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Updated: 4 hours 13 min ago

Merkley & Wyden take the Ice Bucket Challenge

August 23, 2014 - 6:00am

The Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS research has really taken off -- including among Oregon's elected officials.

Here's Senator Jeff Merkley on Thursday night accepting the challenge from Beaverton's Mayor Denny Doyle -- and passing it along to Senator Ron Wyden and Treasurer Ted Wheeler:

And here's Senator Wyden on Friday night accepting that challenge with three of his kids, and passing it along to the Oregon Duck mascot -- and, well, U of O alums everywhere.

(Update: The Duck has accepted Senator Wyden's Challenge. Check it out.)

Of course, Treasurer Wheeler got into the act as well, challenging Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Congressman Kurt Schrader, and Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici's video is on Facebook too, in which she challenges Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes, Laura Terrill Patten of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.

Congressman Kurt Schrader dumped a bucket on his head and challenged Congressman Peter DeFazio and Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer took the challenge -- and passed it on to rocker Storm Large and documentarian Ken Burns.

But wait... there's more:

Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick and right-wing radio talker Lars Larson did it together.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish took the challenge and made a point about our pristine Bull Run water supply.

Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey got cold and wet, too.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury got soaked by her daughter. Awesome!

See one I've missed? Post a link in the comments!

Update: I think Congressman Peter DeFazio might win the prize for most creative way to (almost) dodge getting doused in ice water.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Who Pays for Families?

August 22, 2014 - 12:30pm

“Why should the employer pay? Why should the company bear the cost of sick leave or parental accommodation?” A friend and former colleague of mine asked me that recently as we were getting ready to present to a group of human resources professionals about parenting issues in the workplace.

The short answer is, because someone has to, and our society has chosen to allocate the burden of essentially being human – having a family (or getting sick) - to individuals or families first and to employers or corporations second. Unless or until we decide to expand the conversation to real redistribution of social costs more widely, that is choice we are given. Anyone who is really worried about why employers are being asked to pay can work to change the system so that there are other options on the table. Other options that is, than simply forcing people to get sick, lose their jobs, and stay poor. That is not only inhumane, it is naïve.

Paid family leave, paid sick days, flexible scheduling and reduced time schedules all have economic and logistical costs for employers. This creates unnecessary and arguably artificial economic tension between families and employers. Some corporations with high profits and enormous market share have disproportionate economic power and can afford to make (or refuse to make) policy as they please, subject to fairly minimal regulation. But most employers have a constant struggle to balance a competitive domestic consumer environment, high cost of capital, decline in economic activity generally, global production competition, plus regulatory requirements. Cost of labor, both wages and benefits, is just one factor for an employer to balance. Employers may rationally resist increase in labor costs in the form of paid leave and less than full-time productivity from individual workers. At the same time real wage value in this country has drastically fallen, the middle class is in rapid decline, and increasing numbers of children face food insecurity homelessness and multi-generational poverty. Both employers and employees are being told “it's you or them.” But is that a necessary conflict? No, it is a choice we have imposed on ourselves.

The arguments for why it is worth investing in employees through pro-family policies generally derive from the business case that a well rewarded, adequately supported work force is a more valuable and productive workforce. Employees who can take a day home with a sick child without losing a full day's pay or without losing their job entirely will save the employer time and money in constantly training a high turnover work force. Paid parental leave, meaningful pregnancy and nursing accommodation policies and a work place culture that reinforces those policies result in higher retention of a more diverse work force and thus increased value. Flexible scheduling, job shares, daycare and respite care subsidies all contribute to increased productivity from the existing workforce.

These arguments all assume an employer-funded, market-incentivized system in which individual employers compete for better, more productive employees as a way of improving the bottom line. However, the actual result is differential cost assessments by employers, some of whose business models and profit goals do not require a healthy, invested, low-turnover workforce. It leaves the choice in the hands of employers who may rationally ask “why me”, when they have a choice about whether to pay for parental leave, or a certain types of health coverage. When an employer has a choice about a benefit, someone can and always will chose not to offer it, when calculating it among the many other costs of doing business.

Employers also operate in an inconsistent regulatory environment. For example, a large employer in Oregon has one sick leave ordinance that applies to employees in Eugene and one that applies in Portland. State and federal sick and parental leave policies differ. An employer that has California and Washington operations has additional, different regulatory requirements. An employer with employees traveling through multiple jurisdictions (e.g., freight, airline or sales) has yet another set of challenges. And advocates and legislators who want to create a genuinely pro-family working environment in this country have fight one small, local jurisdiction at a time because of difficulties generating momentum and consensus on a national basis.

Elective and patchwork benefits reinforce stratification between low- and high-paid workers. Between the extremes of tech start ups with luxurious lounges and cafeterias serving organic food and front-line food or retail service jobs making minimum wage and no benefits are hundreds of thousands of people who make enough money to live on, EXCEPT when one factors in daycare for two kids. Or who can pay rent and car payment EXCEPT when someone gets sick. Or who can make it all work, barely, until summer rolls around and suddenly they have vastly increased childcare costs and no food because their kids got free breakfast and lunch at school.

We operate in a political and regulatory environment where, as a society we say, “this is all the employer's problem” and if incentivized, employers will simply do the right thing. And if they don't, it is simply the natural and even laudable operation of market forces. That is not the only way of looking at the dilemma, or even an accurate one. I'm going to leave aside for now the question of the real economic cost/benefit of family-supportive work place policies for employers. “Why should the employer pay” assumes the answer to that one. What I want to know is, why should any one employer have to pay? A nationalized (single-payor, tax-funded, socialized, however you wish to call it) benefit scheme would not only even the playing field for employees, but employers as well. If everyone who walks into an employer's door has access to sliding scale, high quality child care (as is the case in many other industrialized countries) then one major cause of absenteeism, productivity loss, stress and turnover is reduced, from the garage attendants to the C-suite. Small businesses aren't automatically set against their employees on benefit costs if health care costs are allocated across the largest possible pool. National implemention of family benefit policies reduces incentives to jurisdiction shop and move jobs to the lowest-bidding locale.

None of this eliminates that problem of paying for benefits. But the “Why me” becomes “why we”. “We” all have to pay anyway, whether it is through a tax scheme, a premium scheme or any other aggregating mechanism. And we all have to ask ourselves about the “business case” in the aggregate. Do we all benefit from being humane to one another, when as a society we do ultimately have to share the costs of being sick, raising children, and caring for our elders. Or are we honestly happy with those costs being destructive for all but the privileged few who have managed to accumulate enough capital to insulate themselves from what it costs to be human.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Ice Bucket Challenge: Rep. Tobias Read challenges Gov. Kitzhaber and the entire Legislature (update: Kitzhaber gets soaked!)

August 21, 2014 - 2:58pm

As you have no doubt heard by now, a whole lot of folks have been dumping buckets of ice water on their heads as part of a social media campaign to support research into a cure for ALS (or "Lou Gehrig's Disease").

How's it work? Well, once you do it, you pass the challenge to one or more people. The idea is that either they do it within 24 hours -- or they donate to the ALS Assocation. (Many folks, of course, are doing the ice water thing and the donation thing.)

Last night, Rep. Tobias Read became the latest to take the challenge -- in honor of his late father, who died of ALS. And he didn't hold back on his challenge. He challenged Governor Kitzhaber and "ALL 89 of my fellow Oregon Legislators including Betsy Johnson." (It seems that Senator Johnson has been a long-time supporter of ALS research.)

Check it out. (And make a donation.)

Update: And now, Governor Kitzhaber has accepted Rep. Read's challenge -- and challenged OHSU President Joe Robertson, Port of Portland director Bill Wyatt, and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Intel SIP deal is a terrible deal for taxpayers

August 21, 2014 - 7:00am

By Jody Wiser of Portland, Oregon. Jody is an advocate for progressive tax policy at Tax Fairness Oregon.

What kind of a water cooler is Blue Oregon, that no one has brought up Intel’s SIP deal?

Intel has asked for, and may well get their second dose of 30 year “tax certainty.” Following Nike’s lead, last December Intel got their Oregon income taxes sealed at pretty much nothing for 30 years. Next they decided to out-bargain the Washington County Commissioners and the Hillsboro City Council on getting the same low property taxes they’ve had for the last 20 years….with no cost of living adjustments since 1993. And while prior Intel deals have been good for 15 years, this time they want 30 years, with certainty about taxes on up to $100 billion in investments.

Tuesday in the Washington County Commission’s and the Hillsboro City Council’s open comment periods a few of us raised concerns about the Intel SIP “deal.”

Next Tuesday evening, after but 15 days, and immediately after the mandated one public hearing, the two groups of electeds will vote. They are set to make a 30-year commitment to Intel. They’ve provided no answers to why 30 years or why $100 billion of investments? $100 billion is 4 times what they’ve invested to date.

Mind you, Intel isn’t promising to invest $100 billion and to keep at least 17,500 Oregon employees for the next 30 years, in fact they aren’t promising anything with the agreement. But were Intel making those two promises, it still wouldn’t be a fair deal.

Why? Because none of the base numbers for taxes and fees have been increased for inflation -- since 1993. Intel says they need a $100 billion deal because their equipment costs are rising.

Well, costs have and will continue to rise for public services as well.

We recommend three changes to get to a fair agreement:

  1. Adjust all figures in the agreement for inflation and include annual CPI increases once signed. The amount Intel will pay will go up at least 75% from the current proposal.
  2. The $100 m property tax base, when CPI adjusted from 1993 becomes $175 m today.
  3. The $2 m Community Service Fee increases to $3.3 m, and rising annually
  4. The $2 m cap on the Community Service fee would be increased to $3.3 m rising annually.
  5. The $2.87 m Guaranteed Annual Payment adjusted from 1999 to 2014 and becomes $4.11 m.
  6. Reduce the dollar value of the agreement to no more than $25 billion of investments. That effectively gives Intel $43.5 billion of additional “investment certainty,” since $18.5b of the current $25b agreement remains unused.
  7. Reduce the number of years the agreement can be utilized to the next 10 years.

These are the kinds of changes we believe the Commission and City Council should be thinking about…and for more than 15 summer days.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Ernst & Young finds Oregon has nation's lowest total effective business tax rate

August 20, 2014 - 5:00am

Oregon has the lowest “total effective business tax rate" in the country, according to a study (PDF), conducted by the accounting firm Ernst & Young on behalf of the Council On State Taxation (COST). The accounting firm found that the total state and local taxes paid by Oregon businesses amounted to 3.3 percent of Oregon's private sector economy in fiscal year 2013, the smallest such contribution among all states.

The study purports to include all taxes businesses pay: corporate income and excise taxes; property, sales and use, and license taxes paid by businesses; personal income taxes on business income passed through to the personal income tax (such as those taxes paid by owners of S-corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships and limited liability companies); unemployment insurance taxes; and other business taxes.

Click image to enlarge.

It is important to remember that this is a study conducted to advance the interests of an association of multistate and multinational corporations that lobbies for lower business taxes in states across the country. COST represents about 600 corporations, including major Oregon employers such as Nike, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, US Bank and Xerox (PDF).

The study's authors are not transparent about their methodology. The numbers come from the authors' black box, so there is no way to evaluate the reliability of the numbers, particularly with regard to property taxes and the myriad of tax subsidies that businesses receive, such as property tax abatements.

Moreover, the COST study ignores the incidence of the business taxes it is measuring. For example, many economists would conclude that some, if not all, of the sales taxes paid on business inputs are passed on to consumers and and that at least some of the incidence of unemployment compensation taxes is on workers in the form of lower wages.

To its credit, the COST study concedes that comparing total taxes to a broad measure of the economy such as private sector gross state product is "not a clear indicator of the competitiveness of a state's business tax system in terms of attracting new investment."

Previously, using a different metric for comparing states, COST pegged Oregon as having the second lowest taxes on new investments by business.

Oregon's lowest-taxes-in-the-nation rank takes into account the modest personal and corporate income tax increases put into effect by Measures 66 and 67 approved by voters in 2010. Add the fact that Oregon's economy has performed exceedingly well, and you realize that Oregon need not give corporations or their owners and executives more tax subsidies.

Isn't it time to ask profitable corporations to contribute meaningfully to support the public structures that make Oregon a great place to live, raise a family, work and build businesses?

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Yakama Nation to Coal: And Stay Out.

August 18, 2014 - 5:51pm

Governor Kitzhaber's Department of State Lands has issued a landmark denial of Oregon's only proposed coal export terminal, keeping millions of tons of coal right where it belongs - buried in the ground.

Back in May the Yakama Nation protested that the coal terminal proposed for their traditional treaty recognized fishing grounds up on the Columbia Rover, near modern day Boardman, was an attack on the water, the salmon, their way of life, and a contradiction to the idea of living in balance with our surroundings.

The Australian coal mining company in question, Ambre Energy, denied the tribal claims in comments to the media and in filings to state regulators.

Evidently the claims by the coal company about where tribal fishing rights do or don't apply were not pursuasive.

In their findings released on August 18th the Department of State Lands had the final word on the matter:

"The agency record demonstrates that the project would unreasonably interfere with a small but important and and long-standing fishery in the State's waters at the project site."

In response to this news Yakama Chairman JoDe Goudy made the following statement:

"This is only the beginning of what I expect will be a long fight. Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated. We will continue to speak out and fight on behalf of our people, and for those things, which cannot speak for themselves, that have been entrusted to us for cultivation and preservation since time immemorial. Today, however, we thank and stand in solidarity with the State of Oregon, and celebrate its decision to protect the Columbia River from further damage and degradation."

So what's next?

The Columbia River could still be impacted by two remaining coal export terminals.

Up in Bellingham, Washington the proposed coal terminal will rumble 9 loaded coal trains down the Columbia River Gorge every day. Up there the fight against has also been taken on by local tribal leaders.

Lummi Nation Chairman, Timothy Ballew II, had this to say about today's good news from Oregon:

"The State’s action makes a strong policy statement by recognizing Tribal Sovereignty and the Treaty Rights of the Columbia River tribes. Such decisions are few and far between. This is important not just for the Yakama and Umatilla but all Indian fishing tribes. Together we can, and will, protect our way of life."

And we've still got a coal proposal on the Columbia River, just over in Longview, Washington, that will barrel 8 loaded and uncovered coal trains a day through Portland. That one may be the most likely threat left on the radar. Just this week the Longview coal terminal supporters just threw a summer picnic for 300 of their closest supporters - for a terminal that hasn't even seen a draft EIS yet.

According to the spokesperson for the coal company, Millenium Terminals, “We wanted to find way to say thank you to folks in the community.”

I guess it must be all about who you include in your definition of community.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

State of Oregon Denies Ambre Coal Export Permit

August 18, 2014 - 2:14pm

Huge news, buried in a calendar of decisions. The line from Oregon's Department of State Lands said simply this:

"Permit denied Aug. 18, 2014"

The requested permit was for a removal/fill permit to allow the construction of a huge coal export terminal, owned by Australian-owned Ambre Energy. From Power Past Coal:

Each year, Ambre Energy would bring more than eight million tons of coal by rail from the Powder River Basin to the Port of Morrow where Columbia River barge traffic would double to accommodate carrying the product through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

From The Oregonian:

Oregon's Department of State Lands on Monday dealt a serious blow to Ambre Energy's proposed coal export project, denying a key permit needed for construction in the Columbia River....

The terminal would create a key link for Western coal producers anxious to find new outlets for coal that is no longer wanted in the United States. Coal terminal opponents had pinned their hopes on the department's decision and celebrated it.

"Oregonians today should be proud that our state stood up to protect salmon, fishing, and clean water over dirty coal," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper...

More background is available from Climate Solutions and Power Past Coal, including this powerful quotation:

“Northwest communities and leaders agree: coal exports are not in the best interest of the region. Throughout Oregon and the Northwest, thousands of business owners, elected officials, doctors, faith leaders and others have demanded that Governor Kitzhaber and the State of Oregon protect Oregon families and frontline communities from the dangers of coal exports. Today, those calls were answered,” said Arlene Burns, city council president of Mosier, Ore.

Over 20,000 comments poured into the Division of State Lands, asking for the permit's rejection. Governor Kitzhaber urged its denial, and the permit's denial was expected for months. Years of work organizing, investigating, and unveiling the problems with the proposal finally resulted in today's decision.

It's a wonderful day in Oregon for a clean energy future. One where dirty, global-warming causing coal is not given a helping hand.

While appeals and other steps could happen, the Northwest battles against dirty coal mainly turn north, to proposed export terminals in Washington State at Longview and Bellingham. Meanwhile, Oregonians continue to build a clean energy future -- one future generations will be proud of.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are mine alone; not of my employer.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Will Affordable Housing Exist in Portland in Ten Years?

August 16, 2014 - 9:01am

By Cameron Whitten of Portland, Oregon. Cameron is the Board President at Know Your City, an economics student at Portland State University, and a community advocate.

Last week, Willamette Week wrote about the Murrays -- a family who survived 30 years of mass displacement to become the last African Americans living on a block of Northeast Portland. Soon there may be none, as the family wrestles with foreclosure due to a predatory mortgage scheme. Unfortunately, this story of loss and injustice happens too often and is consistently invisible.

Who else does it effect? Well, most of us, actually. Fun Fact: the average apartment rent in Portland rose over six percent in one year. Just. One. Year.

Portland was named in 2011 as one of the top 10 American cities with the fastest rising rents by the research firm, Reis Inc. We as a community are witnessing housing choice disappear at an alarming pace, as both new and old housing becomes less and less affordable. The shift is visible in North and inner-East Portland, which was once home to low income families and people of color and has changed at a dramatic cost to racial and economic cohesion.

For decades, local leaders and community members have raised awareness about past injustices that disrupted the livelihood of working class Portlanders: red lining, eminent domain for the Rose Quarter, the Models Cities Program, Legacy Emmanuel Hospital expansion, etc.

What we don't talk about enough, is what's happening now. Our goals for affordable and safe housing continue to be threatened by activities that stem from a local, regional, and statewide level. Here are a few examples.

Last week, Portland City Council voted 3-2 to waive building fees (System Development Charges, or SDCs) from developers in Old Town Chinatown in exchange for a promise to provide some affordable housing, most of which will sunset after ten years (according to the Portland Housing Bureau's FAQ on their SDC exemption program: “a project must maintain affordability for a period of 60 years for the number of exempted units”). Think about that- after ten years, there is no guarantee this housing developed with government discounts will be accessible for lower income workers, while developers still benefit from the agreement.

Here's another example. Last year, the regional government Metro invested $300,000 into a transit-oriented subsidy for a development called the Radiator, a large-scale mix of office and retail space just north of the recently opened New Seasons in the gentrifying Boise neighborhood. Only recently, thanks to the work of new Councilors, has Metro dedicated funds to even begin examining how regional policies impact access to affordable housing.

Even in the State Legislature, a coalition of affordable housing advocates and non-profits have rallied to repeal the 15-year-old law that prevents local governments from using Inclusionary Zoning as a tool to promote affordable housing. Although the Legislature's party lines have changed since the 90's, efforts to repeal the ban have fallen short against a powerful real estate lobby in Salem.

We are losing our community legacy to gentrification at a time when we needed action the most. Where is our vision to move forward?

Think about the pain the Murray's endure as they grapple with potentially losing their home of 33 years. Then, remember the thousands who've already lost the battle to gentrification. We need to do better- locally, regionally, and as an entire state.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Oregon Airspace Initiative & Visiting F-18s - Are We Overarmed?

August 15, 2014 - 4:54pm
Is it Necessary to Have Fighter Jets Flying over Portland in August, or Ever?

In the discussions that we're having about whether or not the police are overarmed it seems prudent to question the necessity of the Oregon Space Initiative of our local Air National Guard. The other day this came in the mail from the Cully Neighborhood Association:

Cully Association of Neighbors

Dear Neighbor,

Visiting Military Jets - Training Flights August 3-23, 2014 Portland International Airport

Portland/Vancouver metro area residents may notice a temporary change in aircraft operations due to additional military jet operations in and out of PDX from August 3-23, 2014. Visiting military jets (F18/Hornet) will be included in the daily training exercises routinely performed by the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard. The addition of this aircraft type may influence the typical noise exposure in the communities surrounding PDX.

Thank you for your understanding during these temporary conditions.
Related Link: Noise Management at PDX

Cully Association of Neighbors

A Few Problems

Here are a couple problems with having jets visit the Portland area during August - or, really, anytime.

  1. It's the month we're more likely to be outdoors - due to hot weather. The problem here is that the noise from the jets is unpleasant - and it happens multiple times a day. If you're out in your garden picking tomatoes, this is not a sound you want to hear - I'm not sure what the effect of extra spent jet fuel in the air does to the toxicity of the air/soil - but I imagine it's not great. Cully, which is one of the neighborhoods closest to the base also seems to be a place where a lot of organic gardening is going on. What is the extra noise from these jets doing to increase the discomfort of people who live near the base? What does the added spent jet fuel do to the safety of the produce?

  2. We're heating the planet - those 3 weeks we just had with extremely hot weather? I think most would agree, humans have something to do with that. Adding in more jets to the mix, probably isn't doing much to cool things down. Here's an interesting article on the military assault on the global climate.

  3. Are we safe? Are these jets making us any safer? Would they keep us just as safe if they were based 100 miles away in a less populous place? I probably wouldn't even have thought to write if the jets weren't taking off and leaving at all hours of the day and night.

Note: you can reach the public affairs office of the 142nd Fighter Wing, here: 503-335-4104 and via email, here 142FW.PA@ang.af.mil - and they, and the PDX Noise Hotline pdxnoise@portofportland.com do take note of our communications and take them into account.

  1. Jobs. If this is about the hundreds of jobs that this base brings to the region - are we just doing this to employ people?

  2. Overdoing it. We usually have 6 F-15s at this base and now we have 18 (F-15s and F-18s). Is this necessary? Does it make sense to have this many fighter jets taking off and landing so close to an urban area? Is this typically done? And, if so, perhaps it's something that should be discussed on a national level.

I would like to hear what you think about this situation and whether it falls into the category of having more arms around than are needed. And, if this issue concerns you, please let the Air National Guard and PDX Noise Hotline know your concerns.

A friend wrote me and asked me to mention that he was hiking in the Mt. Hood wilderness areas today and heard jets flying overhead twice. The impact is harsh. Three things - 1. What's the impact this has on tourism? 2. What's the point of having a wilderness area if we're going to have low-flying fighter jets screaming overhead? 3. How does this impact other species?

8.19.14 - Correction: The jets at PDX are F-15s. The Visiting jets are F-18s.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

How much wilderness is enough? In Oregon, we need to do more

August 13, 2014 - 6:00am

By Brent Fenty of Bend, Oregon. Brent is the Executive Director at Oregon Natural Desert Association.

This coming September marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. It was a landmark bill when passed, representing a growing awareness that the Industrial Age was quickly changing the world around us. Therefore, for ourselves, future generations and other species that depend on wild places, we would set aside land and rivers in their natural state.

The follow-up question to this effort was and continues to be: How much is enough? The answer is clearly different for each of us. As someone who was raised in a church-going home, I've always admired the idea of tithing, and in my mind setting aside at least 10 percent of our world as wilderness is a form of tithing. Others can argue for less or -- I would hope -- more, but what I am confident of is that Oregon has not protected enough wilderness yet.

Oregon lags far behind our neighbor states in the amount of wilderness it has protected. Only 4 percent of the state is currently protected as wilderness; this is less than half of what Washington and Idaho have protected and nearly four times less than what California has protected. We clearly have a wilderness deficit.

What is also clear is that most of Oregon's wilderness is in our forests. A mere 1/3 of a percent of Oregon's high desert is currently protected as wilderness, and that is because nearly 3 million acres of public lands known as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) have sat in limbo for more than three decades in the throes of congressional inaction.

I have heard some suggest that the remoteness of Oregon's high desert will ensure that areas like the Owyhee Canyonlands will remain wild. This sprawling area on Oregon's eastern edge is larger than many eastern states; the Owyhee's rolling hills, roaring rivers and red-rock canyons represent the largest stretch of wildlands in the lower 48 without permanent protection. It's also a stronghold for the imperiled Greater sage-grouse and home to the largest herd of California bighorn sheep in the nation. Yet remoteness will not keep it safe. It is obvious that there is no place on land, and perhaps now even in our oceans, where development cannot reach. Already in the Owyhee Canyonlands, threats like mining, unmanaged ATV use and the prospect of oil and gas development loom on the horizon.

I recently had the opportunity to raft down the Grand Canyon. As I floated through Marble Canyon, I was startled to see bore holes, drilled into the canyon walls in preparation for a dam planned decades before. There was also paint marking where the walls of concrete were to be poured. It reinforced for me that our natural treasures only still exist because some have had the foresight to fight for their protection. As Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed upon creating what was then Grand Canyon National Monument, "I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it."

In this 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, I encourage you to celebrate the desert wilderness we do have and the wonderful people who had the foresight to come together to protect these areas -- Steens Mountain (14 years old), the Oregon Badlands (5 years old) and Spring Basin (5 years old). But we also need to do more for the areas that still need to be protected.

You're also welcome to join ONDA to discuss the past and envision the future of wilderness at the 27th biannual Desert Conference, Sept. 19-20 in Bend. We invite you to hear from some of the best minds in conservation, science, art and history in inspiring, thoughtful panels and discussions. Participants will also journey into the field on guided hikes. We'll confer on how we can follow the example of those early wilderness leaders and protect desert places before pressures from development overwhelm them. The ideas and energy from this gathering are important to developing effective, workable solutions for desert conservation.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Ruling: Ted Wheeler can't run for Treasurer again (but what about the Bill Bradbury precedent?)

August 12, 2014 - 5:00am

It's long been assumed that our state treasurer, Ted Wheeler, would run for re-election in 2016. But as it turns out, he's ineligible. At least, that's according to a legal opinion (pdf) issued by Oregon's attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, in response to a request from Secretary of State Kate Brown.

First, let's recap our recent history:

In March 2010, Treasurer Ben Westlund passed away while in office. Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed Ted Wheeler, then Multnomah County Chair, to the job. Wheeler was then on the primary ballot in May 2010 and the general election ballot in November 2010 -- winning an election to the second half of Westlund's term. In 2012, Wheeler was elected to a full term as Treasurer.

The first part of Rosenblum's opinion isn't particularly complicated. It basically points to the plain language of the Oregon Constitution, Article VI:

There shall be elected by the qualified electors of the State, at the times and places of choosing Members of the Legislative Assembly, a Secretary, and Treasurer of State, who shall severally hold their offices for the term of four years; but no person shall be eligible to either of said offices more than Eight in any period of Twelve years.

By the end of 2016, Wheeler will have served six years and just over eight months. It seems obvious that he wouldn't be eligible to run for another term of four years.

So, why is this news? Why did we need a formal ruling on it from the AG?

Well, it's not quite so simple as the above.

Neither of the recent Oregonian articles (here and here) explained this, but those of us wondering about the question kept looking to the precedent set in 2004 when Bill Bradbury ran for re-election as Secretary of State. By the time he was done, he had served a total of nine years and two months -- which is, after all, more than eight years.

Let's remember that history:

In November 1999, Secretary of State Phil Keisling resigned. He had been re-elected in 1996, so his resignation came with some 14 months to go. Governor John Kitzhaber appointed Bradbury. Then, in November 2000, Bradbury won his first full term. Then, in November 2004, he ran for re-election.

So, why wouldn't the Bradbury precedent apply in the Wheeler case? After all, if Bradbury could serve more than eight years -- despite the plain language of the Constitution -- why couldn't Wheeler? Or was a mistake made in allowing Bradbury to run for re-election?

As it turns out, there's a small but critical difference between the Bradbury scenario and the Wheeler scenario. The AG's opinion doesn't directly reference Bradbury, but draws a bright line between the two situations.

According to the opinion, the time period between an appointment to a vacancy and when a successor is elected (including to a partial term) does not count against the eight-year limit. But once a formal election happens, the clock starts to run.

It actually comes from an entirely different part of the Oregon Constitution; Article II, Section 12:

In all cases, in which it is provided that an office shall not be filled by the same person, more than a certain number of years continuously, an appointment pro tempore shall not be reckoned a part of that term.

So, in the Bradbury case, that first 14 months didn't count; he was just an appointee. But for Wheeler, while the first 9 months didn't count, once he won that 2010 election, he was no longer an appointee and the clock started to run. And at the end of his current term, he'll be at six years -- and ineligible to run again.

Mystery solved. And the answer is fairly elegant. Even if not entirely satisfying to fans of the State Treasurer.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Measure 90: A No-Win Scenario (The Sequel)

August 4, 2014 - 4:28pm

Not long ago, BlueOregon celebrated its 10th anniversary, and Kari asked contributors to reflect on their favorite columns. While my post from late October 2008 may not be my most well written, it is truly the most relevant.

Nothing presented in the intervening 6 years has softened my opposition to the "Top 2" primary system. The experiences of California and Washington have only served to fortify the arguments of those opposed, and debunked the optimistic speculation (i.e. messaging) of those that are again trying to cram this down voters' throats.

In brief, passing 90 will neither increase voter participation nor create a friendlier environment for "minor" parties. What it will do is grease the skids for only the most well funded candidates to enter the fray, let alone emerge from it. The arguments from 2008 still ring true:

Measure 65: A no-win scenario, October 28, 2008

Measure 65 is the like proposing amputation to cure a hangnail, effecting a package of unintended consequences that will limit voters’ choices rather than enhance them. Whether a voter identifies with a party or not, the field of candidates under Measure 65 could be severely trimmed well before the Primary vote even occurs, and Oregonians will be deprived of choices because of it.

Instead of Democrats (or Republicans) in a given district being able to decide whom they like best in a field of 3 or 4 in the existing system, there would be a natural tension and pressure to limit major party candidates to no more than 2, and maybe one. Threatened will be the opportunity to select a candidate from a field of quality individuals from various backgrounds.

In a “top two” system, each party would be forced into a game of strategy months before the March filing deadline. Pressure from parties, and from moneyed interests (often from out-of-state), would be enormous, and the chances of enthusiastic, qualified but un-vetted candidates entering the process would be limited. Potential candidates would have to decide whether their candidacy would actually be in conflict with their social and altruistic goals, because too many candidates of a particular stripe could ensure that ALL of them lose, even if that stripe most accurately represents the District.

The situation created by Measure 65 is a no-win scenario. Either a potential candidate from a major succumbs to the pressure from the party and decides against running, or s/he takes the chance, runs against the favored candidate and risks eliminating both.

Smaller parties could put forth candidates, but as long as Republican and Democratic Parties exist, smaller parties will NEVER see their candidates advance to the general election. Measure 65 does nothing to enhance the viability of the Green, Working Families, Independent Party or any other small party registered in Oregon. Measure 65 will further limit their impact and silence their voices.

The majority of voters in Oregon have consciously chosen to affiliate with particular parties based on shared values and philosophies. We rightfully expect to be able to choose our own party’s nominees along with other similarly aligned Oregonians. Likewise, the non-affiliated voter has consciously made that choice, in effect declaring that s/he is not interested in participating in the partisan primary process. Skewing the system so radically doesn’t “solve” any problems for the unaffiliated voter; it simply creates a huge problem for all Oregon voters.

The Multnomah County Democratic Party has voiced its strong opposition to Measure 65. As Democrats, we share core philosophies, yet possess a wide range of viewpoints. We believe ALL these viewpoints should have the forum for expression in the primary election, and that primary voters should be enabled to vote for whomever best represents their philosophies.

Measure 65 limits the choice Oregon voters deserve.

We encourage Oregonians to vote NO on Measure 65.

2014 update. The Oregon and Multnomah Democratic Parties have not made their endorsements for the 2014 ballot measures, but will be doing so within the next 2 weeks. I do not speak on behalf of either.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs