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October 18th, 2006 WW Editorial Staff | News Stories
 

Body Politic

Follow WW's endorsements and you, too, can restore our politics' once-beautiful physique.

     
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Think of this election like a trip to a tattoo artist.

Tired of the same old, same old with your body politic? Then imagine it's a canvas and let us be the artist.

After grilling candidates for federal, state and local office as well as those on both sides of the 10 statewide measures and a slew of local money requests, we've emerged with clear ideas of how we'd tattoo voters with our favorite candidates and positions.

It's not a presidential election year, of course, but we're panting over the prospect that the Republican revolution in Congress will end.

In Oregon, we're bigger fans than many of this state's initiative-and-referendum system, but can't see much reason to color in a "Yes" on most of this year's ballot measures.

And we think we've come up with the right mix of candidates from both parties at least to take a solid shot at breaking through the tired debates on health care, taxes and schools that have paralyzed Oregon for far too long.

While EVERY choice is important, we've highlighted those that represent the greatest opportunity for true change or the greatest risk of real disaster. (On the less serious side, we also asked candidates to reveal their hidden talent, the person they'd trade lives with, and their favorite alcohol. We've included some of their responses.)

Read on, then get your ballot for the Nov. 7 election out of the mailbox, realize this is more art than science, and vote.

Governor

Gov. Ted Kulongoski

Democrat

If he could live another life, he'd be: The late country singer Waylon Jennings.

Hidden talent: Making animal noises—frogs and cows, mostly (for a listen, read this endorsement on wweek.com).

Biggest donation: $180,000 from the Oregon Education Association.

Four years ago, in his first run for governor, Republican Ron Saxton forced every other candidate and the public to focus on the Public Employees Retirement System, then spiraling hopelessly into an ever-larger deficit.

The issue was about as sexy as a cold sore, but the Portland corporate lawyer hammered away at PERS, forcing the eventual winner of the 2002 campaign, Kulongoski, to jam significant reform through the Legislature over the formidable opposition of the public-employee unions. Although Saxton finished third in his party's 2002 primary, his substantive approach set him apart from the poll-driven equivocators and lightweight gasbags who aspired to be governor.

Here's the dilemma facing this newspaper and many voters. The 2002 version of Saxton couldn't win a primary. But he was more compelling than the 2006 version of Saxton, who has spent too much time pandering to Limbaugh Nation.

Saxton has carved a reputation over two decades as a moderate Republican most concerned with education and mainstream business issues. Yet this year, he veered hard to the right to win in May.

He made Lars Larson look like a softie on immigration, while acknowledging that illegals were not a concern of his this time last year. What's changed? In one of the more telling admissions we heard this election, Saxton said polls started to show it was on people's minds.

He has implied that public employees were the modern-day equivalent of "welfare moms." He derided waste in government—without offering many specifics. Even his TV ads showed him in a tough-guy pose at odds with his true stiff-but-affable persona.

We might excuse Saxton's catering to the far-right wing of his party—coupled with cash he's raked in from the timber industry (more than $1.1 million), Klamath Falls' Wendt family (nearly $1 million) and other narrow special interests—if we didn't think he'd feel obliged to service their needs, if elected. To some who have known him, Saxton's metamorphosis is frighteningly reminiscent of Jim Francesconi, another Portland lawyer-politician so desperate to win the 2004 Portland mayoral race that he alienated his natural base.

The old Saxton might appeal to a considerable slice of the electorate, given what a disappointment Kulongoski has been in his first term. After a productive first two years, during which the former labor lawyer trimmed public-employee benefits, froze wages and helped push a major transportation package, the guv went comatose. That Kulongoski did so little the past two years is not what troubles us. It's that he did so little to excite Oregonians.

Only when embarrassed into action by Democratic legislators and education activists did the governor push for a higher K-12 budget in 2005; only after California's Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed for tougher vehicle emission standards did Kulongoski pay any real attention to environmental issues; only when Independent gubernatorial candidate Ben Westlund threatened to swipe Kulongoski's base did the guv finally get serious about campaigning.

Yes, we're disappointed in Kulongoski, mostly because he has the ability to do far better: He's smart and likable, and after 30 years as a legislator, senior bureaucrat, attorney general and Supreme Court justice, he has vast experience and contacts to draw upon should he desire to tackle taxes, education and health care.

We know Kulongoski has had health issues. We know the Neil Goldschmidt scandal knocked the wind out of him and removed his mentor from the political stage. But we also know that once upon a time Kulongoski was more than a well-intentioned pol. He was a gutsy public servant who seemed to embrace Sartre's comment that "It is only in our decisions that we are important." Our support for the governor this election is based on a belief (maybe more of a wish) that he'll again grasp the passion he once had for service and be willing to say no, to strong-arm intransigent legislators, to fire ineffective staff, to attack problems instead of hiding in his office, and to see his job as the extraordinary opportunity it is, rather than a nice "lifetime achievement award" cap to his rÉsumÉ.

There are three other candidates: the Constitution Party's Mary Starrett, the Pacific Green Party's Joe Keating and Libertarian Richard Morley. Each brings real value to this campaign, courtesy of being unencumbered by loyalties to special interests. You cannot deny that Keating's views on the environment, Morley's positions on government accountability and Starrett's take on abortion are strongly held and based on their principles.

(To hear part of the very spirited exchange between Saxton and Kulongoski during WW's endorsement interview, go to wweek.com/media/8117.mp3. )

Oregon Supreme Court

Jack Roberts

Nonpartisan

Hidden talent: Roberts likes his golf onscreen—he says he's a pro at the Tiger Woods golf video game.

For many people, this race is about diversity. Until Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed Martha Walters to the state Supreme Court last month, Oregon was one of only three states without a woman on its seven-member highest court. Pathetic. And it's not as though one is sufficient.

But it does put a different spin on this race than in the primary, when we endorsed Virginia Linder. Gender diversity shouldn't be the only consideration when choosing between Linder, a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals, and Jack Roberts, a former Lane County commissioner and ex-head of the state Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The rap on Roberts, besides his chromosomal challenge, is that the former business lawyer hasn't been an active member of the bar for more than a decade. That shortcoming is obviously worth noting, but we believe Roberts' brainpower and political acumen are more important.

Some worry that tort-reform advocates backed Roberts in the primary; we're more swayed by the political courage he showed in 2000 by opposing a slew of statewide initiatives highly popular with his fellow Republican faithful. More recently, while working as an economic-development official in Lane County, Roberts displayed leadership and deftness by pitching in to help settle a transit strike and rein in Eugene's powerful city manager.

As for the diversity issue: Without showing disrespect to Linder's impressive pedigree, the Supreme Court already has three justices who spent significant portions of their careers in the attorney general's office, as Linder did. And it has three justices who came from the Court of Appeals, where Linder works now.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court's role is to select those cases for review that justices believe will have the broadest impact. Such work requires a sharp intellect and an understanding of how law affects everyday citizens. The court is stocked with justices who have backgrounds similar to Linder's; it has nobody remotely like Roberts.

State Measures

(Condemnation limits)

Measure 39: NO

What's the Fuss? Property-rights advocates say the gub'mint wants to snatch Grandma's house and give that land to developers.

What's the Fix? This statutory change would stop government agencies from taking land for private development.

Here's the Deal: File this measure under "solution in search of a problem."

Much like Hollywood producers who crank out a hasty sequel to capitalize on unexpected success, the proponents of Measure 39, Oregonians in Action, hope to build on their earlier property-rights blockbuster, Measure 37. That 2004 measure compelled local governments to compensate existing land owners harmed by new land-use regulations.

This measure comes in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that said in a Connecticut case that it's OK for government to condemn private property for economic development.

Measure 39 would prevent that from happening in Oregon. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, 30 states have enacted limitations on condemnation for private purposes and four other states have ballot measures on the issue this fall.

If passed, Measure 39 wouldn't stop government agencies from condemning land for public purposes such as roads, schools and parks. But it would stymie agencies that sometimes use condemnation as leverage when trying to assemble a large piece of property for economic development, as the city of Hillsboro did when it created the massive Intel campus out of numerous small parcels.

OIA produces little compelling evidence that such moves are a problem. They don't argue that governments are underpaying when they compel owners to sell, nor do they provide convincing examples of sellers having been harmed in other ways. This is simply, from our point of view, part of the juggernaut of the property-rights movement, and we see no reason to support it.

(Judicial Districts)

Measure 40: NO

What's the Fuss? Proponents feel too many judges who are supposed to represent the whole state come from the downtown Portland law set.

What's the Fix? Make sure all of Oregon has a say by dividing the state into geographic districts and electing one judge from each district.

Here's the Deal: This is a terrible idea that will only increase partisanship and special-interest spending in judicial races. Candidates with no chance of appealing to a statewide electorate could lock in seats in these smaller districts because powerful interest groups could target their races with a flood of cash.

Yes, diversity in our courts is important. But we don't think geographic diversity somehow is more important than gender, race or other characteristics. And since we don't see anybody seriously arguing to create a system that mandates the courts reflect those concerns, we hardly see the pressing need for geographic worries.

If the measure's proponents really want to reform an unfair system and not just stack the courts with conservative justices, we think they might be better off proposing measures that would provide campaign funding to level the playing field in statewide judicial races. Or they could propose holding elections when a seat becomes vacant, rather than having the governor appoint someone who then gains the advantage of being an incumbent in the next race.

(Taxpayer Deductions)

Measure 41: NO

What's the Fuss? Supporters of this measure think Oregon income taxes are too high.

What's the Fix? Allow state taxpayers to take an income-tax deduction that's equal to the larger federal exemption, thus easing the tax bite.

Here's the Deal: This measure would save the average taxpayer about $140 annually and reduce the state budget by about $400 million per biennium.

If you think state government spends too much damn money, and you want an easy, swift and simple fix, this ballot measure is for you. It won't completely cripple state government—$400 million is about 6 percent of the state's general fund plus lottery budget—the way we believe Measure 48 will (see below).

But we still can't bring ourselves to back this measure, brought to you by Russ Walker of FreedomWorks, one of our state's more energetic conservative activists, and financed by GOP moneyman Loren Parks.

Walker argues that the tax cut would provide economic stimulus; maybe, although the money isn't enough to buy the average Oregonian a 12-ounce black coffee each day, let alone a more interesting drink.

But more important is the question of whether this Chinese-menu approach to financing—or cutting—state government is prudent. We understand the emotional appeal of lopping off a few fingers of our legislative lardheads. But it's hardly productive. Let's have a conversation about tax reform. Let's discuss whether to bring more competition into the classroom. Let's discuss whether some people get taxed unfairly. But let's not resort to the child's-play method of governing—which is exactly what this measure would do.

One more thing, for those of you keeping track of just how sharp the tax bite is in this state: We're right in the middle. According to the Tax Policy Center, Oregonians in 2004 ranked 25th in the country in tax and fee collections as a percentage of personal income.

(Credit Scores Used in Insurance)

Measure 42: NO

What's the Fuss? Proponents say insurance companies are using credit scores to unfairly raise rates for minorities and the poor as well as those with inaccuracies in their credit reports, which they estimate could be as many as one in four drivers.

What's the Fix? This measure would change the law so a customer's credit rating would be removed from among the factors insurers can use when figuring out how much to charge.

Here's the Deal: Been seeing a lot of Bill Sizemore on TV lately? You have this measure to thank. Specifically, Measure 42's opponents have decided that Sizemore, the author of this initiative, is so unpopular in Oregon that running photos of him is the best way to defeat it.

Much ink has been spilled trying to answer the question of why Sizemore, the author of many antediluvian measures over the years, would write a measure that would seem so, well, consumer-friendly.

This measure has even drawn the support from the Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, and the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. Talk about having God on his side!

And yet, we can't support Measure 42—and so are siding with the devil, or in this case, the insurance companies that are spending $3.5 million to defeat this measure.

Have we sold our soul? No, it's just that Sizemore's initiative, like many of his others in the past, sounds good but we don't think he's made the case that the laws we currently have are broken. Oregon already has some of the toughest laws in the country for how credit scores can be used by insurers, and they were adopted just a few years ago. Since Oregon implemented those laws, complaints filed with the Department of Consumer and Business Services against insurers fell from 146 in 2003 to just 10 in 2005.

The statistical correlation between the way people keep their finances and their likelihood of filing an accident claim isn't in dispute. The question is whether insurance companies should get to use that data when they assess risk and set premiums. As a society, we've repeatedly said they shouldn't get to use methods that single out the poor and minorities.

Proponents also point to some studies that back them up, including one from Missouri that found "credit scores have a significant disproportionate impact on minorities and the poor." The Federal Trade Commission is doing a study on that very issue right now. If and when it can be shown definitively that using credit scores in setting premiums is equal to redlining, then we think this idea should be revisited.

(Teenage Abortion)

Measure 43: NO

What's the Fuss? Supporters say parents have a right to know if their girls want to end their pregnancies.

What's the Fix? Change state law so that medical providers are required to give 48-hour written notice to a parent of a girl who is 15, 16 or 17 and seeking an abortion.

Here's the Deal: We hate this measure. Not just because we oppose it, but because it was hard not to feel, sitting in our offices with supporters and opponents, that we—and by extension, all of you—were pawns in the seemingly interminable abortion wars. And frankly, we're not amused.

Currently, Oregon law allows 15-, 16- and 17-year-old girls to have access to abortions, or any other medical procedure, without their parents' knowledge. Proponents offer the appealing argument that a teenager shouldn't have to face an abortion alone. Nobody disagrees with that.

But what advocates for parental notification suggest is a change to state law that now recognizes that both boys and girls over 15 are capable of giving informed medical consent. So why do they want to change that law? It's not because parents have the right to know what their sexually active teenage girls are up to—after the fact. Measure 43 supporters don't like abortion, and teenagers are easy targets.

The proposed change may seem benign. It would require a doctor to notify, by mail, one of the girl's parents 48 hours before the procedure. Under the proposal, the girl could request an exception (if, say, she were scared of telling her parents, or the victim of incest).

The details of this "judicial bypass" exception haven't been hammered out yet. But it's a safe guess that navigating the DMV would be easier.

If there's any group that ought to have ready and easy access to abortion, it's young girls. And we'd also contend that the number of teenage girls whose lives were hurt because they didn't have an abortion would be much larger than the number of girls whose lives have been ruined because they had an abortion without consulting their parents. And excuse us for not talking about the rights of the fetus, but we're just not in the mood right now.

(Prescription Drugs)

Measure 44: YES

What's the Fuss? Because of current eligibility restrictions on the drug program, too few people are enrolled in it.

What's the Fix? Expands the Oregon Prescription Drug Plan to any Oregonian lacking drug coverage, regardless of age or income.

Here's the Deal: This measure is all about bulk purchasing, economies of scale, volume discounts—whatever the hell you want to call it. Here's the dirty little secret: If you go to Pfizer and buy one Zoloft pill, that company will charge you $50 (our dollar figures are for comparison only). But if you go to Pfizer and offer to buy 10,000 Zoloft pills, Pfizer will charge you $1 apiece.

If you're surprised by that, you may want to retake that economics course you slept through. This measure, very simply, would expand the pool of Oregonians for whom the state buys drugs. Right now, the state buys for enrollees who have no other drug coverage and are over 54 and poor. This measure would add any Oregonian who lacks prescription drug coverage, regardless of age or income. That change would expand the potential pool from 156,000 Oregonians to over 1 million.

The state doesn't take possession of any drugs (if it did, we might have some concern), but an agency acting on its behalf simply negotiates for better prices.

Independent pharmacists—the middlemen who will be trying to turn a profit on ever-slimmer margins—are likely to feel the squeeze of this measure. There is absolutely no organized opposition to this measure, but the Oregon State Pharmacy Association is taking a wait-and-see approach.

(Term Limits)

Measure 45: NO

What's the Fuss? Once you send a lawmaker to Salem, you can't sandblast them out of office.

What's the Fix? Amends the Oregon Constitution to prohibit anyone from serving more than six years as a state representative, eight years as a state senator or a total of more than 14 years in the Legislature.

Here's the Deal: Oregon voters passed a term-limits measure in 1992, which lasted for a decade until the courts threw term limits out. So term-limits supporters are back, with a measure that they say will stand up to the courts.

We certainly understand the emotional appeal of term limits. Many voters think officials become entrenched and more likely to be corrupted the longer they stay in office. And it's certainly true that it's often difficult to throw out an incumbent. We also understand the appeal of thinking that you can lose weight without exercising or eating right. But that doesn't mean it is so.

In fact, if we were to make a list of our favorite legislators, they wouldn't be the rookies. Instead, they'd be those who've been in Salem for some time and have learned how to navigate the shoals of democracy.

But here's another lesson in democracy, out of the "we get the government we deserve" school of thought: If you don't like your legislator, vote for his or her opponent. Don't fall for a feel-good panacea that makes it all too easy for us to check out of democracy by falling back on an arbitrary limit of how long a lawmaker should be in Salem.

(Campaign Finance)

Measure 46: YES

What's the Fuss? Oregon is one of five states with no campaign-contribution limits, and the big-bucks donations have given new meaning to the word "obscene."

What's the Fix? Amend the Oregon Constitution so that voters could pass limits on political fundraising and spending by initiative (see Measure 47, next) or by a three-quarter vote of the Legislature.

Here's the Deal: This measure and its cousin, Measure 47, have set off a to-do on the left reminiscent of a 1939 Socialist Workers Party meeting in Brooklyn, when otherwise-simpatico folks would go to the mat over denouncing Joe Stalin for inking the USSR to a pact with Nazi Germany.

Fast forward to our conference room in 2006, when usual allies on Oregon's more-temperate left packed the place to fling accusations at each other over these two measures. Sellout and self-promotion were among the mellower charges.

First, a bit of background: With no limits on how much an individual or a group can give to a candidate in Oregon, Nike wrote checks to Kulongoski this year for $167,000 and Saxton was able to rake in $250,000 from Rod Wendt.

We've come to believe that, while money does corrupt politics, trying to do something about it is very, very challenging. Loopholes open faster than you can close them, and it's foolish to believe that special interests (be they yours or ours) won't try to influence who gets elected.

But we are optimistic—or naive—enough to keep trying, which is why we support this measure, which would amend the state constitution and allow limits on campaign contributions. (The Oregon Constitution, which governs state elections, has been interpreted differently from the U.S. Constitution. To opponents who contend the measures would run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court rulings against campaign-finance limits, measure supporters point to other states that have devised restrictions that pass muster for non-federal elections.)

Dan Meek—the progressive consumer activist who has fought utilities and other monopolistic interests for decades—is the inspiration behind this proposed campaign reform.

Opposing him on the left are unions and other progressive groups fearful that this is the beginning of the end to their ability to influence elections. They argue that money equals speech and that limiting campaign donations is an infringement of our First Amendment rights. This argument isn't without appeal, particularly to us ink-stained wretches.

But the idea that there's no limit on how much money anybody can throw into a race strikes us as unreasonable when 75 percent of contributions come from 1 percent of Oregonians. And we don't think it's wrong to change the constitution—a move we don't take lightly—to set the stage for a system that makes sense, which brings us to....

(Campaign Finance)

Measure 47: YES

What's the Fuss? See Measure 46.

What's the Fix? Set actual donation limits by statute of $500 in statewide races and $100 in non-statewide races, such as for the Legislature or county commissions. Ban donations from corporations and unions.

Here's the Deal: This measure is Part II of Meek's jihad on special interests. If the constitutional change passes with Measure 46, then Measure 47 would create a very specific—and some might argue too complicated—formula for radically limiting the amount of money any one person or group could donate.

And, man, is it complicated, with the kind of flow chart (complete with concepts like aggregate limits for individual donations of $2,500 a year and "small donor committees") that made our eyes almost glaze over (don't believe us? Check out the nine pages of Voters' Pamphlet text).

Meek and his opponents in public-employee unions and a variety of nonprofit groups agree on nothing—except that the Legislature will never pass meaningful campaign-finance reform. Which is why it's such a joke that the Oregon League of Conservation Voters wrote in campaign literature against 47 that the "Legislature is far more likely to lead to well-done campaign finance reform." Really? If you believe that, you'll believe those same legislators "forgot" to report their lobbyist-paid trips to Hawaii.

We're not here to tell you this measure strikes the perfect sweet spot, but it does take a long-overdue swing at a gigantic problem.

(Spending Limits) Measure 48: NO

What's the Fuss? Measure supporters complain that state government spends every penny it collects.

What's the Fix? Tie the profligate pols' purse strings by limiting the growth in state spending to the percentage increase in population, adjusted for inflation.

Here's the Deal: Passing this measure would be like shooting yourself in the head to kill a mosquito.

This is the most extreme measure on the ballot. Hands down. It could reduce the 2007-2009 state budget by almost $5 billion, or about a third of the projected general fund plus lottery budget.

The folks behind Measure 48 are absolutely right about a couple of things: First, Oregon legislators have consistently failed to sock away savings or establish a "rainy-day fund." Second, the proponents, who include Don McIntire, author of Measure 5, the sweeping property-tax limitation passed in 1990, are correct that Oregon's tax system, which is more dependent on income taxes than that of almost any other state, is a total mess.

This measure—the cousin of a similar initiative that caused a train wreck in Colorado—would change the state constitution without affirmatively creating a rainy-day fund or providing any guidance as to what would happen to any taxes collected in excess of the spending limit. That's no accident: The proponents are the same people who helped put Oregon's asinine "kicker" into the constitution, thereby eliminating the most obvious source of any reserves.

Every union and every organization that thinks of itself as progressive opposes this measure. No surprise. But so do groups such as the Oregon Business Council and the Oregon Business Association, as well as major employers, including Intel and Nike.

CONGRESS

U.S. Congressional District 1

Rep. David Wu

Democrat

District: Northwest Oregon including west Portland and Washington County

Hidden talent: Stand-up comedy.

Where's Derrick? That's what we wondered when Republican congressional candidate Derrick Kitts faxed us right before the endorsement interview to tell us he would not be coming in as scheduled.

Curious that, given that Kitts has peppered reporters for weeks with "Where's Wu" emails, detailing the four-term congressman's failure to show up at some event. It's too bad Kitts didn't show, because we would have asked him why, as a state lawmaker, he scored the lowest for integrity and near the bottom on brains and diligence in WW's biennial survey of area legislators in Salem ("The Good, the Bad and the Awful").

His absence left us with Wu, the Constitution Party's Dean Wolf and Libertarian Drake Davis. Neither challenger had looked at Wu's record, so Wu was happy to take pride in voting against the Patriot Act and the Iraq war, along with the pork he hauled home for his constituents.

Wu doesn't appear to have much of a race on his hands, which is curious, given that some serious Republican could probably give him a run. Where most congressional districts are gerrymandered to benefit one of the two major parties, Democrats have only a 3-percentage-point edge over Republicans in this district, with more than a quarter of registered voters affiliated with neither major party. And it's not as though Wu has some deep well of Democratic love to tap; he has never really joined the Democratic establishment.

Instead, he's a smart guy with awkward social skills whose rigid position on mainland China (he hates it) makes him no friend of Nike, which swings a rather big dick in that district. But Wu has earned the right to brag about his record on the war and civil liberties. Wu made such a strong case on those points that Wolf and Davis were nodding their heads in agreement.

U.S. Congressional District 3

Rep. Earl Blumenauer

Democrat

District: East Portland, east Multnomah County and north Clackamas County.

If he could live another life, he'd be: Baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial.

As we happily noted in our May primary endorsement of Blumenauer, the congressman has as a primary goal, after a decade in the House minority party, to start investigating the Bush adminstration, should the D's take control of the House.

"It's hard to overstate the disaster this administration policy has been," Blumenauer said when he came in more recently for his interview.

That's raw meat for his district, one in which there are nearly twice as many D's as R's.

But while we wait for the indictments to start landing at the White House, Blumenauer has quietly carved out a niche in the minority party (and quite the travel schedule), preaching the Portland mantra of livability. He's also found time to work with Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) on a Mount Hood wilderness bill to set aside 77,000 acres.

It's consistent with Blumenauer's long political career, one marked by his interest in mass-transit, land-use and environmental policies. What continues to perplex us is how a guy with substantial mental furniture and a legislative record to be proud of can still, after all those years, be so prickly.

Even his Republican opponent, Bruce Broussard—a cable TV talk-show host and frequent candidate who has as much chance of beating Blumenauer as Lindsay Lohan does of winning the Nobel—managed to get under Blumenauer's skin at the endorsement interview. Oh well, maybe Blumenauer will channel his anger against Donald Rumsfeld on a House investigative committee.

U.S. Congressional District 5

Rep. Darlene Hooley

Democrat

District: A small piece of South Portland, south Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Lincoln and Tillamook counties.

Hidden talent: Used to do choreography for a local theater.

One of the truest adages about Congress is that it's divided between "show horses" and "work horses.'' You'd be hard-pressed to find any member happier to be a work horse than Hooley. She doesn't spark chatter about what higher office she's got designs on, and she doesn't ache to get face time on Sunday-morning talk shows.

Instead, she's a middle-of-the-roader with a well-deserved rep for constituent service and a congresswoman who describes herself with variants of "I'm an idealist, but I'm also a realist."

She is a solid Democratic vote in a Republican-led Congress but is capable of deserting her party (witness her vote for a bankruptcy bill that consumer groups hated and for eliminating the estate tax, at least initially before, she says, a worsening budget situation caused her to change her mind). While not a shouter, Hooley has been out front in demanding better armor for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Hooley faces Republican Mike Erickson, a businessman who's pouring his own big bucks into ads that falsely portray her as a no-show in Congress who's out of step with her district (which has a 2-percentage-point party registration edge for Republicans).

Two third-party candidates are also running: One is the Pacific Green Party's Paul Aranas, an earnest and articulate war opponent who blasts Hooley because she votes to support the troops in a war he says is immoral (although she voted against the war itself). He didn't convince us. The other is the Constitution Party's Douglas Patterson. You won't find a more engaging ex-John Birch Society field coordinator who suspects 9/11 was phony.

LOCAL MEASURES

(Open Spaces)

Measure 26-80: NO

What's the Fuss? More than a million people are expected to pour into the region in the next 25 years, prompting proponents to argue that now is the time to buy and preserve green-space land to protect natural areas and wildlife and to keep stream waters pure.

What's the Fix? A $227.4 million bond measure to buy about 4,500 acres in natural areas, with $59 million going to cities, counties, parks and neighborhoods for smaller projects.

Here's the Deal: Conceptually, who could argue with the desire to have Metro, the regional government, buy land for green spaces?

We do, for the following reasons. First of all, there are several money measures on the ballot deserving your support, and this is the least pressing among them. Second, critics have pointed to the fact that part of the land Metro seeks to buy is so far outside the urban growth boundary that it's not only beyond Metro's jurisdiction but is unnecessary, at least for the next several decades. Others have pointed out that some of the targeted land is farmland, which would be taken out of cultivation.

But we've got one even better reason to vote no on this measure—and that's to send a message to Metro, an unusual beast. This regional government was created with the idea that it would do a few things that crossed city and county borders—garbage and land-use planning among them. But recently, Metro has exhibited the sort of "mission creep" that anti-government types love to rant about. Why is Metro wasting tax dollars talking about health care? Why does Metro have staff dedicated to affordable housing when it hasn't built a stick of housing (and has no current plans to) and there are other capable agencies that do this?

We think that Metro head David Bragdon has the desire to clean up his agency, just not the steel. Hopefully, the defeat of this measure will give him just that.

(Multnomah County Library)

Measure 26-81: YES

What's the Fuss? Nearly 60 percent of funding for Multnomah County's libraries comes through a property tax levy that voters must regularly renew. If the levy isn't renewed, backers warn that some of the county's 17 libraries will close, others will be open fewer hours, and library services will be greatly reduced.

What's the Fix? Raise taxes to maintain library services and to open two new branches in East County and North Portland.

Here's the Deal: By many measures, Multnomah County is home to one of the best library systems in the country, with one of the lowest costs per item in circulation.

Unfortunately, the library system's funding hasn't been stable, requiring voters to keep renewing more than half of the budget every few years or face the latest round of dire consequences.

The last time this came up, in 2002, we said yes when library supporters asked for—and got—a levy that cost 75.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. This time around, the levy would cost 89 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $11.13 per month for the average homeowner.

Look, we're not idiots. We know the county spins big pieces of these mom-and-apple-pie items out of their budget and into levies because nobody wants to vote against libraries. But levy proponents say they're committed to finding a more stable source of funding. We'll be watching.

(Mount Hood Community College)

Measure 26-83: YES

What's the Fuss? The community college is 40 years old and hasn't passed a bond measure in 22 years, and its list of needed repairs is growing.

What's the Fix? This $58.8 million bond measure would allow MHCC to tackle the most urgent tasks on its list, including repairs to its aging buildings, better lighting and a new early childhood ed building.

Here's the Deal: School officials say they need $220 million to pay for deferred maintenance. But a $68.2 million bond measure in 2002 failed, and the college is, shall we say, taking it one step at a time in this tax-averse district.

This version of the bond measure would pay for the most urgent tasks. On the to-do list: repairing leaking roofs, improving access for the disabled and rebuilding an early childhood education center that's been housed in a portable building for 30 years. At 17 cents per $1,000 in assessed value (or $34 a year for a house assessed at $200,000), the measure seems entirely reasonable.

(Portland Public Schools)

Measure 26-84: YES

What's the Fuss? Portland Public Schools are facing a budget hole due to the expiration of the last local-option levy in 2005.

What's the Fix? Voting for this five-year local-option levy would help the school district maintain its current level of teachers and buy classroom materials.

Here's the Deal: The 47,000 students attending Portland Public Schools probably deserve more than what's on the table, $187.5 million in property-tax increases spread over five years.

Finding a long-term solution to Portland schools' regular funding headaches is certainly the better option. But since that isn't happening anytime soon in Salem, Portlanders can't afford to gamble with today's kids just to make a longer-term point.

Portland's public schools are lucky in at least one regard. There is no organized group against the levy, which works out to about $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $250 a year if you own a home assessed at $200,000.

The levy would plug a funding hole left by the 2005 expiration of another five-year local property tax and the simultaneous end of the temporary Multnomah County personal income tax. If it weren't for the one-year funding package that school and elected officials cobbled together for this current school year, the dam would have already burst.

Parents like Cindy Young, the mother of three Portland students, speak passionately about the inadequacy of the current levy and urge a "no" vote to get radical change now. She and other parents are also angry about the inequities built into a system that lacks enough money to support art and phys ed classes at every school.

She's right. But if this were the 2000 election, Cindy Young would be Ralph Nader. Proponents of the measure would be Al Gore. Remember where not voting for Gore got us.

(David Douglas School District)

Measure 26-85: YES

What's the Fuss? The school district in mid-Multnomah County is growing, and its schools are overcrowded.

What's the Fix? Issue a $45 million construction bond to build one new elementary school, expand a middle school and improve facilities at the high school.

Here's the Deal: The district is as large as it's ever been with 10,000 students, and there's no sign of growth slowing down.

District officials are asking for $1.12 per $1,000 of assessed value on residents' property-tax bills to help deal with all that. (If you've got a home assessed at $200,000, that's $224 a year.)

The district has already bought the land for a proposed new elementary school, and has what appears to be a conservative estimate of how much it will cost to build the new school. Wisely, it has included elements in the $45 million bond request, such as covered playgrounds, that could be stripped away should construction costs rise dramatically above projections.

We wish it were politically and geographically feasible to combine Portland Public Schools' problem of having too few students with David Douglas' problem of not having enough space. Meanwhile, David Douglas voters would be wise to plan for their growing student population.

(Portland's Fire and Police Disability and Retirement System)

Measure 26-86: YES

What's the Fuss? A massive, unfunded liability and gold-bricking public safety officers are really expensive for city taxpayers.

What's the Fix? Reform the pension and disability system by taking control of decision-making from beneficiaries and putting new cops and firefighters in a cheaper retirement plan.

Here's the Deal: The City of Portland's current disability and retirement plan for cops and firefighters is bankrupt and corrupt.

No other city funds such plans on a pay-as-you-go basis from property taxes. FPD&R costs are rising far faster than tax receipts, which has created a $1.6 billion liability that's growing bigger; by law, those costs also take priority over all other city services. The net effect: If nothing is done, pension and disability costs will crowd out spending on public safety, schools and parks.

Moreover, beneficiaries have abused the current system because they dominate its board of directors and decide who qualifies for disability benefits.

This measure would increase property taxes marginally for 26 years but ultimately result in a large tax cut by year 40. Just as importantly, it would effectively end the current retirement plan over time by placing all new hires into the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System as of Jan. 1, 2007. And independent experts, not cronies, will decide who qualifies for disability benefits. This is solid reform.

(Reynolds School District)

Measure 26-88: YES

What's the Fuss? The school district has no empty classrooms and needs more space at all grade levels.

What's the Fix? The money would allow the district to improve two elementary schools and replace a third, plus build a new facility to alleviate overcrowding in the middle and high schools. This would give the East County school district the authority to issue $115 million in bonds.

Here's the Deal: The Reynolds School District, which includes a small part of outer east Portland, passed bond measures in 1995 and 2000 that helped it address long-neglected critical issues.

Its student population is still growing at about 2 percent a year. The good news is this latest measure is part of a 10-year funding plan, which should give voters some financial comfort.

If passed, the measure would cost homeowners about $1.73 per $1,000 in assessed value the first year. The goal is to equalize the facilities across the district and to accommodate the new growth in the district's student population. There's value in that.

LOCAL RACES

Multnomah County Commissioner District 2

Jeff Cogen

Nonpartisan

District: North Multnomah County

If he could live another life, he'd be: Bob Marley.

If the county Board of Commissioners were the Starship Enterprise, Cogen would make a good Mr. Spock to Chair-elect Ted Wheeler's Captain Kirk.

We're not suggesting Cogen, a veteran City Hall insider, is devoid of emotion. But he has a pragmatic, unifying approach we'd like to see more of on the dysfunctional board.

Cogen, a former lawyer who has most recently served as Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's chief of staff, supports ideas on which Wheeler campaigned, including regionalizing responsibility for the county's ailing bridges and scrapping its fleet of cars in favor of a more efficient model using a service like FlexCar.

With the departures of Chair Diane Linn and Commissioner Serena Cruz Walsh, the dynamic on the fractious board will change, if only due to the breakup of the three-vote lock wielded by Cruz Walsh, Lisa Naito and Maria Rojo de Steffey—a.k.a. the Mean Girls. If Wheeler and Cogen continue their Vulcan mind-meld, that's two-thirds of a Nice Guys alliance right there.

Moreover, the former pretzel entrepreneur is known around City Hall for being an effective mediator, good at bringing opposing parties back together.

Cogen faces former TV reporter and longtime Portland schools spokesman Lew Frederick, who seems equally ready to tackle county issues from emergency preparedness to expanding the popular SUN schools program.

Frederick and Cogen are both progressive and see eye to eye on almost every issue. But in the end, we think Cogen's experience makes him better prepared to boldly go where no man has recently gone.

Metro Council District 4

Tom Cox

Nonpartisan

District: Northern Washington County, Cornelius, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, northwest Beaverton, Aloha, Bonny Slope, Raleigh Hills, West Slope, Cedar Mill and Cedar Hills.

If he could live another life, he'd be: Former U.S. President John Adams.

To borrow a phrase from Thomas Pynchon, we think Cox would be a well-placed, "black-gloved fist up the diz" of the left-leaning Metro Council.

Cox is a former Libertarian and onetime candidate for governor who has undergone a bit of a makeover. He's now a Republican and running for a position on Metro. Cox is glib and funny and a bit of a flamethrower. He has no problem taking controversial positions (he likes to talk about Metro's bias against cars and businesses), and the idea of him on the same governmental body as Robert Liberty (a current council member whose liberal bona fides are unimpeachable) strikes us as more fun than a PlayStation 3.

But we think Cox would offer Metro more than just headlines. The agency needs some perspective, and Cox would provide that. He's willing to ask tough questions, would take a hard look at the budget and would speak for local governments in a way that's often overlooked at Metro. His work with the City Club of Portland shows that he can cooperate effectively with political opposites.

His opponent is former Intel manager Kathryn Harrington, whose record in community involvement and wide support from current and former elected officials in her district make her a highly qualified second choice.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge, District 4, Position 28

Judith Hudson Matarazzo

Nonpartisan

Favorite alcoholic beverage: Grey Goose vodka.

There were a couple of standouts among the nine candidates vying for the open seat held by Multnomah County Circuit Judge Clifford Freeman until his death Aug. 21: former assistant county district attorney James McIntyre, former public defender and family law specialist Mark Kramer, and Matarazzo, a personal-injury lawyer.

We liked Matarazzo because she has more than 20 years' experience in private practice, including loads of trial experience, and struck us as extremely competent and even-keeled.

She was rated as "highly qualified" by the Multnomah Bar Association in July, when another seat was open. Her experience hearing more than 75 cases as a mediator and arbitrator would give her an edge on the bench.

Multnomah County Circuit Court, District 4, Position 31

Cheryl Albrecht

Nonpartisan

Hidden talent: On judges' karaoke night, Albrecht, once known as the "goth judge," will do a killer Pat Benatar.

It's a pity neither of the two candidates, Albrecht or Kathleen Payne, is running against Leslie Roberts (see next endorsement), because we'd take either one in a heartbeat.

The choice between Payne, a senior assistant attorney general with a long and diverse prosecutorial career, and Albrecht, a former defense lawyer who's served as a judge pro-tem in Multnomah County for five years, is difficult. Both are held in high regard by their peers: Payne got the highest rating from the Multnomah Bar Association, and Albrecht won a bar poll. Both have long lists of substantial and enthusiastic supporters. In the end, Albrecht gets the nod for her energy, her demonstrated commitment to making the courthouse better and the admiration she's won from sitting judges while fulfilling the duties of a pro-tem, which include most of the scut work sitting judges wish to avoid.

In addition to handling a heavy workload, Albrecht has worked to educate jurors and on literacy outreach, and provided research and education to judges on stalking.

Multnomah County Circuit Court, District 4, Position 37

Charles Henderson

(write-in candidate)

Nonpartisan

Hidden talent: "Mad yo-yo skills."

In a rarity for a usually low-key judicial race, more voters than usual probably know the name of the only person on the ballot for this seat.

But that's because Leslie Roberts committed a spectacular blunder. Roberts, who has put her name up for a handful of previous judicial vacancies, waited until just before the Aug. 29 filing deadline to file for election—and to file a complaint alleging that incumbent Youlee Yim You didn't meet legal residence requirements for judges.

In her endorsement interview, Roberts acknowledged she had suspected You, her next-door neighbor, didn't meet the requirement as far back as May but took no action until Aug. 28, when she verified through public records that You was unqualified.

By waiting to share her concerns until the filing deadline, Roberts bet on a near certainty—that she'd be left alone on the ballot when elections officials upheld her complaint. That's because longtime Oregon judicial convention means nobody else would run against a sitting judge such as You, whom Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed to a vacant seat in May.

Legal ethics would require Roberts to notify authorities immediately that You was unqualified—not on the filing deadline. Roberts' lack of judgment disqualifies her from the bench and leaves voters with the alternative of Henderson, a former public defender who now practices law for Allstate Insurance. Kudos to him for stepping forward.

The Moanies

For all those who didn't get WW's endorsement, we offer the following consolation "awards":

MOST LIKELY TO WIN A BURT REYNOLDS LOOKALIKE CONTEST: John Pivarnik, Constitution Party candidate for Senate District 17.

CANDIDATE WE'D MOST LIKE TO SPLIT A BOTTLE OR TWO OF PINOT WITH: Rick Ross, Democratic Senate candidate in District 13. A nice guy and owner of a small vineyard.

CANDIDATE WHO'S RECEIVED THE BEST INSULT: Libertarian congressional candidate Drake Davis, a former disc jockey, says he was once called a "long-haired, maggot-infested FM type" by former colleague Rush Limbaugh.

MOST STRIKING WAY TO STAND OUT IN A NINE-CANDIDATE FIELD: Multnomah County Judge Position 28 hopeful James Leuenberger noted he was the only candidate who paid his filing fee in silver coins.

BEST "THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK" EXCUSE: Controversial judicial candidate Leslie Roberts has taken a lot of heat for waiting until the last day to file for the seat held by her next-door-neighbor Youlee Yim You. Asked why she waited until the last day, Roberts explained she was "at the beach." Asked why she changed the date on her candidate filing form from Aug. 20 to Aug 29, Roberts explained she's a "terrible typist."


To hear part of the very spirited exchange between Saxton and Kulongoski during WW's endorsement interview, go to wweek.com/media/8117.mp3 (download the transcript at wweek.com/media/8117.doc ).

And to read the legislature endorsements go to wweek.com/media/8117.htm

 
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