Oregon Blog Updates

Syndicate content
Latest entries from BlueOregon
Updated: 1 min 33 sec ago

Oregonians United For Equality

13 hours 13 min ago

What a difference ten years makes.

This past February, polling results distributed by Basic Rights Oregon showed that a record number of Oregonians support marriage equality, with 55 percent of respondents agreeing that every Oregon citizen should be able to marry whoever they love regardless of sexual orientation. However, for this majority view to become law, the discriminatory constitutional amendment that prohibits gay and lesbian Oregonians from marrying their partners needs to be repealed, despite being voted into law by Oregon voters when Measure 36 was passed by 57 percent in the 2004 election.

The ten-year old measure that signed state-sponsored bigotry against same-sex couples into Oregon’s constitution was part of a concerted effort in 2004 to place anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot of swing states, with the hopes that a large bloc of conservative voters would turn out and help buoy George W. Bush’s re-election bid. Oregon bucked the trend, however, as the state remained solidly on the blue side of the ledger and voting against George W. Bush—while still passing the amendment banning same-sex marriage.

(The 2004 election was a rare example of cognitive dissonance happening by liberal-leaning voters. I knocked on doors in support of John Kerry that fall, and would continually be surprised when the respondent voiced their opposition for Bush despite having a pro-Measure 36 sign in their yard. I continually had to fight back the urge to ask if I could remove that sign for them.)

Fast forward ten years, and the passage of a ballot initiative allowing same-sex marriage is practically guaranteed, one of the bright spots in this upcoming election year for progressive voters in Oregon who support the notions of freedom and equality. Any time steps are taken to provide expanded rights to a previously marginalized group—particularly when such rights are granted by a privileged majority—bodes well for the arc of the moral universe’s continual bend towards justice. The swing in popular opinion by Oregon voters towards the issue—from the same amount of voters opposed to marriage equality who are know in favor—makes me proud to be an Oregonian. What a difference ten years makes, indeed.

Switch From Marriage Equality to Opposing Religious Discrimination

Despite the large plurality of Oregon voters in favor of marriage equality, a couple of funny things happened on the way to Oregon voters tossing bigotry out of the state's constitution. First, with the large number of Oregon voters in favor of marriage equality, the Defense of Marriage Coalition--which backed Measure 36’s successful challenge in 2004—are nowhere to be seen, all but relenting the ballot initiative’s successful passage in November. Instead, Friends of Religious Liberty are the new kids on the block, seeking to move the fight beyond same sex marriage to the issue of whether businesses should be able to legally discriminate against gays and lesbians. And second, a potentially successful legal challenge to the state's constitutional ban may supersede the marriage equality initiative campaign currently underway, with the desired result achieved through judicial decision opposed to at the ballot box.

The religious discrimination ballot initiative would be similar to the legislation passed into law by GOP-controlled statehouses in Arizona (where it was vetoed) and Mississippi (where it received support of the governor), these religious discrimination bills have been referred to as “wedding cake” bills due to the finding against a Gresham bakery that was found to have violated a lesbian couple’s civil rights when it refused to bake a cake for the couple’s wedding. (Ironically, a recent study by UCLA finds that marriage equality in Oregon would generate a $47.3 million economic boom to the state, a significant portion of which would be in the wedding business sector. It seems self-defeating for a business to actively prevent its involvement in such a potential boom that they could only benefit directly from.I guess I'm just not cut out for business.)

Currently gathering signatures for a ballot initiative push—a different tack then the legislative route adopted in Arizona and Mississippi—the supporters of the religious discrimination initiative points out an exception in the proposed marriage equality imitative that allowing religious institutions to refuse to engage in a same-sex marriage ceremony. But according to Peter Zuckerman, Press Secretary for Oregon United for Marriage Oregon, this explanation simply amounts to a pile of weasel words. Whereas the exception in the marriage equality bill respectfully prevents churches from being forced to administer a wedding ceremony that goes against their beliefs, the potential religious discrimination bill would, according to Zuckerman, “allow businesses to turn people away because of who they are and who they love. And treating people differently is discrimination, plain and simple.”

Why It's So Important to Vote Against Discrimination

Oregon is one of the first states in which backers of these religious discrimination laws are attempting to use the ballot initiative process. If successful, supporters will claim that legal discrimination of homosexuals is supported by a majority will of the voters and would serve as a step towards creating a model that would then be exported to other states. For this reason, the religious discrimination bill doesn’t necessarily even need to pass to be considered a “success” just as long as the vote is close. According to Zuckerman, this is why the coalition in support of United for Marriage are marshaling its resources and deliver a resounding defeat to any efforts to pass a religious discrimination initiative at the ballot box. “We need to defeat discrimination so badly, with a big enough margin, that we could stop it from spreading,” Zuckerman explains.

The strategy of pursuing a ballot initiative allowing discrimination against homosexuals might be questioned when the passing of a marriage equality initiative is practically a foregone conclusion. Perhaps the supporters of the religious discrimination initiative are seeking to muddy the waters, and instead of voting for either “yes” or “no” to both initiatives, gay rights supporters would need to be able to remember to vote in favor of one initiative and against the other. And it’s only been in the past few months that the polling has really shifted in favor of passing the marriage equality initiative. “When we started gathering signatures, the polling was really close on same sex marriage,” Zuckerman says. “Over the last eight months, we have a seen a lead of 3-4 points grow into a lead of 14 points."

While a large voter turn-out in favor of marriage equality would bode well for the defeat of religious discrimination at the ballot box, there is a conceivable chance that Oregon voters may not even be able to decide on same-sex marriage at all. Next week, oral arguments will begin on the legal challenge to the amendment in the state’s constitution that prohibits same-sex marriage. (Vigils will be held the night before the arguments are held for those looking to show support. If you'd like to find one near you, click here.) Although the determination of a legal timeline that includes both a judicial review and ruling are anybody’s guess at this point—but there is a distinct chance that the U.S. District Court of Oregon may strike down the state’s gay marriage ban that was enacted with the passage of Measure 36 ten years ago.

Why Both a Campaign Initiative And Also a Legal Challenge?

When Basic Rights Oregon and other supporters of gay marriage targeted 2014 as the year to pass marriage equality in Oregon, the only available option at the time was to collect the necessary number of signatures to place an initiative on the ballot. However, the ability challenge to Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage in court was only made possible with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the challenge to California’s similar Proposition 8. Shortly after the ruling, gay marriage supporters in Oregon identified the benefits of pursuing a parallel path and filed a legal challenge, in hopes that a swift ruling—in their favor, of course—would pre-empt a campaign to pass a ballot measure in the fall. “Campaigns are financially, emotionally, and politically expensive,” Zuckerman says. Members of the GLBTQ community would receive undue attention and be repeatedly attacked on the airwaves by those opposing the ballot measure. “You do not want to go through that and lose. Which is why Basic Rights Oregon was unwilling to go forward without a reasonable chance that the measure would pass.”

A veteran of the successful campaign to pass same-sex marriage in Washington State in 2012—which, along with Minnesota became one of the first two states to pass gay marriage at the ballot box—Zuckerman was pressed to offer a prognostication of the outcome of Oregon United For Marriage’s efforts. Zuckerman is cautiously optimistic that marriage equality will ultimately prevail, based on his experience in Washington. “Throughout the Washington campaign, I thought we weren’t going to win. I was surprised to win.”

One indication Zuckerman provides in support of the passage of marriage equality is the embrace of the issue by state Republicans, citing the endorsement of the measure by the two leading GOP candidates for Senate at the recent Dorchester Republican conference. Zuckerman admits that winning over Republicans to ensure bipartisan support was an intentional strategy conducted by gay marriage supporters, with a libertarian-honed message that everyone should be able to marry who they choose. This supplanted the previous messaging that same-sex partners should be granted the equal right to get married. In fact, Zuckerman suggests that if conservative voters have an opportunity to vote on this issue, they should vote in favor of same-sex marriage. “Think about it: approving same-sex marriage aligns with true conservative ideals,” Zuckerman explains. “It would be a vote in favor of freedom for everyone, treating others as you’d want to be treated, and a vote in opposition of discrimination.”

How To Get Involved!

With the election months away, Zuckerman describes information on how marriage equality and gay rights supporters can provide assistance to Oregon United for Marriage. “Make people know about the discrimination measure,” says Zuckerman. “Don’t let them try to pass this under the radar. Spread the word to your friends, family, neighbors that you oppose discrimination. If you want, sign up to volunteer at our headquarters in Northeast Portland, with offices opening throughout the state depending on the outcome of the legal challenge. If people are able to donate money, that would be helpful. Campaigns cost a lot of money and we are not going to win if we don’t raise funds!”

This election year, there is an opportunity to show how far Oregon has come in just ten short years. This election year we Oregon voters have an opportunity to vote in favor of love and against discrimination. If you are interested in getting involved to make this a reality, please contact United for Marriage.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Syngenta and Monsanto: Double Trouble for Jackson County

April 12, 2014 - 10:11am

Out-of-state biotech corporations and their allies have contributed $600,000 out of a total of more than $800,000 to fight Jackson County’s May 20 initiative to ban the growing of genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops, an eye-popping amount for a small county election. Monsanto has given over $183,000, DuPont Pioneer nearly $130,000 and Syngenta $75,000. The Oregon Farm Bureau has donated over $50,000, much of which could be pass-through money, since it receives thousands of dollars from biotech firms.

In almost any GMO political campaign, Monsanto is lead funder. Its legions of lobbyists roam the halls of Congress and state legislatures while numerous former employees rotate through Washington, DC’s revolving door to the FDA and USDA, neutering regulations. And, of course, they sue people, lots of them, especially farmers they accuse of infringing on their patents.

Syngenta is less well known, but more directly connected to Jackson County, where its GMO sugar beets have contaminated non-GMO beets and chard, costing farmers thousands of dollars in lost markets.

Syngenta’s Code of Conduct touts its concern about compliance with law, business integrity and communities. In February, 2012, the head of Syngenta’s corporate communications maintained it abided by the USDA requirement of a four-mile buffer zone with non-GE seed crops “to ensure purity of our seed and prevent cross-pollination with other crops.” In a May 2012 article , a Syngenta spokesman “said that his company is sensitive to growers of non-GMO seeds and maintains at least five miles between conventional and GMO plots.”

Jackson County farmers beg to differ. Chris Hardy, owner of Village Farm in Ashland, discovered that Syngenta’s sugar beets were planted only one quarter of a mile from his organic farm. There was also an organic garden at an Ashland school a half mile away. Syngenta removed their plot only after he had blown the whistle on them.

Farmers have mapped Syngenta’s checkerboard planting of 35 plots of GMO sugar beets super-imposed with local farms. There are dozens of instances where the distances are far less than four miles, the buffer zone established by the USDA before deregulation in July 2012. Another local farmer, who isn’t even opposed to GMO’s, emphasized to me that Syngenta had all kinds of places in the country to plant their sugar beets, but chose Jackson and Josephine Counties instead. “They have no regard of where any other farmers are. There is no excuse for their behavior.”

Indeed, the Oregonian reported Syngenta had been planting GMO crops for a decade that could contaminate beets and chard without informing neighboring farmers. Many residents believe Syngenta purposely tried to contaminate and kill the extensive organic seed industry through their planting patterns.

The problems aren’t limited to Jackson County. Syngenta’s actions in Hawaii motivated thousands of people to join the movement to ban the growing of GMO crops there. On the west side of Kauai, it planted a GMO test plot right next to a school and regularly sprayed it with toxic pesticides, including atrazine, which Syngenta manufactures. It’s been banned in the European Union for water contamination and even in Switzerland, Syngenta’s home country.

Watch this video and you’ll understand how devastating this spraying has been. The president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association testified that in 2008, teachers called him in desperation. Students and teachers were so sick that some had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. His testimony was followed by the vice president of the Hawaii Nurses Association, numerous physicians and scientists, all testifying to stop the GMO growing and pesticide spraying. Syngenta had ignored previous pleas to stop.

The most heart-wrenching testimony came from parents whose kids had been born with severe birth defects at a rate far above average. These included brain damage, seizures and instances of babies being born with their stomachs outside their bodies.

Compare their experiences with these statements on Syngenta’s website: “We have a responsibility to protect the environment, and to ensure the health and safety of our employees, customers and the communities in which we operate . . . Programs must be sensitive to local cultures.”

It would seem Syngenta’s sensitivity to local cultures is roughly equivalent to Chris Christie’s sensitivity to bridge commuters.

We’re at a defining moment. Thousands of David’s from Medford to Maui are fed up being victims of biotech recklessness in their back yards and school yards. They’re taking dead aim on the Goliath’s with their slings – and their votes.

As Victor Hugo observed, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” For Jackson County, the time to take back their farms and food has come.

To become part of this historic movement, go to Our Family Farms Coalition to make a generous donation. Our time has come too.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Seriously?

April 11, 2014 - 3:01pm

A reliance on snark and showing up at a candidates forum as if you’re making a quick run to the grocery: signs that you’re not a serious candidate for public office.

The number of candidates and staffers at the April 10 Central Committee Meeting of the Multnomah County Democrats was almost equal to the number of audience members. The reason so many turned out, of course, is that, small as the audience may have been, these were activist Democratic voters who give money and time to Democratic candidates.

Candidates in contested races got one minute to speak, but, for those who were prepared, it was a minute well spent. Don Gavitte, one of six candidates for the open House District 42 seat, combined stand-up comedy with a quick overview of his resumé and platform. Sharon Maxwell demonstrated oratorical chops, noting that she and the Civil Rights Act are the same age. Kathleen Taylor’s minute was spent listing an impressive slate of endorsements. Nick Fish proved his skills as a speaker and politician, praised others rather than himself, including fellow City Councilor Amanda Fritz and her achievement is getting paid sick leave passed. (Dan Saltzman, in contract, tried to give the impression he had been a key player in that effort, saying nothing at all about Fritz.)

Some candidates don’t have the hang of public speaking, including a number of candidates and electeds for whom this should be old hat.

Then there were the amateurs. Not ready for prime time. The habitual candidates for whom an election is like crack and those who get upset enough to run but are not dedicated enough to run an effective challenge.

Teressa Raiford is not among those. Raiford isn’t content to just challenge in incumbent she’s disappointed in; she’s out to win. She’s doing the kind of work necessary to defeat a well-established incumbent. In a low-turnout primary where this race will be decided, she has a chance if she can mobilize supporters to return their ballots.

Joe Rowe has no chance, and he demonstrated that. Casual dress is one thing; Gavitte appeared in casual clothing with his trademark fedora. But Gavitte’s casual approach was thoroughly professional: a calculated style. Rowe’s casualness was a reflection of his campaign, which is based more on his personal opposition to the incumbent, House Speaker Tina Kotek — in particular, the CRC. (His website accuses her of working for corporations, taking their money and doing their bidding.)

Showing up in a suit and tie with a memorized speech, full-color handouts and lawn signs are not hallmarks of serious political intent. Many of the candidates who spoke were dressed casually (appropriate for this event), but the ones who took their task as candidate seriously showed a focus and determination that came through even if their public speaking abilities were not Obama-esque.

Rowe showed no serious intent. He spoke, looked, and behaved like some dude who decided to drop in at the last minute. He failed to enunciate the slightest reason why anyone should vote for him and not one of the most powerful people in the state. After all, if your state representative is also Speaker of the House, your district stands to be in good shape as legislation is developed. Of course, the Speaker is responsible for the entire House, so, for example, her “failure” to not sign on as a co-sponsor of a bill regarding single payer should not be characterized as opposition to single payer; she’s just not going to sign on to every damn bill she might agree with.

No legislator does, and the serious candidates know that.

The serious candidates also know that the Affordable Care Act blocks states from enacting single payer until 2017, which is why Vermont’s plan is still in progress. Tom Sincic’s call for single payer “now” demonstrated a lack of serious intent in challenging the incumbent.

But if there is anything that demonstrates a candidate’s lack of serious intent, it’s a stump speech built on snark and code words that while on the surface may sound like they are about the candidate but in reality are intended to attack the opponent. The more times such words are repeated, the more churlish, and amateurish, the candidate sounds.

Brian Wilson is highly regarded in the community. His background earns him that respect. His speech last night, my first opportunity to hear him, wasted every bit of it.

Wilson used the word “local” four or five times, each time with emphasis, as if it were only he who had spent more of his life in Portland. His opponent for the Multnomah County Commission, Jules Bailey, also grew up in Portland, of course. But emphasize “local” enough times and voters who don’t know that, and don’t bother to check, might get the impression – or, if the tactic is successful, “learn” – that Bailey is a carpetbagger of some sort.

I was surprised he didn’t wink each time he said the word.

And then there was the snark over “bridges most local people opposed”. Yes, Bailey voted for the CRC in the House in 2013. But he was also a leader in adding the string of conditions that ultimately killed the project. His approval for the bridge was contingent on those conditions, and, in the end, when they failed to be met, Bailey no longer supported the project.

I’d argue that is what a skilled legislator does: find a way to move big projects forward only if they demonstrate viability. Imagine if that same kind of planning had been applied to the Cover Oregon website; we might have a functional health care portal. I opposed the CRC, of course, and I’d have preferred Bailey and others in the Leg had focused on fixing the I5 traffic problems in affordable, effective ways. That they made their support contingent on critical conditions being met demonstrated both maturity and smarts. Not to mention a fair amount of guts knowing the blowback they’d get from many of their supporters.

Wilson demonstrated a fondness for flippancy and immaturity. I’m just sorry I don’t live in that district any longer so I could demonstrate support for Jules Bailey with a vote.

I have no problem for people running for office who have no realistic chance of winning. My high school friend, Kathie O’Brien, jumped into the HD 42 primary on the final day of entry because she was angry at the way the Legal Aid bill was defeated. Her odds are very long; she’s way behind a number of strong, dedicated candidates who have months of campaigning under their belts. But O’Brien is running a serious campaign. She’s meeting voters, gaining endorsements, raising money, addressing issues. She’s not letting a late start and long odds undermine her determination. She’s running as if she were the front-runner.

It’s about professionalism and respect for the voters. We deserve serious candidates, even among those who stand little chance to win. Those who are running to make a point are wasting our time. There are more effective ways to do that than pretending you are a serious candidate.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

You pay taxes. Corporations should pay them too.

April 10, 2014 - 10:00am

In tax year 2011, at least 24 profitable corporations paid no Oregon income taxes. Of those 24 corporations paying nothing, eight had Oregon profits of more than $5 million. Many more profitable corporations paid less than the corporate minimum by using the Con-way Loophole.

What is the Con-Way Loophole? Faced with a $75,000 corporate minimum tax on $79 million in Oregon sales, trucking giant Con-way, Inc. got the Oregon Supreme Court to create a loophole allowing corporations to avoid even the most minimal contribution toward the common good.

Zero. Nada. Zip.

Sign the petition asking the Oregon legislature to “close the Con-way Loophole”. You pay taxes. So should they.

Despite reaping millions profits in our state, some corporations pay nothing in Oregon income taxes. And they pay nothing despite the fact that Oregon voters approved a corporate minimum income tax. That means that middle class families are paying more income taxes that some very large, very profitable corporations.

Sign the petition asking the Oregon legislature to “close the Con-way Loophole”. that allows corporations to avoid Oregon’s corporate minimum tax.

As Oregon children sit in overcrowded classrooms and college students confront rising tuition and fees, some corporations with millions in profits and sales collected in Oregon pay not a cent in the way of income taxes. That’s wrong.

Sign the petition telling lawmakers to “close the Con-way Loophole" so that so that all corporations must contribute something in income taxes to support the common good.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Robert Reich on $15 Why?

April 9, 2014 - 10:27pm

As we're apparently going through the basic six questions (who, what, where, when, why, and how) about the $15/hour minimum wage proposal, I thought it appropriate to share this video from U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explaining seven reasons why people are calling for a $15/hr minimum wage.

Meanwhile, in local news, the minimum wage discussion has hit various races. From The Oregonian:

Francesconi... has said he wants to establish a minimum wage for workers on county-funded projects that meets or exceeds Obama’s proposed increase. He also says he’ll push state lawmakers to consider an increase.

Kafoury, while noting that the county already pays a prevailing rate higher than minimum wage on construction projects, said she supports a repeal of the state law that prevents local governments from raising their minimum wage. If a repeal isn’t an option, she said she’ll push lawmakers to raise the statewide rate.

Saltzman’s opponent, Concordia University professor Nick Caleb, launched his campaign last month by calling for Portland’s lowest-wage workers to earn $15 an hour. Saltzman followed by participating in a rally Tuesday aimed, in part, at supporting a repeal of the state preemption.

The discussion continues.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Why Is Monsanto a So Worried About the Jackson County Vote on Genetically Engineered Crops?

April 9, 2014 - 12:00pm

By Elise Higley of Jackson County. Elise is a family farmer in Jackson County and the director of the Our Family Farms Coalition which is leading the fight to pass measure 15-119 which would ban genetically engineered crops in Jackson County. She is also the campaign manager for the campaign.

As a family farmer, it's clear to me that few things pose as great a threat to the future of family farming than genetically engineered crops. When their pollen drifts onto farms like mine it can make the seeds that keep my farm afloat worthless. And, if I tried to sell or grow any GMO-contaminated seed it would be a violation of Monsanto's or another chemical corporation's federal patent rights. This is why myself and 150 other family farms in the Rogue Valley are working hard to pass the Family Farms Measure 15-119, which would make Jackson County the first Oregon county to prohibit growing genetically engineered crops.

It's no surprise that Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and Syngenta are now trying to swamp our county with an unprecedented flood of campaign cash to defeat the measure. They dropped $450,000 into our small county on a single day last week bringing their opposition campaign total to $812,000. For perspective, this is about eight times more money than has been spent on any previous measure campaign in County history.

Passing a measure like this may seem like a pipe dream for a rural southern Oregon county. This may be part of why we were the only county allowed to proceed with this vote despite the Legislature's ban on similar county measures in the February session. But we now have diverse support from every part of the county. I've never seen Democrats in Ashland working side by side with Republicans in Medford and Libertarians in Eagle Point, but it's happening and the out-of-state chemical corporations have every reason to be worried since their scare tactics to date have gained little traction. Our new campaign radio ad available on our website even features one of the county's largest farmers who is a conservative Republican. In the ad he announces that based on what he's learned recently he is stopping growing genetically engineered crops and is supporting Measure 15-119.

This of course, is why Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont and other corporate chemical giants are throwing money into our race. We have over 150 family farms supporting our effort and hundreds of individual and business supporters. We have two campaign field offices that are full of volunteers and we have farmers and other supporters canvassing almost nightly. And, thanks to low-priced TV and radio here, our TV ads are on all major stations. About $250 buys you a prime time TV ad here and $50 buys a top slot radio ad so we are able to compete on every level even with a budget dwarfed by team Monsanto.

A win in Jackson County sends a message to legislators that it's time to give counties back the right to decide for themselves whether to protect their family farmers from genetically engineered crops. If you value family farms and think the idea of growing crops that can cause a 10-fold increase in herbicide use doesn't make sense, then please go to our website and add yourself as a supporter of the Family Farms Measure no matter where you live and help take a stand against Monsanto, their friends, and their high-impact genetically engineered crops.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Epic moment: Six year old asks a question that leaves Hillary Clinton speechless

April 8, 2014 - 10:32pm

Tonight, Hillary Clinton spoke in Portland. The final question of the night came from a six year old student at Glencoe Elementary. It was... a stumper.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

How Portland can reduce the wage gap between women and men

April 8, 2014 - 7:00am

By Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Today is Equal Pay Day. That's the day each year when American women finally earn what their male counterparts earned during the prior year. This year, it took women a shocking three months and eight days to catch up. That's because women across our country earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar earned by men for equivalent work. This gap is wider for women of color: African-American women are paid 64 cents and Latinas 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

There are many reasons why pay gaps exist -- and persist. One piece of the gap can be explained by how we undervalue work that is traditionally done by women -- even when it is comparable to higher paying work done by men. Another piece is due to the wage and promotion penalties women face after time away from the workforce due to family caregiving responsibilities (work that is still more often done by women). And some of the gap is due to persistent gender discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion -- despite laws that discourage the practice.

Reducing pay gaps and improving the economic security of women will require broader change than what's been tried in the past. I believe it is my job -- and the job of elected leaders at every level of government -- to commit to reducing it in the ways we can. It is with that in mind that I wish to highlight a few steps that I believe are critical to improving economic conditions for Portland women and their families in the near future:

  • First, I support efforts to overturn an Oregon law passed in 2001 that precludes cities from creating their own local minimum wages that exceed the state's (now $9.10/hour). And I support a raise in our state's minimum wage that brings working families above the federal poverty line. We know that nationally two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women -- so raising minimum wage standards has a broader -- and much needed - positive impact for women.
  • Second, I am proud to support the work of my colleagues, Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick, as they prepare to conduct a robust pay equity audit as part of an upcoming city-wide classification and compensation study. As an employer, the City of Portland has an obligation to ensure that we are regularly identifying inequitable hiring, pay and promotion practices -- and resolving them. I am committed to ensuring that we are giving equal opportunity to the women and people of color who work for the City and paying them equitably for equal work.

  • Third, in early 2013 our City Council voted unanimously to support a protected sick time law that ensures that everyone working in the city can earn up to 40 hours of sick time during the course of a year to take care of themselves or their family members when illness strikes, as it inevitably does. And now this must happen at the state level.

    I am very proud of the impact this new law will have on Portland women especially, who have more caregiving responsibilities and are more likely to work in service-sector jobs where sick days have been historically rare. Due in large part to the leadership of Commissioner Amanda Fritz, this law was an important step toward creating workplace standards that help women keep their jobs. No one should be fired or lose needed pay because they get the flu or need to take care of a sick child -- regardless of where they live or work. I commit to doing all that I can to ensure that all Oregonians have this right and support my colleagues in making sure this is a legislative priority for the City of Portland in the 2015 legislative session.

  • Fourth and finally, if mothers are to stay connected to the workforce and earn what they are worth, they need affordable childcare. Without it, it's nearly impossible to get and keep a job. Yet childcare in Oregon is unaffordable for many.

    I created and continue to champion the Portland Children's Levy to ensure that kids have better access to opportunity -- and remain committed to ensuring that their mothers do, too. I support the initiative led by Mayor Charlie Hales and Multnomah County Chair Marissa Madrigal to maintain and grow funding for the in-school, wrap-around services provided by SUN Programs. Additionally, over the next year, my office will be looking for new and concrete ways the City can make child care more affordable for more Portland families -- without compromising quality or reducing already low wages for child care workers (who are mostly women). Together, and in partnership with Multnomah County, I believe we can find new models for making this critical service more available to and affordable for those who need it most.

Throughout my life in public office I have committed to creating better services for women and children. By focusing on these and other concrete steps to improve economic conditions for women, we will strengthen our entire city and help to finally reduce persistent pay and opportunity gaps.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Return-free Filing Is Taxes Done Right

April 7, 2014 - 2:14pm

Economic Fairness Oregon and the Oregon Center for Public Policy have an important tax filing message for Oregonians.

Every year tax preparation and refund products drain millions of dollars from Oregon families who can least afford it. That’s why we support policies such as “return-free filing” proffered by Senator Wyden that will make it easier for low- and moderate income Oregonians to file their taxes.

We have long supported policies to make the tax system fair and easy to comply with. We have worked to expand and protect the Oregon Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which helps low-income working families make ends meet. We also strive to reduce the cost of filing taxes, thus enabling families to retain the full-value of the credit.

The current reality, however, is that rather than devoting the full value of the EITC to meet their families’ basic needs, many EITC recipients have to resort to products that take a bite out of their tax credit. In 2010, about half of Oregon EITC recipients paid for tax preparation, a figure that does not include those who paid for online preparation or purchased software. That same tax year, more than one quarter of EITC recipients in Oregon paid for a "refund anticipation check."

That is why proposals such as Senator Wyden’s return-free filing legislation serve the interests of Oregon families. The idea is simple: using filing status and earnings information already available, the IRS would pre-populate an individual’s tax return. The taxpayer would then review the calculations and make any necessary changes or prepare their own return, with or without the use of a paid tax preparer. The choice would be theirs to make.

A public relations firm contacted several Oregon non-profit organizations in an effort to get them to oppose return-free filing. The PR firm doesn't introduce itself this way, but it represents the corporation Intuit, one of the largest sellers of tax preparation software.

While return-free filing may not serve the pecuniary interests of Intuit, the proposal advances the financial interests of Oregon families. There is widespread agreement that the expense and complexity of filing federal and state tax returns can be a tough for low- and even middle-income families.

One response has been to establish a broad network of professionally trained volunteers to staff free tax preparation. Groups like CASH Oregon and Oregon AARP have helped tens of thousands of Oregonians with tax preparation services. However, the scale and scope of largely volunteer run programs will never match the reach of the paid tax preparation industry.

Another response is the establishment of the Free File Alliance, a public/private venture aimed at making free federal tax preparation available to people below a certain income threshold. Opponents of return-free filing point to the Free File Alliance as the solution.

The Free File Alliance, however, is not a substitute for polices aimed at easing the cost of compliance. Only those with Internet access and computer literacy can avail themselves of Free File. This “free” service, moreover, also functions as a marketing tool for costly tax and financial products, including paid state tax preparation.

Low-income families spend millions of dollars every year to access the money they’ve earned through the EITC; helping them to retain the full value of their tax refund is an important policy goal that cannot simply be left to volunteer programs.

On behalf of Oregon working low- and moderate-income families, we hope our entire delegation in Congress will advance policies such as return-free filing that reduce the cost and complexity of complying with federal tax law.

This post was written by Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy and Angela Martin, executive director of Economic Fairness Oregon.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

$15 How

April 7, 2014 - 12:40am

By Nicholas Caleb of Portland, Oregon. Caleb is a professor, an activist, and a candidate for Portland City Council.

As the Portland Mercury first reported, despite taking the nation by storm and dominating Seattle's psycho-sphere, the discussion of raising the minimum wage was completely absent in Portland politics until I entered the City Council race advocating for a $15/hr minimum wage. Since then, both Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish have issued vague statements in support of raising the minimum wage (Saltzman says somewhere between $10 and $15). Other local candidates have also started to express interest in raising the minimum wage, which is not surprising considering its rapidly growing popularity in more and more cities. Not to mention the fact that $15 Now makes good economic sense and is fair(er) to employees whose productivity has steadily increased for 40 years while wages have stayed stagnant. In Portland, there doesn't seem to be much dispute about these facts.

So why not just pass a minimum wage increase? Well, in 2001, the Oregon State Legislature, at the behest of the restaurant lobby, passed Oregon Revised Statutes § 653.017 which preempted cities from raising the minimum wage because of, as Dirk VanderHart put it, "the fear of a patchwork nightmare of local wage laws." In other words, the restaurant lobby sees local democracy as bad for business. This is particularly annoying in Oregon, which was the first state to enshrine home-rule authority into the state constitution and trust cities and counties to make the right call on issues of local importance.

Ending the minimum wage preemption is right and important because ORS § 653.017 is anti-Democratic, against the spirit of our home-rule state constitution, and the restaurant lobby's rationale is pathetically weak. Cities must have the tools to maintain wage equity. Lobbying the Oregon State Legislature to remove the preemption is one way to pursue a change in policy. But, the preemption is not nearly the obstacle that it is has been made out to be. Those insisting that nothing can be done to raise the minimum wage right now in Portland are overlooking a host of available strategies for achieving the goal of giving workers fair(er) wages. The city has the power, preemption or not, to act right now to create a new livable wage standard in Portland. And they should start with $15/hr.

Here are three ways get it done:

(1) Pay all city workers at least $15/hr. The first exception to the minimum wage preemption in Oregon Revised Statutes § 653.017 is that "[a] local government may set minimum wage requirements [...] for public employers." This is truly straightforward and doesn't require a change in state law. The City of Portland is a public employer, so council can pass a law to raise the minimum wage for those employees that aren't currently earning $15/hr. This is what Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed immediately after Kshama Sawant was elected on the $15/hr platform.

(2) Ensure that at least $15/hr pay is a condition of any contract that the city enters into with a business or contractor. ORS § 653.017 also contains an exception where "[a] local government may set minimum wage requirements [...] [i]n specifications for public contracts entered into by the local government[.]" This means council can and should make a policy that any contracts entered into with any businesses or contractors contain provisions that employees, including those categorized as subcontractors (a common way for contractors to evade primary contracting responsibilities), be paid a $15/hr minimum wage.

(3) Use city taxing authority to create a fund to subsidize workers earning less than $15/hr. This option is not as straightforward as simply utilizing an exception to the minimum wage preemption, but it is just as viable. Instead of setting a minimum wage, city council should enact a living wage tax on employers who aren't paying $15/hr and create a fund for employees that don't earn $15/hr to collect from. Ideally, this would be a progressive tax with top earning employers paying a higher tax rate to subsidize lower earning small businesses that might otherwise struggle to adapt. You could call this the reverse WalMart policy. Instead of big corporations paying employees so little that they have to rely on government services, you tax large corporate employers who won't pay $15/hr to subsidize our city's small businesses who would love to see their employees' quality of life improve. Currently, the City of Portland applies a tax of 2.2% to any business that has more than $50,000 in revenues per year. You could pair the living wage tax with an adjustment in the city tax so it kicks in at a higher revenue threshold which could ease the burden of a living wage tax on small business. And legally, there is precedent that a tax like this is distinguishable from a penalty system like traditional minimum wage enforcement. One has to look no further than the Supreme Court's recent decision that Obamacare's healthcare mandate should be categorized as a tax rather than a penalty. Similarly, a living wage tax is qualitatively different than a minimum wage and would evade preemption under ORS § 653.017. In fact, a progressive living wage tax might actually be more attractive than a simple minimum wage adjustment because of its potential redistributive qualities and the protections for small businesses that could be built in.

There's absolutely no reason why Portland's elected leaders can't begin implementing these solutions. Everyone has a right to the city, and increasing the minimum/livable wage to a $15/hr is not only necessary, but feasible, fair, and makes sound economic sense.

You can sign the petition demanding that city council take immediate action on raising the minimum wage to $15/hr. For more information about my campaign, please visit CalebforCouncil.org and contact me at info@calebforcouncil.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Real life and politics

March 31, 2014 - 1:39pm

While I spent the weekend with Democratic Party activists in Eugene, my daughter-in-law’s baby decided to start the birthing process nine weeks early. Real life takes many forms.

Fortunately, mom and as-yet-unborn child are doing well; modern medicine is amazing. I couldn’t sleep Saturday night with the worry nudging sleep away, but I attended various meetings the next day. Business as usual. In the midst of the dramas and drudgeries that are the stuff our of daily lives, people like me retain their commitment to party politics.

Why?

Ignoring politics is both futile and self-destructive. Look at Wisconsin: in 2010, voter turnout was abysmal, Scott Walker and the GOP took over the state, and the interests of the non-voting Democrats and their independent supporters were hammered. Whether or not a person chooses to vote, elections happen and someone wins. And then, as in Wisconsin and elsewhere, the winner wins big, and the big winner is a raging ideologue, they tend to stomp hell out of their opponents.

Not voting is surrender. Capitulation. And it’s dumb. The people who are suffering the results of poor turnout in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere have only there ownselves to blame. They could have stopped this from happening.

I have two sons whose educational opportunities got screwed by Measure 5. My older son will be going to Afghanistan later this year. His wife struggled to get one of the rare places in an Oregon nursing school, finally gaining admission to George Fox: a long commute from their home in Silverton and private-college expensive. On top of all this, the world my granddaughters face is fraught with peril. And some brutal political actors.

Politics matters. A lot.

Almost every aspect of my life – and your life, as well as my children and grandchildren’s lives – is impacted by politics. Ignoring the processes that lead to the decisions that affect our lives – ignoring politics – is like getting on my bike and heading down the road with a blindfold on. And no helmet. The only potential for any kind of good outcome is if someone captures the disaster on video. At least my demise would go viral.

Not everyone needs to attend the quarterly meetings of the Democratic Party’s State Central Committee. In fact, I highly recommend that most people avoid inflicting that kind of burden on themselves unless they want to be a party leader. For me, hanging with the insiders and leaders of the party is worthwhile; it helps me as I work to engage other Democrats in Multnomah County to support our candidates and our goals. But that’s me; that’s what I’m doing as a citizen paying attention to politics.

What I’d like to see from other citizens is that they actually pay attention to politics. Not 24/7, not every single day; just enough to be aware of dangers and opportunities. No one should be caught off-guard when they receive their ballot in the mail — and they should not be tossing them aside. In Oregon, we have almost three weeks to fill in the ballot; that’s more than enough time to spend an hour learning enough to complete and return your ballot. And that’s just the simplest, most basic requirement of a good citizen taking responsibility for his or her political community.

I get angry when people try to separate “real life” and “politics”. Humans are social creatures; we function best in community with one another. Politics is the way we figure out how to do so in peace despite our differences. Ignoring politics, pretending you don’t have to have anything to do with politics is a diminishment of yourself as a human being. I love my family, so I expend a lot of energy in politics in order to try to make the world a better place for them.

I don’t want to be ashamed of myself when I look at my granddaughters and think of the world they’ll be living their lives in.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Climate change and the environment in Oregon's 2014 election

March 31, 2014 - 10:20am

As many Blue Oregon readers will attest, it is frustrating to be a voter who makes decisions influenced by facts, science, and common sense. For example, of course the “two Santa Claus” economic theory embraced by Republicans over the last four decades of slashing the tax burden of wealthy income earners coupled with increased government spending would result in astronomical deficits—not to mention more of a tax burden shouldered by lower-income taxpayers. Another example would be that the invasion of a sovereign country for the flimsiest pretext would result in a foreign policy disaster, loss of international standing, and a huge national cost of both money and treasure.

The obsession that myself and like-minded voters have with evidence-based decision-making was vocally disparaged by the previous administration. In a New York Times magazine profile about how decisions were made in the George W. Bush White House that was published a month before the 2004 presidential elections, a senior White House spoke dismissively of the “reality-based community” which believes that solutions can be determined by judicious study of discernible reality. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” the aide was quoted as saying. “When we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, we’ll act again, creating new realities, which you can study too. We’re history’s actors… and you will be left to study what we do.”

As a confirmed member of the so-called “reality-based community” I continue to find that quote dripping with both arrogance and complete abjection for responsibility. In effect, the aide was simply saying that there is no consequence for our actions—if there are, they are for others to study and determine and that the only thing that matters is that we continue to make actions, ignorant of the results they may lead. While the quote was obviously stated within the context of foreign policy, it could be easily just as applicable towards the actions—or inactions—taken to address climate change.

There is nothing nearly as maddening for a reality-based voter than the so-called “debate” regarding climate change. The fact that a consensus created by the world’s scientific community is even possibly under discussion speaks volumes to the corrupting influence of money in the policy-making process. In fact, not only has every forecast projection made since the term “global warming” was popularized thirty years ago come true, they are coming true much faster than originally projected. Yet somehow we need to convince ourselves that the “science isn’t settled” in regards to this issue, and we can dig up carbon and pump it into our atmosphere—an example of complete abjection of responsibility, of basically thumbing our nose at science. It’s similar to what Bill Maher recently said in regards to the scientific evidence-based reality of the so-called climate change “debate”: “I don’t have to believe that water boils at 212 degrees,” Maher said. “It just does.”

New Reports Suggest a Consensus By Voters Regarding Need to Address Climate Change

Despite this frustration towards the lack of action taken to address an international scientific consensus that the unabated use of fossil fuels threatens to destroy perilous natural ecosystems—bringing the human race continually closer towards extinction—there were two headlines from this past year which provides optimism regarding a changing political calculus underway regarding the need to address climate change. According to an article from Grist this past November, the corporate-funded efforts to convince Americans to deny the scientific validity of climate change are having little effect—certainly not the ones desired by those signing the checks. In this story, Stanford Professor John Krosnick helped lead a study that analyzed over ten years’ worth of poll results in 46 states and found that a majority of the residents in these states—regardless of whether the state voted red or blue—were united both in their concerns about the climate, and also in their desire for government to take the necessary steps to address climate change. “We could not find a single state in the country while climate skepticism was in the majority,” Professor Krosnick was quoted in The Guardian.

The second eye-catching report was the results of polling data regarding voters under the age of 35 collected through the combined bipartisan effort of the Benenson Strategy Group, the GS Strategy Group, and the League of Conservation Voters. In a memo distributed this past July, the concern expressed by young voters regarding climate change couldn’t be clearer. “Young voters of both parties want to see action on climate change and want leaders willing to take steps to address that threat,” the co-authored memo stated. Indeed, findings of this report include two-thirds of young voters believe climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed, compared to only 27% who believe that humans can have no impact on climate change. Surprisingly, the report found that a majority of young voters that are opposed to President Obama (56%) support taking action against climate change. Perhaps most surprising, however, is the finding that over half of Republican-leaning young voters would be less likely to support a candidate that opposes President Obama’s plan to tackle climate change.

A majority of young voters side with the President of an opposing party on a key issue such as climate change? In political terms, this is what’s commonly known as a “game change.” Such results—along with the diminishing impact of the corporate-funded climate-change denial efforts—surely must have set off alarm bells for Republican strategists, correct? I mean, as the GOP’s demographic base of elderly, male white voters continue to age, they need to adopt a policy position that aligns with President Obama if they wish to retain relevancy with younger voters. Or is this simply too much of an overly optimistic tea-leaf reading of these two stories—both of which, unsurprisingly, flew under the radar of the national corporate-owned media.

OLCV: "No Evidence" of any Changing Political Consensus Regarding Climate Change in Salem

In an effort to ground-truth the findings detailed both by Professor Krosnick in the Grist story and the bipartisan polling data collected last summer regarding young voters’ perspective on climate change, shortly after the conclusion of the state legislative session I spoke with Christy Splitt from Oregon League of Conservation Voters who had spent the preceding month and a half in Salem advocating for environmental issues on the OLCV’s behalf. Sadly, Splitt was unable to confirm for these optimistic conclusions to me.

Indeed, Splitt has seen no on-the-ground evidence at Salem or elsewhere of a changing mind-set towards Republican voters. “I wish I saw some of that change occurring at the Capitol,” Splitt says, “but it’s good that it’s happening somewhere.” Splitt expressed little surprise when shared the findings of both the Stanford analysis and bipartisan polling data, but laments the lack of political will to take the steps necessary to address climate change that are favored by voters. “In both the U.S. Congress and Oregon state legislature, Republicans are united in their opposition towards climate policy,” Splitt explains, assessing the current political landscape.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the oft-repeated story of how the over-sized influence that money plays on the policy-making process that results in this unified opposition. “The fact is that Oregon doesn’t have a campaign finance law on the books; there simply are no donation limits to campaigns,” Splitt explains. The major barrier is the inability for elected officials on the Republican side of the aisle to take a stand that aligns with the voters if it doesn’t also align with the lobbyists that fund their campaigns. “The thing about money in politics is not just about where it goes, but where it doesn’t. If a Republican incumbent loses funding which is then provided to a Tea Party candidate to run from the right—and who is so much more wrong on every other issue? Some Republicans in the legislature, I’m sure, vote the way they do to ensure their seat isn’t challenged by someone much worse.”

Environmental Success Story in the 2013 Legislative Session Spurred by Court Ruling

The brief six-week state legislative session—which Splitt described as “torture of a limited duration”—resulted in very little discussed or passed by state lawmakers regarding climate change. This isn’t to say that nothing positive developed for those concerned about environmental issues. Splitt points to the compromise regarding Metro’s planned urban reserves in Washington County as an example of an environmental success story from the most recent session. “OLCV opposed a developer-friendly bill that allowed more urban development in Washington County,” Splitt says. It wasn’t until an appeals court ruled in favor of the conservationists that action was undertaken to craft a bill that would see passage. “Unfortunately, all too often environmentalists have to use litigation to force legislation. Within a few days of the decision, all the stakeholders came together to hammer out an acceptable solution.”

With the 2014 session in the rear-view mirror, it’s natural to turn one’s attention towards next year’s longer session and see if any of the OLCV’s environmental-friendly bills would be able to make it out of committee and be passed by a floor vote. Considering the state Senate’s current 15-15 split when it comes to environmental issues carried over from the previous session, with Betsy Johnson joining Republicans to halt progress and stall momentum that has stymied bills to encourage the use of clean fuels and phasing out toxic chemicals from kids’ products. “There are problems for passing anything good in the current Senate make-up,” explains Splitt. “Even if something passes a floor vote on the House, it will still need changes in a Senate mark-up.” And the mark-up process is where any regulatory teeth or impact of a bill is usually diminished.

It doesn’t help that a series of legislative champions that have advocated in favor of environmental issues have opted to not return to the legislature. Splitt rattles off a list of formerly reliable environmental champions that are no longer holding state office: “Jackie Dingfelder, Jules Kopel-Bailey, Ben Cannon, Jefferson Smith, Ben Unger. These and others have all left the legislature in the past couple of years. We can only hope that their replacements will continue to prioritize environmental issues.”

The Stakes for Environment and Climate in Oregon's 2014 Election

In hopes of getting past the stalemate in the Oregon Senate to pass environmental-friendly legislation in 2015, a couple of current Republican-owned seats will need to be flipped in favor of the Democratic challenger. And the OLCV has been actively endorsing candidates which they feel have a very good chance at winning competitive districts. In the Senate’s 26th district—an expansive district that stretches from eastern Multnomah County to Hood River—OLCV has endorsed Rob Bruce, a small business consultant based out of Sandy with previous experience in helping pass state legislation that benefits small businesses and minority contractors. Jamie Damon, a former Clackamas County commissioner running to represent Senate District 20—a largely rural district in Clackamas County—has received a nod from the OLCV in her past campaigns for Clackamas County commission due to her support for forest management, school funding, and infrastructure investment. If either of these two candidates are able to take their legislative seat this fall, the ability to pass environmental-friendly legislation dramatically improves. {For a list of all the endorsements passed by the OLCV in contested Senate—and House-- races, click here.)

If you are an evidence-based voter who cares strongly about the environment and are tired of the legislative inactivity that fails to mirror the emerging consensus about climate change, there is plenty of time to get involved and influence the outcome of the 2014 elections. “Feel free to talk to the candidates, express your concerns on these issues,” Splitt suggests. “All voters say they want improved health care, education, jobs. But guess what? These all rely on having a healthy environment!”

“Legislators want to do the right thing, regardless of the party—sometimes they just need the cover given to them by voters to do the right thing!”

Edit: to clarify the current voting split in the state Senate, preventing passage of environmental bills. Edit: to more accurately reflect Jamie Damon's current status regardning an endorsement from the OLCV.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

$15 When?

March 29, 2014 - 10:25am

The debate about the minimum wage has arrived – again – in Portland.

From an in-depth article in the Portland Mercury:

Spurred on by [City Council candidate Nick] Caleb's call to arms—and emboldened by successes elsewhere in the Northwest—Portland activists were finally ready, on March 14, to rally for higher wages. To say our progressive city is late to the party doesn't quite capture how far we've trailed the rest of the nation.

In the small city of SeaTac, Washington, voters last November had a brutal ballot measure fight – election spending topped $300 per vote as organized labor took on Alaska Airlines and others. The $15/hr measure was more of a living wage ordinance than a minimum wage, as it applies to large airport-related employers, with exemptions for smaller employers.

But voters passed the measure, by 77 votes out of 6,106 cast, and hundreds of employees are seeing benefits. The city is now working through its first enforcement lawsuit. Similar living wage ordinances exist at several airports; given the captive consumer base there’s less worry about border-crossing businesses. (A judge subsequently ruled the SeaTac measure does not apply to the airport, but does apply to nearby businesses.)

While the measure applies to a relatively small number of people, it sparked a larger conversation in Seattle, and around the country – “If little ol’ SeaTac can do it, why not us?”

Also last November, Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant used the "$15 Now" slogan as shorthand for her campaign against, she asserted, an out-of-touch incumbent councilmember. A vote for her, ran the implication, was a vote for economic justice. Helped by a campaign by Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger, Sawant managed to pull out an upset win. The debate spilled over to other races, and during the campaign now-mayor Ed Murray pledged to work towards a $15/hr minimum wage as well. After his election, Mayor Murray instituted a $15/hr minimum for city workers.

Seattle’s battle over $15/hour continues, with a mayoral Income Inequality Advisory Committee scheduled to make recommendations by the end of April. Issues such as tip credits, total compensation (benefits, taxes, etc. counting toward the $15), training wages, teenage wages, small business and nonprofits versus large corporations, phase-in schedules and the like are being debated and fought over. An anti-$15 wage group, Sustainable Wages, has formed. And labor groups and other supporters are preparing to take the issue to the ballot if the Council doesn’t move significantly or quickly enough to a $15/hr wage, citing a poll showing 68% support for a $15 minimum wage.

The best part is the public discussion is deepening past a slogan. For years, the effects of minimum wages have been highly debated and studied, with scores of economic studies asserting a variety of effects. Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer co-signed a long piece for The Stranger, “How a $15 Minimum Wage Would Make Everyone Richer”:

The fundamental law of capitalism is that when workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Raising the minimum wage shifts money in the economy to those with the highest propensity to spend, increasing sales for businesses, which in turn leads to hiring, and more sales...

But the term "unintended consequences" implies that all consequences must be negative. That's just not true. There will be unforeseen positive consequences, too, as most studies show: business benefits like higher worker satisfaction and productivity, lower turnover and absenteeism. And those positives cancel out the negatives. Minimum-wage increases have no net negative effect on employment—and a definite positive effect on community health.

While some business owners worry about the large, quick boost in wages the $15 minimum would require, various Seattle activists are pointing to studies demonstrating $15/hour might not be enough to afford living in even a small apartment, especially for an adult with children.

The national debate is also moving, with President Obama calling for an increase in the minimum wage in his State of the Union, and FiveThirtyEight weighing in on the demographics of minimum-wage earners. The New York Times opinion page ran this compelling piece:

With the national debate stuck in the same old rut, states and cities have again become laboratories of democracy. Are they on the right path? For the last 15 years we have been doing research on just this question.

One city we have studied in detail, San Francisco, has passed a dozen labor standards laws since the late 1990s. After adding the effects of other local laws mandating employers to pay for sick leave and health spending, the minimum compensation standard at larger firms in San Francisco reaches $13. Our studies show that the impact of these laws on workers’ wages (and access to health care) is strong and positive and that none of the dire predictions of employment loss have come to pass...

... A full analysis must include the variety of other ways labor costs might be absorbed, including savings from reduced worker turnover and improved efficiency, as well as higher prices and lower profits. Modern economics therefore regards the employment effect of a minimum-wage increase as a question that is not decided by theory, but by empirical testing.

It’s good to see Portland joining the discussion. For too long, Oregon’s second-in-the-nation state minimum wage has left many Oregonians complacent.

If the point of a minimum wage is to ensure people can earn enough to live on, there’s no reason for a standard statewide minimum wage – other than boosting the profits of certain employers. Bill Perry, a lobbyist for the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, lives in a different world: “It’s a political diversion... There's no proof that [the minimum wage] helps or hurts anybody.”

One would think Perry’s tune would change if he were paid the minimum wage. For me, it’s incredibly hard to imagine supporting my family of three on $9.10/hour. (The New York Times has a helpful calculator to see if you can do it.)

What the right minimum wage is for Portland is a tough question –- should it be linked to the Federal poverty line, should it be coordinated with neighboring communities, should it be a living wage, should it be based on 30% of income for housing, should it assume any debts, etc.? Portland is cheaper to live in than Seattle, but the $15/hr minimum probably isn’t enough for Seattle. Also, there’s a state law pre-empting local minimum wages that has to be worked around or overturned.

These are difficult questions, but it's time to grapple with them. Even just raising the minimum wage to Obama’s proposed $10.10/hour would affect hundreds of thousands of Oregonians.

It’s time to organize. From the Mercury:

”I don't believe elected leaders have an appetite for any big social change, frankly,” says Felisa Hagins, political director for SEIU Local 49, which represents thousands of hospital, custodial, and security workers. “It’s up to the grassroots folks to change that appetite. Obama didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘You know what would be awesome? Raising the minimum wage.’ It was workers standing up.”

There are various groups organizing in Portland; I’m not quite sure which to direct folks to, so here’s the national effort. UPDATE: other groups are below in the comments.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Debunking Myths: Oregonians ARE Worried about Climate Change

March 26, 2014 - 7:00am

By Mary Fifield of Portland, Oregon. Mary is the executive director of Amazon Partnerships Foundation, Mary Fifield worked in the Ecuadorian Amazon supporting indigenous communities' efforts to fight climate change and oil extraction. She is now principal of Kaleidoscope Consulting in Portland and blogs at Earth in Here.

Even with a moderate to severe drought affecting most of Oregon, it may be easy to ensconce oneself in the Portland bubble and believe that no one else is worrying about the climate crisis. But according to the Oregon Values Project, a recent statewide study released by DHM Research and Policy Interactive, the majority of Oregonians not only worry about climate change, they understand how it threatens what they love most about the state--its pristine natural places--and they think the government should do something about it, even if it negatively impacts the economy.

Designed to capture a statewide picture, the study draws on a statistically representative sample (nearly 4,000 randomly selected respondents) from all five major regions in Oregon. U.S. Census data was used to ensure accurate representation and proportional weighting across age, gender, region, and income levels. Three surveys covering 198 questions were conducted in all; questions were presented in different forms and contexts to allow results to be triangulated, and respondents were informed that expressing support for an issue also meant supporting funding for it.

The results run counter to the prevailing climate-denial narrative. According to the study, the public clearly expects government to respond to climate issues. Fifty-seven percent believe that environmental protection should take priority, even at the risk of slower economic growth. The same percentage support government measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and 50% support a carbon tax. A significant majority (67%) believe the state needs stronger regulations so that industries are required to pay for pollution, rather than pass those costs on to the public.

Perhaps most surprising is the degree to which people understand that the climate crisis demands a more fundamental societal and economic shift. More than 70% of Oregonians feel that climate destabilization requires lifestyle changes, such as driving less or living more simply, and they recognize the cost of these changes. Almost half (48%) support a consumption tax and 68% support conservation tax breaks.

Despite all the noise of climate deniers, this study debunks the myth that the public does not care about the climate crisis. Now that we know they do, the question is: what are we going to do about it?

For one, public policy needs to reflect the urgency. Tom Bowerman, one of the principal researchers for the Values Project, said, a science is now pointing to something like a six percent emission reduction per year to avoid catastrophic consequences, but public policy isna t even taking this seriously."

The situation calls for systemic policy change, given the "ubiquity of carbon-based energy in our cultural expectations, norms and habits," as Bowerman describes it. We won't see that kind of policy change until public outcry is loud enough to convince opponents to change their minds and supporters to take a bolder stand.

There are signs that the chorus is amplifying--public opposition has helped block plans for three of six coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and has stalled construction of the Keystone XL pipeline for now. Thirty U.S. Senators held a marathon overnight "talk-a-thon" to draw attention to climate destabilization.

But we need to take this momentum and build on it--fast. The data from the Oregon Values Project should power our resolve to turn up the pressure on elected officials and put the climate crisis front and center of our political and public concern, where it must be to have any hope of fighting it.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Creeping Corporatism - March Madness Edition

March 25, 2014 - 12:46pm

So it’s come to this: Magic Johnson, all 6’ 9” of him, has been reduced to a talking potato chip.

Yesterday morning, I was watching ESPN’s wrap-up of the weekend’s college basketball tournament, where Kentucky had edged previously undefeated Wichita State. The network announcer was interviewing Magic Johnson, who had played for Michigan State and beaten another undefeated team, Indiana State, for the national championship in 1979. Johnson was reminiscing and commenting on this year’s tournament.

But this interview was different. There was a third party present, silent, but speaking volumes nonetheless. Johnson was introduced in connection with Pringle’s chips and as he was talking, a Pringles can, along with two bowls of dip, was constantly visible right next to him on a table. In the background, two more Pringles cans were displayed on a shelf. Kellogg’s, which owns Pringles, now apparently owns Magic Johnson. Or perhaps it’s just renting him for awhile.

After the Johnson segment, ESPN aired part of a Tiger Woods news conference. FedEx and Quicken Loans logos were arranged all over the wall in back of him. When major league baseball starts in a few weeks, look on TV at the walls behind home plate viewed from the center field camera. You’ll see all kinds of corporate billboards, but they’re “virtual,” visible only to TV viewers. The baseball game you’re watching is, in part, an illusion, but the money paid to register images on your eyeballs is quite real.

I realize commercialism in sports goes back to their very beginning. Growing up in upstate New York and an avid Yankee fan (please forgive me, I was young and innocent), I knew that the team and Ballantine beer were joined at the hip. General Mills and Wheaties have used pictures of athletes on their cereal boxes since 1934, starting with Lou Gehrig. And businesses have their names strategically placed on baseball, football and soccer walls and fences from Little League fields to the majors.

For decades, civic stadium and arena names have been answering the corporate siren song. Portland’s Rose Garden name was retired this year when Moda purchased the naming rights to the building, one of the few remaining non-corporate major arenas in the country. The stadium used by the Portland Timbers has been a baton passed from PGE to Jeld-Wenn to Providence Health Care.

NASCAR drivers are famous for being plastered with logos of their sponsors, almost to the point of absurdity. It’s not as blatant, but you rarely see a professional or college athlete without a Nike, Adidas, Reebok or other logo on their uniform.

Take a look at the Timbers’ jerseys. The lettering for their main sponsor, Alaska Airlines, is four times the size as the name of the team, symbolic of the influence of corporations on the sport. Maybe I’m just naïve and nostalgic to think it should be the other way around.

But ESPN, Pringles and Magic Johnson have crossed a line, which is what is most disturbing. Commercials used to be separate from programming. Now ESPN has merged the two into infomercials. If this becomes a trend, one of the last remaining firewalls in sports broadcasting between journalism and hucksterism will have cracked. Like so many potato chips.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Wyden on CIA, NSA, FISA, electronic surveillance

March 24, 2014 - 4:00am

Last week, Senator Ron Wyden spoke to an audience of about 700 in downtown Portland on the current state of our national surveilliance and national security system.

Over the weekend, I finally found the time to listen to it -- and man, you should listen to his speech. It is both a high-level overview of everything that's going on, as well as a specific rundown of Wyden's concerns about the challenges posed to our civil liberties.

One of the most interesting items is his discussion of why he doesn't just go down to the Senate floor and reveal everything he knows. After all, the Constitution expressly prohibits any prosecution of a Member of Congress for anything they say on the floor.

Here's Wyden's answer:

People sometimes ask me, “Ron, if you knew what was going on, why didn’t you just tell everyone?” This is something I wrestled with over the years. The Constitution says that the executive branch can’t punish members of Congress for engaging in speech and debate, no matter what they say, but the Senate itself has chosen to adopt rules that require members to respect the secrecy of classified information.

As I say, I considered how to proceed and frequently thought about what Senator Morse would have done. I’m honestly not sure, and unfortunately Senator Morse is no longer around to give me his counsel.

In the end I made the judgment that I could do more for the cause of reform by working within the rules and being inside the room for closed-door intelligence debates and in the position to ask hard questions in both closed and open hearings. I can see why some would disagree with that judgment, but I was guided by the belief that in a free society like ours, the truth will always come out as long as people continue to ask the hard questions.

And I hope Senator Morse would have found that to be a reasonable judgment. I like to think that Senator Morse would have seen it that way also.

(Note: The above is from the prepared text, which is very close to the comments as delivered.)

Here's the full speech:

Elsewhere:

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The one little thing you have to do right now to improve health care in Oregon.

March 19, 2014 - 12:00pm

By Chris Wig of Eugene, Oregon. Chris Wig is a political organizer and mental health care worker who lives in Eugene, Oregon. He currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Lane County and as a member of the Cover Oregon Board Development Committee.

Since October 1, 145,000 Oregonians, nearly the population of my hometown Eugene, have been able to purchase subsidized health insurance plans through Cover Oregon. Now, with the Open Enrollment deadline looming on March 31, it's time to put our progressive values into action by working to ensure the working families in our community have access to affordable health coverage.

So what can you do to help? The same thing you do to keep Oregon blue: grassroots neighbor-to-neighbor contact.

Progressive Oregonians like you have the just the skills and experience needed to engage in values-based conversations with real-world consequences. Ask your friends and neighbors if they're covered. Ask your server the next time you go out to dinner and the person who sits next to you on the bus. If they're covered, that's great. If they're not, encourage them to visit the Cover Oregon website and search for an agent or community partner to help them sign up for affordable health insurance on the exchange.

I understand many of you feel frustrated by the rollout of our state's health insurance exchange; I'm frustrated too, and like many of you I spend my free time advocating for a universal, single-payer health care system. But right now the clock is ticking on open enrollment, and there are working families in our state who may not have looked into Cover Oregon or know their health coverage options.

Those families need health coverage, and they are counting on progressives like us to spread the word. Let's not let them down.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

XRAY FM is here! And Carl Wolfson and Thom Hartmann are back on the air!

March 19, 2014 - 6:00am

It's been one year and 101 days since Clear Channel unceremoniously booted Carl Wolfson and the progressive talk lineup off of KPOJ.

And now, starting this morning, Carl Wolfson is back on terrestrial radio at 91.1 FM KXRY every weekday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Joining him in the lineup is Thom Hartmann, airing live from noon to 2 p.m. 3 p.m. every weekday. Thom was the original local host on KPOJ way back in April 2005.

The new, local station will air a mix of progressive talk and music. In addition to Thom and Carl, the local progressive talk lineup also includes:

  • State of the Re-Union, 9-10 a.m. Mondays
  • XRAY Green, 10-10:30 a.m. Mondays
  • Kick Ass Oregon History, 11 a.m. to noon Mondays
  • Thank You Democracy with Jefferson Smith, 9-10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • Smart City Radio, 10-11 a.m. Wednesdays
  • The Adam Klugman Show, 9-10 a.m. Wednesdays
  • Funemployment Radio, 10-11 a.m. Thursdays

And, of course, the lineup includes the contributions of some 75 or so local DJs spinning tunes that exemplify and demonstrate what they hope will become known as the local Portland sound. Check out the complete schedule here.

The 91.1 signal is somewhat limited. If you're having trouble picking it up, stream it live at XRAY.FM.

When Clear Channel defenestrated progressive talk at KPOJ, we were outraged. We launched the Save KPOJ movement right here at BlueOregon. 20,856 people signed our initial petition to Clear Channel demanding they reverse course. Follow-up petitions garnered another 20,676 signatures -- even demonstrating to KBOO that an audience existed for Thom Hartmann (leading to a too-short three-month on-air stint late last year.) And the Save KPOJ movement spawned BlueOregon Action -- our online activism platform that connects activists to causes that we all care about.

Let's be clear: We can't take credit for XRAY FM. A dedicated crew of volunteers was already hard at work developing a vision for a progressive and local music station. They folded in the progressive talk concept, kept adding volunteers, and took it from an inkling to an actual, live on-air radio station. Their accomplishment is truly impressive.

Of course, this is just the beginning. Here at BlueOregon, we're all very excited about XRAY.FM. We'll be listening, and cheerleading, and helping where we can.

So, what are you waiting for? Start listening!

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Could we design our way out of the car/bike wars?

March 16, 2014 - 10:14pm

As a driver, I've shaken my fist at seemingly-suicidal cyclists zipping this way and that oblivious to the multi-ton metal objects traveling at high speed around them.

As a cyclist, I've shaken my fist at seemingly-clueless drivers oblivious to the danger they pose as they swing through bike lanes, run red lights, etc.

As much as I like the idea of everyone sharing the road and getting along, I'm not sure that's plausible. Even if all the crazies (on both sides) were to magically disappear, there's still the issues of distracted driving, bad weather, poor visibility, and more -- all of which can make the combination of bikes and cars a lethal one. Especially at intersections.

Like with so much in life, it seem obvious to me that the solution may lie in what we web designers call "interface design". Got a problem with the way humans are interacting with a system? Change the design of the system. Don't expect humans to change their behavior; instead, adjust the system and use their natural behaviors to create the right outcomes.

Urban planner Nick Falbo (of Portland's Alta Planning + Design) makes a concise and compelling argument for changing the way we design intersections. With a few simple and inexpensive changes, we can make intersections much more intuitive and thus much safer.

Check it out. This is definitely worth a couple minutes of your time. From Falbo's site, ProtectedIntersection.com (where you can learn a lot more about what he proposes):

Discuss.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

CRC Funds Move to Maintenance, Create Local Jobs

March 14, 2014 - 8:25am

Following up on the need to consider opportunity costs (trade-offs) in transportation investments, Wednesday's Daily Journal of Commerce had this story:

The Columbia River Crossing project’s demise could come with a silver lining for the construction industry. That is because $116.6 million that the state expects to receive in federal money – previously allocated to pay for two years of debt service on the CRC – could be reallocated to eight highway projects around the state.

Presuming the Oregon Transportation Commission signs off next week, that's $116.6 million that will be creating local jobs across Oregon, instead of paying off Wall Street lenders. That's just this year; hundreds of millions more could be reallocated in the years to come, funding even more road repair projects.

What do local businesses tell the Journal?

Keeping the dollars in the state will be great for construction, said John Rakowitz, director of public and strategic affairs for Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. “There’s a huge amount of complicated work that goes into getting projects ready to go.”...

The projects, if approved, will create more opportunities in a very competitive marketplace, said Alan Aplin, vice president of Woodburn-based Kerr Contractors... While Kerr would likely have done little or no work on the CRC, the company will likely bid on upcoming projects.

Instead of spending millions more for lobbyists and $200-an-hour German consultants, our dollars can go to Oregonians.

While the CRC was a two-mile project in Oregon (and one to three in Washington), the maintenance projects cover over one hundred miles of bridges and roads across the state. They include:

  • Maintaining (painting) the Ross Island Bridge, $40,700,000
  • Paving 20 miles of 99W from Amity to Monmouth; adding accessible, safe sidewalk ramps in Monmouth, $19,000,000
  • Paving 3.8 miles of I-84 from The Dalles to 15 Mile Creek and constructing a bridge over Three Mile Creek, $18,300,000
  • Paving 33 miles of U.S. 395 in Lake County, $15,000,000
  • Paving 6 miles of I-5 from the Marquam Bridge to Capitol Highway; rehabilitating two bridges $10,200,000
  • Paving 13 miles of U.S. 199 in Josephine County adding rumble strip, $6,000,000
  • Chip sealing 20 miles of U.S. 20 from Black Canyon to the Malheur River, $4,600,000
  • Paving 5 miles of OR 213 in Clackamas County, $2,800,000

The news comes on the heels of a report earlier this week from Smart Growth America, "Repair Priorities 2014." It found Oregon needs to spend $425 million each year on maintenance to keep its roads from further deteriorating, but is only spending $159 million. That shortfall has been noted by ODOT Director Matt Garrett, who also said:

"it costs eight- to 12-times as much to reconstruct pavement in poor condition as it does to do preventive maintenance or minor rehabilitation on pavement while it is still in good condition."

And, of course, roads in poor repair also cost drivers. According to TRIP, "Driving on roads in need of repair costs Oregon motorists $710 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $256 per motorist."

The Smart Growth America report noted Oregon is significantly behind many other states in dedicating funds to maintenance. North Dakota, for example, invested 94% of its highway funds in repair from 2009-2011. Nebraska, Michigan, and Maine each spent more than 85% of their funds on repair.

Oregon diverted 37% of its funds to road expansion, contributing to a drop of roads in good condition from 54 to 43% from 2008 to 2011. North Dakota, in contrast, increased the percentage of roads in good condition from 55 to 65%.

The report also reports on what happened in Wyoming:

"Concerns about financial commitments have prompted the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) to halt road expansion altogether and focus investments exclusively on repair. The Wyoming state legislature recently passed a fuel tax increase to fund a number of road and bridge repair projects, with the goal of maintaining WYDOT’s roads in their current condition at the time of the bill’s passage."

When it comes to making maintenance a top priority, Oregon has fallen behind Wyoming, North Dakota, Michigan, and a dozen other states.

The CRC's demise allows us the ability to refocus our efforts and dollars on the public's priorities of maintenance, safety, and choice - saving drivers money, saving the state money, and creating local construction jobs. The Oregon Transportation Commission should take the first step next week and sign off on these projects.

A larger responsibility lies with legislators as they consider a 2015 transportation package. That package should ensure Oregon is at least as advanced as Wyoming and North Dakota when it comes to keeping Oregon's roads in good repair. Starting by fixing what we already have is simply good financial and environmental stewardship.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs