gene Timms

The death of former Senator Gene Timms, R-Burns, reported Wednesday by The Oregonian, brought back a lot of memories for me.

Gino, as some of us lobbyists called him, though never in public, represented Eastern Oregon for 18 years, then was turned out by a term limits law in 2000.  As Oregonian reporter Harry Esteve put it in his story on Timms' passing: "During Timms years in the legislature, he became known as a fierce advocate for his sprawling eastern Oregon district, and as a hedge against runaway budgets.  Genial and soft-spoken, Timms made friends on both sides of the political aisle in Salem, and worked his way into leadership positions. He was co-chairman of the Legislature's powerful budget committee, and was Senate minority leader."

His role as Senate co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee allowed Gino to play a key role on a variety of funding issues.  As a conservative, he was frugal with the state budget, but also felt a sense of compassion for less fortunate citizens who needed government help.  

Timms fought for Eastern Oregon where he lived and ran Big County Distributors, delivering beverages to stores and taverns along many remote Oregon roads.

One of my fondest memories of Gino dates back to the mid-1990s when, on behalf of Port of Portland, I was seeking the first installment of funds to pay Oregon's share of costs to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel.

Digging the channel from 40 feet to 43 feet along the full 90-mile transit from Portland to Astoria was a critical economic development tool for Oregon. Gino saw the statewide benefit, including for grain shippers in Eastern Oregon who relied on the Port of Portland to get their product to markets overseas.

The Legend of Mae Yih

Stories of the dimunitiuve, irrepressible former Senator Mae Yih abound with any long-of-tooth Oregon lobbyist.

Mae YihThe most oft-told story involves a Ways and Means hearing at which Yih was listening intently to a state bureaucrat defend a spending request. In his opening comments, the bureaucrat said the amount requested was $500,000, but later he referred to the amount as a half million dollars, prompting Yih to interrupt and demand to know, “Which is it, $500,000 or half a million?”

Maybe the funniest and most telling Mae Yih story dealt with her first attempt in 1977 at stumping for office in her semi-rural Mid-Willamette Valley district. Yih, wife of the CEO of Wah Chang, then a major employer in the area, reportedly went “door-to-door” with a driver in her Rolls Royce.

Friendly supporters tipped off Democratic campaign officials who faced the delicate task of explaining to Yih that it might raise voter eyebrows to see her driving around in a car fit for nobility. Yih, after all, was running as a Democrat.

Yih said she was embarrassed by such a beginner’s mistake. From then on, she drove around the district on her own in a sleek Mercedes sports car. Nobody seemed to care.

Change from Within

Recent appointments of Nancy Golden as Chief Education Officer and Ben Cannon as Executive Director of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission are a reminder of a unique Oregon truism — change comes from within.

Governor Kitzhaber took office in 2011 with a distinct interest in reforming major sectors of Oregon government. He pushed for significant reforms in health care, early learning and education. Kitzhaber has seen success in all of those within the walls of the Capitol, but true change happens at the agency level and among stakeholders who implement those changes every day.

The healthcare industry came to the table to craft a transformation plan that didn’t just pass the legislature, but became part of the DNA of the key public and private leaders in the healthcare industry in Oregon. Kitzhaber’s early learning initiatives were crafted by Oregon practitioners who understood the pitfalls of the current system, including its lack of outcome-based accountability.  

Education, however, took a much different road. Trusted advisors and key stakeholders familiar with Oregon’s political landscape drew the outline of a newly aligned K-20 education system. But unlike with other major initiatives, Kitzhaber turned the reins of implementation over to a distinct outsider — so-called change agent Rudy Crew.

Despite his reformer reputation, Crew didn’t make a dent in the mountain of change he was supposed to effect during his time in Oregon. Granted, he spent a great deal of time traveling the country on other pursuits, but the bigger issue, for him or any other reformer, was a fundamental lack of ability to see and understand the Oregon political landscape.

The education community — not unlike healthcare or corrections or any other major sector — is widely varied. Agreement is hard to come by, even among similarly interested parties. Interest groups include elected officials, business leaders, on-the-ground practitioners and parents — all of whom claim to be experts because, at a minimum, each individual went to school.

How to Rate a Legislature

It's human nature to rate things, including legislative sessions. But what should you rate and why is it important?The end of every legislative session brings on the desire to "rate" a legislature.  From media outlets to advocacy organizations, the end of session report card or evaluation tool for a legislature is largely based on the ability of a legislature to deliver on the priorities of the organization producing the report card than on the actual performance of the legislature.

Perhaps, it would be better to characterize the end-of-session rating as a reflection on the ability of the media or organization to influence the outcome of a session instead of a reflection on the legislature itself.  This, however, is much less satisfying to the clients who receive reports of work from exhausted lobbyists or editorial boards who would prefer to opine judge legislators on their ability to produce results without the responsibility to actually advocate for them.

Thus, measuring or grading legislative performance is a truly difficult task. As a starting tool, one should look to what the Oregon Constitution requires of legislatures. They must meet annually and approve a balanced budget. Very little else is required of the legislature in the Constitution. In fact, much of Article IV that governs the legislature is about what the legislature cannot do instead of what they should do. Our founding fathers (and mothers) knew that legislatures would find a way to legislate as much as they could, so better not to direct them, just limit them.

Putting the Death Penalty to Sleep

Despite advocacy from former Oregon Supreme Court chief justices and administrators of the Department of Corrections, a ballot measure to repeal Oregon's death penalty seems unlikely until at least 2016. A legislative resolution by Rep. Mitch Greenlick to put the issue on the ballot next year died in committee.

Meanwhile, all that stands between the execution of convicted killer Gary Haugen and lethal injection is Governor Kitzhaber, who has refused to preside over any executions during his term in office. Haugen is pursuing legal action to allow his execution to proceed, despite an Oregon constitutional provision giving a governor sole authority over clemency decisions.

Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty staged a forum at Willamette University last week that attracted more than 200 people and featured an address by retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz. He said the death penalty doesn't work as a deterrent to violent crime, creates enormous legal complexities and costs Oregonians more than housing convicted felons for a life sentence.

Aliza Kaplan, a Lewis & Clark Law School professor, says the cost of trying to execute someone is at least 50 percent more that a life sentence without parole. She cited the case of Randy Lee Guzek who has been on death row in Oregon for 24 years and still has remaining appeals, costing Oregon taxpayers approximately $2.2 million.

Former Oregon State Penitentiary Warden Frank Thompson, who oversaw the two most recent state executions in 1996 and 1997, told the crowd, "Oregon should not be implementing policy that has been proven not to work." Both executions occurred during Kitzhaber's first stint as governor, which he has cited as a major reason for his moratorium on any further executions while he is governor.

Backers of death penalty repeal took solace in passage of similar legislation in Maryland. Governor Martin O'Malley signed the legislation last week, making Maryland the 18th state to outlaw the death penalty.

Untimely Death Sparks Thoughts of Life

Whenever there is a death of a friend, thoughts often travel ironically to the meaning of life. Such is the case as Salem-area community leader Mike McLaran died of a heart attack while jogging last weekend at age 53.

McLaran, who retired a couple years ago as the admired CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, embodied traits in life to which all of us can aspire. Tributes have poured in from throughout the Mid-Willamette Valley from all sorts of residents who found Mike be an inspiring leader who didn't take credit for accomplishments, but deflected credit to others, often mentoring them to make contributions of their own.

In a column in the Statesman-Journal, Editorial Page Editor Dick Hughes said, "One mark of a leader is the ability to recognize, understand and learn from one’s mistakes — and to forgive. Mike exemplified these traits. In later years, he and I sometimes talked about how we could have handled situations differently. Mike was a leader, whether during his 16 years as CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, in his subsequent community involvement or in his devotion to his family. His death on Saturday hit the community hard. Obviously, that was because he was so involved in the Salem area, so accessible and so appreciated. But I also think it’s because true leadership is so rare."

Hughes went on to suggest that "society offers many pseudo-leaders: People who confuse having titles with exerting leadership. Men and women who lust to be part of the “in” crowd — the movers and shakers — but falsely equate that camaraderie with leadership. People who mistake conducting meetings for making progress. People who manage organizations but don’t lead them."

Happy Birthday, Tom McCall

Today would be Tom McCall's 100th birthday and memories are flowing from all quarters about Oregon's iconic and maverick former governor.

Historian Matt Love, writing on the Powell's Books blog, relates an sentimental anecdote from Jay Nicholls who played golf with McCall at the Devil's Lake Golf Course in Lincoln City after McCall had exited politics and had a home at Roads End. After a round of apparently bad golf, Nicholls said his 1964 Volkswagen microbus broke down and he wasn't able to give McCall his usual ride home.

Nicholls recalls he and McCall got behind the vehicle and pushed until there was enough momentum to allow Nicholls to hop in and jump-start it.  McCall loped alongside the now moving bus and dived in the passenger side, smiling broadly and saying, "Jay, they can never tell you I'm not a man of the people."

Most people then and now view McCall as a man deeply committed to preserving the richness and natural beauty of Oregon — from its beaches to litter-free roadsides to a cleaner Willamette River.

McCall was a Republican, at least in party affiliation, and a hulking man with a New England accent, which gave him his charm. But it was his candor and passion that made people love him, even when they disagreed with him, which for some was often.

Capitol reporters loved McCall because he was prone to wander out of his office after a drink or two to offer up opinions on almost any subject. His well-known and respected press secretary, Ron Schmidt, was left to pick up the pieces and translate what McCall really meant to say. 

While McCall might at times seem careless, he was, in fact, careful. He picked his fights to fit a larger narrative of the Oregon he wanted to preserve. He famously told the rest of the world to visit Oregon, but not stay, which became an irresistible siren call for thousands of people to move to someplace with a governor who would talk like that.

The Results of Election Results

As Monday morning quarterbacks dissect Tuesday's election results, political operatives are busy figuring out what can happen as a result.

By virtue of Democrats reclaiming the Oregon House with a projected 34-26 margin, one party now controls both houses of the legislature, the governorship and other statewide offices. Questions abound on whether that is good or bad for various issues.

For example, will Democratic control throttle any effort to stem rising Public Employee Retirement System changes, which are squeezing K-12 schools, state agencies and local government? Public-employee-union financial and grassroots support played a major role in giving Democrats a majority in the House and may frown on any major changes.

Or, will the advent of Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, as Speaker of the House help the sagging fortunes of the Columbia River Crossing project, which she strongly supports? Clark County voters dealt the latest blow by rejecting a funding measure for the extension of light rail north of the Columbia River.

And, will the legislature feel empowered to tackle thorny issues such as liquor privatization, marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage to forestall proposed initiative drives in 2014? Washington action on all three subjects could serve as motivation, as well as pressure on Kotek, who is poised to become the first lesbian Speaker of the House in the nation.

Add to that stew the frothy ingredients already on the table, including a set of expiring health care taxes, K-12 reform proposals, early childhood learning recommendations, postsecondary institutional aspirations and prison sentencing options. Not to mention a simmering concern — and debate — about how to stimulate job creation, which ranks highest on most voter priorities.

It does seem obvious that tax reform, the subject of a work group named by Governor Kitzhaber, will be an unlikely topic in the 2013 session. There isn't enough agreement in the work group, let alone among voters, and there may not be enough time to tackle the topic in an already congested 6-month legislative session.

A Reflection on Oregon Co-Governance

As we approach the November 2012 election, it is timely to reflect on how well co-governance has worked in the Oregon House the last two years as Democrats and Republicans each held 30 seats.

Any reasonable assessment of co-governance would indicate that it has been, in the main, a success.

Republicans and Democrats managed to find a way to work together, with co-speakers of the House, co-chairs of every legislative committee, co-vice-chairs of every committee and "co" everything else.

Truly, it has been an experience in which legislators, regardless of party label, found a way to identify the middle on a host of pressing public policy problems. At a time when there appears to be almost nothing but acrimony, recrimination and name-calling in the presidential and congressional campaigns, it has been refreshing to watch Oregon’s elected officials work together to express the very definition of politics — the art of compromise.

Here are a few examples where legislators found common ground:

       *  Deciding not to propose any increased taxes while Oregonians try to recover from a stubborn recession — that could have driven another wedge between businesses and unions.

       *  Agreeing across party lines to balance the state budget, with a larger-than-normal ending balance.

       *  Moving ahead on health care reform that, at least in theory, proposes to provide health care to more Oregonians while slowing the growth in the cost of care.

Surprise Decision Strains Reform Support

The decision caught almost everyone by surprise last week. The Governor's Office and the Oregon Health Authority said they would not make any of the $2 billion in new federal money obtained by the Administration available for the first year of health care reform in Oregon.

"Members of the new groups (Coordinated Care Organizations, CCOs) are crying foul," reported The Oregonian, "after a directive Thursday that they'll receive no new funds for the additional responsibilities they've agreed to take on — mental health care, prevention efforts, quality measurements and new patient-care staff, among others."

In fact, managers of the new, still-not-yet-approved CCOs have been told they will have to live with last year's rates, which themselves represented an 11 percent cut. Leaders of the new groups say their success relates directly to the new money to fund them. They say it takes money to revamp care for more than 600,000 Oregonians covered by Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that provides care for low-income citizens.

In touting health care reforms such as CCOs and the Health Insurance Exchange, Kitzhaber has stressed the need to control costs through competition and innovation.

For many in the health care reform orbit, all of this conjures up images of the original Oregon Health Plan more than 15 years ago, also designed by Governor Kitzhaber in his earlier service as Oregon Senate President and as governor in his first term. A key tenet of the plan then was that providers would be paid close to their costs for delivering services. The clear objective was to limit the cost shift onto the backs of private health insurance payers.

Well, that tenet apparently has been lost in the intervening years.

Today, those with private health insurance pay about 20 per cent more in premiums as they bear the "hidden tax" of paying for Medicaid underfunding. In a 2008 study, the Milliman Group estimated underfunding of Medicaid and Medicare amounted to more than $90 billion annually.  Though four years old, the study is still applicable today.

Judging Oregon's First Annual Session

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oregon's Last Republican Governor

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

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

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

Here are excerpts from Wong's piece:

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

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

Recycled Good Old Idea

There has been some publicity lately about the role Michael Jordan is playing in state government. Not the Michael Jordan who can dunk a basketball. The Michael Jordan who is director of the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, but functions like the chief operating officer (COO) of state government.

News about Jordan suggests he is the first person in Oregon's history to function as the COO.  He may function with that authority, but he is not the first manager to do so.

In former Governor Neil Goldschmidt's administration, Fred Miller held the position of director of what was then called the State Executive Department. He functioned exactly like a COO.

Here are some aspects of the role Miller played:

       *  State agency heads reported on a daily basis to Miller, even though — then as now — state statutes specify that an agency director is named by and reports to the governor.

       *  Miller held twice-weekly cabinet meetings for the heads of major agencies and monthly cabinet meetings for smaller agencies.

       *  In addition to the functions of the Executive Department (overall budget, auditing and personnel management — including labor relations), Miller also met on a routine basis with agency heads to check on their progress.

       *  For his part, the governor would attend cabinet meetings on occasion, but left the daily management function up to Miller.