Dennis Richardson

Candidates May Be Able to Accept Bitcoin Contributions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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."

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.

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.

Behind the Scenes of a Gubernatorial Debate

The Oregon Association of Broadcasters hosted a gubernatorial debate that revealed sharp differences between incumbent Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber and his Republican challenger Dennis Richardson.

The Oregon Association of Broadcasters hosted a gubernatorial debate that revealed sharp differences between incumbent Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber and his Republican challenger Dennis Richardson.

Hosting a live political debate starts with convincing candidates to attend and extends through coordinating the format and posing provocative questions. Over the past few weeks, CFM had the opportunity to assist the Oregon Association of Broadcasters (OAB) organize and stage the September 26 gubernatorial debate in Sunriver.

There were numerous conference calls and lots of personal persuasion that resulted in the debate, which sparked sharp exchanges and defined significant differences between Governor John Kitzhaber, seeking an unprecedented fourth term, and his GOP challenger Dennis Richardson, a state legislator from Central Point.

CFM staff researched previous political debates to discover what formats worked best and made recommendations to OAB and the Kitzhaber and Richardson campaigns. They worked closely to ensure everyone involved was comfortable with the process and the program to avoid any awkward last-minute back-outs.

Special attention was given to what questions were asked. CFM staffers took the view that questions should reflect what Oregonians want to know from candidates. They aided OAB in canvassing broadcasters statewide for the most pertinent and sharp-edged questions. Working with debate moderator Matt McDonald of KTVZ, they winnowed more than 90 questions submitted by broadcasters to the ones actually asked of the candidates.

The debate started with a haymaker, "How would each candidate assure Oregonians that your administration will operate in an ethical manner?" The question arose from recent controversial allegations around in-kind contributions received by both campaigns that may violate election reporting law.

Richardson lambasted Kitzhaber for allowing one of his transportation advisers to receive $500,000 in consulting fees from an engineering firm working on the Columbia River Crossing. Kitzhaber snapped back with an implication that Richardson may have a problem with powerful women.

As the debate proceeded, Kitzhaber's emphasized his accomplishments, including helping Oregon pull out of the recession and expanding access to health care. Richardson focused on the controversies surrounding Kitzhaber's term in office, including the Cover Oregon website debacle. 

Kitzhaber and Richardson further disagreed over additional cuts to PERS benefits and support for Measure 88, which would allow driver's cards for individuals without proof of legal residency.

More than 250 radio and television stations carried the debate to every corner of Oregon. It also was broadcast nationally on C-SPAN.

Hats and Cattle, Saddles and Horses

Clever political campaign phrases with a bite have been known to influence elections. It's possible a clever catch phrase will have an impact on the 2014 Oregon gubernatorial election.

Walter Mondale turned the popular advertising slogan of his day — "Where's the beef?" — into a political jab at Democratic presidential primary rival Gary Hart. The question halted Hart's momentum and helped Mondale earn his party's nomination in 1984.

Lloyd Bentsen skewered Dan Quayle in their 1988 vice presidential debate after the Indiana senator likened his political experience to that of former President John F. Kennedy. Bentsen replied, "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Bentsen won the debate and even though Quayle became vice president, he never factored seriously into GOP presidential politics again.

Ross Perot, running as an independent for President, struck a nerve when he said, "I don't have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt." An exasperated Perot struck a different kind of nerve later when he would screech, "Let me finish!" Comedian Dana Carvey never let the phrase die a graceful death as Perot's popularity plummeted.

A Ho-Hum Election with Interesting Implications

In an election overshadowed by a court ruling outlawing same-sex marriage discrimination, only three out of 10 Oregonians bothered to fill out and send in ballots. For Democrats, it was a ho-hum primary, but for Republicans, it was a battle for what some called "the soul of the GOP."

Little unexpected occurred at the state level, but there were some dramatic and interesting decisions at the local level. Clackamas County voters retained two commissioners facing a challenge, Multnomah County voters overwhelmingly elected a new chair and commissioner. Washington County voters returned three incumbent commissioners, including two who faced vigorous challengers from the political left.

Kitzhaber, Courtney Legacies Grow

The successful five-bill, three-day Oregon special legislative session will enhance John Kitzhaber's legacy as governor. It also signals a constructive working relationship between House Speaker Tina Kotek and GOP Leader Mike McLane. And the session provided campaign platforms for Reps. Dennis Richardson and Jules Bailey.

Almost lost in the shuffle was Senator Peter Courtney's win in establishing a dedicated funding source for expanded community mental health programs, which was his top priority before the start of the 2013 regular legislative session.

News coverage of the conclusion of the special session Wednesday showed a beaming Kitzhaber. For good reason. He took the tatters of a budget deal left on the cutting room floor in the waning hours of the regular session and wove them into a complicated deal that will result in more money going to K-12 schools and higher education. 

Kitzhaber's unwavering confidence he could find common ground among skeptical House Democrats and legislative Republicans stands in sharp contrast to his defeatist views expressed at the end of his second term of governor. His third term has been an unbroken string of negotiating successes that prove Oregon can be governed after all. And he gets much of the credit.

The Oregonian's Friday edition challenged Kitzhaber now to turn his attention and political capital to comprehensive tax reform, a goal that has eluded him as well as many of his predecessors. Hopefully, The Oregonian will forgive Kitzhaber if he takes the weekend off before starting his new quest.

The Kotek-McLane tandem held together well and under extreme political pressure. To make the multiple-bill compromise work, all five bills had to pass for any to survive. Kotek and McLane knew it would take different cross-sections of lawmakers from both party caucuses to pass the most controversial measures dealing with taxation, PERS cuts and a local pre-emption on genetically modified crops.

Only 22 out of 90 lawmakers voted for all five measures. Kotek and McLane were two of them. More important, they showed they could deliver key votes when it counted. The tax measure, a combination of increases and cuts, began in the House and came up three votes short. Kotek delayed declaring the final vote until she mustered three votes — all from her Democratic caucus.

The Ungubernatorial Candidates

Two Republicans — Rep. Dennis Richardson and businessman Jon Justesen — have declared for governor and the Democratic incumbent is weighing whether to seek an unprecedented fourth term.

But what's more remarkable is the long list of people who aren’t showing any signs of running in 2014, even though the gubernatorial primary is now just nine months away.

One reason for reticence is the status of Governor Kitzhaber, who remains popular, but hasn’t decided whether to go for another term. Because of his name familiarity, he can afford to wait, keeping challengers cooling their heels.

But indecision often can be all the bait some eager beavers need to step forward as potential candidates and see whether any winds collect in their political sails.

Here is a quick look at who is definitely not running and who might be lurking in the weeds if Kitzhaber decides to focus on his own personal Happiness Index:

Definitely Out

  • Unsuccessful 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley, who has moved out of Oregon.
  • Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, who has risen steadily in the U.S. House leadership ranks and sees no good reason to sacrifice that for a gubernatorial run, at least at this stage of his political career.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid for Successful Special Session

Governor Kitzhaber is making headlines as he tries to put together a deal on PERS cuts and revenue enhancement for legislative consideration in a special session sometime this fall.

Trying to find a legislative path to increase revenue or change PERS is tough enough during a regular session. To assemble a deal on both — in the interim — and call legislators back into special session to pass it is a herculean task at best.  

Kitzhaber's track record of success on big ticket items, along with his depth of experience in Oregon policymaking, gives him a head start, but there are at least five key pitfalls he should avoid as he traverses this difficult path.

1. 45 to 36, 23 to 18 — Oregon law requires 36 votes in the House and 18 votes in the Senate to pass any measure that raises revenue. But the math is never that simple when it comes to finding enough votes to pass a revenue raiser. A good rule of thumb is it will take three-fourths of the body in favor of a measure to find the three-fifths necessary to pass it. Kitzhaber has a lot of votes to find to pass this conceptual package.

2.  Special sessions aren't short, regular sessions — A special session is not just a short version of a regular session; it's a horse of a completely different color. Unlike regular sessions, the only bill (or bills) at stake are the topics for which the session is convened. Rank-and-file legislators generally have little to do but vote and are prone to a particular version of grumpiness about a lack of shared information and/or decision-making about the bills in play. Most important, individual members do not have individual bills at stake, making negotiations on the central issue even more difficult. No one knows this better than Kitzhaber, who was part of five special sessions in 2002.

Seeking Opinions on an Oregon Drivers' Card

Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, is known for having a point of view on many subjects. But his recent online newsletter to constituents reflects indecision on how to vote next week on hotly debated legislation to allow undocumented residents to obtain something called an Oregon drivers' card.

"I could argue this issue either way," he says. "Instead, let me give you both sides of the issue and ask for your opinion." 

Richardson's newsletter does a good job laying out both sides of the argument on Senate Bill 833, introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support and which passed this week by a lopsided 20-7 vote.

He starts off by describing what the bill actually does — gives people who can document their identity, prove they have lived in Oregon for at least a year and pass a written and driving test an Oregon Drivers' Card that is good for up to four years. The fees for drivers' cards must cover the entire cost of the program.

Proponents of SB 833 say there are thousands of undocumented residents in Oregon who drive to work and school illegally because they cannot qualify for an Oregon drivers' license. The absence of a valid drivers' license disqualifies them from obtaining legally required auto insurance.

Richardson notes undocumented residents also include elderly persons without birth certificates or other documents needed to obtain a drivers' license.

The proposed Oregon drivers' card only would be valid for non-commercial vehicles and could not be used as identification, for example, to board an airplane or buy a gun. Drivers' cards, like drivers' licenses, would be recorded so law enforcement officers could check on driving records for speeding tickets or alcohol-related offenses, which is not possible now.

Republicans Face Uphill Challenge for Control

The battleground for control of the Oregon House and Senate in 2013 is narrow, with perhaps as few as a handful of races to determine which party holds the gavel. It appears Republicans have the most challenging terrain to regain control.

House Republicans surged from a 24-36 deficit in the 2009 session to win six suburban seats, forcing a 30-30 power-sharing agreement in the 2011 and 2012 sessions. Now Republicans have to stand those six seats and pick up at least one more in a swing district to control the House

Control of the Senate more or less boils down to the open Senate seat on the Southern Oregon Coast being vacated by the retirement of Senator Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay. Unless political wisdom is turned upside down, the seat should stay in Democratic hands with House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, winning it.

Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter for The Oregonian, narrowed the contest for control of the House to 10 races. But mid-summer, after fundraising totals and polling results are analyzed, that number probably will dwindle to four or five.

The three GOP freshmen viewed as most vulnerable by Democrats are Reps. Patrick Sheehan of Clackamas, Katie Eyre of Hillsboro and Julie Parrish of West Linn. All have credible, hardworking Democratic opponents.

Republican hopes for pick-ups center on two coastal House seats — Roblan's, which he is vacating to run for the Senate, and Jean Cowan's, which will be open following her retirement. GOP operatives also believe Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, could be upset with a repeat opponent, Kathy LeCompte, who reportedly is working harder than she did in 2010. She will have to work pretty hard to keep up with Komp.

Two races a little less under the political radar involve Rep. Matt Wand, R-Troutdale, and Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, who have attracted significant opponents. Barker, who has hinted at retirement after the last two sessions, will face GOP newcomer Manual Castenada, whom many observers believe could be a rising GOP political star. Barker, a former Oregon State and Portland police officer, has earned bipartisan respect for his leadership on the House Judiciary Committee.

Control of the House and Senate determines who chairs committees and what legislation will be heard or buried. It also is part of the larger political jockeying with a popular governor in the middle of his third term.

Behind the races on the ballot is political hand-wrestling for dominance in respective caucuses. Here, the most intriguing news is in the House and Senate GOP caucuses. Some observers report a possible competition between more conservative elements of the House GOP caucus and House Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and his close ally, Rep. Kevin Cameron, R-Salem. If Republicans take control of the House, it might make little political difference. However, if Democrats take control, the conservatives in the caucus may press for more vocal opposition.

Solid Recovery with No Momentum

State revenues were up slightly, but the latest quarterly economic forecast released today in Salem shows Oregon's economy is headed upward at a frustratingly slow pace. The state economist said Oregon's recovery is on solid footing, but lacks momentum.

Increased revenues of $116 million were welcome news to nervous legislators meeting at the Capitol, but most of the increase came from a legal settlement, not economic growth. Personal income tax collections were actually down $22 million, while corporate tax receipts grew a slim $.2 million from the previous quarterly forecast. Lottery proceeds also registered a gain.

Those meager results were framed by news that the Kitzhaber administration is lopping off 190 positions in various state agencies. Many of the eliminated positions are vacant, but there will be some layoffs. In their February session, lawmakers directed the governor to identify $28 million in savings by reducing the number of managers, consultants and public relations positions.

While no one is happy with the rate of growth, the state's economy at least isn't going in reverse. Oregon's unemployment stands at 8.6 percent, higher than the national average of 8.2 percent, but a significant drop from the 9.6 percent rate a year ago. Portland's jobless rate has continued to inch down to 7.9 percent.

One bright spot in the economic forecast was the continued rise in exports from Oregon, but even that good news cast a shadow. Exports grew in 2011 by 3.5 percent, just a fraction of the 18.6 percent growth rate seen in 2010.

The not-much-changed revenue forecast probably means lawmakers are off the hook, at least for now, to make deeper spending cuts. However, legislative budget-writers are bracing for more cuts down the line as costs continue to rise while revenues remain stagnant. Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, said the forecast is another reminder state spending needs to be reduced to fit within anticipated revenues.

Three Down – Only 26 to Go

As legislators headed home Friday to gear up for a second week in Salem, it was difficult for anyone accurately to describe the activities of the first three days because things moved much faster than normal at the Capitol — especially for opening days of a legislative session.

There was a crush of business as committees posted hearings on a large number of bills that probably will go nowhere. It prompted a lot of scurrying around, as lobbyists tried to figure what had a chance of passage and what didn't.

Three major "reforms" proposed by Governor Kitzhaber — education, health care and early learning — began moving down paths toward probable approval later this month. If you were betting, you would say the governor would win, but not without push-back by some Republicans who believe change is moving too fast for anyone to accommodate.

A so-called "budget deal" announced on the second day of the session last Thursday produced a bit of buzz, plus a couple headlines, but no one was sure about the real scope or impact of the deal. It turned out to be a "budget re-balance" plan, which means it represented an attempt by Joint Ways and Means Committee leaders to solve internal problems in the budget that had emerged in the last six months since adjournment last June.

The re-balance plan didn't address the current shortfall in state tax revenue, which has been pegged at about $305 million. Nor did the plan address any new revenue shortfall, which could be announced Wednesday when the state economist releases the latest revenue forecast at a joint meeting of the House and Senate Revenue Committees. It also prompted criticism of the Ways and Means co-chairs who took some of a recent Phillip Morris tobacco tax court-ordered payment — about $56 million — and applied most of it to the general budget deficit, not, as proposed, to funding for crime victims. Such is the stuff of Ways and Means.  Money ostensibly for one purpose is swept for another purpose.

Murky Jargon Blurs Budget Clarity

A headline in The Oregonian several weeks ago made the point that murky words get in the way of public understanding of health care reform issues. An Oregonian editorial last weekend urged Governor Kitzhaber to do a better job of sketching the details of his vision of education and health care reform. 

Murkiness also exists when it comes to general budget issues as legislators head to their first official annual session two weeks from now.

Consider these facts/perceptions about the budget:

         *  The state economist says the general fund is down by $305 million from the close of the 2011 legislative session. On a total general fund budget of more than $14 billion for a biennium, that is a rounding factor. Still, perceptions exist that cuts to K-12, higher education, cops and prisons and social services will be in the offing during the February session.

         *  One key legislator on the Joint Ways and Means Human Services Subcommittee was spending time in his office several weeks ago preparing a cut list of about $500 million. Those cuts, if enacted, would exceed the total $305 million revenue drop projected so far. 

         *  Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, House co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, took credit earlier this fall for holding back a "reasonable ending balance of $460 million when the committee he co-chairs approved the 2011-13 budget." In his on-line newsletter, he added this noteworthy quote:  "...the good news is that having withstood the political pressure to spend every dollar and by retaining the $460 million ending balance, none of the $305 million of reduced revenue will be taken from the budgets for public safety, human services or education."