Murmurs: Bill Walton Dies at 71

In other news: Treating drug and alcohol abuse in Oregon could cost $7 billion.

Bill_Walton_–_Trail_Blazers_(1) Bill Walton (Wikimedia Commons)

BILL WALTON DIES AT 71: Bill Walton, the 7-foot redhead who carried the Portland Trail Blazers to basketball nirvana in 1977 before the game broke his feet and his heart, died of cancer May 28. He was 71. Tributes poured in from all corners, including from former President Barack Obama. “Bill Walton was one of the greatest basketball players of all time—a champion at every level and the embodiment of unselfish team play,” Obama wrote on social media. “He was also a wonderful spirit full of curiosity, humor and kindness.” Such encomia hint at the outsized role Walton played in the NBA, as well as in Portland, where his brief term as the Blazers’ center gave the team its only national title and a lesson in the transient nature of happiness. (The bones in Walton’s feet shattered as the team pursued back-to-back championships; he blamed team doctors and asked for a trade.) In the hours after Walton’s death, U.S. Sen. Rob Wyden (D-Ore.) called for the Blazers to erect a statue of him outside Moda Center.

TREATING DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE IN OREGON COULD COST $7 BILLION: Two weeks ago, the state quietly published a final estimate of the cost to close the gaps in Oregon’s drug and alcohol treatment system. It’s a staggering number, $6.85 billion a year, vastly more than the half billion or so state agencies currently spend. Most of the new spending would go to the cost of employing, and training, the workforce needed to staff the new programs. “The cost estimates provided in this analysis are undeniably high,” the report’s authors note, and recommend the state figure out how to optimize its existing spending—or find new sources of funding. The report was written by Public Consulting Group at the behest of the Oregon Health Authority, which state legislators asked to study the issue in 2021. The report’s release, on May 18, comes as a legislative task force weighs a bump in alcohol taxes. There’s an alternative, the report notes, to drumming up the money: eliminate the kicker, which could return up to $5.6 billion in tax payments to Oregonians this year.

TWO KELLER PROPOSALS DUKE IT OUT: An ongoing fight over the future of the Keller Auditorium intensified late last week after the group that wishes to renovate the existing performing arts venue released a poll showing strong support for a renovation rather than a new Keller built elsewhere. The group that paid for the poll is led by John Russell, a downtown developer and the owner of the “Black Box” building next door, as well as a nearby parking garage. The poll—conducted by DHM Research and asking questions that gradually pointed readers in the direction of renovation—incensed Portland State University, which is lobbying City Hall to instead fund an entirely new auditorium that would be part of PSU. The manager for the PSU project, Jason Franklin, calls the poll “deliberately misleading.” Renovating the existing Keller would shut down the venue for at least 18 months, including its ability to host touring Broadway shows. AFL-CIO, a union that represents a portion of the hundreds of employees that work at the Keller, is asking people to write letters in opposition to Russell’s plan, saying it would “create a ripple of job loss and business closures through downtown.”

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: WW reporter Sophie Peel has won the 2024 Bruce Baer Award, one of the highest prizes in Oregon journalism, for her stories exposing the influence that a troubled cannabis outfit exercised on state officials. Peel’s reporting that Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan had secretly signed a $10,000-a-month consulting contract with the founders of La Mota led to Fagan’s resignation last May. In the months prior to Fagan’s resignation, Peel published more than a dozen stories about the desperate condition of Oregon’s cannabis industry and the emergence of two political donors to the state’s most powerful Democratic politicians, including Gov. Tina Kotek. Peel’s revelation of Fagan’s contract launched three government investigations, including one by the U.S. Department of Justice, and led to reforms of cannabis regulations and campaign finance laws. The Bruce Baer Award is considered one of the most highly sought prizes for investigative and enterprise reporting in Oregon. It honors the late Bruce Baer, “the dean of the Capitol press corps,” who died of cancer in 1977.

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