immigration

Oregon, Washington May Provide Presidential Hopefuls

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Governor Jay Inslee are seriously weighing Democratic presidential campaigns in 2020. Both are from the progressive lane of the Democratic Party, have earned national recognition for their key issues and have campaigned in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Governor Jay Inslee are seriously weighing Democratic presidential campaigns in 2020. Both are from the progressive lane of the Democratic Party, have earned national recognition for their key issues and have campaigned in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Oregon’s and Washington’s role in recent presidential elections has been relegated to ATMs. Candidates swoop in, attend high-priced fundraisers and slip out of town, often without even a perfunctory press interview. That may change in 2020.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Governor Jay Inslee have dropped huge hints they are considering entering the 2020 Democratic presidential sweepstakes. Though both would be considered today as political longshots, each has a distinct political issue to push. Merkley is focused on voting rights, Inslee on responding to climate change, as issue he has championed for years, including the book he coauthored, Apollo’s Fire

Merkley has earned national recognition for going to Texas to expose the internment at the border of asylum-seeking Latin American migrants and their children. Inslee gained recognition for leading the Democratic Governors Association as it reclaimed a number of statehouses in the 2018 midterm election. 

Both hail from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which could be a crowded lane in the 2020 Democratic primary with candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Merkley and Inslee have been point persons confronting President Trump on key issues such as immigration, environmental protection and trade policy. Both have hit the campaign hustings, appearing side by side at a campaign event in Johnson City, Iowa and in New Hampshire, both early-voting primary states.

One advantage Inslee has over better-known candidates, and Merkley, is his executive experience (Inslee served in Congress before his election as governor). Now serving his second term, Inslee can point to achievements on voting rights, a higher minimum wage, ensuring net neutrality and major transportation investments.

As Jennifer Rubin, an opinion writer for the Washington Post, sees it: “[Inslee] might consider stressing his entire record as evidence of his ability to successfully govern, which includes climate change policies, and his role in challenging Trump’s immigration policies. Almost as an afterthought, he notes that renewable-energy legislation helped launched a multibillion-dollar wind industry and helped his state lead in GDP growth and wages. That seems to be his greatest selling point – creating a progressive haven while growing the economy, raising wages and saving the planet.”

Another advantage of potential Merkley and Inslee candidacies is that neither are in their 70s, as are Warren, Sanders, Joe Biden – and Donald Trump. Merkley is 62 and Inslee is 67. They also are fresh faces on the national political landscape, which might appeal to newly registered Democratic voters that helped Democrats regain control of the House.

Merkley faces a big decision. If he runs for President, he can’t under Oregon law run simultaneously for re-election to the Senate. He has told reporters he will make a final decision in the early part of this year. Meanwhile, Merkley has staged what amounts to a marathon of townhall meetings in Oregon before the new Congress convened this week. It is unclear whether he has taken steps to recruit a campaign staff or start fundraising in earnest. Political observers suggest it may take anywhere from $40 to $60 million for a Democratic presidential candidate to make it to Super Tuesday primaries in March, 2020.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, like his potential Pacific Northwest presidential aspirant Jeff Merkley, has gone to the US-Mexico border to denounce Trump administration immigration policies and establish their credentials as credible national contenders.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, like his potential Pacific Northwest presidential aspirant Jeff Merkley, has gone to the US-Mexico border to denounce Trump administration immigration policies and establish their credentials as credible national contenders.

Inslee received encouragement to throw his hat in the presidential ring in 2016 as one of the few Democratic governors to survive. He has campaigned around the country for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in 2018, giving him more exposure than usually accrues to a governor from the Pacific Northwest. Inslee is given credit for helping seven Democrats capture statehouses and assisting some Democratic incumbents such as Oregon Governor Kate Brown fend off well-financed GOP challengers.

There are indications Inslee is lining up donors to his political action committee and preparing to form a presidential exploratory committee, which is something Warren did this week as she moved closer to becoming an announced candidate. He also has amassed a list of more than 200,00 climate change supporters nationwide that could serve as a jumping off point for his candidacy.

The presidential primaries will have some other new twists. California and Texas have moved up their primary election dates in a bid to have a greater say about who emerges as party nominees. As big states with sprawling, expensive media markets, they pose special challenges for lesser known candidates without big campaign war chests. 

Another challenge is the emergence of Beto O’Rourke, who lost his bid to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz while gaining a rabid national following and lengthy small-donor contributor list, and Harris, who represents California in the US Senate and received positive national exposure for her sharp questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The best thing going for Merkley and/or Inslee candidacies is a clear focus, which will be essential in a field of up to 20 candidates and a Democratic debate schedule that begins as early as this summer. Democratic voters – and GOP political strategists – will be watching closely to see who stands out from the pack based on substance and style and who has the best chance to go toe-to-toe with Trump in the general election.

 

Worker Shortage Looms as Economic Growth Barrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gritty Issues Teed up for 2018 Election

Hot button issues such as PERS, Medicaid, immigration and taxes are already heating up long before the 2018 Oregon election starts in earnest and are sure to bring into focus questions over who can provide the political leadership to address these issues.

Hot button issues such as PERS, Medicaid, immigration and taxes are already heating up long before the 2018 Oregon election starts in earnest and are sure to bring into focus questions over who can provide the political leadership to address these issues.

The 2018 election is more than a year away, but the issues that will animate campaigns are getting exposure now. As Republicans challenge monolithic Democratic control of the lever of powers in Oregon, the issues center on PERS, Medicaid and immigration. And more will follow.
 
In a news release Monday, the Senate Republican office deplored a “time bomb” decision by the PERS board that had the effect of inflating the unfunded liability of the public employee pension program to $52 million. With breathless prose, the release said, “Taxpayer-funded pension systems are combustible by nature, but Oregon’s ticking time bomb known as PERS is one of the brink of exploding.” Legislative Republicans pushed for steps to corral PERS funding but were unsuccessful.
 
The Oregonian added fuel to the Medicaid debate by reporting over the weekend that more than 37,000 Oregonians were extended health care benefits under the program even though they exceeded the earnings threshold – at a cost to the state of $191 million. The Oregon Health Authority reportedly has another 30,000 enrollees to check, so the number of ineligible Medicaid recipients could grower higher. A bipartisan majority agreed to a tax package in the 2017 session to sustain the core and expanded Medicaid program. Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, is pursuing a referral of the Medicaid tax package.
 
The potentially most explosive issue could be the call by Republican senators for Governor Brown to veto legislation declaring “sanctuary state” status. Their call follows violent attacks by Sergio Jose Martinez, including a sexual assault on a 65-year-old woman, who has been deported 20 times. Efforts by the Trump administration to step up deportation of undocumented immigrants has sparked public demonstrations both for and against the action.
 
The PERS and Medicaid issues have been stoked by Oregonian reporting. The PERS unfunded liability and sanctuary state issues have been fanned by Jonathan Lockwood on behalf of Oregon Senate Republicans. The Medicaid story’s fuse was lit by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who is the leading GOP gubernatorial candidate, largely due to his higher name familiarity.
 
Gubernatorial campaigns serve as referenda on how the state is doing and its most vexing issues. But few campaigns are so issue-centric before the front-running candidates have a chance to chisel out the political debate fault lines.
 
Brown is expected to seek re-election, but there is no consensus GOP challenger and the threat of a third-party bid can’t be ruled out. Political leadership is sure to be a major issue in the campaign. Republicans and even some Democrats will charge that Brown ducked out on leading toward a solution to the state’s $1.6 billion budget deficit. Brown can claim her leadership helped to push through a major transportation package that included funding for public transportation.
 
Oregon has become a reliably blue state, where Democratic statewide victories are pretty much a sure bet. That probably won’t change, but foul winds are blowing. Brown hasn’t alienated many core Democratic constituencies, but she hasn’t necessarily wowed all of them either.
 
Pointing to growing PERS liabilities, ballooning Medicaid costs and an immigrant bad boy may make headlines but aren’t the same as alternative solutions. This also could be a year where the politics of blame isn’t a big winner. But it is undeniable that gritty policy issues will consume oxygen in the 2018 campaign regardless who runs.
 
One final issue likely to emerge is whether to pursue revenue reform next year, despite Democratic leaders indicating it should wait until the 2019 session. Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and Speaker Tina Kotek released statements arguing that reform wasn't possible until 2019, but a union-backed 2018 initiative similar to Measure 97 may spark interest in trying to head off another divisive and expensive battle at the ballot box. 
 
The question is who will take the lead and convene a working group. Senator Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, attempted compromise legislation in 2017 and may do so again. Brown could build off her transportation win and try to do the same on revenue reform. Brown's new Chief of Staff Nik Blosser showed an aptitude for such negotiations in 2017 and may be the person to do it again next year. A Republican candidate may jump into the fray with a plan and a strategy. The political risks are palpable, but the intensity of the issues may make the risk worth it.

A Ballot Brimming with Measures

The 2016 election could be bulging with ballot measures from a higher minimum wage to making English the official language of Oregon.

The 2016 election could be bulging with ballot measures from a higher minimum wage to making English the official language of Oregon.

Oregon's 2016 primary and general election ballots could be brimming with measures such as a gas tax in Portland, a gross receipts tax on businesses and a higher statewide minimum wage.

There also may be ballot measures touching on raw nerves related to immigration, universal background checks on gun sales, immigration and stricter penalties for lethal force to pets.

Combined with a wide open presidential race, the advent of Super PACs and a high-profile challenge to the re-election of Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, the 2016 election shapes up as a bonanza year for advertising venues. It's possible there could be more money to spend than there is advertising space to buy on television and radio.

As AP's Jonathan Cooper reported over the weekend, the only for-sure Oregon ballot measure at this moment is a legislative referral to make judicial retirement mandatory at age 75. But this is just the lull before the expected storm.

Our Oregon is shopping seven possible ballot measures to raise taxes on corporations and wealthier Oregonians. Two groups are vying to place a higher minimum wage on the ballot, one at $13.50 per hour and the other at $15 per hour.

There are at least two measures kicking around dealing with energy. Backed by oil companies, one would repeal the low-carbon fuel standard approved by the 2015 Oregon legislature. The other, put forward by environmental activists, would ban the expansion of any infrastructure in Oregon to extract, produce, process, ship or distribute fossil fuels.

In the absence of legislative action, Portland Commissioner Steve Novick has proposed a local gas tax to help pay for street repairs. His earlier idea of a street utility bill was shouted down, but Novick said Portland can't wait until the 2017 legislative session when Senate President Peter Courtney says he will take up a statewide funding proposal. There is a slim chance a transportation measure could be hammered out for consideration during the short 2016 legislative session.

Consumer activists have submitted a potential initiative to amend the Oregon Bottle Bill to make all consumer packaging, except what is compostable or refundable, subject to a 10-cent redemption fee. Grocers may elect to push an initiative to privatize liquor distribution and sales in Oregon.

Health care advocates are looking at measures to create a constitutional right to health care and require the Oregon legislature to adopt a system of universal health care. There also is a potential measure that would define maximum allowable charges for health care services.

Immigration foes, fresh from their success in 2014 blocking a driver's license bill, are toying with new measures to require employers to use the E-Verify system and designate English as the official language of Oregon.

Several measures could affect local governments. One prospective measure would hand over 50 percent of lottery proceeds to Oregon counties. Another would strip away Metro's ability to manage its regional urban growth boundary.

A second measure affecting the Oregon Lottery would carve off 5 percent to pay for veterans' services.

Other issues bouncing around, such as rules governing legalization of recreational marijuana, could result in even more ballot measures. 

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.