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Updated: 4 hours 4 min ago

OR-SEN: It's just a fantasy.

July 30, 2014 - 3:16pm

I've long understood that there is an alternate "reality" (and yes, those quotation marks are meant to be there) for many Republicans. The GOP is not alone in this regard. But in my experience, they're far and away the group with self-identified adherents skating dangerously out of the realm of anything resembling a fact-based existence.

Always the optimist, I hope for better. But the full-court press for Monica Wehby by the well-heeled factions of the GOP elite class borders on psychosis.

To wit:

Simon Maloy, Salon:

One contest that has remained constant, however, is the Senate race in Oregon between incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley and his Republican challenger, neurosurgeon Monica Wehby. Merkley remains the heavy favorite, despite a gargantuan amount of hype surrounding Wehby’s candidacy. The strange thing is that Wehby-mentum soldiers on despite any real indicators that she’s fielding a credible challenge to Merkley.

Part of this is due to the largess of outside conservative and libertarian groups, who are still pouring money into the race. The Koch brothers just recently opted to boost their overall spending in support of Wehby, partly because her policy positions are simpatico with those of the broader Koch empire, but also because the Koch brothers don’t really have to worry about prioritizing when it comes to political spending. But Wehby-mentum refuses to die also because conservative pundits have convinced themselves that Obamacare’s unpopularity is so potent a force that it will take down an incumbent Democrat in a solidly blue state.

Maloy goes on to note what can only justly be described as "insane" piece by George Will, gushing over what he seems to think is her impending coronation as Oregon's junior senator because...Obamacare, I guess. This despite Wehby's 14 POINT drag behind US Senator Jeff Merkley, mind you.

If the Koch brothers want to dump money into feeding the black hole of the GOP in Oregon, that's certainly up to them. But it seems cruel to me for them (and George Will and Karl Rove) to raise hopes for Wehby's prospects. This race was all but over after Wehby's very public, very self-inflicted wounds.

The public has a short memory. But not that short.

Senator Monica Wehby is just a fantasy. It's not the real thing.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Why the Working Families Party is supporting the Oregon Open Primary ballot measure

July 30, 2014 - 9:54am

By Steve Hughes. Steve is the State Director of Oregon's Working Family Party.

The Oregon Working Families Party supports the Oregon Open Primary ballot measure. We believe that for too long the political system has been rigged against working people, and we see the adoption of this measure as a step toward empowering more voters and enabling a diverse set of voices to set the governance agenda of the state.

As a minor political party we understand as intimately as anyone that election rules matter, and as an organization with a fundamental belief that change comes from the bottom up, we believe that progressive change can only be accomplished if we fundamentally change the game on our broken elections system.

Building independent political power

The WFP is about building independent political power for working people. We have been leaders in the campaigns to win sick days for working Oregonians, we are fighting to make the dream of a college education attainable through our campaign to pass Pay it Forward in the Oregon legislature, we worked with family farmers to pass “Aggie Bongs” in the Oregon legislature to open up sources of financing for small scale farms, and we have been leading champions to create the Oregon State Bank to invest our tax money in Oregon, not Wall Street.

Since the successful passage of fusion voting in Oregon in 2009, we have engaged in electoral activity and issue advocacy designed to advance these issues as pieces of public policy. As a political party we embrace the value of elections, but as political observers we see something else very clearly: in Oregon politics most of the action is in the primaries. Working Families Party members, like all minor party members and unaffiliated voters, can’t participate in those primaries, even though our tax dollars pay for them.

Legislative district lines are drawn to ensure dominance by one major party or the other in all but a few swing districts. Unconstrained amounts of money are then spent by a handful of groups in the remaining swing districts. What results in those few swing districts could be compared to a mini version of the arms race that takes place in Ohio and Florida during presidential elections, while the rest of the state is politely set to the side.

As a minor party that cares about both the process AND policy outcomes, this system seems—to put it bluntly—crazy.

He who writes the rules…

Interestingly, primary elections were once part of a Progressive Era reform movement to diminish the ability of Gilded Age party bosses to hand-select party loyalists for the ballot. By giving rank and file party members the chance to select for themselves which candidates should be on the general election ballot, primaries actually served the purpose of diminishing the influence of the political machines of yester-year.

However, the legislative districting process in Oregon has been used by the major parties over the years to draw an election map full of “safe districts” for one or the other of the major parties. Add to this that the number of people voting in Oregon primaries has been steadily declining since 1960 (the first year for which the Secretary of State publishes statistics) as more people—especially young voters—become completely disaffected from the two party status quo. This means that most important decisions for who will govern the state are made by a very small number of primary voters in a tightly controlled closed primary system of the two major parties. For much of the state, the general election is rendered a mere formality.

Election rules matter. However, nothing stays frozen in time, and yesterday’s democratic reform can shift and atrophy. The rules we have in place right now are a far cry from the spirit of the Progressive Era a century ago. And while we do not believe that Top Two is a panacea for the issue of falling turnout, we are also unconvinced by dire predictions of turnout falling off a cliff if Top Two should pass. Furthermore, we have yet to see anyone demonstrate an actual causal relationship between Top Two voting systems and decreased turnout.

Our experience as a minor party

We can argue over hypotheticals until the cows come home, but none of those discussions actually speak to our lived experience as a minor political party in Oregon. We have spent a great deal of time and resources over the last year and a half growing our base of registered WFP voters from approximately 3500 members at the end of the 2012 election cycle, to over 10,000 members coming into the 2014 election cycle.

The conversations we have had on the street reveal just how deep the vein of political disaffection is that so many people feel when they look at the current state of our politics. Many, especially the young, don’t see the point of registering at all. Paul Wellstone put it best: "When too many Americans don't vote or participate, some see apathy and despair. I see disappointment and even outrage. And I believe that out of this frustration can come hope and action."

We agree.

The bottom line for us as a minor party which has chosen to support the Oregon Open Primary is this: we believe this proposal not only protects but enhances our ability to participate meaningfully in selecting who will govern our state, and what issues they will elevate in their governance. Unlike the measures that have passed in California and Washington, this version of Top Two maintains the integrity of the role for political parties by permitting party endorsements to appear on the ballot. It also enhances fusion voting, allowing multiple party endorsements, to give voters more information about what a particular candidate stands for. And, of course, it opens the door for WFP members and all others who are not registered as either a Democrat or a Republican to cast votes in the primary races that decide so much of who governs this state.

We fully agree that other reforms are needed to improve access for working people to our democratic system. Three that come to mind are public financing of elections, same day voter registration, and moving the date of the primary election closer to the general to avoid protracted and costly campaigns. We will join with any and all to support these efforts. But for this measure that will be decided directly by Oregon voters, we say Vote Yes on the Oregon Open Primary.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Costs of Extreme Weather: Fire, Flood, and Drought: Who pays?

July 29, 2014 - 1:03pm

By Diane Hodiak of Bend, Oregon. Diane is an environmental advocate who supports pricing carbon: a solution that will help the economy and the environment.

Have you heard of the 97% of scientists who agree that carbon release into the air is causing climate change and extreme weather events? Wonder who the other 3% is?

It's the fossil fuel industry (oil, coal, gas). These corporate giants are paying scientists who use phony science to reach false conclusions. They fund legislators, trade groups, and other 'influentials' who also deny that we have a problem. Instead they create bills to support the fossil fuel industry, thereby downplaying the role of clean energy solutions. Many believe that this 'big bluff' deflects blame and responsibility. It also hides the true costs of carbon release.

So, why are these corporations so determined to bluff their way out of this? Because the damages from carbon release are huge, by any stretch of imagination. Consider increased insurance premiums due to property damages from fire and flood. What about the losses incurred by tourism, (which includes ski industries, restaurants, and lodging) due to lack of snow?

Drought and lack of water is now shortening the growing season. As a consequence, less product is going to market and Oregonians are paying higher prices in the store and in restaurants. Nursery and greenhouse products, considered by some to be Oregon's most valuable agricultural sector, is also affected But, these are really just the tip of the iceberg. (which,by the way, is melting) It's hard to find a sector that is not affected by carbon-caused climate change.

Fortunately, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund are fighting back. They hope to hold fossil fuel companies liable for the damages occurring from misleading information and their interference in solutions being proposed by government. Targeting executives and board members, these nonprofits have written to 36 of the largest oil and gas companies, as well as concrete manufacturers. They are asking that these corporate game-changers should be personally liable for their role in the 'big bluff.'

Perhaps fossil fuel companies will eventually pay for these wrongs, like the tobacco and asbestos industries. But this may take years. Unfortunately, until we do something, our costs will only continue to rise. Many believe the time has come for comprehensive programs that reduce the carbon being released to our atmosphere.

One possible solution, putting a price on carbon, is being considered by the Oregon legislature. A recent study by Portland State University,'Carbon Tax and Shift', states that a carbon tax would significantly reduce harmful emissions. Coupled with tax cuts to businesses and individuals, a carbon tax would produce more jobs and a boost to Oregon's economy. That sounds a lot more promising than the accelerating drain to all of us, from the costs of climate change.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Oregonians to Legislature: Close the Con-way Loophole

July 29, 2014 - 8:17am

Some 1,500 Oregonians have signed a petition asking Oregon lawmakers to close a tax loophole used by some corporations to get around the state’s corporate minimum tax, allowing them to pay nothing in income taxes.

The tax loophole is costing the state about $40 million in lost revenue in the current budget cycle, according to state officials.

Oregonians know that it’s wrong for profitable corporations to pay no income taxes, especially when Oregon children sit in overcrowded classrooms and college students face unaffordable tuition.

At least 24 corporations that made a profit in Oregon in tax year 2011 — including eight with profits of over $5 million — paid no Oregon income taxes for that year, the Oregon Center for Public Policy’s analysis of the most recent Department of Revenue data showed. These corporations paid nothing, even though Oregon has a corporate minimum tax, which voters increased when they enacted Measure 67 in 2010.

Corporations that pay less than the corporate minimum tax do so by taking advantage of a tax loophole created when the trucking company Con-way, Inc., prevailed in a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Revenue. For its 2009 taxes, Con-way used tax credits to wipe out any taxes on its Oregon profits. The state’s minimum tax enacted by voters in 2010, however, required Con-way to pay a $75,000 minimum tax based on its $79 million in Oregon sales. Con-way went to court, arguing that it should also be allowed to use leftover tax credits to eliminate its $75,000 minimum tax bill. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed, approving a loophole that has allowed dozens of profitable corporations to reduce or eliminate entirely their minimum tax obligation.

The Oregon Legislative Revenue Office puts the cost of the Con-way loophole at about $40 million this budget period and projects that the loophole will drain about $18 million during the 2015-17 budget period and about $19 million during 2017-19. The impact is greater this budget period because a number of corporations are filing amended returns for earlier years based on the Con-way loophole.

So far, over 1,500 Oregonians have signed a petition asking lawmakers to “close the Con-way Loophole.”

When Oregon voters said "corporate minimum tax" in 2010, they meant that all corporations, especially profitable ones, should contribute something — a minimum amount — toward the common good. Lawmakers must fix the drafting error in the law to uphold the will of the voters.

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

Sign the petition: Hands off the internet!

July 29, 2014 - 7:00am

When Clear Channel killed progressive talk on KPOJ, our community was shocked, surprised, outraged, and motivated to action.

Big corporations control the TV and radio airwaves and it's really hard for nonprofits and startups to get on the air. Carl Wolfson and our friends at XRAY-FM are doing their best, but even they're having trouble getting the kind of broadcast reach that KPOJ used to have.

Now imagine if that were to happen to the internet.

Right now, anybody can start a website. Anybody can create a blog or a small business and start trying to find an audience. Here at BlueOregon, we did exactly that ten years ago.

But the FCC is considering rules that would change everything. The FCC could allow the telecoms -- Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner -- to make "fast lanes" at a premium price. And where there's a fast lane, there's always a slow lane.

Just imagine if activists and advocates had to rely on fuzzy video and slow-loading blogs, while big corporations could deliver sharp, high-quality video and fast-loading content.

That's not good for the internet. That's not good for democracy.

BlueOregon Action is standing with Senator Ron Wyden, Congressman Peter DeFazio, and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici -- along with allies around the Pacific Northwest -- and saying NO. No fast lanes. No slow lanes.

We need net neutrality. We need a fair and open internet.

Sign the petition -- and let's make sure the FCC hears us loud and clear.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A Democratic wave year? In the State Senate, don't rule it out!

July 28, 2014 - 10:00am

By Kelley Meck of Portland, Oregon. Kelley is a campaign professional turned law student.

There are 100 days until polls close -- are you excited yet? Were you thinking of this year as the biggest pick-up opportunity for Democrats in the Oregon State Senate in recent memory? If not, you may need to re-think how you think about Oregon elections.

The conventional wisdom is that midterm elections aren't big opportunities for Democrats to pick-up seats. As far as the State Senate is concerned, the conventional wisdom is completely wrong. The usual reasoning is that high-turnout favors Democrats, and presidential elections get higher turn-out, so subsequent midterm races see losses for Democrats. And that's generally good reasoning, where politicians elected in presidential years next face election in midterms. But in Oregon, state senators are elected for four-year terms, so if a seat is a midterm election this year, it was a mid-term election last time too. So in Oregon, the comparison isn't between midterms and presidential years, it's between this midterm election and the last midterm election.

Stop and think, and you'll recall 2010 was a Republican wave year. In fact, it was arguably the biggest Republican wave year ever. Let's say you count seats in state legislatures nationwide. Around the country, after 2010 the Republicans held 3,941 state legislative seats, more than at any time since 1928, when they held 4,001 seats. Making a more recent comparison, in the massive Republican wave year of 1994, Republicans gained about 500 seats. In 2010, Republicans gained over 700 seats.

So what does that mean for the State Senate in 2014? It means this year, at the State Senate, the pendulum is probably going to swing the other way. Republicans have to play defense, and the Democrats are on the attack. It also means that the Democrat's best opportunity to pick up a couple seats and break the 15-15 vote logjam in the State Senate is this year. Not 2016.

Counting Election Day, there are 100 days between now and when polls close this November. BlueOregon readers already know the State Senate is frequently the place where progressive bills go to die. Progressives who miss the chance to get involved with this election may be missing their best shot at making progressive political change for Oregon.

Here are just two of the races the Democrats could win, and you don't have to look further than the May-June fundraising totals to see that these candidates are attracting real support:

Sara Gelser (D), SD 8, which includes Corvallis, Philomath, Albany, Tangent, Millersburg, and portions of unincorporated Linn and Benton Counties.

In May and June, Rep. Gelser's cash donations amount to $22,421, outraising her opponent Betsy Close's fundraising for the same period. Even more strikingly, Gelser appears to have about twice the warchest for this race, although she's been raising money for less than a year, possibly due to Sen. Close's being considerably more conservative than her district.

Jamie Damon (D), SD 20, which includes Candy, Gladstone, Oregon City, Beavercreek, Mulino, Boring, Charbonneau, Jennings Lodge, and Barlow.

Previously a Clackamas County Commissioner, Damon raised $23,160 in May and June, far exceeding the $13,850 raised by her opponent, Sen. Alan Olsen, in the same period. She still has some ground to regain, since Sen. Olsen has raised over $100k over his four years of incumbency; but the momentum is clearly on her side.

Two other races where this may be a great year for Democrats are in SD 26, where Rob Bruce is challenging Sen. Chuck Thomsen, and in SD 15 where Chuck Riley is challenging Sen. Bruce Starr. These races are still just heating up, and both Bruce and Riley need to step up their fundraising if they want to introduce themselves to voters come the fall. But these are both seats where, once you remember that 2010 was a fluke year, you have to recognize a strong possibility for a Democratic pick-up.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Independent Party voters indicate support for progressive policies

July 28, 2014 - 7:58am

By Sal Peralta and Robert Harris. Sal is the secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon. Robert is a long-term attorney in Washington County has been active with the IPO since 2011.

Last week, the Independent Party of Oregon completed its 2014 primary election and member survey. 1,700 members participated in the survey and 1,100 of those people participated in the election.

These are engaged citizens who self-identify as politically Independent. In this election, they sided with the Republicans who went 8-1-1 in contested races. In 2012, the Democrats won every contested race for the IPO nomination and went 10-2 in general election races involving cross-nominated Independent-Democratic candidates.

But this post isn’t about analyzing the nomination results. Instead, I want to focus on the survey results and emphasize some good news for the BlueOregon community.

The IPO's survey process is not scientific, (though it was recommended to us by staff at the Institute for Applied Industrial Mathematics) but we believe that it represents a decent cross-section of engaged Oregonians who are frustrated with both major parties. They were reasonably well informed, having been delivered a statewide voters' pamphlet that was distributed to the Independent Party's full membership and being marketed to by the various campaigns.

These are the policies that obtained 65% or greater approval – super-majority support -among all IPO voters.

  • 83.7%: Require that political advertisements identify their main sources of funding
  • 79.0%: Increase vocational training opportunities for students in high schools and community college.
  • 74.4%: Ensure that tax dollars spent to encourage economic development return more benefits to the public than they cost.
  • 73.4%: establish limits on political campaign contributions.
  • 70.6%: elect to office candidates who are not Democrats or Republicans.
  • 68.3%: The state should look at ways to make college more affordable.
  • 66.5%: reform the state primary election so that more voters can participate.

And these policies received majority support.

  • 63.6%: Protect farmland and increase diversity of agricultural products.
  • 63.5%: Reduce government spending.
  • 53.5%: require labels on food containing genetically modified organisms
  • 51.2%: Provide tax credits to employers that engage in new construction for the purpose of expanding their workforce in Oregon.

What was interesting to us is the degree to which people who supported Dennis Richardson agreed with policy goals that are supported by many progressives.

Here are policies that Richardson voters approved:

  • 84.9%: Require that political advertisements identify their main sources of funding.
  • 81.4%: Increase vocational training opportunities for students in high school and community college.
  • 77.4%: Ensure that tax dollars spent to encourage economic development return more benefits to the public than they cost.
  • 70.8%: Establishing limits on political campaign contributions.
  • 66.0%: The state should look at ways to make college more affordable.
  • 64.3%: Protect farmland and increasing diversity of agricultural products.
  • 64.4%: Reform the state primary election so that more voters can participate.
  • 57.6%: Provide tax credits to employers that engage in new construction for the purpose of expanding their workforce in Oregon.

IPO leaders have long believed that if we take the position that hot button issues are matters of personal choice and not party policy then it becomes easier to identify a populist agenda for which coalitions can be built across traditional ideological, social, and party lines.

In the areas of education, campaign finance reform, tax breaks for corporations, and how government can help grow the economy, there is a great deal of cross-partisan consensus. Oregonians want higher education and vocational training to be more accessible to more people. Oregonians want to protect the diversity and strength of our agricultural economy. People want a political system that is transparent and fair. And they want citizens to have a bigger voice than they currently do in our political process.

And therein lies the core mission of the Independent Party of Oregon. We seek to identify these broadly popular policies and build coalitions to help move these issues forward in a way that will survive the vagaries of electoral politics.

And so, we begin the very difficult process of working with our nominees in the coming weeks and months to build a consensus agenda for Oregon. One rooted in a shared understanding about the direction that we need to move as a state on the economy, the role of government in economic development, consumer protection, and transparency.

One idea that we believe whose time has come is the “Taxpayer Return on Investment Act” (TRIA). TRIA is proposed legislation that Rob has worked on with Jody Wiser and Tax Fairness Oregon over the past 8 months. It corresponds to the super majority approved policy of “Ensuring that tax dollars spent to encourage economic development return more benefits to the public than they cost.”

There will be other ideas discussed and added in the coming weeks and months. But one thing is clear, there will be new opportunities and new coalitions built from the work that we are doing.

The existence of the IPO may not always be good for some Democratic candidates. But it may just be good for people who simply want better policies. If you are one of those people, we'd like to hear from you. For folks who prefer to avoid the noise in the comment section, you can email the IPO at contact@indparty.com

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Hedge fund run by Robert Mercer, who funded anti-DeFazio SuperPAC, may have dodged $6 billion in taxes

July 24, 2014 - 7:00am

It's a stunning story. According to an investigative report authored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), a handful of Wall Street banks and hedge fund managers created an "alternative universe" of financial transactions based on "a series of fictions" designed to help them avoid massive taxes.

According to the report, one firm -- Renaisssance Technologies -- may have dodged over $6 billion in taxes alone. (No, that's not a typo.)

You might remember Renaissance Technologies as the Wall Street hedge fund whose CEO is Robert Mercer -- the model-train enthusiast who personally funded the SuperPAC designed to take down Congressman Peter DeFazio in 2010 and 2012.

Why does Mercer want so ardently to defeat DeFazio, of all people? Here's a detail from the Levin/McCain report that tells the story, as reported by the NY Times:

Over the same one-year period, Renaissance Technologies would execute on average 26 million to 39 million trades in stocks and bonds, many of those positions being held for just a few seconds, according to the subcommittee’s findings.

Yup, at least 26 million trades a year -- that's 500,000 a week. And that makes Peter DeFazio a serious threat to this particular hedge fund manager's way of life. After all, DeFazio's the fellow who has proposed taxing every single individual trade -- not 10%, not 1%, not even 0.1% -- but just 0.03%. Three cents on every $100 trade.

And while a 0.03% tax would cost you -- were you to be fairly successful and socking away $1000 a month for your retirement -- a whopping $3.60 a year, it would cost guys like Robert Mercer millions. Maybe even tens of millions. Or hundreds of millions.

Or more likely, it would mean that doing 500,000+ trades each week would no longer be a plausible strategy -- thus helping end automated trading and the inherent risk of "flash crashes" and other plagues on our economy.

No word yet on whether Mercer -- like his puppet, Art Robinson -- is back for a third shot at DeFazio, though he's already in for the legal max of $5200 in direct donations.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Can LeBron James Inspire Corporate America?

July 21, 2014 - 11:32am

Reading the business pages is depressing these days. Every time you look, there’s another big company doing an “inversion” – merging with an overseas company in order to renounce its American citizenship to avoid taxes. And that’s just the new trend; old-fashioned tax avoidance is still going strong, too. Recently, Floyd Norris of the New York Times wrote about the corporate practice of pretending that a large share of their income was generated from somewhat unlikely places:

Did you know that United States companies earned $129 billion in 2010 in three small groups of islands?

That is what they told the Internal Revenue Service they earned in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

Those islands together had a population of 147,400 that year, about equal to that of Joliet, Ill. Assuming you believe those figures, the productivity of workers in those countries is amazing. On average, United States companies had profits of $873,611 per person living in those islands."

I thought about these stories when LeBron James announced that he was returning to Cleveland – one of the most heartwarming developments of the decade, in my book. I found myself wondering if there is any chance that corporate America might follow James’ example.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to pick up the Wall Street Journal one day and see an op-ed by the Fortune 500 (as a group), echoing James’ beautiful essay in Sports Illustrated? Something like this:

Our relationship with the United States is bigger than profits. We’ve been forgetting that for the past few decades. LeBron James made us remember.

Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, for us, have been almost like college for other kids. Without the experiences we had there, we wouldn’t be able to do what we're doing today.

But we feel our calling here goes above business. We have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and we take that very seriously.

Our money can make a difference in the Cayman Islands, but we think it can mean more where we’re from. We want kids in the good old U.S. of A. to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make us smile.

Our nation, which has struggled so much in recent decades, needs all the talent it can get.

In America, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

We’re ready to accept the challenge.

We’re coming home."

Wouldn’t that be just great?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Vic Atiyeh, Oregon's last Republican governor, has passed away at age 91

July 20, 2014 - 9:05pm

Vic Atiyeh, who was elected Governor of Oregon in 1978 and served two terms, has passed away at age 91.

He is the last Republican to have served as Governor of Oregon. He was also America's first Arab-American governor.

The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes tells the story of Atiyeh's about-face on taxes during his first term as Governor:

Sworn into office on Jan. 8, 1979, the new governor soon faced a nightmare combination of events.

A Mideast oil embargo in 1979 caused an increase in interest rates, which caused a sharp drop in housing starts, which, in turn, caused a drastic slowdown in the wood products industry. State revenues plummeted.

But, as a result of prosperous times during the late 1970s, the state also had a record $600 million budget windfall. The Legislature passed a tax relief package that included a 30 percent reduction in some property taxes.

Atiyeh would later regret signing it. When state revenues plummeted, government was left with a shortfall approaching $700 million. Atiyeh called special budget-cutting sessions in 1980 and three more special sessions in 1982, including a record 37-day special session.

The first-term Republican governor had to deal with a Democratically controlled Legislature. But Gary Wilhelms, who was House Republican minority leader at the time, said Atiyeh had the advantage of knowing the Democratic leaders because he'd served with them in the House and Senate.

"They trusted him," Wilhelms said. "He was a man of his word."

Atiyeh led the Legislature through a series of budget cuts that included cutting welfare at a time when families needed it most. At the same time, the Atiyeh pushed to create Oregon Food Share, the nation's first statewide food bank.

After they concluded that no more could be cut, Atiyeh and Democratic legislative leaders agreed to an income tax surcharge raising the top rate from 10 percent to 10.9 percent. They also hiked cigarette taxes, curbed business tax deductions and cut a property tax relief program.

They didn't ask voters to approve the higher taxes. They just did it.

"During tough times you do everything you need to do," Atiyeh said years later. "You don't worry about getting re-elected. You get the job done."

Rest in peace, Governor.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Pacific Power’s got you hooked on Coal

July 18, 2014 - 9:44am

By Amy Hojnowski, of Portland. Amy is the Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

Check your electric bill. Does it say Pacific Power on it? Then let me be the first to tell you: you are addicted to coal. What, you say? Oregon doesn’t use coal power. That’s another state’s problem, right? Wrong. Over two-thirds of the energy Pacific Power supplies to their half-a-million customers in Oregon comes from out-of-state coal. But last week, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued a final order on the long-term energy mix of PacifiCorp, operating as Pacific Power in Oregon. Their final decision was clear: no more business as usual for coal-dependent Pacific Power.

For the last year, the Commissioners have been outspoken in their skepticism that Pacific Power’s fleet-wide, multi-billion coal expenditures provide the least-cost option for Oregon customers. In their final decision last week, the Commissioners refused to acknowledge Pacific Power’s coal expenditures at two of the Jim Bridger units in Wyoming and one unit at the Hunter plant in Utah, which means that Pacific Power will likely face significant challenges seeking additional rate hikes to pay for their coal.

The company’s rates in Oregon have already increased 61 percent during the last seven years, accounting for the billions spent to prop up dirty coal plants in other states. PGE, for example, uses half as much coal and their rate increases have been significantly less than Pacific Power’s.

The PUC’s final order reflects their findings that Pacific Power is putting its customers at risk of large price increases by investing in its coal fleet rather than honestly considering real investments in viable alternatives like wind and solar that create jobs here in Oregon. The Commission is charged with making sure that Pacific Power and all utilities are providing their customers with the least cost, least risk energy options, and clearly coal doesn’t cut it anymore.

While other utility companies in Oregon move more quickly toward affordable clean energy options, Pacific Power continues to cling to its outdated coal plants. Cheaper, safer and cleaner sources of energy like wind and solar are available now but account for less than 10% of Pacific Power’s energy mix and their long-term planning shows virtually no change.

Pacific Power’s customers expect more from their utility and are often shocked to learn how much coal they buy in their monthly bill. The reality is that the coal industry is dying out and the future is in modern solutions like wind and solar. Looming overhead are further public health protections and the first national standards limiting carbon pollution from power plants—a key driver of climate disruption—making dirty coal even more expensive and a shaky investment proposition. Even new analysis from Citigroup shows that coal is priced out of the market, while solar and wind power are already competing on costs with dirty fuels.

Meanwhile, Oregon is home to a burgeoning clean energy economy. There is no reason for Pacific Power to continue to burn coal in other states to power homes here in Oregon, other than to continue business as usual. Oregon ranks 5th in the nation for total wind energy installation and there is enough solar energy installed in the state to power over 7,000 homes. Investments in local solar and wind power will keep money in Oregon and provide jobs. A new report from the American Wind Energy Association shows that the states with the most wind power see electricity prices decline, while other states see price increases.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission stood up for Oregonians and sent a clear signal to Pacific Power that the utility cannot keep dumping money into outdated coal plants and expect customers to pick up the bill. Now it’s time for citizens and elected officials to engage and call for a truly coal-free Oregon. Together we can stop importing dirty coal from Pacific Power and start investing in clean energy.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Merkley: Birth control access is an economic issue

July 17, 2014 - 4:00pm

Yesterday, the Senate debated a bill to overturn the ridiculous Hobby Lobby decision that allows employers to declare a religious objection to complying with the federal law mandating birth control coverage in all insurance plans.

Many conservatives have been running around saying that the decision doesn't bar anyone from getting birth control; just the insurance to cover it. Well, you can always count on our own Senator Jeff Merkley to make it absolutely clear how these policies impact working-class families in blue-collar neighborhoods:

You can watch his entire seven-minute speech. Here's the section that really hit home with me:

It really is about women's access to fundamental health care. Whether contraceptives are used for family planning or for painful medical conditions like endometriosis, birth control is essential health care for millions of Americans.

And while some are trying to say that this case has nothing to do with access to birth control, that is simply not true.

For most working families affordability is access.

Without insurance, birth control can cost tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. A third of women in America say they have struggled with the cost of birth control at some point in their lives.

For a working family getting by month to month, often paycheck to paycheck, these costs -- though they might be dismissd by Washington pundits and even politicians here across the aisle -- those costs add up. And they can put contraception out of reach.

And a lack of insurance coverage can certainly make certain kinds of contraception totally unafforable.

As Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent, the upfront cost of an IUD is equivalent to nearly a month's wages for a minimum-wage worker. In the blue-collar community that I live in, in working America, a month's wages is a very big deal. Not having insurance coverage equals not having access.

Meanwhile, his opponent -- Monica Wehby -- has been parroting those right-wing talking points. Gee, what's the big deal? Just pay for it yourself! Easy for a pediatric neurosurgeon to say.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A decade of BlueOregon

July 17, 2014 - 12:00pm

Well, folks, it's been 10 years of BlueOregon.

Hard to believe, actually, but it was on July 17, 2004, that we launched this little experiment. Since that time, we've had 10,317 posts from exactly 99 contributors and just over 1000 guest columnists. This little site has generated just over 14 million pageviews and over a quarter million comments. To everyone that's pitched in to make this the water cooler for Oregon progressives, especially our contributors, thank you.

In celebration, I thought I'd share a few of my own favorite posts over the last ten years. I've invited our other contributors to post their favorites from their own personal archives, too.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Hey, so whatever happened to David Wu?

July 16, 2014 - 1:36pm

Over at Buzzfeed, reporter Kate Nocera caught up with disgraced former Congressman David Wu. A few highlights:

He's hanging around on Capitol Hill:

But three years later, he’s still hanging around the Capitol. Wu sightings are generally met with snickering and tweets from reporters, cringes from his former staffers, and confused looks from some current members who greet him with half-smiles when they run into him. (“Is that guy still a member?” one freshman lawmaker asked a reporter recently). ...

He's figured out how to make a living:

His main stream of income seems to be coming from consulting Chinese companies about investing in the United States (“We sent $3 trillion over the last 30 years and I think it’s a good idea to repatriate some of that money,” he says). The rest of his time, he says, is spent going around the country “giving speeches and encouraging young people to get more involved in civic engagement.” ...

And he's donating a few bucks here and there:

He is the treasurer of a political action committee, the Education and Opportunity Fund. Filings show the PAC doesn’t do a lot, beyond small donations to local parties and a few House candidates, like Rep. Mike Honda, whom Wu considers a friend. It’s the small donations to local parties he considers “incredibly meaningful.”

“Some of the county parties at home are never appreciated, never supported,” he says. “By Washington standards they aren’t high donations, but they are incredibly meaningful. No one says thank you, no one shows their appreciation.”

He may not be in Oregon these days, but don't you worry he'll be back soon enough:

Wu says there’s a legitimate reason he’s still in the District. The terms of his divorce state he needs to remain there until his two teenage children have graduated from high school. He plans to one day return to Oregon, where he spent years as a lawyer before running an underdog campaign for Congress. “It’s the only place I ever chose for myself,” he says. “I consider myself an Oregonian and I fully intend to go home.”

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The superbug health crisis breeding at Oregon farms

July 16, 2014 - 9:00am

By Zoe Abbott Boyd of Portland, Oregon. Zoe is a senior in economics and political science at Lewis and Clark College, currently engaged in a summer internship with OSPIRG working on a campaign to limit the use of antibiotics on factory farms in Oregon.

As the effectiveness of essential antibiotic drugs is rapidly declining we are faced with a major crisis in public health. These wonder drugs have saved countless lives all over the world, yet unchecked misuse and overuse of antibiotics is causing an alarming increase in antibiotic-resistant germs. If we don’t act now, the age of lifesaving antibiotics as we know it may soon be over.

A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) alerts, a without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill. Currently, 23,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, while a further two million are sickened.

Why are these vital drugs failing, and what can we do about it?

A big problem is that eighty percent of the antibiotics in the United States are used on factory farms to feed to healthy animals. Pumping antibiotics into healthy animals not only prevents them from becoming sick in overcrowded, filthy conditions, but antibiotics also cause animals to fatten up faster.

However, the Pew Charitable Trust warns that over the past four decades there have been hundreds of studies showing that feeding antibiotics to livestock breeds resistant superbugs which then infiltrate our air, food, water, and eventually our bodies.

Operating within Oregon, Foster Farms is one of a number of companies that routinely uses antibiotics during livestock operations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the yearlong outbreak of salmonella heidelberg in Foster Farms poultry contained antibiotic resistant strains and sickened at least 416 people.

A letter, signed by more than 30 health, environmental and animal welfare groups, including several in Oregon, asserts that “Antibiotic resistance was a significant feature of the Salmonella outbreak” yet Foster Farms has failed to take steps to prevent future proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria from their products.

New agricultural policy is crucial to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant germs.

For the past 40 years, the Food and Drug Administration has approved antibiotics for use in livestock feed. If we want to continue benefiting from antibiotic medicine a and stop minor infections and injuries from becoming severe, the FDA must act.

In December 2013, after years of discussion, the FDA implemented voluntary guidelines intended to phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for production purposes. While this is a step in the right direction, in order for us to see real change, these guidelines need to be made permanent and enforceable.

The guidelines will be reexamined in three years to decide if enforceable regulation in Oregon is necessary. We now have a clear timeframe to demonstrate the importance of limiting antibiotic use on factory farms. Policy makers must make addressing this major breach in the health and safety of the American public a major priority.

To prevent the World Health Organization’s fear of a post-antibiotic future from becoming a reality, we need to stop the spread of superbugs and that means ending the misuse and overuse of antibiotics.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Net neutrality and the fight to save democracy

July 15, 2014 - 6:00am

Will the internet remain open and free? Or will there be "fast lanes" and "slow lanes" for rich and powerful companies?

Today, the FCC closes the current phase of public comments, though another round of "comments on the comments" will soon open.

Yesterday, Senator Ron Wyden weighed in:

“It is impossible to permit pay-to-play discrimination without disadvantaging everyone who does not pay. Paid prioritization is destined to result in an Internet that tilts in favor of well-established and deep-pocketed players. And it is destined to create a set of disincentives for improving the technology for the benefit of all,” Wyden said.

“The answer is to preserve an open Internet by classifying today’s Internet as what it is -- a telecommunications service. This does not mean over-regulating the Internet. It means using a scalpel to deal with a specific market failure that threatens the public interest. I have always been a vocal advocate for applying a light touch to Internet regulation.”

We've already seen what happens to the public interest when broadcasting companies (Clear Channel, ahem) use their market power to squash progressive talk radio. If we allow the internet to become a place where the big corporations run roughshod over startups, small businesses, and bloggers, well, it just won't be the same internet.

And consumers and democracy will be the losers. Keep up the fight, Senator Wyden. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Yakama Nation vs. Coal Pollution

July 11, 2014 - 3:00pm

Tribal objection to coal pollution like the objections of conservationists and sportsmen alike has seemingly been not enough to stop coal from threatening the fisheries of the Columbia River.

After all, no less than the New York Times has been detailing the opposition of Native American tribes to northwest coal export proposals since 2012, as have flagship tribal media outlets, and tribal organizations themselves.

Yet the Corps of Engineers still doesn't feel the need to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement review, despite the tons of coal dust and acid rain getting ready to roll into our waters as a result.

And just this spring the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved three coal export permits as if it were business as usual.

But something important seems to be changing.

When Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber made his most recent comment on coal exports, he proclaimed his opposition to coal and the grounds he cited was "that the proposed facility would destroy at least three Native American fishing sites protected by the treaty"

What the Governor is referring to is the Treaty of 1855 between the United States and the Yakama Nation that guarantees, in exchange for land and peace offered by the Yakama, that the Yakama people would forever enjoy the right to fish in all their usual and accustomed places, and the right to live free of damages to those rights.

What that means is that not only must our governments allow traditional tribal fishing, but they must also preserve those traditional fisheries and the habitat they require.

Importantly though, only the Governor's rhetoric has changed, so far. The permit is still pending.

But the fact that Governor Kitzhaber is acknowledging his duties to uphold tribal treaty rights and highlighting those rights is exceptional, and that must be giving the investors and the pr firms that are counting on coal more than enough reason to start hedging their bets.

If coal exports are halted as a direct result of tribal opposition, than not only will we have Governor Kitzhaber to thank, but also the Yakama Nation and other tribal leaders as well, for taking a stand that will benefit all of us, and the salmon, for generations to come.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs