Portland, you have a gambling problem.
We're telling you this as a friend. For too many years, the voters of this city have rolled the dice on engaging but troubled politicians, spun a roulette wheel of tax hikes, and thrown the dice on big-bet ideas that have come up snake eyes.
Maybe that riverboat risk-taking is an inevitable byproduct of our idealism. Portland loves to look to the next big thing, to be the city that leaps beyond the everyday.
But the results of those gambles haven't been pretty.
We've ended up with a City Hall unwilling to tame a police force that too often greets the mentally ill with Tasers. City bureaus stab each other in the back over the dwindling dollars not sucked up by pension funds and urban renewal debt. People in the surrounding counties reject our utopian vision and warn of "Portland creep"—and don't think the suburbs have missed the double meaning of creep.
There is no governor's race or U.S. senator's seat up for grabs in Oregon this year. But the races for two statewide offices—secretary of state and labor commissioner—are far more competitive than usual. The Oregon House, currently split 30-30 for the first time ever, is up for grabs. And the Democrats' control of the state Senate hangs by a single-vote margin.
In 2013, state lawmakers will face big pressure to double down (triple down, actually) on the slow-motion car wreck called the Columbia River Crossing. The ballot measures include a few callow get-rich-quick schemes for people other than you.
So if we have to sum up our endorsements, it comes down to this bit of advice: Stop gambling.
We've proposed choices that offer the least risk, the best chance of breaking the city's addiction to grandiose flailing, and a sober approach in Salem.
We've backed candidates with an array of political views, Democrats and Republicans. We've said yes to some tax proposals, and no to others.
Along the way, we asked candidates to describe themselves in a single word, or to name what they would change about their nature, or to pick one superpower they'd like to have.
But mostly we're asking you to take a breather from magical thinking.
Stick with things that work.
Play it safe.
No more risky business.
NOTE TO OUR READERS: Following our policy this year, we aren't endorsing in the race for Oregon attorney general between Republican James Buchal and the Democratic incumbent, Ellen Rosenblum, wife of WW's publisher, Richard Meeker.
Barack Obama (Democrat)
Four years ago, when we endorsed the senator from Illinois, we said:
"Don't count us among the dewy-eyed who are infatuated with Obama and have conferred upon him celestial qualities: He is not divine. But do count us among those who believe he can inspire the best in each of us, begin to realign America's international image, restore our civil liberties and expel the criminals and plunderers that have had an all-access pass to the White House since 2001."
So how has he done?
Our international image is on the mend. Whether it be carefully choosing sides and degree of support for the Arab Spring, or seeking to marginalize Iran, or aiding Europe as it struggles with a fiscal cliff steeper than our own, the Obama administration has handled most of foreign affairs with sound judgment.
On the civil liberties front, Obama fares less well. His statement in support of gay marriage was courageous—but also calculated. His aggressive support of spying on U.S. citizens is Bush-like. And the president has done little to hold Wall Street accountable for its sins.
The president's mixed record does not dilute our support. He promised to deal with three gigantic challenges: ending U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and passing health-care reform. Done, done and done.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act doesn't yet go far enough, but its historic provisions will provide millions with insurance coverage and make cost control a priority.
We wish Obama had more spine when dealing with Congress. His tendency to avoid political conflict has allowed Republicans to roll him too often. They've distorted his economic successes. He's been attacked for saving the American auto industry. He's been slandered for his health-care reforms. And he's allowed himself to be badly played on the federal debt-limit debate.
Our endorsement of Obama comes not simply because Republican Mitt Romney represents the worst of America: a candidate who would never lend the silver spoon he was born with to help feed others, and who would instead use it to scrape the last dollar from the middle class if it meant giving the rich more tax breaks.
We endorse the president with no illusions about the difficulty of the work ahead, but with a belief that Obama's time in office, slowly and deliberately, is making this a better nation.
Call us naive. We give it another name. We still call it hope.
U.S. House, 1st District
Suzanne Bonamici (Democrat
What would Bonamici change about herself? "I'd like to get by on less sleep."
U.S. House, 3rd District
Earl Blumenauer (Democrat)
Blumenauer's seat on the House Ways and Means Committee positions him for battles over health-care reform and public television. (He would be fighting President Romney to protect Obamacare and Big Bird.) He's particularly authoritative on alternative transportation funding, and rightly so: If any one official can be given credit for securing the billions in federal funding for the Portland metro area's light rail and streetcars, it's Blumenauer.
He and Charlie Hales may be the last strong voices in regional politics making a ringing case for rail as the backbone of 21st-century transit. With his district shifting along the border with Clackamas County, he remains well-positioned (and just cranky enough) for door-to-door fighting in the streets of Clackistan. He got Milwaukie its MAX money; now he's needed to defend the faith.
Blumenauer faces no serious challenge in this race. Neither Republican Ronald Green, a TriMet bus driver campaigning on trade protectionism, nor Green Party candidate Woodrow Broadnax Jr., an activist who camped at Occupy Portland, showed up for our endorsement interview.
What would Blumenauer change about himself? "I would just like to be faster—and a little more focused."
U.S. House, 5th District
Kurt Schrader (Democrat)
Schrader is a business-friendly Democrat, a player among the deficit-hawk Blue Dog Democrats. And as befits his district, stretching across Oregon from the Cascades to the coast, he also champions agricultural industries and criticizes what he calls excessive federal regulations.
He's also a tough competitor. Republicans mounted a serious challenge to Schrader in 2010 in his first re-election bid, but he punched back and earned what amounts to a free ride this time.
Republican Fred Thompson is an insurance agent with an impressive record as a businessman, project manager and Vietnam War veteran. His views may appeal to many in his district—giving federal timberlands to the counties is an old saw—but he hasn't demonstrated an understanding of a congressman's job or made a compelling case for dislodging Schrader.
The one word Schrader would use to describe himself: "Tenacious."
Secretary of State
Knute Buehler (Republican)
Although in 2008 she pledged to support a constitutional amendment limiting campaign contributions (Oregon is one of just four states with no limits), Brown, a Democrat, has not done that or anything meaningful about stemming the flood of money into politics.
It's one of her many failures in this job.
She refused to investigate Charlie Hales' Washington-residence duplicity, and she rescheduled the Bureau of Labor and Industries election so incumbent Brad Avakian, a fellow Democrat who faced a difficult re-election race, could delay his day of reckoning until November, when turnout would help him more. Brown denies a partisan sop to Avakian, but her credibility is badly damaged.
She's now the one in jeopardy, facing a serious opponent in Knute Buehler.
Buehler, a Bend orthopedic surgeon and Rhodes scholar, does have a record of trying to limit political spending. He was a chief petitioner of a 1994 ballot measure that imposed campaign limits (later struck down).
He is a moderate (including on abortion rights) who has twice worked to pass nonpartisan primaries. Buehler lacks Brown's 20 years of political experience. But he's been successful not only as a surgeon but as a medical entrepreneur and partner in a 170-person medical office. Some of his statements about the security of Oregon's vote-by-mail system give us pause, but we're satisfied Buehler deserves a chance to bring integrity back to the secretary of state's office.
There are two other candidates worth noting: Pacific Green Party candidate Seth Woolley is a whip-smart government wonk. Progressive Party candidate Bob Wolfe is in the race to protest what he says is Brown's disqualification of otherwise valid signatures gathered by him and other initiative petitioners. (Wolfe was circulating a marijuana-legalization initiative this year and Brown fined him $65,000, alleging his campaign illegally paid signature gatherers.)
Wolfe is essentially saying vote for anyone but Brown. We put it this way: Vote Buehler.
What superpower would Buehler choose? "I'd like to fly."
Ted Wheeler (Democrat)
Wheeler is smart, hardworking and honest. And earnest—often painfully so. It might be easy to underestimate his toughness, but don't: He recently finished first in his age class in a triathlon.
He's also making smart moves. At the risk of alienating public employees—whom he'll need for his inevitable run for governor—Wheeler is pushing a plan to reduce the cost of public pensions. At the risk of alienating the downtown business interests—who consider this son of a timber baron one of their own—he produced a damning 2011 review of the financial assumptions underlying the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project.
He's pitched an interesting college-funding plan, included credit unions among the state's bankers, and sharpened the Treasury's focus on corporate responsibility.
His GOP opponent, management consultant Tom Cox, is sincere about trying to fix the pension system's $16 billion deficit but lacks Wheeler's financial background and political skills.
The one word Wheeler would use to describe himself: "Thoughtful."
Brad Avakian (Nonpartisan)
A former workers' comp lawyer and legislator, Brad Avakian has held the office since 2008. Avakian has made no secret of his interest in bigger jobs, most recently seeking to replace U.S. Rep. David Wu in last year's Democratic primary. Avakian got trounced.
Initially, state Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) had a fighting chance to unseat Avakian in the primary when light turnout would have helped Starr. (Secretary of State Kate Brown ended that hope—see above.) Starr, who specializes in transportation as a lawmaker, might still have had a chance in the general election. But he's done little to win the race, and in our endorsement interview, Starr bombed. He looked uninterested in making a serious challenge to Avakian, offering vague, unsubstantiated anecdotes about the incumbent's record. Avakian wins by default.
What would Avakian change about himself? "I have a penchant for doughnuts."
Oregon Supreme Court
Richard Baldwin (Nonpartisan)
What superpower would Baldwin choose? To be able to instantly understand a person's experiences and background.
Oregon Court of Appeals
Tim Volpert (Nonpartisan)
Tim Volpert, our choice, a lawyer with Davis Wright Tremaine (full disclosure: this firm represents WW), has pleaded more than 100 appeals in state and federal courts—including once before the U.S. Supreme Court and more than 60 appeals before the very Oregon Court of Appeals he's seeking to join. He's got the seasoning this fast-paced court needs.
Judge James Egan, a two-year veteran of the Linn County Circuit Court, has a compelling life story—a former farm boy and juvenile delinquent makes good—but we'd like to see him serve a few more years before he takes another shot at the state's second-highest court.
What would Volpert change about himself? He'd be more patient.
Oregon Senate, District 14 (Beaverton and Sylvan)
Mark Hass (Democrat)
What would Hass change about himself? "I'd like to be more patient."
Oregon Senate, District 17 (Northwest Portland and Cedar Mill)
Dr. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (Democrat)
What would Steiner Hayward change about herself? "I'd like to be more detail-oriented."
Oregon Senate, District 18 (Southwest Portland and Tigard)
Ginny Burdick (Democrat)
Her Republican opponent, art consultant Suzanne Gallagher, fumbled even the easiest of WW's questions, such as this one: After calling herself a "very free thinker," she was unable to give us one example of how she would vote differently from the GOP Senate caucus.
The one word Burdick would use to describe herself: "Sturdy."
Oregon Senate, District 21 (Southeast Portland and Milwaukie)
Diane Rosenbaum (Democrat)
What superpower would Rosenbaum choose? "I'd like to be able to read minds."
Oregon Senate, District 22 (North and Northeast Portland)
Chip Shields (Democrat)
The one word Shields would use to describe himself: "Accessible."
Oregon Senate, District 23 (Northeast and Southeast Portland)
Jackie Dingfelder (Democrat)
What would Dingfelder change about herself? "I'd be taller!" says the 5-foot-2 lawmaker.
Oregon Senate, District 25 (Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village)
Scott Hansen (Republican)
Hansen has experience as a businessman, involvement in local schools and knows something about health care—a combination that should add value to the Senate on the biggest issues of the 2013 session. He will probably be a reliable GOP vote, but Hansen will also add spark and energy this district has not seen with Monnes Anderson.
What would Hansen change about himself? "My eyebrows."
Oregon House, District 26 (Wilsonville and Sherwood)
John Davis (Republican)
Democrat Wynne Wakkila is a management analyst who has served many government agencies, and she ran an anti-sex trafficking organization. But in our endorsement interview she showed a lack of knowledge and understanding about the job she seeks.
The one word Davis would use to describe himself: "Attitude."
Oregon House, District 27 (Beaverton and Southwest Portland)
Tobias Read (Democrat)
He's already among Democrats' more promising House members. Last session, he fought successfully to create a rainy-day fund to help make the budget more stable when state revenues fall.
His opponent, Republican Burton Keeble, a retired technical writer, says his No. 1 priority is making Oregon a right-to-work state. His anti-government rhetoric and proposal to privatize public schools puts him out of step with his district.
What superpower would Read choose? "I'd like super hearing power, to better hear what is said and what is not said."
Oregon House, District 28 (Aloha and portions of Beaverton)
Jeff Barker (Democrat)
His Republican opponent, Manuel Castaneda, has a terrific biography: born in a tiny Mexican village; moved to Pasco, Wash., to pick berries with his 12 siblings; and founded his own construction company specializing in seismic upgrades. Castaneda now has a single-minded obsession with removing government red tape on small business—almost to the point where he can't see any other issue. He seemed genuinely unaware he'd been endorsed by Oregon Right to Life, for example, and told us he wouldn't vote to limit abortion. Keep Barker.
What would Barker change about himself? "I would be a naval aviator. Always wanted to fly, and I never did."
Oregon House, District 29 (Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove)
Katie Eyre (Republican)
But our admiration for Eyre has only grown. She brings skills—including experience as a CPA—that are in short supply in the Capitol.
And she's put those skills to use. Eyre has been brave and relentless in questioning the numbers—many of them bogus—that underlie the biggest piece of pork on the public spit: the Columbia River Crossing project. She's done so despite tremendous pressure from the lobby to knuckle under, as Unger and many others have done.
We see no compelling reason to replace Eyre—and many reasons voters should herald her work.
The one word Eyre would use to describe herself: "Faithful."
Oregon House, District 30 (Hillsboro and North Plains)
Shawn Lindsay (Republican)
This time it's Joe Gallegos, a retired college professor and administrator who is as unprepared and uninspiring as Ainge.
First-termer Shawn Lindsay, an intellectual-property lawyer, is a little too slick sometimes, but his caucus chose him to handle redistricting and he was independent enough to buck leadership on closing a loophole on cellphone use in cars.
What would Lindsay change about himself? "I'd like to be taller," says Lindsay, who's 5-foot-10 "in good shoes."
Oregon House, District 33 (Northwest Portland and Cedar Mill)
Mitch Greenlick (Democrat)
Greenlick's GOP opponent, Stevan Kirkpatrick, a former Marine, did not bother to fill out a voters' pamphlet statement.
What superpower would Greenlick choose? âIâd be invisible. That would make it easier to know whatâs going on around you.â
Oregon House, District 35 (Tigard, Metzger and Garden Home)
Margaret Doherty (Democrat)
What would Doherty change about herself? "I'd be 5-foot-8."
Oregon House, District 36 (Multnomah Village and Southwest Portland)
Jennifer Williamson (Democrat)
What would Williamson change about herself? "I'm a terrible speller."
Oregon House, District 37 (West Linn and Tualatin)
Julie Parrish (Republican)
We don't much agree with Parrish's right-wing views, however, and were willing to consider an alternative. Her opponent is Democrat Carl Hosticka, a retired professor who served three terms on the Metro Council and, years earlier, several Oregon House terms representing Eugene.
In our endorsement interview, Hosticka never made a case as to why voters should send him back, and when we pressed him, he showed himself to be brittle and sanctimonious. He complained about Parrish's support of online charter schools (which we don't much care for either), but sounded as if he was working off an Oregon Education Association script.
We thank Hosticka for his years of public service, but Salem doesn't need another OEA mouthpiece. Parrish's voters should send her back to Salem, hellbent as usual, with hopes she can channel her energy more effectively.
The one word Parrish would use to describe herself: "Fireball."
Oregon House, District 38 (Lake Oswego and Southwest Portland)
Chris Garrett (Democrat)
What would Garrett change about himself? "I'd love to be able to play the piano."
Oregon House, District 40 (Oregon City and Gladstone)
Brent Barton (Democrat)
Republican Steve Newgard, 58, a masonry contractor, grew up there and knows the community. He's also talked about fiscal responsibility while having trouble paying his property taxes, and lacks much rationale for his candidacy. Barton, a Harvard-law-educated trial lawyer, is bright, works hard, and last time around he was willing to vote against his caucus and then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski on a controversial Metolius River bill. Barton is the better choice.
What would Barton change about himself? "I'd like to relax more."
Oregon House, District 41 (Sellwood, Eastmoreland, Milwaukie and Oak Grove)
Carolyn Tomei (Democrat)
The one word Tomei would use to describe herself: "Persistent."
Oregon House, District 44 (North and Northeast Portland)
Tina Kotek (Democrat)
What would Kotek change about herself? "I'd like to exercise more."
Oregon House, District 45 (Northeast Portland)
Michael Dembrow (Democrat)
But we're happy to endorse him as he seeks a third term in Salem. Students should be pleased, too: Dembrow's proudest achievements are bipartisan legislation to provide free tuition at Oregon universities for foster children, and a bill to pump $2 million into high-school career and technical education.
Running against Dembrow for the second straight election cycle, Republican activist Anne Marie Gurney remains more concerned about preserving the online charter school her son attends than in pursuing any wider education reform.
What superpower would Dembrow choose? The same one as the aliens in a vintage Superman comic, who grabbed Lex Luthor, "put their long fingers on his bald head, and took out all of his rage."
Oregon House District 47 (Parkrose and outer East Portland)
Jessica Vega Pederson (Democrat)
What would Vega Pederson change about herself? "I wish I could sing. I have the worst voice ever."
Oregon House, District 48 (Outer Southeast Portland and Happy Valley)
Jeff Reardon (Democrat)
Reardon won, has found his voice, and brings a wealth of experience to this race. He's a Vietnam vet who worked as a logger and sandwiched two teaching stints around 20 years at Tektronix. He also served for a decade on the David Douglas School Board. He's a flinty, self-deprecating character who could be destined to find a role in the common-sense wing of the Democratic caucus. His Republican opponent, George "Sonny" Yellott, a paralegal, didn't bother to submit a voters' pamphlet statement or raise money.
The one word Reardon would use to describe himself: "Hard-working."
Oregon House, District 49 (Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village)
Matt Wand (Republican)
What superpower would Wand choose? "I'm terrified of airplanes. I wish I could fly."
Oregon House, District 50 (Gresham)
Greg Matthews (Democrat)
Matthews is a clear favorite over his challenger, Republican Logan Boettcher, who offered the curious idea of replacing all taxes in Oregon with a statewide land-value tax to cover all government services. Boettcher acknowledged he had no idea what that might cost the average homeowner—he said he had found the idea on the Internet and still wasn't sure how it might work. While he Googles, vote for Matthews.
What superpower would Matthews choose? "The ability to clone myself and be in three places at one time."
Oregon House, District 51 (Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus and portions of Southeast Portland)
Shemia Fagan (Democrat)
What superpower would Fagan choose? "Time-travel, so I could talk to the greats of the past."
Oregon House, District 52 (Hood River, Corbett and Sandy)
Mark Johnson (Republican)
What superpower would Johnson choose? To make residents of Multnomah County see the world through the rest of the state's eyes.
City of Portland
Mayor of Portland
Charlie Hales (Nonpartisan)
He's a gifted speaker and nimble thinker, able to connect the dots in a way that many politicians cannot. His founding and subsequent leadership of the Bus Project inspired voters and many talented young politicos.
And Smith, who has represented East Portland in the Oregon House for two terms, deserves credit for a courageous, early opposition to the Columbia River Crossing project.
His magnetism and potential are considerable. His performance is another matter.
His legislative record is like a spilled milkshake—shallow and messy. Few of the achievements he touts, from fighting human trafficking to increasing voter registration, hold up under scrutiny. His efforts in these areas are either not actually accomplishments or small in scale (his human-trafficking fight amounts to asking taverns to post stickers with toll-free help numbers).
His votes against gun control, in favor of hiding the names of people with concealed-handgun permits, and his fights with Planned Parenthood over sex education show a politician who was busy preparing to run for governor someday by creating the record of a political moderate. His efforts to hastily recast himself in the past year for a more liberal Portland electorate don't wash.
One of Smith's favorite stump-speech themes is that you govern how you campaign. Voters can make up their own minds about Smith having his driver's license revoked seven times, failing to pay his state bar dues, mismanaging paperwork at the Bus Project and losing his temper—whether it's in his 1993 criminal charge for hitting a woman in college or punching a player last year in a pick-up basketball game.
But if voters think Smith's Oct. 1 visit to the woman's house hours before he held a press conference to answer questions about the assault was anything other than an attempt to shut her up, they deserve to have him as their next mayor.
Smith's opponent, Charlie Hales, likes to say he isn't without flaws. That's an understatement. We're still troubled by the fact Hales ducked Oregon taxes while living in Washington and yet kept voting in Oregon—in part, we suspect, to keep up the appearance of unbroken Portland fealty in case he ever wanted to run for office again.
Character matters—that's why this newspaper has spent time examining these candidates' backgrounds.
But our pages have also been filled with stories about Portland's present and future. And as we step back from it all, we see a city that needs an experienced leader.
Our police bureau shames the city when it brings its Tasers down on the mentally ill. The U.S. Department of Justice report on the bureau—showing a pattern of unconstitutional brutality the police union refuses to acknowledge—barely gets to the heart of the problem.
Our fire bureau, protected by City Commissioner Randy Leonard, is inefficient and wasteful. And we need a candid assessment of the complaints of business leaders that the city is unfriendly to those who want to create jobs here. Where they are right, the next mayor needs to work to strengthen the region's economy.
Hales served as city commissioner from 1993 to 2002. As fire commissioner, Hales did something virtually unseen in Portland: He took on a powerful union and made a tradition-bound group add more women and minorities.
Hales also played a key role in developing the streetcar, which has become a signature part of the city (albeit a pokey one). He was instrumental in the development of South Waterfront, which has not turned out as planned but was a blighted nothingness for decades. He played a key role in getting light rail to the airport. He pressed forcefully for a dense urban center—a key to business and livability. He's a builder who has changed the face of the city for the better.
We have found that when Hales makes mistakes—like quitting his job on the City Council mid-term—he takes his lumps like a grown-up. That maturity will matter in the next four years so the next mayor won't be fooled by bureau chiefs, intimidated by developers (Hales knows their business; Smith does not) or pushed around by unions.
The city has gone through two consecutive failed experiments with once-promising mayors: Tom Potter, who never understood politics, and Sam Adams, whose personal shortcomings gutted his tenure.
The mayor's office needs someone with experience, foresight and the ability to listen.
City Hall needs adult supervision.
Portland needs Charlie Hales.
The one word Hales would use to describe himself: "Fix-it."
City Council, Position No. 1
Amanda Fritz (Nonpartisan)
This newspaper often criticizes politicians for flip-flopping. And we accept that this endorsement opens us up for the same criticism.
So let's step right up to it. "We wanted to be able to endorse her for a second term," we wrote about Fritz in the primary. "We found ourselves liking the idea of Amanda Fritz more than the commissioner who's held office for 3½ years. Fritz has proven too great a disappointment."
But events since then, and our growing concerns with Nolan, have led us to endorse Fritz.
One of those developments was the U.S. Department of Justice's conclusion that the police bureau acted unconstitutionally in its abusive approach to dealing with the mentally ill.
We were not surprised by this finding, given the police bureau's history. But we were taken aback by the response of the police union, which said it found no evidence of excessive force in the DOJ's report.
We've also taken a hard look at Portland Fire & Rescue recently ("Burning Money," WW, Sept. 26, 2012) and see more clearly than before how that bureau's inefficient and wasteful ways—including responding to every medical call with a full fire crew—need reform.
In both cases, our next mayor will need all the help he can get to bring about real change. We believe Fritz, more than Nolan, is better suited to help a new mayor steer a different course.
Fritz has positioned herself as a City Hall iconoclast, and her outsider status often reduces her effectiveness. She struggled managing the few bureau assignments she got, and had trouble installing a new 911 system.
But Fritz has also proven to be a true citizen's representative on a Council buffeted by conflicting agendas. She remains an important, independent voice, unafraid to challenge the status quo.
After a close primary race with Nolan, the threat of losing her job has reinvigorated Fritz. She's the only commissioner to challenge Commisioner Randy Leonard's secretive fluoridation putsch, and she's taken a firm stand alongside Adams to draw the line on the police bureau and joined Commissioner Dan Saltzman in scrutinizing the fire bureau.
Her penny-pinching appears more admirable as Portland's budget gets closer to being swallowed by urban renewal areas and fire and police pensions.
In WW's endorsement interview, Fritz made a compelling case that her background as a psychiatric nurse is an important tool in helping cops change their approach to public safety.
Nolan, in the Oregon House since 2001, has earned a reputation for getting things done.
But she has also demonstrated during this campaign that she marches in lockstep with the public employee unions—especially fire and police—who are backing her.
In our endorsement interview, Nolan offered few specifics about how she'd rein in an inefficient fire bureau, while Fritz offered clear and innovative ideas. Nolan was unpersuasive in claims she would be an independent thinker when it comes to reforms.
Last month, the City Council voted unanimously to challenge at the Oregon Court of Appeals an arbitrator's decision that ruled against the city's efforts to fire Officer Ron Frashour, a police sniper who shot and killed an unarmed Aaron Campbell in 2010.
It's a case that epitomizes the police bureau's lack of accountability.
Nolan told us she opposed the city's decision to continue to pursue Frashour's firing. If she had been on the council, she would have voted to drop the whole thing.
That was one of the most disturbing answers we've received from a candidate this election cycle.
Nolan's reasoning—that the city will look weak if it loses on appeal, and the community needs to heal from the Campbell case—looked wan in comparison to Fritz's response.
It's not a matter of political tactics, but a moral choice—as Fritz put it, it's about justice.
The choice has become clear: Vote for Amanda Fritz.
What would Fritz change about herself? "Have hair that would behave."
Measures 77 and 78 - Disaster Emergency Powers
Measure 77 grants the governor an authority we hope is never necessary: to call the legislature into emergency session and direct response and spending in the case of natural or human-caused "catastrophic disasters." These special powers would last only 30 days unless lawmakers extend the governor's authority. Measure 78 is purely housekeeping, making spelling and grammatical changes in the state constitution. The Legislature sent both measure to voters, and they deserve an easy—and important—yes vote.
Measure 79 - Real Estate Transfer Tax
This measure is one of the most cynical and unnecessary initiatives we've seen in years. Real estate agents—middlemen—want to amend the constitution to ban a real estate transfer tax that's already been illegal under state law since 1989. (Washington County had one before that, and it would continue regardless what happens to Measure 79.)
If Oregon someday wants to consider a transfer tax, lawmakers should be able to debate the idea, and local voters can make their own decisions. But in the past two decades, no one has even gotten close to enacting a tax on the sale of property. Why is this coming up now? Realtors want to protect their own interests, spending more than $5 million in a misleading campaign to do so, and a handful of political consultants saw a fat paycheck by ginning up fear. Vote no.
Measure 80 - Legalizes Marijuana
Pot prohibition has long been a costly failure for the justice system, even amid ever-broadening social acceptance of the drug.
This measure seeks to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana sales in Oregon. Opponents worry that legalization could expand drug use among teens, increase "drugged driving" and lead marijuana users to experiment with more dangerous drugs.
Nonetheless, DUII arrests did not increase consistently after the medical-marijuana law was made legal in Oregon in 1998.
The measure is flawed—lawmakers will have to fix provisions, and it may not survive a test in court because of the way it could conflict with federal drug laws. It would also create an Oregon Cannabis Commission stacked with marijuana growers—not a great idea.
But passage will force lawmakers to confront reality. No one benefits—least of all the state coffers—from the prosecution of otherwise law-abiding citizens who use a drug that is already in wide circulation.
Measure 81 - Bans Gillnetting
Is it too much to call this whole proposal fishy? Sport fishermen have pushed this measure to ban gillnet fishing in the lower Columbia River. (Gill nets are so called because they're designed to snag fish by the gills.) Most other states ban gill nets; Oregon strictly regulates them.
But the argument for this proposal is weak. Native American tribes, who also use gill nets but wouldn't be affected by the law, stand with commercial fishermen against it. And sport fishermen, who want more salmon, already take more fish than commercial fishermen. What's more, the proposal would create inequalities between commercial fishermen from Oregon and Washington.
After this measure qualified for the ballot, Gov. John Kitzhaber announced he's seeking a compromise—a far better course.
Measures 82 and 83 - Establishes a Private Casino
These measures, taken together, would amend the Oregon Constitution to allow for a 3,500-slot machine casino at the defunct Multnomah Kennel Club dog track in Wood Village, just east of Portland. Voters thumped a similar idea in 2010, but two Canadian gambling juggernauts are making us all go through this exercise again.
We could talk about whether Oregon already depends too heavily on gambling to fund government, whether the state's nine tribal casinos deserve protection, or if foreign investors should get a virtual monopoly over gambling in the Portland area. Or we could talk about 2,000 jobs "created" by this plan that would come at the expense of existing jobs and businesses stomped on by a casino masquerading as an "entertainment complex."
Let's talk instead about why the deal proponents are offering Oregon is a bad one.
Currently the Oregon Lottery generates more than $500 million for the state through video gambling machines. Bar owners fork over 75 percent of the revenues from those slots to the state. In Pennsylvania, private casino operators give the state 55 percent of gross revenues from slots. Among those paying that rate is a casino owned in part by Clairvest, one of the measures' backers.
But here in Oregon, the plan would only give Oregon 25 percent of gross revenues. You don't have to be a math major to figure out that's chump change compared to the rate other states are getting, and what our own lottery now kicks back.
Proponents say casinos in other states don't come with the big, shiny hotel, theater and water park that investors will have to pay for, and investors deserve a return on investment. But if Oregon is going to sell out even more to the lure of gambling, let's at least make it worth our while.
It reminds us of an old poker saying: If you don't know which player at the table is the sucker, it's probably you.
Measure 84 - Repeals Estate Taxes
Currently, Oregon taxes estates valued at more than $1 million at rates from 10 to 16 percent. This measure would phase out the estate tax over four years—and, even more generously, allow family members to give unlimited assets such as stocks, bonds or businesses to other family members tax-free.
It's being pushed by Kevin Mannix, a former Salem lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate. Mannix raised $655,000 for this measure, and, by exploiting the tax code to launder it through his company, hid the money's true source.
The lack of transparency of who's funding the campaign is only part of the problem. Mannix says he's trying to help the heirs of family businesses and farms avoid selling everything to pay estate taxes. But there's already a $7.5 million exemption from estate taxes for farmers and foresters. And although Mannix talks about protecting small businesses, most of the assets in taxable estates are stocks and bonds.
It's true that 31 states have no estate tax, but the tax-free asset transfer Mannix wants is unprecedented and would cost the state even more than the $120 million annual cost of ending the estate tax.
Mannix proposes the gutting of state tax policy under the ruse of reform, and would do so without a substantive public debate or a way to replace the money lost to schools, prisons and other services the state pays for. No deal.
Measure 85 Repeals the Corporate "Kicker"
The kicker check is one of the most bizarre structures in Oregon tax code. Triggered whenever the state's revenue surplus is 2 percent more than it predicted, the kicker is divvied between individual taxpayers and corporations. It's essentially an April 15 version of a Christmas bonus, handed out like packs of Lucky Strikes when Don Draper's having a boom year.
As tax policy, it's madness. A coalition of left-leaning tax reformers say the corporate side of that irregular windfall should go to schoolkids. They rightly note that it makes no sense to give refunds to corporations—most of them headquartered elsewhere—in a state where public schools must increase class sizes and shorten school years. They also say that a couple hundred million dollars every now and then will "help Oregon schools get off the financial roller coaster."
It won't: The kicker is so capricious, it's more like building a Tilt-A-Whirl on top of the roller coaster. And the advocates can be rightly scolded for tiptoeing around the sacrosanct stupidity of the personal kicker. But no one is making a serious argument as to why any part of the kicker should survive.
We wish lawmakers would deal with the state's tax structure in a comprehensive way. But the kicker is such silly policy, it's exactly the place for half measures.
Measure 26-143 - Creates a Multnomah County Library Tax District
You know what they say about books and covers. On its face, this is one of the easiest decisions on the ballot: Check yes and the beloved Multnomah County Library system returns to seven-day-a-week service and gets a reliable stream of revenue, taking the library off a string of special levies. The cost? Just 33 pennies added to every $1,000 of assessed value on an annual property-tax bill.
If only it were so simple. Our library is already uncommonly expensive—its annual budget is twice the national average per capita. We're spending $81 per resident when libraries of similar sizes spend about $38 per person. And administrators have kept spending on capital projects and increasing the budget even after a severe warning from the county auditor that funding was unstable.
Because of the mechanics of property tax limits, this measure will also cost the City of Portland at least $7 million in lost tax receipts. So not only is Multnomah County squeezing other jurisdictions by disguising a revenue grab, but it's taking the most popular service it provides and making sure it never has to compete with other services come budget time.
So why vote yes? The Multnomah County Library system really is one of the finest in the nation. Its popularity is earned by circulating twice as many materials per resident as the average library: 34 books, tapes and DVDs each year. Though we'd rather see librarians forced to compete on the county's general budget, here is the rare case of a public entity striving for excellence, not racing to the bottom.
We hate how the county crafted this measure, but we think it tells a compelling story.
Measure 26-145 - Reforms the Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund
This measure ends a loophole that has allowed police and firefighters to juice their lifetime pensions by retiring when there's an extra pay period in the calendar year, inflating the final pay used to calculate retirement benefits. This change and other needed fixes will save taxpayers $46.6 million over the next 25 years. Not much, considering that the city's unfunded FPD&R liability is $2.7 billion, and this troubled fund needs more reforms. Given that about a quarter of every dollar in property taxes paid to the city feeds this fund, any momentum toward change is welcome.
Measure 26-146 - City of Portland Arts Tax
The backers of the "arts tax" begin with a valid premise. Arts education in schools is dwindling: 28 percent of schools within city limits have no arts education of any kind; Portland Public Schools has cut all arts instruction from the curriculum of 22 schools in the past two years. This measure, crafted by an arts lobby called Creative Advocacy Network and backed by Mayor Sam Adams, would begin to address this gap for elementary-school kids—guaranteeing one art or music teacher for every 500 public school students between kindergarten and fifth grade within city limits.
To get there, this measure requires every income-earning resident to pay a $35-a-year tax. People in households below the poverty line would be exempt, but tens of thousands of low-income Portlanders would still have to pay.
We love the arts, but the bigger policy question here is: Why should the city launch a new tax to fix a problem in public schools? And why this problem, and not, say, improvements to math and science?
Here's the answer: It's not all about the kids. The backers have finger-painted this as all about education, but a sizable chunk of the money—possibly as much as half—would end up with nonprofit arts organizations such as the Oregon Symphony, the Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Portland Art Museum and about 40 smaller groups. These organizations already have the means to raise funds; latching them onto the city's spigot is unwise.
This measure is being sold as a solution for schools, when the original (and as far as we can tell, primary) motivation was to provide a new subsidy for nonprofit arts groups that already enjoy tax breaks and have other ways to raise money. Even the City Club of Portland, in endorsing this measure, called it misleading. Backers have given fuzzy and contradictory claims about how this measure works—not a vote of confidence for approving a new tax.
Many arts organizations are small and deserve help; we suggest you write them a check right now. But should we tax low-income Portlanders to help support a night at the opera? Horsefeathers.
Measure 26-144 - Portland Public Schools Bond
It comes down to this: Portland Public Schools is one of the few districts in Oregon that has not issued bonds to build or repair school buildings. Even opponents—in this case the late Don McIntire, who brought Oregonians Measure 5, the property-tax limit that has helped starve public schools—don't deny the district's buildings are in bad shape.
Last year, voters narrowly rejected the school district's $548 million bond request critics said was flabby and unfocused. The district reduced the request to $482 million and stretched out the payments so the hit on property taxes would be about $1.10 per $1,000 of assessed value. The board smartly chose a much more targeted approach: The schools with the most needs—Franklin, Roosevelt and Grant high schools and Faubion School—will get the first round of fixing.
It's still a lot of money. But there's a lot to do. Critics of this measure are right to note the district has been slow to sock money away for these kinds of repairs. A new capital savings fund has been created, but it's not enough and it's too late. Lesson learned, and the district could still use budget reforms. But students and teachers shouldn't be held hostage in substandard buildings in the meantime.