Scared about the future? Us too.
You'd be a fool not to be freaking out.
Unemployment in Oregon is 10.6 percent, well above the national average—again. State budget forecasts get worse with every quarterly rollout, creating a circle-the-drains mentality for schools, social services and prisons.
The projected deficit for the 2011-13 budget period is $3 billion, about the size of the state's entire general fund budget in 1985.
Things are little better locally—or in Congress.
But here's the beauty of the flawed system we call democracy: There's an election coming up Nov. 2, and there are a batch of candidates who want you to hire them to fix all that.
We've spent the past six-plus weeks interviewing candidates in contested races for governor, treasurer, the Legislature, Metro, Multnomah County's Board of Commissioners and Congress. We looked for candidates with independence of thought, strength of character and something in their background to suggest an ability to get things done.
Some we met are clueless, some are venal, others seem placed on this earth solely for comic relief. But others are smart, earnest and filled with energy and good ideas.
We also spoke to those supporting and opposing the state and local measures that will be on the ballots you'll be getting in the mail this week. Given these tough times, our bar was just as high for those initiatives and money measures. Our question was basic: If the measure will cost taxpayers, is it essential spending? And for measures with no financial impact, our question was: Does it make our community better—or worse off?
If we seem a little tighter with our wallets and have a larger sprinkling of Republican recommendations than in years past, so be it. Voters don't need higher taxes right now, unless it's for a significant investment that cannot be deferred. And we also think this election should be about dealing with the institution that's got the tightest grip on state and local government—the public employee unions. We love teachers and cops and planners and prison guards, but the collective weight of their compensation is threatening the very solvency of this state.
After several dozen interviews —and doing follow-up reporting—we're confident we've got the right mix of measures and candidates to deal with our political horror chamber.
So yeah, it's OK to be afraid. But here's what you can do about it.
The Good, the Bad and the Awful (GBA): WW's biennial survey of legislative lobbyists, capitol staffers and journalists that rates metro Portland area legislators on brains, integrity and effectiveness. See wweek.com/GBA09.
The "kicker": Individual and corporate tax rebates that "kick in" when Oregon's actual state tax revenues exceed projected revenues by more than 2 percent.
Measures 66 and 67: Income tax measures that were approved by Oregon voters in January 2010. Measure 66 raised personal income taxes on the highest-income Oregonians; Measure 67 increased corporate income taxes.
LNG: Liquefied natural gas. The prospect of terminals built to handle this product on the Columbia River has spawned an ongoing debate over jobs vs. the environment.
Charter schools: Public schools that may use nonunion teachers. Online charter schools have been an especially hot-button issue in Salem.
ESDs: Educational service districts are essentially co-ops for area school districts to pool services like special education, health programs and Outdoor School.
CRC: The Columbia River Crossing, the much-debated, multibillion-dollar replacement for the current traffic-choked Interstate 5 crossing between Portland and Vancouver, Wash.
When Kitzhaber was a young, single legislator in the early 1980s, he sometimes visited Salem watering holes; on occasion, he'd dip his pinkie in a glass of bourbon, ignite it and use the flaming finger to light ladies' cigarettes.
The former emergency-room doc has come a long way since then—four legislative sessions as state Senate president, two terms as governor ending in 2003 and seven years since in the wilderness, thinking big thoughts about health care. Firing up smokes in bars is a thing of the past for Kitzhaber, now 63. But we hope he's learned some new ignition tricks, because Oregon's pilot light is out.
The state's unemployment rate remains stubbornly above average, the tax increases voters approved in January have done little to stanch the bleeding budget, and the Democratically controlled Legislature seems beholden to special interests and bereft of new ideas. So, can Kitzhaber save the day? If the past is prologue, we're not sure. While the economy soared for the first 6 1/2 years of his administration, it tanked after 2001 for reasons beyond his control—the dot-com bust and 9/11 among them.
It would be fairer, however, to assess his success on those things where he spent much of his time: the Oregon Health Plan and the Oregon plan for salmon and watersheds.
The former was a revolutionary idea long before Congress passed this year's healthcare reform bill: Kitzhaber's plan was to pool the amount of state and federal money available to serve low-income patients, then prioritize treatments (and deny some) to serve the most people the most effectively. But his plan fizzled. He struggled to get federal waivers to move the line on the priority list of allowed treatments; he also failed to convince a Republican-controlled Legislature that employers should help pay for the health plan. The result: an expanded Medicaid program and not much more.
Kitzhaber's salmon plan was more successful. It headed off a federal Endangered Species Act listing, which would have further reduced the timber harvest. He was able to bring together warring environmentalists and timber interests. The plan showed Kitzhaber at his best—somebody who conceives creative solutions to vexing challenges.
But Kitzhaber's enduring legacy may be the 200-plus bills he vetoed as governor, a record that earned him the nickname "Dr. No." He claims the problem was the Republican-controlled Legislature, which kept sending him dreck. A different take is he was more interested in being right than successful, and that despite all his smarts, he lacks the people skills to translate his ideas into action.
The question is whether Kitzhaber has changed. He certainly has thought deeply about the issues that bedevil state government. He wants to make every school in the state energy-efficient; dissolve the unhelpful barriers among preschool, K-12 and higher-ed funding; and shake up the status quo by asking every state agency head and program manager to resign. He understands the state budget and does acknowledge that he didn't always lead effectively or compromise enough the last time he held the job. We are troubled by the VIP loan he received from Bidwell & Co. in 1999 when he was governor (see "Dr. Do-Over," WW, Sept. 22, 2010). Kitzhaber can try to spin the loan any way he wants. But this much is clear—he got a loan no one else in Oregon could have received and then gave the lender a plum state appointment a couple of years later.
If it doesn't sound like we're exactly sipping the Kitzhaber Kool-Aid, that's because we're not.
The problem is, his opponent is simply the wrong man for the job.
We've come to like Republican Chris Dudley over the past several months. He's as genial and affable as Kitzhaber is aloof. Dudley also has a compelling personal story. He overcame diabetes and a lack of offensive skills to play 16 years in the NBA. He served as a leader in the players' union and has been far more philanthropic than most athletes.
Beyond his personality and unusual bio, Dudley's primary appeal is an almost Reaganesque ability to define complex issues in simple terms.
But there is absolutely nothing in his record that qualifies him to be the chief executive of a state of more than 3.7 million people and a budget of $15 billion. And we simply disagree with him on key issues. His answer to Oregon's chronic underemployment is to slash capital gains taxes, which has not proven to be a panacea elsewhere.
He's eager to return timber harvesting to 1980s levels, seemingly unaware that lack of demand and, more important, environmental regulation, make that highly unlikely. He supports several restrictions on abortion and in a rare unscripted moment recently, allowed that he thinks Oregon's minimum wage is too high. He is not a friend of sensible land-use planning and opposes eliminating the kicker.
In addition, Dudley is also guilty of promising what he simply cannot deliver. It is impossible to cut the budget, reduce taxes and make enhanced investments in better teachers, college scholarships and job creation. Not in this economy. In his personal life, Dudley has demonstrated an aversion to paying his fair share of taxes: He made a questionable claim of Washington residency during a mid-'90s stint with the Trail Blazers to dodge Oregon income taxes and took a highly dubious $350,000 tax deduction in 2004 for allowing firefighters to torch his house.
We are sympathetic to Dudley's strongest argument: namely, that 24 consecutive years of Democratic governors have left Oregon lagging the nation in many important categories. That's a valid criticism, but not enough to make us overlook his shortcomings. We'll stick with Kitzhaber.
Greg Kord, a Troutdale industrial piping designer, represents the Constitution Party in this race and he amicably detailed views with which we completely disagree. Wes Wagner, a systems administrator from Aurora, is on the ballot as the Libertarian candidate.
Wheeler was not looking for a job back in March when Gov. Ted Kulongoski named him to replace Ben Westlund, who died in office. At the time, Wheeler was coasting toward re-election to his second term as Multnomah County chairman after spending the previous three years righting the listing ship he'd been left by his predecessor. Wheeler left to become state treasurer, and he immediately walked into a controversy: His employees, according to an Oregonian investigation, were taking perks from the same companies that managed billions of dollars in state and state employee pension funds. After some initial defensiveness, Wheeler handled that situation. He invited in outside citizen review panels and decisively reduced the blandishments his managers could accept—no more first-class airline tickets or rounds of golf, for example. In our mind, he didn't go far enough—we think the statements of economic interest of those who help pick money managers ought to be a matter of public record, but it's a start.
Wheeler made news more recently by warning lawmakers last month they would imperil the state's AA credit rating—thus increasing the cost of borrowing—if they added so much as a dime's worth of general obligation debt. Yes, he's in the middle of an election, but his pronouncement showed discipline and aggressiveness.
Wheeler is one of the two or three brightest lights in the Oregon Democratic Party. The heir to a lumber fortune, he has more degrees than a thermometer, experience in the private sector and a bland earnestness that makes Jared from Subway look edgy. His wife wants him to be governor, and he seems to be warming to the idea, but he is patient and seemingly dedicated to earning his stripes. In this race, his blend of public- and private-sector experience, plus his leadership qualities, place him far above his competitors.
Those opponents include state Sen. Chris Telfer (R-Bend), a first-term lawmaker who brings more than 30 years of experience as a certified public accountant. Telfer has also owned businesses ranging from a coffee shop to a plastics company that employed nearly 90 people. She's confident and aggressive, but neither her professional credentials nor her equally brief political résumé as a legislator are a match for Wheeler's bona fides as a public leader. Eternal candidate Walt Brown and Constitution Party representative Mike Marsh round out the field. Neither merits serious consideration.
Click on District name for Map
District 13, parts of Washington, Clackamas, Yamhill and Marion counties
We had been intrigued by the prospect of Democratic candidate Timi Parker's challenge to George, the GOP incumbent and a hazelnut processor. We disagree with most of George's anti-tax and land-use views (he once headed Oregonians in Action). And we thought Parker, a retired teacher who planned to run for the Newberg City Council before getting recruited by Senate Democrats to take on George, might actually bring expertise to a building where the joke goes that every lawmaker is an education expert because they all attended school once. Sadly, Parker's lesson plan for what she'd do in the Legislature turned out to be a collection of tired bromides that felt like those of a cookie-cutter Democrat waiting for her next instruction from the Oregon Education Association. George's positions haven't gotten any more palatable over time, and we think it stinks that he and state Sen. Bruce Starr (see next endorsement) used a printer in their re-election campaigns who's behind a website that targeted abortion docs (see Rogues of the Week, WW, Oct. 6, 2010). But George is clearly one of the smarter Republicans in Salem and can act as a brake on Democratic excesses. And George did surprise us on one front: He said it's time to reform Oregon's campaign finance free-for-all. There's something we can agree on.
District 15, Hillsboro. Forest Grove, Cornelius, North Plains
This is one of Oregon's most closely watched Senate races because it matches two longtime lawmakers who, combined, have collectively raised more than $400,000 in cash to win this seat. Three-term state Rep. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro) is leaving his House seat (his wife, Katie, is running to replace him. See House District 29) to challenge Starr, the Republican incumbent who's seeking a third term. We've never been enthusiastic about either of these veteran Hillsboro lawmakers. But we give the edge to Starr in this contest. He regularly crosses the aisle to work on transportation funding, and he outscored the low-key Riley in the 2009 GBA on brains, integrity and effectiveness—the latter no small feat given that Starr is in the minority party. Riley, by contrast, has some tinier achievements such as crackdowns on predatory towing and a bill requiring that measures be written in "plain language." But Riley doesn't even chair a committee—a sign that even those in his party don't think much of him. Stick with Starr.
District 17, Northwest Portland, Beaverton and parts of Washington County
Bonamici is half of one of Oregon's premier power couples. Her husband is Portland lawyer Michael Simon, who's been nominated by President Obama to be a federal judge. Bonamici, a former consumer lawyer who was elected to the House in 2006, is sharp, well-prepared and ambitious enough to seek statewide office one day. For now, she is running for a full four-year Senate term after getting appointed to fill a vacancy in 2008. She has already made a mark, passing a bill last session that requires mediation between home lenders and borrowers before foreclosure can begin. She was the second-highest-ranked senator in the GBA. And she was brave enough during our endorsement interview to discuss the prospect of a sales tax in concert with reductions in income and property taxes. Her opponent, Republican Stevan Kirkpatrick, is a disabled Marine veteran, and shows no sign he is a match for Bonamici.
District 19, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin and Southwest Portland
For years, Devlin made his living as an investigator in civil lawsuits and divorce cases, finding people who did not want to be found. As an elected official—he served two terms as a Metro councilor and has been a state lawmaker for 14 years—he shows the same kind of dogged, methodical approach his former day job requires. Now Senate majority leader, Devlin has an impressive grasp of the budget and an ability to synthesize vast amounts of information. Both qualities earn him perennially high GBA scores and far outweigh the constant jokes that he looks like a gnome. As majority leader, Devlin spends more time lining up votes than writing bills, but in 2009 he wrote a much-needed tweak to a 2007 ethics bill and played a major role in preserving Project Independence, which delivers home care to seniors. He also pushed hard to help 80,000 kids get health insurance. Republican Mary Kremer, a former investment banker and more recently an advocate for online charter schools, is too narrowly focused. We're also not very impressed with her dirty-tricks campaign, which has been absurdly accusing Devlin of being soft on sex crimes.
District 20, Canby, Milwaukie, Oregon City
After state Sen. Kurt Schrader successfully ran for Congress in 2008 (see 5th Congressional District), his wife, Martha, took his Senate seat. A member from 2003 to 2009 of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, she's a moderate Democrat (translation: not an automatic yes vote for unions or the enviro lobby). And lord knows Salem could certainly use more independent thinking. But her first session in 2009 was hardly distinguished. A former family farmer and school librarian from Canby, she helped push through a bill instituting a statewide re-integration program for Oregon veterans but accomplished little else, earning an "Awful" in our GBA rankings. Lucky for her, Schrader's opponent on the Republican and Independent tickets is her neighbor, Canby general contractor Alan Olsen. He brings nothing but rehashed GOP talking points (Measures 66 and 67 "punished hard workers"; we should "open our arms" to business). We'll stick with Martha Schrader and hope her game improves.
District 22, North and Northeast Portland
Shields, who founded a nonprofit to find jobs for those on probation and parole, has never been short on ambition. When Democrat Margaret Carter left this Senate seat last year for a state job, Shields was first into the fray. A three-term state rep at the time, Shields nosed out Karol Collymore (now running for a seat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners) for the Senate appointment by the county board. Currently working as a business manager for his wife's healthcare clinic, Shields is a reliable voice in Salem for treatment over lock-'em-up solutions when it comes to criminal justice. Shields broadened his bandwidth last session to work on improving the state Insurance Division's rate-approval process for insurance companies. His opponent in this overwhelmingly Democratic district is Republican Dwayne Runyan. A retired Navy computer-repair technician, Runyan says he's running because Measures 66 and 67 were the "last straw" for him. He's a perfectly reasonable guy but had little to add beyond a voice of frustration.
District 24, mid-Multnomah County and Happy Valley
We've taken our shots at Monroe over the years. In the 2006 general election, we said he was as "exciting as a pot of warm tea," and in the May 2010 Democratic primary, we wrote "he's got a bearing so erect you'd swear he's squeezing a potato chip in his butt." Yet we endorsed him in both instances. We do so again, not with any enthusiasm that he will light the Legislature on fire but with the assurance that we at least know what we're getting with Monroe, who's been in politics since the earth cooled. He first entered the Legislature in 1976, then served on the Metro Council for 12 years before returning to Salem in 2007. His opponent is Republican Rob Wheeler, a financial planner and mayor of Happy Valley. He deviated little from Republican orthodoxy during our endorsement interview, but did alarm us when he pointed to Texas as an exemplar of the business-friendly climate he'd seek for Oregon. "Texas seems to be creating a lot of jobs," he said. "I think they're a little more sprawling." Ya think?
District 26, Sandy, Estacada, Hood River
Barton is a 30-year-old Portland corporate lawyer who earned degrees from Stanford, Cambridge and Harvard Law School and looks like he is years away from needing a razor. Instead of riding his academic credentials to a Manhattan or Los Angeles law firm, Barton spent 2009, his first term in the Oregon House, debating the minutiae of parole guidelines, how to deter metal theft or what level of protection is appropriate for the Metolius basin in central Oregon. Barton narrowly missed a "Good" rating in the GBA. Now he is seeking the seat being vacated by Sen. Rick Metsger (D-Welches). His Republican opponent, Hood River pear grower Chuck Thomsen, has spent 16 years on the Hood River County Commission. Thomsen, 53, is a nice guy, but his personal warmth is no match for Barton's brains and energy.
District 26, Wilsonville, Sherwood, Aloha
Webb moved to Aloha only in September 2008 and is making her first foray into elected politics. But her legal practice leaves her well suited for Salem. Here's why: Webb is a solo practitioner whose clients include foster kids and the elderly, two groups whose lives are routinely in need of an advocate in state government. Webb also runs a consulting business with her husband, who serves in the Navy Reserve. Until recently, that side project included a contract for work in Afghanistan. If Webb is smart enough to navigate the needs of senior citizens and the intricacies of a warring country, we think Salem should be easy. Her opponent is incumbent Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville). Wingard is articulate and passionate about his philosophy on education, but his problem is less his views than his unbridled arrogance, which all but guarantees his accomplishments in Salem will be few and far between. That's why our GBA ranked him near the bottom for effectiveness.
District 27, Raleigh Hills and Beaverton
A two-term lawmaker who works at Nike, Tobias Read is a smarty-pants who once worked for Larry Summers when Summers was Clinton's treasury secretary. (One of his biggest campaign contributors is Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer who also used to work for Summers. She gave Read $5,000 this year and $10,000 in 2008.) Read is still finding his way in Salem. He narrowly missed a "Good" grade in the GBA, though we gave him props for crafting a compromise on what became Measure 67. That compromise directs the permanent increase in corporate income taxes from that measure to a rainy day fund, not the general fund, starting in 2013. As the chairman of the sustainability committee, Read seems to have found a niche in green energy that suits him well and may yet serve his constituents. So far, his accomplishments (promoting solar power and energy efficiency) have had narrow results. His opponent is Dan Lucas, manager of database operations for Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon. He doesn't seem to have much idea about why he is running, but we will say this: Lucas does have one of the most interesting career paths we came across. He was once an analyst for the U.S. Army at a Cold War spy station in Berlin, monitoring phone calls and other communications.
District 28, Beaverton and Aloha
Barker is perhaps the most conservative Democrat in Salem. He is also a retired Portland cop and an effective politician. Eight years in Salem have given Barker seniority and a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and his law-enforcement experience is a welcome asset as the Leg tries to cut the public-safety budget and rein in the state's prison spending. Barker ranked as "Good" in 2009's GBA rankings, where one observer noted Barker manages complex issues with "grace and ease." Voters could certainly do worse than Barker's Republican opponent, Bill Berg, a software salesman with business savvy. But with the state in the middle of an epic meltdown, we need Barker's experience more than ever in Salem.
District 29, Hillsboro, Cornelius, Forest Grove
Either candidate running to fill the seat left by Rep. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro) so he could run for the Senate would be an improvement on the somnolent incumbent. One of the candidates is even his wife, Katie Riley. A Democrat, Katie Riley is a recently retired professor of public health and preventative medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and a past chairwoman of the Washington County Commission on Children and Families. That's a tempting résumé of experience in health care and social services. But we're passing on the paper because Republican candidate Katie Eyre Brewer showed much more capacity in our endorsement interview to get beyond party platitudes and answer questions clearly (Riley's fumbling answer on marriage rights for same-sex couples was one of the worst deer-in-the-headlights moments we witnessed). And Brewer is no slacker either on the résumé—she's a member of the Hillsboro Planning Commission and a past chair of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce.
District 30, Hillsboro, North Plains
When incumbent Rep. David Edwards (D-Hillsboro) announced in July he would not seek re-election because of his wife's illness, House Democrats lost one of their bright lights. That decision created an opportunity for Lindsay, a first-time candidate who works as an intellectual-property lawyer at the Lane Powell firm. Lindsay is the superior candidate in this race. He's thought about legislative matters (not just how to run for office) and provided greater detail about job creation than just about any candidate we met. Some of his ideas are wacky—like delaying state income-tax collections to spur the economy. And if elected, he might not get to implement favorable tax treatment for those investing severance pay in startups or target tax credits to certain capital investments. But he'd bring a lot more intellectual horsepower to the discussion than his Democratic opponent, Hillsboro schoolteacher Doug Ainge. The Democrat is notable primarily because of the last name he shares with his brother Danny, the Boston Celtics president, ex-Trail Blazer and former superstar Oregon high-school athlete.
District 33, Northwest Portland, Southwest Portland and Northern Washington County
We would never call Greenlick the Don Draper of Oregon Democrats. But Mike Bieker, his Republican opponent, calls to mind Mad Men's Pete Campbell—restless, off-putting and overconfident in assessing Oregon's current budget woes and the value of his own solutions. Greenlick is running for his fifth term to represent Northwest Portland's heavily Democratic enclaves. In our joint interview with both, Greenlick dispensed with Bieker's peevish complaints about Democrats with practiced debate skills. And he produced plenty of facts about why Bieker's ideas to abolish the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, for example, won't do much to address Oregon's looming budget crisis. That speaks to Greenlick's worth in the Legislature. He's a healthcare wonk who worked at Kaiser Permanente and Oregon Health & Science University. He's still pushing the same old idea of merging OHSU with Portland State University. But he deserves a fifth nod over Bieker, an independent healthcare consultant who once worked for Arthur Andersen.
District 34, Beaverton, Parts of Southwest Portland
Harker holds a unique vantage point on health policy. He's a former research physiologist who worked for OHSU and built Cayuse, a Beaverton business that helps medical professionals get grants. And the latter also makes him one of only a few Democratic lawmakers to own a small business—an attribute he says gives him "street cred with the R's." Harker has held this seat since 2008 when he was appointed to replace Suzanne Bonamici after she left the House for the Senate. Harker got low scores in our GBA for effectiveness, but decent marks for integrity and brains (a good questioner and independent-minded, according to survey respondents). Republican Tyler Hill works for Bar-Tur Foods, a restaurant-supply business. His website is filled with innocuous GOP political pabulum. He declined to come in for an interview, and one statement about transparency on the "issues" page of his website really got our goat. "Somehow, government forgot it works for the people, not the other way around," Hill's website reads. "The people of Oregon deserve to know what their government is doing on their behalf." If the guy had deigned to talk to us, we might have believed he was telling the truth.
District 35, Southwest Portland, Tigard, Metzger
First things first: We named Doherty Rogue of the Week on Sept. 8 for using her legislative privileges to mail her constituents glossy mailers about her accomplishments in Salem. We singled Doherty out from the handful of other Democrats who sent similar mailers last summer, because, simply put, she didn't have much to report. Doherty was appointed to fill the post only in September 2009 after Democrat Larry Galizio took a job at Clatsop Community College. Thus her service in Salem is limited to one February special session. But Doherty also strikes us as fairly unflappable (she came back to our office a couple weeks later to make a pitch for Measure 70.). A high-school teacher in Milwaukie for 10 years, Doherty went on to become a representative of the Oregon Education Association for 22 years. Putting an ex-OEA rep into the Legislature might be like giving Colonel Sanders a crack at watching the chicken house, but she's a much better fit for the job than Republican Gordon Fiddes, a total cipher. The owner of a business for repairing furniture damaged during moving, Fiddes offers solutions for helping independent businesses too small-bore to be significant.
District 36, Southwest Portland
Nolan, the House majority leader, is seeking her sixth term. She ranked fourth overall among the metro area's 25 House members in the GBA, earning the second-highest mark for brains. She is an astute, sharp-elbowed tactician who commands respect more than she inspires it. In a generally successful 2009 session, she is perhaps best remembered for rounding up House votes for the $960 million transportation package, then voting against it herself. Nolan says the final bill did not address her land-use concerns; some speculate the vote was an attempt to appeal to Portland enviros and marked the beginning of a 2012 mayoral run. She denies any interest in Sam Adams' job. GOPer Diane Schendel, a part-time Portland parks employee, is making her maiden political run in a district where D's outnumber R's nearly 4-to-1. She's frustrated with government spending and public-employee compensation but lacks a compelling solution to either.
District 37, Tualatin, West Linn, Lake Oswego
This seat opened up when Republican Scott Bruun opted to run for Congress (see 5th Congressional District), and Parrish may have been the most pleasant surprise we had during our interviews. A former food-service director in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District who's gone on to run an Internet-coupon business (her Twitter name is "hotcouponmama"), Parrish became the Republican candidate when mixed-martial artist Chael Sonnen dropped out of the race. Parrish, the wife of an Iraq war vet, struck us as genuine, smart and able to empathize with anybody—tearing up briefly as she described her homeless past. Democratic candidate Will Rasmussen, a real-estate and land-use lawyer at Miller Nash, comes off as shallow and far less genuine—admitting he fudged a residency question we asked him in the primary—and offering less depth on policy matters than Christine O'Donnell. Cutting red tape for small business as a big idea? Please.
District 38, Lake Oswego
Garrett, a corporate lawyer at Perkins Coie, certainly has guts. He voted against his firm's client in a brutal 2009 legislative skirmish over development in the Metolius River basin. The first-term Democrat also disappointed his party's environmental base by voting for a so-called "LNG fast-track" bill. He's independent, savvy and very focused on unsexy issues such as tax reform. His Republican opponent, Rob Gardier, a lawyer and Harvard MBA with a couple of decades' experience in the telecommunications industry, seems like a smart guy and has done valuable work helping nonprofits sharpen their pencils. But Gardier, a political novice, advances nothing more than rote GOP talking points, giving voters little reason to replace an effective incumbent.
District 40, Gladstone and parts of Clackamas County
Hunt, the House speaker, is an easy guy to underestimate. He's not flashy, imposing or a spell-binding orator. But he is effective. Whether it was good policy or not, he ushered personal and corporate tax hikes through the 2009 legislative session in the worst economic climate in a half century. He oversaw a gas-tax increase to fund a transportation package both parties wanted. And he has orchestrated a series of budget cuts over the past two years with a premium on efficiency and a minimum of drama. Hunt, who makes his non-legislative living advocating for Columbia River shippers, is a business-friendly bleeding heart. That's a pretty good makeup for a guy who represents a working-class district in a blue state. His Republican opponent, Deborah Gerritzen, a stay-at-home mother, is active in children's welfare issues but is no match for Hunt.
District 41, Southeast Portland, Milwaukie
Two years ago, we might have been tempted to endorse Republican Hugo Schulz if he had run against Tomei then. Tomei seemed to be losing steam in 2008 after four terms and earned our endorsement then only because her opponent was weak. That's not the case today. Tomei's scores in the latest GBA showed the second-largest increase of any lawmaker in the metro area, and she gets extra credit for her willingness to challenge lobbyists who appear before the Human Services Committee she chairs. (Believe it or not, those challenges don't happen very often.) The former mayor of Milwaukie, Tomei showed the same renewed feistiness in our interview by pointing out her effectiveness in this past session of passing bills that dealt with fake cigarettes and driving while using handheld cell phones. For his part, Schulz is well prepared and presents an intriguing background—returning to his musical roots by playing in a dance band ("I want to bring harmony to Salem," he jokes) after retiring from Intel as a manager. But he's kind of a Johnny One Note, singing from the virtual-schools chorus and showing less breadth than Tomei.
District 42, Inner Southeast Portland
Two years ago, Bailey powered through a crowded field of credible candidates to win the Democratic primary to represent inner Southeast Portland, perhaps Oregon's most liberal district. Any Democrat with a pulse in this district could be re-elected indefinitely—a perfect opportunity for someone to shake things up in their party and the Leg. Unfortunately, Bailey is not that kind of politician. Still a pup at age 30, Bailey rarely parts paths with the majority and shows zero desire to stand up to public-employee unions when the state is broke. Bailey isn't the most electrifying guy in Salem, but the Mandarin-speaking economist is one of the smartest. He also has the ear of gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber—not a bad omen for Bailey's district if Kitzhaber wins. And fortunately enough for him, his Republican opponent, geographical information systems specialist Cliff Hutchison, is befuddled enough to call TriMet "corporate welfare." Pacific Green Party candidate Chris Extine shows little knowledge of state government.
District 44, North Portland
This is an easy call for the incumbent. Kotek, the House majority whip, earned high marks in her second term across the board on GBA for integrity, brains and effectiveness. She co-sponsored a bill during the special session to bar employers from using applicants' credit history against them and a measure requiring restaurants with 15 or more locations in Oregon to post calorie counts on their menus. Her opponent is Republican Kitty Harmon, a tea partyer who's pleasant enough and concedes she's "far out of her comfort zone" in making her first run. Harmon says she's running in this overwhelmingly Democratic district to give voters a choice. OK, we've made ours.
District 45, Northeast Portland
Charter schools are the biggest issue between the two candidates in this contest. Michael Dembrow, the smart but dour (think another donkey icon: Eeyore) Democratic incumbent, teaches English and film studies at Portland Community College. The Republican, Anne Marie Gurney, is a stay-at-home mom with two kids enrolled in an online charter school. When Dembrow introduced a 2009 bill to limit online charters, Gurney went to Salem in protest. The result shows why Dembrow is an effective legislator. He met with Gurney, had what Gurney concedes was a lucid talk that easily could have turned into an ideological turf war, then backed off on his bill. Now Gurney is running against Dembrow because she wants to ensure Salem protects charter schools, and she doesn't trust Dembrow with his union past (he was head of the teachers union at PCC) to do the job. But Dembrow also shows independence—he was the only lawmaker to vote against a tax credit for people who create small businesses. He's also a good fit for his progressive district—he was nominated by the Working Families Party as well as the Democrats. Dembrow correctly believes the state should be more careful with tax incentives, and voters would do well to send him back to Salem.
District 46, Southeast Portland
A middle-school teacher and a Rhodes scholar, Cannon has the kind of résumé progressive wannabe lawmakers would kill for. But he wears his credentials well, which is to say modestly. As the only current K-12 teacher in the Legislature, Cannon could use his expertise as an excuse to grandstand on education policy, a favorite topic of many lawmakers come election season. Instead, Cannon is careful not to let his own experience as a private-school teacher dictate what public schools in Oregon should do. His non-union teaching gig does seem to give him perspective on the OEA. He thinks Oregon should offer a more flexible approach toward online charter schools. Statewide bargaining should be on the table too, he says. This summer, WW named Cannon, who refuses to take PAC or corporate money, the "best politician money can't buy" in our annual Best of Portland issue. His opponent is Russell Turner, a musician and server-and-bartender trainer. "You are not a machine," he writes on his campaign website. "You are a living, thinking being; you are expressed by your choices. The greatest society is one that maintains an environment that maximizes choices while providing maximum protection against harm and injustice." Next.
District 47, East Portland
Smith is one of Salem's more curious animals. He's funny, earnest and almost psychedelic in the way his mind works, and smart. But spend any amount of time with him and it's clear he likes the sound of his own voice—even when it's not clear what he's saying. "Talking about the problem is not the problem," he told us at one point in our interview. "The problem is the problem." A founder of the get-out-the-vote Bus Project, Smith has the energy of a work horse but, according to those who know him, the ego of a show horse. We'll give him this: East Portland could use a lot more political attention, and Smith is the lawmaker to produce it. His political accomplishments include a complex water bill, as well as making it possible for Oregonians to register to vote online and get more transparent information about the state's budget. Smith's opponent is Republican Dee Flowers, a small-business owner and landlord who has no prior experience in elected office and makes no compelling argument why she should get any.
District 48, East Multnomah County
So why do we land on Schaufler? A former member of the Laborers' Union who's seeking his fifth House term, Schaufler described himself proudly in our interview as a "union thug." He's a regular laggard in the GBA, getting especially low ratings in the category of brains. And in a rant captured on YouTube at the start of the 2009 session, he immortalized his penchant for bluster when chairing his House Committee on Business and Labor. But here's what we took from that rant: In railing against anybody who's opposed to LNG—or pipelines, or getting back in the forest, or pulling water out of the Columbia for irrigation—he at least showed he's not worried about offending anybody. Though we don't expect him to take on public-employee unions, we like that he'll bring his asshole attributes to every other sacred Democratic cow in the 2011 Legislature. And we also appreciate that he's pro-choice, unlike his opponent Jeff Caton. A previous candidate for state treasurer in 2004, Caton, a tax consultant and senior project manager for the Greenbrier Companies, doesn't give straight answers to the most basic questions.
District 49, Troutdale, Wood Village and parts of Gresham
Kahl earned an "Awful" rating in our 2009 legislative survey. His opponent, Matt Wand, is a plain-spoken construction lawyer who, like Kahl, grew up in East County. They both graduated from Mount Hood Community College, Portland State University and Lewis & Clark Law School. Wand, a Troutdale city councilor, is measured, earnest and thoughtful. So why are we recommending Kahl, whom we did not endorse in his first run in 2008? Because we now believe that many of those who filled out our 2009 survey got Kahl wrong. Yes, he's brash and blunt. But Kahl, more than some of his better-known party colleagues, takes on tough issues and wins. He successfully pushed legislation reining in Portland's profligate use of urban renewal money; beat the powerful banking lobby to gain stronger regulation of lenders; and, most importantly, delivered a $24 million highway project that will help develop a derelict aluminum-plant site on the Columbia River. Wand has potential; Kahl has actually delivered.
District 50, Gresham
The contest between Republican Andre Wang and Matthews, the Democratic incumbent seeking a second term, pits Mr. Nice Guy against Mr. Nice Guy with a firefighters uniform. Is there something in the water in Gresham? Rarely did we meet opposing candidates so civil to each other at our interviews. At one point, Wang admitted almost voting for Matthews in the 2008 election. They even hung around after their interview, pleasantly chewing the fat. Matthews has a long and varied career in public safety, first as a motorcycle cop then as a fire department spokesman and firefighters union president. He owns a childcare center in Gresham with his wife. Wang, a lawyer, runs a solo law practice focused on immigration issues helping high-tech companies hire employees from outside the U.S. He has never held office but has been a longtime volunteer on Republican campaigns. Thirteen years ago he also briefly worked for former state Sen. John Lim (R-Gresham) in Salem. This is one of our closest calls; both men are smart and reasonable, but we give the edge to the candidate who has actual legislative experience and is no friend to ideologues. Matthews got a "Good" in the GBA, passing bills prohibiting employer discrimination against veterans and granting first responders broad coverage for work-related cancers.
District 51, Boring, Eagle Creek, Estacada, Happy Valley
This open seat was created when Rep. Brent Barton decided to run for the state Senate. Myers, an adoptee from Korea who has served six years on the North Clackamas School District, is an impressive candidate. She runs a financial services company with her husband, Jim, and is comfortable with budgets and stretching dollars. "Pennies should scream when they leave our fingers," she says. We agree. We wish she were more candid on hot-button issues such as gay marriage. But she is far more prepared for Salem than Republican Patrick Sheehan, who branded his campaign literature with green shamrocks. This Hummer driver runs a small advertising business and says he decided to run for office in part because of his anger over Measure 66 and 67.
District 52, Troutdale, Sandy, Hood River
We endorsed Democrat Suzanne VanOrman in her successful 2008 run for this seat against mixed-martial arts fighter Matt "The Law" Lindland. But we're giving her opponent, Mark Johnson—a thoughtful small-business owner who's served six years on the Hood River County School Board—the nod this year. Perhaps owing to his service on the school board, Johnson isn't a stereotypical Republican hatchet man. He supports consolidating education service districts, a sensible idea for saving on administrative costs. VanOrman got a "Bad" rating in our 2009 survey, with her lowest score in the effectiveness category—a real black eye for somebody whose party is in the stomping majority. One respondent to our survey also predicted her political demise: "My gut says if the Republicans field a credible candidate, she will be a one-termer." That credible candidate is Johnson.
METRO PRESIDENT, Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington counties
Running Metro effectively requires the patience of a saint and the negotiating skills of a car dealer. That's because Metro, the only elected regional government in the country, manages an eclectic mix of assets: It runs the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon Convention Center and manages the region's solid waste and recycling system. It does transportation planning and doles out federal transportation dollars. Perhaps most controversially, it manages the region's urban growth boundary. That last task confers enormous responsibility to include—or exclude—land from the UGB. That, in turn, has big economic and aesthetic consequences for the region that covers a broad spectrum, from hillbillies who park rusting El Caminos in their front yards to wannabe Portland bicycle couriers who think the internal-combustion engine is Satan. The Metro Council president is tasked with finding common ground among all those 1.5 million people in 25 constituent cities as disparate as Portland and Damascus (Oregon, that is). Some cities are desperate for development, like Cornelius in Washington County, which recently welcomed a Wal-Mart like a long-lost brother. Others, like Portland, want density. That's where the patience comes in—and the negotiating skills.
In the past, Metro has often found itself at odds with many cities and interests in Washington and Clackamas counties. David Bragdon, who left his final term a few months early to work in Manhattan, improved those relationships. But they remain fragile. And Hughes, the former two-term mayor of Hillsboro, is best suited to build on Bragdon's peacemaking. His eight years as mayor gives Hughes experience running an organization about Metro's size and with about as varied a portfolio. As Hillsboro mayor, he oversaw a job boom, most evident in the gleaming new Genentech and SolarWorld plants. Efforts to paint him now as a shill for developers miss the mark: He twice earned the endorsement of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters as a mayoral candidate.
Hughes' opponent is Bob Stacey, the former executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon. Stacey is quick and smart and as articulate as they come. But he is uncompromising and, worse, has a reputation as a dreadful manager, a rep he got when working at TriMet and as the head of the planning department for Portland and when running 1000 Friends of Oregon. Former subordinates say he is inflexible, delegates poorly and is easily distracted. Such concerns led the AFSCME union that represents Metro workers to overwhelmingly vote to support Hughes, even though Stacey's land-use positions come straight out of the Metro playbook.
One more thing: Some have tried to frame this race as a referendum on the Columbia River Crossing. But, in truth, Metro will not decide what, if anything, gets built.
Multnomah County District 2, North and Northeast Portland
In the May primary, we endorsed Karol Collymore for a seat on the five-member board of county commissioners. Out of a crowded field of candidates, we wrote that this 2003 New Mexico transplant has "progressive credentials" and the "passion and ambition" to represent North and Northeast Portland well.
We've changed our minds. Collymore's passion and ambition remain unquestioned. However, WW recently uncovered troubling clues that Collymore overstated her accomplishments as an aide to then-County Commissioner (now County Chairman) Jeff Cogen (see "Collymore or Less," WW, Sept. 22, 2010). Fortunately there's a second candidate in the race, Loretta Smith, who is qualified to earn our support.
Smith has caught fire since her uninspiring primary campaign. A 20-year aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Smith was clearly unused to running her own show. She knew what she cared about (helping kids and the elderly) but couldn't say how to get there. All that has changed in the past five months. Now Smith speaks with acumen about the county, its intersection with the federal government, and how to leverage that relationship to gain more money for cash-strapped programs.
Much has been made about the issue of race in this election. Whichever candidate wins, Multnomah County will have only its second African-American commissioner in history. So we give big points for the depth of support Smith has gained among prominent African-Americans from young (Johnell Bell) to old (T. Allen Bethel). Smith has spent most of her life cultivating deep roots in the community. Meanwhile, Collymore has channeled her social and political energy into working with the gay community and in favor of abortion rights, obviously worthy causes.
Smith has a verified record in Wyden's office of nuts-and-bolts work helping local governments and nonprofits gain funding and spend it wisely. We hope she remains practical and independent as a county commissioner.
In this bleak season for Democratic incumbents, Wyden has campaigned like an outsider, trying to obscure the fact he's spent 30 years in Congress.
His first TV ad talked about his independence. And he has relentlessly reminded voters he was one of the few Democratic senators who voted against TARP, the so-called "Wall Street" bailout. To show he's still young and cool at 61, he set up a dunk tank at an Oaks Bottom campaign event. And to show he's not just another Washington suit, he mixed in a pair of Kitzhaberian blue jeans in his ads. But it's pretty tough for Wyden, who parlayed his work with the Gray Panthers into a House victory in 1980 and graduated to the Senate in 1996, to look like anything other than what he is: a firmly entrenched incumbent wanting six more years in the Senate.
We're OK with that because Wyden is honest, energetic and increasingly influential after 14 years in the Senate. He's been at the forefront of congressional battles on issues important to his constituents: from local issues such as securing federal timber payments to rural counties to national topics such as whether to tax Internet commerce (he's consistently opposed such a tax) and how to make health care cheaper. Although he votes with Democrats 96 percent of the time, he is sufficiently bipartisan to have worked with U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) for more than five years on a plan called the Healthy Americans Act, only to see that work supplanted by President Obama's plan (and Bennett's bipartisanship get rejected by Utah Republicans in his losing GOP primary this year). Wyden correctly says the health reform plan Congress passed incorporates several aspects of his work, including an insurance exchange and greater flexibility for states to design their own plans.
More recently, he backed a nanotechnology bill that helped an Oregon dialysis company get $50 million in funding, and he also helped usher Google—and 200 jobs—into The Dalles. Wyden served as a key sponsor of the Build America Bonds Act, which has created $500 million in low-cost infrastructure funding in Oregon and far more in the rest of the country.
Wyden's principal opponent is Republican Jim Huffman, a Lewis & Clark law professor who's far more substantive than Wyden's 2004 opponent, cattleman Al King. Huffman, a first-time candidate, is an articulate advocate for lower taxes and less regulation. He blames Wyden for supporting Obama's healthcare plan and for the sweeping financial regulation Congress has enacted in the past year. But he struggles to explain how voters were better off prior to the passage of such legislation and cannot explain how his 30 years teaching law puts him any closer to the real world than Wyden's 30 years in Congress. His efforts to paint Wyden as a tool of Wall Street run smack into Wyden's TARP vote—he was one of only seven Senate D's who voted against the $727 billion Wall Street bailout.
Wyden is not perfect. He spends years on big-picture legislation, like his Healthy Americans Act or his simplification of the tax code, that sounds great but does not pass. But Huffman has not made a case to throw away Wyden's seniority for the next six years.
Also running are Aloha Libertarian Marc Delphine; Progressive Party representative Dr. Rick Staggenborg, a former Veterans Administration psychiatrist from Coos Bay who is running to build support for a single payer option; and Bruce Cronk, a Working Families Party representative from Roseburg.
1st Congressional District, Northwest Oregon, including west Portland and Washington County
Wu gets little respect in Oregon or D.C. He has a hard time connecting with people—one of the most basic skill sets of a good pol. That may be why in Congress he has never had that signature achievement you'd think most people could claim after 12 years on the job. But he's a sharp thinker and an independent voice, and he has delivered appropriate bacon to his district. And we still think he doesn't get enough credit for the bravery it takes to maintain his ongoing criticism of China's human-rights practices, criticism that has earned him enmity from a couple of important Oregon companies who do business with China, Nike and Intel.
This year Wu has a serious opponent: Rob Cornilles, founder and president of a Tualatin company that does sports marketing. Wu rose to Cornilles' challenge in our interview. He tangled with Cornilles over extending the Bush tax cuts for people with high incomes (Wu opposes that, Cornilles favors it), healthcare reform (we're still unclear whether Cornilles would vote to repeal it), and the stimulus plan (Wu voted for it. Cornilles said he would have opposed it). In this election, in which Republicans have put individual races in a national context, Cornilles and his lack of experience scare us into believing he'd be a lockstep vote for whatever nonsense House Minority Leader John Boehner cooks up.
There are three third-party candidates in this race. Pacific Green Party candidate Chris Henry is two years older since his last run against Wu in 2008 but with nothing else to add. Libertarian Joe Tabor is a happy warrior whom we'd be happy to share a beer with to discuss our many policy differences. Constitution Party candidate Don LaMunyon is an unhappy fanatic.
3rd Congressional District, East Portland out to Government Camp
After seven terms representing one of America's most liberal congressional districts, Blumenauer still gets annoyed by those not as smart as he is, which is most people. And he disdains the two candidates who are running against him this year as much as he correctly scoffs at Sarah Palin for lying that his effort to get end-of-life counseling into health care was the equivalent of "death panels."
In this case, he has good reason for lumping his opponents as ignoramuses. Jeff Lawrence, an Intel exec running on the Libertarian and Independent tickets, is a pompous ass with a ponytail who brags that he can finally vote for himself. That's the only easy sell he'll make. Republican Delia Lopez, whose residence is far outside the district, in the southern Oregon town of Oakland, should have her photo next to the word "nutjob" in the dictionary (she says 9/11 wouldn't have happened if more people were allowed to carry guns on planes). With opponents like these, it's no wonder voters keep sending Blumenauer back to Washington. But for all his personality flaws, Blumenauer is about as progressive as one can be and still get things done in D.C., and he's built a solid record of delivering on the transportation and livability issues that matter to his district. His third opponent, Michael Meo, represents the Pacific Green Party and the Oregon Pirate Party (yes, this actually came into existence last summer) on a platform of ending wars and attaining single-payer health care. We like that platform but doubt he could get it done. Blumenauer has earned our vote.
5th Congressional District, West Linn, Lake Oswego, Salem and Corvallis out to the central coast
This race is not just between first-term Democratic incumbent Kurt Schrader and Republican challenger Scott Bruun. It's one of many proxy battles pitting President Obama vs. red-state America. That's typical in the middle of any president's first term in swing districts, but it's become even more intense with the rise of the tea party. Challenger Scott Bruun is not a tea partyer, though his rhetoric has become far more conservative during this campaign. An investment adviser from West Linn who's served three terms in the state House, Bruun was hand-picked by the National Republican Congressional Committee to take on Schrader. In Salem, Bruun earned a reputation as a smart moderate, one whose bills mandated better nutrition in schools and made manufacturers fund computer recycling. Now that he's running for Congress, Bruun is backpedaling on his previous stances on offshore drilling and cap-and-trade.
Meanwhile, we know where Schrader stands. A former state senator who was co-chairman in the state Legislature of the Ways and Means Committee, he had a decent rookie term and brought home a $12 million grant to rebuild a crumbling veterans' center and helped the state's delegation land the NOAA base in Newport. A smart but also sharp-tongued member of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" caucus, Schrader frustrated us with his heel-dragging on the painfully modest healthcare reform bill. But his independence can also be refreshing, as when he pushed back on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's watered-down version of Wall Street reform. We like Schrader's integrity. Green Party candidate Chris Lugo also is in the race.
Loans For Veterans
What's the problem? An outdated and overly restrictive definition of who is a veteran is limiting vets' access to subsidized mortgages.
What's the proposed solution? Expand the definition of who qualifies as a vet and remove other restrictions.
Since 1944, Oregon has had a program of offering below-market-rate mortgages to vets. This proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution would lower the number of consecutive days of active-duty armed forces service required to qualify from 210 to 178. It's meant to help returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those who served National Guard stints during deployments like Hurricane Katrina relief, according to the lawmakers who referred it to the ballot. Measure 70 also removes the requirement that vets must apply within 30 years of an honorable discharge because that condition now excludes many Vietnam vets. The program, which has experienced a default rate of less than 1 percent, will continue to operate in the same fashion: The State of Oregon guarantees vets' bank loans, thereby qualifying them for submarket interest rates. The measure faces no opposition and, according to the bean counters who vetted it, will have no fiscal impact.
Annual Legislative Sessions
What's the problem? The Legislature meets once every two years and needs to meet more frequently.
What's the proposed solution? An amendment to the state constitution requiring the Legislature to meet once a year. New session-length limits would be 160 days in odd-numbered years and 35 days in even-numbered years.
Oregon is among only five states—along with Nevada, Montana, North Dakota and Texas—that lack annual sessions for its legislatures. The Oregon Legislature's only current requirement is that it meet in odd-numbered years with no limits on the length of those sessions. That's kind of a weird deal, given that city councils and school boards that have much smaller budgets meet year round. You might ask, "But so what? Who needs lawmakers gathering in Salem more than once every two years racking up per diem expenses?"
Well, here's why we think things need to change:
1. As the League of Women Voters correctly notes, the current system allows for extended sessions with no end in sight. The worst example was in 2002, when lawmakers held five special sessions totaling 52 days.
2. It's no longer realistic for the Legislature to write a budget then hibernate for another 18 months. As has been painfully demonstrated in the recent economic downturn, revenue forecasts can be off wildly. And it would be an improvement if all 90 of the lawmakers we elected to represent our interests were there in an even-numbered year to deal with unexpected fluctuations instead of leaving those decisions to the governor and the Emergency Board.
3. The Legislature cedes too much power in the current system to the Emergency Board and state agencies that are around when all 90 lawmakers aren't.
The constitutional fix being proposed is that in odd-numbered years, the Legislature would meet for 160 days, from February through the end of June. And the Legislature would meet in even-numbered years, for 35 days starting in February. A two-thirds majority would be required to extend those limits. Here's why we think that could work. The Legislature, in an effort to demonstrate how lawmakers can get in and out of Salem with a minimum of mischief, has successfully held limited February sessions in the past two even-numbered years. In fact, we'd argue those sessions haven't been ambitious enough because proponents of annual sessions, such as Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), haven't wanted to appear to be opening a political Pandora's box. That said, the time has come to bring Oregon into line with the 45 other states that have annual legislative sessions.
Borrowing For State projects
What's the problem? The state currently employs an unnecessarily expensive form of borrowing called "certificates of participation" to finance certain projects, such as hospitals and prisons.
What's the proposed solution? Amend the Oregon Constitution to allow the issuance of general obligation bonds instead of certificates of participation for those projects.
Certificates of participation let the state borrow against the collateral value of the project being constructed—a school, for example. Because such collateral can lose market value for a variety of reasons, lenders view certificates of participation as more risky than general obligation bonds, which are backed by the state's full faith and credit. G.O. bonds offer lenders more security and are thus cheaper for the state to issue. This measure allows the state to issue G.O. bonds instead of certificates of participation and to refinance existing certificates but does not increase the state's debt capacity. Taxpayers would save about $5 million for every $100 million of borrowing. The measure requires voter approval because the state constitution, which was written in 1859, only authorized the use of general obligation bonds for very limited purposes and did not anticipate the state needing money for projects such as the new state mental hospital. This housekeeping measure to change that historical prohibition faces no opposition. It would not change current debt limits or allow the state to do anything it cannot already do; it's simply a smarter borrowing approach.
Mandatory Minimums for Some sex crimes and repeat drunken drivers
What's the problem? Kevin Mannix thinks we're too soft on repeat drunken drivers and serial sex offenders.
What's the proposed solution? Lock them up longer.
Mannix, a Democrat-turned-Republican former state legislator and frequent candidate for statewide office, has had a long run in his other career—running campaigns for tough-on-crime ballot measures. He's the author of 1994's Measure 11, which set mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders. He is responsible for the construction of hundreds, if not thousands, of jail beds in this state.
Now Mannix wants stiffer sentences for repeat drunken drivers (third-time convictions would get a felony charge and 90 days in jail) and serial sex offenders (a mandatory 25 years in prison for the second conviction on a major felony sex crime). We understand the desire to punish dangerous drunks and perverts—under Mannix's measure, the added punishments would include people who shoot kiddie porn. But the obvious problem for Mannix is Oregon's multibillion-dollar budget hole. State estimates show the cost of his measure would grow over time, to at least $18 million a year by 2015. Opponents rightly point out that in our financial straits, that money is better used on treatment programs proven to prevent crime from happening in the first place. The penalties in Mannix's measure are not extreme. But this paper remains opposed to mandatory minimums because they remove a judge's discretion.
Medical marijuana dispensaries
What's the problem? Many patients in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program lack access to pot.
What's the proposed solution? Allow a statewide system of nonprofit dispensaries.
Talk about counterintuitive. This measure, which would create a business model for the sale of medical pot, is one of the better-crafted initiatives—and passage would move Oregon beyond the antediluvian system now in place for more than 36,000 Oregonians who are prescribed ganja. Currently, if you have a medical marijuana card, you find someone willing to grow pot for you, but they cannot charge you. The status quo leaves many patients, unless they have a good friend willing to grow, to their own devices on the black market.
This measure would fix that by establishing a statewide system of nonprofit dispensaries; moreover, it has safeguards in place to avoid the experience in California, where every block in Venice has a pot shop run by characters who look like extras in Pineapple Express.
Measure 74 keeps dispensaries away from schools and residential areas. Proponents say cities and counties will have the power to zone pot shops even more severely, including blocking them altogether. The state will have the power to perform background checks on dispensary employees and to inspect dispensaries and grow sites, and the measure requires careful record-keeping by growers and dispensaries. Dispensaries are allowed to sell only to customers with medical marijuana cards. And they would be taxed in such a way that the state estimates it would raise up to $20 million for the general fund in the first year alone.
Critics have done a lot of talking about the chaos this measure will supposedly create. But proponents rightly point out that it requires greater regulation than the current non-system, which is nothing but a free-for-all. That system encourages illegal grows, which are policed by underfunded cops who have better things to do. This measure gives cops no responsibility for policing the new system. That's up to state health authorities, as it should be. The only real opposition from within the medical marijuana community is that the measure doesn't do enough to keep the price of pot down—even though this measure mandates, and pays for, a state program to help poor patients.
Law-enforcement objections are obvious—they fear it's a step to legalizing pot. We sure hope so.
Wood Village casino
What's the problem? There's an abandoned 31-acre dog track in east Multnomah County that needs developing, and the state is shaking out couch cushions for revenues.
What's the proposed solution? Put a casino in the track that will spin off jobs and revenues for state coffers.
Underlying all the numbers and studies that supporters and opponents of this measure trot out is this truth: Two Lake Oswego guys backed by Canadian investors want to plunk a casino a few miles east of Portland, and Oregon's nine tribal casinos located farther away from Portland hate the idea of competition so close to this metro-area market.
Oregon's nine federally recognized tribes obtained their casinos in the wake of the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. And as sovereign nations, the Oregon tribes pay no property or income taxes on the $438 million they earned collectively in 2009. (The tribes do have charitable foundations that have donated more than $100 million to nonprofits over the past two decades.)
Lake Oswego developers Matt Rossman and Bruce Studer play this tax card harder than a blackjack player doubling down on an 11 when the dealer is showing a 6. Their proposal for a privately owned casino in the old Multnomah Kennel Club in Wood Village comes with the promise that the casino would generate $147 million a year for the state—half going to Oregon schools, 30 percent to Oregon counties, and the remainder divided among nearby communities and a "problem gambling" fund. As if that weren't tempting enough, their pitch also includes a promise of 2,500 permanent jobs with an average salary of $35,000 a year. Also tempting in a state with double-digit unemployment.
We do not oppose this measure out of some soft-heartedness toward the estimated 50,000 Native Americans in Oregon. It's true, there's probably no better natural redistribution of wealth than non-tribal gamblers blowing their money in Native American casinos after how the gamblers' ancestors screwed over the tribes. But the revenues from tribal gambling have not slashed tribal members' high poverty rates and low life expectancy.
So why do we oppose this measure (which will be challenged in the courts)?
It's not because we feel the tribes have the right to a monopoly on casinos. Nor is it a concern that a casino will starve the Oregon Lottery, which does generate cash for public programs. (We're skeptical about that, given that the experience of playing a video poker machine while a stripper leans over your shoulder is quite different from playing blackjack in a first-class casino. At least, so we are told.)
We've reached the point of "no more" when asked yet again to stuff one more gambling option into the mix, all on the premise that it's a new source of government revenue. The tribes got their casinos years ago in Oregon, and we're fine with that. But let's be clear what this proposal for a "gaming and entertainment center" is—water park, convention center and marketing euphemisms for gambling aside, it's one more crappy option designed to part people, some compulsive gamblers—from their money.
Lottery funds to wildlife
What's the problem? A current law setting aside 15 percent of Oregon Lottery proceeds for parks and wildlife habitat is due to expire in 2014.
What's the proposed solution? Make it a permanent set-aside.
Bear with us, this is a little confusing. Parks and wildlife supporters want to write the 15 percent set-aside into the Oregon Constitution now rather than waiting until 2014 to act. Unfortunately, the measurethey created ran afoul of legislative leadership, which has announced plans to refer to voters next year a related measure to fix what they see as major flaws in Measure 76. That follow-on measure will cause the 15 percent set-aside to expire in 2035; will regulate growth of the set-aside, so parks funding cannot increase if other general fund-supported services are being cut; and will allow the set-aside to be temporarily halted in times of severe economic hardship. In other words, it's a complete rewrite. The proponents of the current measure have agreed to those changes, which won them the agreement of legislative leaders to drop their opposition to Measure 76. That's wonderful, as are all the properties and improvements that this funding stream has purchased since 1999. But we're opposed to ratifying constitutional amendments that are so flawed they require a lengthy list of substantive changes. Come back to us in 2012—two years before the set-aside expires—when all this gets ironed out, and we'll be happy to give it a second look.
Publicly Financed City Campaigns
What's the problem? Dialing for dollars distracts candidates from listening to residents' concerns and strengthens the influence of moneyed special interests. Traditional campaign fundraising is an arms race between candidates. The winners are Portlanders who pony up big. The losers? The rest of us.
What's the proposed solution? Continue the experiment started in 2005 when the Portland City Council approved a five-year trial with public funding for qualifying candidates for Portland mayor, commissioner and auditor. Limit the overall annual contribution to public campaign financing to 0.2 percent of the city's general fund
When the City Council approved public campaign financing in 2005, supporters like then-Commissioner Erik Sten also promised to let city voters weigh in on the idea after a test period. Here's that chance.
Three citywide elections after its inception, public campaign financing is not without its embarrassing bruises. After qualifying in 2006 for public financing by gathering 1,000 signatures and $5 contributions, Emilie Boyles paid $12,500 of her $145,000 in public funds to her teenage daughter. The girl's task? Performing "Internet research" for Boyles' campaign against Sten. In 2008, council candidate John Branam wanted to pay his good buddy Phil Busse $25,000 to be his campaign manager for three months. It wasn't until elections officials stepped in that Branam docked Busse $5,000. More recently, in the May 2010 primary, Jesse Cornett spent one-third of his allotment on an outfit that then hired paid canvassers for Cornett. Then he barely got 8 percent of the vote. All this suggests some candidates view public campaign financing as an easy way to soak the public for a fun campaign ride they know they have no chance of winning. We'd like to see some way of keeping yahoos like Boyles, Branam and Cornett away from our tax dollars—and hope the program gets tweaked to up the amount required per qualifying donation, say $50 instead of $5.
In other respects, the program has succeeded. It is clear, for example, that without publicly funded campaigns, Amanda Fritz would not be on the City Council today. Her indebtedness to the public financing system manifests itself in multiple forms of extreme penny-pinching and watchdogging the boondoggle du jour—a welcome addition to City Hall politics.
There's a second beneficial consequence of the program. The very existence of public campaign financing seems to have reduced big-time giving in privately funded campaigns because there's a shame factor in sloshing around in $1,000 donations. All city bureaus must contribute to the campaign-financing fund. We have some sympathy for the argument public campaign financing takes money during these tight times from other basic services like maintaining our water and sewer systems. But in five years, 10 candidates have cost city taxpayers less than $2 million. That doesn't seem like too high a price to pay for a unique program that increases the odds that council members such as Fritz will consider the interests of regular Portlanders over those of top-dollar donors.
What's the problem? The county auditor and board of commissioners are the only local officials in the state who are term-limited.
What's the proposed solution? Do away with county term limits so voters can consider candidates on their merits and not lose good ones because of time restrictions.
This is the first of six changes to the county charter recommended by the Multnomah County Charter Review Committee. The committee is a 13-member panel appointed by state senators that meets every six years to consider changing the county's home-rule charter.
Its first recommendation, doing away with county term limits, is an easy call. We firmly believe voters should have the first—and last—say in whom we elect to represent us. And term limits take away that choice. We oppose term limits in general, and we oppose them in Multnomah County, which is Oregon's only local jurisdiction to impose them for the five-member board of commissioners and the auditor. (Term limits exist for statewide office, but that's a different animal because it's enshrined in the Oregon Constitution.) The charter committee found little evidence to back up the main argument for term limits: that incumbents are too hard to dislodge (think of former County Chairman Ted Wheeler's crushing defeat of incumbent Chairwoman Diane Linn in 2006). The committee concluded that term-limiting incumbents only denies voters their experience and expertise.
Terms Of Office
What's the problem? Some county elected officials must resign before they can run for a different office—a rule the charter review committee believes is unfair.
What's the proposed solution? Let them run for another office without resigning.
The charter review committee's second proposed change involves elected county officials jumping ship to run for another office. Out of fear officials may use the county as a stepping stone to higher office, the folks who wrote the original charter back in the 1960s included a requirement that elected officials resign their post at the county if they want to run for a different office—say, City Council or the Legislature. The review committee wants to remove that requirement, saying it's unique in Oregon and that there should be nothing to bar elected county officials from continuing their good work for the county while seeking another job. (There's speculation that County Chairman Jeff Cogen may run for mayor midterm in 2012, and allowing him to do so without resigning would certainly make his life easier. Both Cogen and the committee say he had nothing to do with this proposal.) Speculation aside, we aren't swayed by the committee's arguments. If Multnomah County officials want to run elsewhere, they should resign. County taxpayers shouldn't have to pay them while they campaign for another office.
What's the problem? The county's salary commission lacks permanent authority to set pay for the sheriff and district attorney.
What's the proposed solution? Give them that permanent authority.
The five-member Multnomah County Salary Commission, appointed each year by the elected county auditor, sets the pay every two years for the five-member board of county commissioners, including the county chair. The commission has a reputation for setting fair, merit-based pay. And the commission de-politicizes the process—this way the board of county commissioners isn't setting its own pay. But under the county charter, the board of county commissioners sets the pay for the sheriff and the district attorney. The county commissioners several years ago wisely ceded that authority to the salary commission in a resolution, but the change wasn't permanently enshrined in the county charter. This housekeeping measure will give the salary commission permanent authority to set the salary for the sheriff and the district attorney as well as the county commissioners. That's a good idea.
What's the problem? County commissioners may move out of their district once they're elected, and if they do, they may not be as fit to represent the voters who elected them.
What's the proposed solution? Change the county charter so that commissioners who move out of their district lose their jobs.
Should Multnomah County commissioners be required to live in their district? That's the question here, and the answer is a loud "yes!" In 2005, then-Commissioner Lisa Naito took advantage of an oversight in the county charter when she sold her Southeast Portland home and skedaddled to the West Hills. Voters who had elected her were rightfully angered, because the county is divided into four districts—each district elects one district resident to represent them on the five-member county board. (The chair is elected countywide.) The charter requires commissioners to live in their district for at least 18 months before taking office. But there's currently no requirement that they continue to live in their district once elected. This measure would change that and create an instant vacancy when future commissioners dis their district the way Naito did.
Vacancies In Office
What's the problem? When there's a vacancy in a county elected office, the cash-strapped county could be forced to shell out $400,000 to immediately hold an election.
What's the solution? Put off filling the vacancy until the next regularly scheduled primary or general election.
Another housekeeping fix for the charter, and this time it's purely a cost issue. If there's a vacancy in a county elected office, the charter currently calls on the county to hold an election at the next available date (under state law, there are four dates each year when elections can be held). That could mean the county is forced to hold an election on the little-used March or September election dates, when it's possible no other measures will be on the ballot. In that case, the county would be forced to pay the entire $400,000 cost of running an election, instead of sharing that cost with other jurisdictions running ballot measures. This change makes it so an election isn't required until May or November, when it's more likely that other measures will be on the ballot to defray the county's costs.
What's the problem? The Multnomah County Library runs mainly on money from five-year levies, which is not a permanent and stable source of funding.
What's the proposed solution? Give county commissioners the option of asking voters to form a special taxing district.
This one screams, "Camel's nose under the tent!" But as reporters who are often skeptical of these levies that break out mom and apple pie for taxpayers to cover, we're willing to give the beast an entrance. The library depends on passing a levy every five years to cover more than half its budget. Library boosters have settled on a permanent taxing district as the best way to ensure stable funding. Under current rules, all six city councils in the county—from Portland down to tiny Maywood Park—would need to approve even putting the question on the ballot. And given Portland Mayor Sam Adams' shenanigans with the county (offering to trade votes with former County Chairman Ted Wheeler last year on completely unrelated issues), we can't trust Portland to make good-faith decisions. This charter change will allow the county commissioners to decide, without approval from the cities, whether to ask voters at some point in the future to approve a library district. We think that decision should be directly in voters' hands, without the city councils being allowed to use our library as a political football for Adams or anyone else.
What's the problem? City officials have failed to adequately fund upgrades to the Fire & Rescue Bureau's inventory of equipment and needed emergency vehicles. The feds want cities to adopt new digital technology for emergency response efforts by 2017, and Portland is a long way from that goal.
What's the proposed solution? Pass a $72.4 million bond measure to pay for the items. Of that request, $19.8 million would go toward buying new fire trucks plus rescue and fire boats. Another $39 million would pay for the new digital radios. The remaining amount would pay for a new fire station and help pay the remaining costs for the city's new emergency response center. The request works out to between 9 cents and 14 cents per $1,000 of a property's assessed value, or between $18 and $28 a year for the owner of a $200,000 property.
This bond measure provides a textbook example of what ails City Hall and deserves to be defeated.
City Council has the authority to buy fire trucks using its general fund. But for some time, the council has said no to the Fire Bureau so that it could instead spend tax dollars on programs far from the city's responsibilities —like an education cabinet for the mayor, college scholarships for low-income students, and the Rose Festival. Now Commissioner Randy Leonard, who oversees the Fire Bureau, is asking for a public bailout and hoping Portlanders' sympathy for firefighters trumps worries about their pocketbooks. We simply cannot reward this fiscal silliness with an endorsement.
One more thing: Buying 4,000 new emergency response radios at $4,000 a pop seemed crazy expensive to us, so we asked. We got a lot of chatter during the endorsement interview about digital this and digital that. But in a moment of honesty, Fire Chief John Klum said the cost may be because there are only two suppliers of the radio. He acknowledged the price might be inflated. Is that why one of the top donors to the campaign to pass this measure is radio-maker Motorola, which gave $35,000?
Oregon Historical Society Levy
What's the problem? The Oregon Historical Society says it's broke.
What's the proposed solution? Tax Multnomah County property owners an extra 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value—$10 a year for a home assessed at $200,000.
This request by the Oregon Historical Society would be dubious at any time, but especially now, when voters are slashing their own budgets like pioneers cutting out every extravagance before hitting the Oregon Trail. It's a given that the Historical Society, a nonprofit, has a noble mission. It's the keeper of our state's historical treasures, from Meriwether Lewis' personal effects to the first Oregon Constitution. Society officials make a strong case that without this levy, the doors will close on its museum, or its research library, or both. OHS traditionally relies on state funding for about a third of its budget, but Salem has been stripping away that funding in recent years, and it's expected to disappear completely next biennium. OHS has already sliced its annual budget to $4 million, as well as reducing hours and staff. If the state cuts continue, we could be the only state without its own history museum.
Our reservation lies in the fact that this is a nonprofit asking for its own levy. OHS is a part of the cultural fabric of this city. But so are the Oregon Ballet, the Oregon Symphony and the Portland Art Museum. If OHS can make a case for a levy, where does this stop? Property owners can't be asked to support every worthy nonprofit in the city through taxes. But OHS deserves special consideration. It's an exception to those other nonprofits in one important way—the state itself created the Historical Society in 1898 with a promise to fund the institution. That's a promise the state has reneged on. We fully realize that wealthy donors may already be planning to come to the museum's rescue if this levy fails. But we also believe the public has a special obligation—a promise almost as old as Oregon itself—to provide the Historical Society with stable funding.
So why should Multnomah County voters pick up the slack instead of going statewide? The museum and library are both in downtown Portland. Multnomah County is one of the state's few counties that lacks its own history museum, and the facilities are used overwhelmingly by county residents. Plus, face it, Portlanders are suckers for culture—OHS knows damn well this wouldn't pass in Clackistan. If the levy passes, Multnomah County residents will be allowed to use the museum for free. That's a bargain compared with the shame of possibly shutting the doors on Oregon history.
What's the problem? Many existing buses are old, expensive to maintain and difficult to board for the elderly and disabled riders in TriMet's regional service area. Finally, hundreds of stops aren't easily accessible because of lack of sidewalks and other infrastructure.
What's the proposed solution? A $125 million bond issue, which would equal 6.5 cents to 8.5 cents per $1,000 of a property's assessed value, or up to $17 a year for the owner of a $200,000 property. That's about the same amount as an expiring TriMet bond issue that was used to build westside light rail, so this is less a tax hike than a tax extension. Almost three quarters, or $90 million, of the new bond issue would go toward buying at least 150 new, low-floor buses that are easier for the elderly and disabled to board. Another $21 million is slated to upgrade 300 bus stops with new sidewalks and other amenities, and the remaining $14 million is to buy new LIFT buses for severely disabled passengers, and digital radios.
TriMet is largely dependent on payroll taxes, which have dropped amid the recession, prompting TriMet to cut $58 million from its budget in the last two years, slash bus routes and increase wait times at bus stops. (The fare box collects only 22 percent of TriMet's budget.) It's this financial decline TriMet officials point to when making the case for the new bond issue, which won't do anything immediately to restore service. Instead, they're pitching it as an effort to improve service for the elderly and disabled.
We're not in a taxing mood (note our rejection of the city fire bond), but we believe TriMet deserves the support. We can think of no long-term investment that is more important for the livability of this region than a robust transit system. The fact that this measure is geared toward those most dependent on mass transit is simply smart.
We would be remiss if we did not mention the fact that the fastest-growing line item in the transit agency's budget is its healthcare costs for current and retired employees. That obligation currently consumes almost one quarter of TriMet's unrestricted payroll tax revenue. We would not support this measure if we felt our yes vote gave TriMet the sense it could defer taking this matter on. But new General Manager Neil McFarlane has already made the agency's final offer on health care, and the union ain't happy about it. Whether an arbitrator will side with TriMet or the union on this crucial matter is unknown. A vote for this measure is not simply an endorsement of the need for new buses—it's also an affirmation that we believe TriMet is finally serious about getting its costs down.
Metro President Bob Stacey v. Tom Hughes
Multnomah County Measures 26-109 through 26-114
US Senate Race
Senate District 13 Larry George and Timi Parker