Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Handful Of Updates

To wrap up 2009, here are a few updates of earlier posts on Capitol Currents:

1. On November 25, I described how gubernatorial candidates Bill Bradbury and John Lim had failed to update the description of their campaign committee, meaning they were technically collecting funds to run for their old offices. Bradbury's campaign submitted the updated information just a few days after my post, on November 30. John Lim followed a few weeks later, on December 22.

2.  On December 4, I showed how some Republicans were apparently confused about what a "yes" vote means on Measures 66 and 67, the pair of tax hikes that go before voters in January. The Deschutes County Republican Party indicated in a filing with the Secretary of State that it supported the measures, when it was clear that it actually meant to oppose them. Soon after reading my post, the organization submitted paperwork to update its stance. The story's a little different for Washington County Commissioner Andy Duyck. The former Republican legislative candidate also registered his "support" for the tax hike measures. When I spoke with him, he assured me he opposes 66 and 67. But according to the Secretary of State's office, he still hasn't updated his "Statement of Organization" to reflect his opposition. Lest you think he may actually support the tax increases, a profile in yesterday's Oregonian indicates otherwise: Duyck "heartily opposes the two new taxes approved by the Legislature last session (and up for approval by voters in January)", writes the paper.

3. On December 17, I posed the question:  What makes a candidate "official?" A day earlier, Republican Chris Dudley had organized a rally in Portland to announce his entry into the race for governor. But Dudley had not actually filed the paperwork to get on the ballot. He still hasn't. And neither has a prominent Democrat in the race, John Kitzhaber. I'm guessing that filing that paperwork in advance of the March 9 deadline is on the "to do" list for both Kitzhaber and Dudley in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Website Promises HD-GOV

If High-Definition Television (HDTV) shows all the facial blemishes of celebrities and local news anchors alike, perhaps Oregon's new transparency website will do the same for state government. The site, unveiled today, promises to show "how government works, what your taxes buy, and how purchasing decisions occur." Only a naif would expect there to be no unpleasant surprises waiting somewhere in the mountain of data. The trick for journalists and concerned citizens alike will be sifting through the spreadsheets to find relevant and meaningful information.

Jon Bartholomew of OSPIRG notes that much of the data was not previously available online. (In some cases, agencies would release it only in response to a FOIA request) He has a rundown of what he sees as the strengths and flaws of the new website. On the plus side, he notes that the website provides data that can "in many cases can be downloaded in a spreadsheet format for further analysis."  On the other hand, Bartholomew notes, the data is not very searchable. Bartholomew sits on the advisory panel that oversees the website, so you can be sure he'll be bringing those concerns and others up at the next meeting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Photos Of Last Year's Snowstorm

Capitol Currents will be taking some time off for the holidays. In the meantime, here are some photos of last year's unusually snowy December in Salem. The photos were all taken on December 22, 2008.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Punk Rock Politics

It's not everyday in Oregon politics that you see a reference to the music of the Dead Kennedys, a California punk band that rose to prominence in the late 1970's. Yet such a reference popped up in a recent behind-the-scenes squabble over the wording of a proposed ballot measure. The measure in question is Initiative Petition #62. (You can read the text of it on page 2 of this .pdf.) In short, it creates the presumption that citizens are justified in using deadly force against an intruder by removing the requirement that the intruder has actually threatened any violence. The proposal comes from three conservative Keizer initiative activists, who have submitted multiple versions of this petition in hopes of getting it on the November 2010 ballot.

The petition troubled the left-leaning coalition Our Oregon, and the group's attorney, Steven Berman, submitted a letter outlining his concerns with the measure and its proposed ballot title. Berman argues that the proposal would jeopardize innocent people by essentially creating a "shoot first, ask questions later" paradigm, in which people could legally kill "intruders" who turn out to be harmless, such as a lost backpacker or a busybody landlord. Berman writes:

In 1980, the Dead Kennedys released their first, and seminal, album -- Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. The second song on the first side of the that album is entitled "Let's Lynch the Landlord." Considered a classic punk rock anthem, the song is not intended to be taken seriously or as a call to arms. The chief petitioners of IP 62 appear to have missed the song's intended irony. Sadly, "Let's Lynch the Landlord" could well become a rallying cry for IP 62's signature gatherers and the initiative's proponents.

You can read Berman's entire letter on pages 5-9 of this .pdf, along with arguments from the petitioners' attorney, Kevin Mannix. Debates over ballot titles are par for the course in Oregon. There are currently 69 initiative petitions submitted for the 2010 election, but so far only 8 have been approved for circulation. So far, IP 62 is not one of them.

Interestingly, the Dead Kennedys' first single was the 1979 song "California Uber Alles," a caustic critique of then-California Governor Jerry Brown. Like former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Brown is currently seeking to win back his old office. I have yet, however, to unearth any punk anthems written about John Kitzhaber.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Makes A Candidate "Official?"

Chris Dudley, according to his campaign, "officially announced his candidacy" for governor yesterday. Some news outlets also used some variation of the word "official" to describe Dudley's status in the GOP gubernatorial primary. But what about Dudley's candidacy for governor became "official" this week? Nothing, really. The only thing that's different is that Dudley is publicly acknowledging his intentions to run for the state's highest office. (Photo: Dudley greets a young supporter after a campaign rally in Portland)

Dudley has not actually filed as a candidate with the Secretary of State's office. There's no particular reason for him to do so, yet. The deadline to get on the ballot isn't until March 9. The primary itself is May 18. In fact, some of Dudley's fellow gubernatorial hopefuls haven't formally filed, either. Democrat John Kitzhaber, for example. Republican John Lim is another.

Candidates who have officially filed to be on the ballot include Republicans Allen Alley and Bill Sizemore, and Democrat Bill Bradbury. (Democrat Steve Shields also filed to be on the ballot, but he announced last month he was quitting the race.) Two relatively unknown candidates have also filed: Democrat Roger Obrist, a perennial office-seeker who most recently ran for U-S Senate, and Republican Michael Hotchkiss, a Redmond appraiser.

So how do we know that un-filed candidates Dudley, Kitzhaber, and Lim are actually running for governor? For Dudley and Kitzhaber, it's obvious: Each has hired a campaign staff, and each is actively raising money. (It's worth noting that you can form a fundraising committee without actually filing to be a candidate.) There's no particular reason to think they won't meet the March 9 deadline for filing a routine piece of paperwork. Lim's situation is more interesting. He's using a fundraising commitee left over from his days in the legislature, and has raised very little cash. As far as I can tell, he has no campaign website. On the other hand, he did announce his candidacy to the media back in September and has been included in at least one major candidate forum. So while he's taken the fewest formal steps of any of the candidates, Lim can, for now, be listed among those running for governor. He's just not "official."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cannon Wants Your Twenties

State Representative Ben Cannon wants your twenty-dollar bills. The Portland Democrat has released an internet video outlining his desire:

Cannon maintains that small contributions add up to independent politicians. He claims that he's the only current Oregon legislator who has "never [accepted] a penny from special interests," a conclusion he reached after pouring through the online campaign records of all 89 of his legislative colleagues.

I looked through Cannon's campaign finance activity to see how his claims stacked up. While Cannon certainly reports plenty of small contributions, he's also received his share of larger ones. But Cannon isn't claiming he doesn't take large contributions--only that those big bucks donations don't come from "special interests."

So what's a "special interest?" Cannon told me it means he doesn't take "organizational dollars." Indeed, this would appear to be the case, at least from the three years worth of records contained on the state's Orestar database. But Cannon does take money from individuals associated with interest groups, including those who may have a special interest in Cannon's role as chair of the House Environment and Water Committee. Some examples: John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch, gave Cannon $200 last week. Bob Stacey, who at the time was executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, gave Cannon $150 last year. Lobbyist Marjorie Kafoury has donated $650 to Cannon's campaign committee over the past 18 months.  One of her clients is the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, a major player in the debate over Oregon's Bottle Bill. A proposed revision to that bill was discussed in front of Cannon's committee no less than seven times this year. (While the committee voted the bill to the floor twice, it ultimately died.)

All of these contributions pale in comparison to the cash that Cannon has received from Eric Lemelson.  The Sherwood vineyard owner is a major figure in the debate over land-use and other environmental issues in Oregon. He's written checks to Cannon totaling $7500 over the past two years. Lemelson contributes heavily to Democratic candidates, and serves on the Oregon Global Warming Commission--which incidentally was created as a result of a 2007 bill co-sponsored by Representative Cannon (though Lemelson was appointed by Governor Kulongoski).

Cannon's right: his colleagues certainly aren't shy about taking money from Political Action Committees and corporations. And aside from Lemelson's contributions, the donations I've cited above aren't particularly large, and they aren't especially noteworthy when viewed in the overall scope of Oregon political contributions. But they're certainly equivalent to a whole stack of $20 bills, from people who may have an "interest" in how legislation moves through the capitol.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dudley Do-Run?

Ex-NBA player Chris Dudley plans a "major announcement regarding his potential candidacy for Governor," according to his spokesperson. Dudley, a Republican, will hold a press conference Wednesday morning at a Portland youth development organization. Dudley is widely expected to enter the race for the GOP nomination for governor, especially after releasing a series of videos under the YouTube user name "ChrisDudley2010." Need further evidence? Dudley's political fundraising committee has raked in a whopping $341,000.

An Airline Promotion You Won't See In Oregon

Here's an airline promotion you won't see in Oregon any time soon:  Alaska Airlines has announced a fare sale for travelers wishing to attend the 2010 session of the Alaska State Legislature in Juneau. The airline calls them "constituent fares," and you have to live in Alaska to snag one. Oregonians shouldn't hold out hopes for a similar promotion if they want to observe their lawmakers in action during the planned February special session. That's because Salem is one of fewer than a dozen state capitals without commercial airline service.  Coincidentally, two of Oregon's neighbors share this distinction:  Olympia, Washington and Carson City, Nevada.

Monday, December 7, 2009

DIY Minimum Wage Posters

The state is looking every which way to save money these days. Someone over at the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) figured the agency could save some cash by not mailing out the minimum wage posters that each employer is required by state law to put in a "conspicuous location." (See example from the public radio statehouse bureau above.) Instead, businesses will be directed to a section on the the BOLI website where they can print out the minimum wage poster along with several other required notices. BOLI figures the state will save $31,000 a year by not printing and mailing the posters to the 130,000 employers who would have received it.

Coincidentally, the decision not to send new posters comes during a time when Oregon's minimum wage will stay flat. But BOLI spokesman Bob Estabrook says employers should still print out a new poster, as some regulations regarding meal and rest periods have changed. The other difference in this year's poster? Unlike the 2009 version, the 2010 minimum wage poster has a photo of Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian in the upper right hand corner.

The Short Republican Life of Jerry Wilson

As if the Republican primary for governor wasn't colorful enough already, Jerry Wilson--the founder of the exercise equipment company Soloflex--announced today that he's entering the GOP race. Wilson had jumped in the competition to replace the term-limited Ted Kulongoski earlier this fall, but until now he was content to run as a member of the Progressive Party.

This morning, Wilson posted a manifesto on his website outlining his views on taxes, welfare, gun control, and immigration. Suffice it to say, Wilson's views are unconventional and not surprisingly, he writes "I hold both major political parties in utter contempt." Still, Wilson must have figured he needed to join up with a major party to increase his profile, so he flipped a coin--literally, according to his blog entry--and ended up with the Republicans.

But it was not to be.  Wilson quickly received a reality check in the form of Oregon law, which states that you have to be a member of a major political party at least 180 days before the deadline to file for office. Wilson doesn't meet that it's back to the Progressive Party he goes. So far Wilson has raised no money, aside from $4500 of his own cash. That's probably enough dough to fund a personal visit with each member of the Oregon Progressive Party. As of October, the group numbered exactly 57 members in the entire state.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Republicans For Tax Increases!

The Deschutes County Republican Party is apparently having trouble making up its mind about the two tax measures on the January ballot. On the one hand, they wrote a $1000 check to Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes, the group trying to convince voters to reject the tax hikes. On the other hand, the Deschutes Republicans are publicly supporting the two measures. You can see for yourself here. Look in the section marked "The committee supports or opposes the following:" There, the organization goes on the record as supporting Measures 66 and 67. That puts them in the same camp as the Democratic Party of Oregon, which could very well be a first.

So what's going on here? It appears the Deschutes Republicans got their wires crossed. One doesn't have to search around very long on the group's website to find plenty of rhetoric opposing the tax hikes. It would seem that someone from their organization was confused about what a "yes" vote and what a "no" vote means when updating their group's information with the Secretary of State's online campaign finance database. Ironically, the state Republican Party seems to have been aware that the potential exists for confusion about the meaning of a "yes" vote and a "no" vote.

The Deschutes Republicans aren't the only ones with this problem. Washington County Commissioner Andy Duyck, who unsuccessfully ran for the Oregon House last year, is another public supporter of Measures 66 and 67.  I called up Duyck to clarify his true feelings on the subject, and he assured me that he's against the tax hike proposals, no matter what it says about him on his campaign committee's public filing.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is Tillamook Cheesed Off?

Is the Tillamook County Creamery Association feeling a little cheesed off right now? One of its dairy farm-owning members, Carol Leuthold, lent her name to a letter sent to voters by opponents of a pair of tax increases on the January ballot. The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes did some digging and found that not only would Leuthold's farm pay just $150 a year under the new tax measures, but the Leuthold family was apparently doing well enough financially to afford vacations in Europe and Africa. The photographic evidence was there for all to see on the Tillamook Creamery website, which listed Carol Leuthold as one of its "personalities of the month."

The attention was apparently unwelcome by both Tillamook and the Leutholds. According to a letter posted on the Tillamook website, the Leuthold family requested that their vacation photos be removed. The letter, written by Tillamook's Corporate Communications Manager, Heidi Luquette, emphasizes that the Leuthold's position on Measures 66 and 67 is not the official Tillamook stance.  In fact, Luquette writes, "There is no clear consensus among our member dairy farmers regarding these measures."

Politics Takes No Break For Civil War

Some people say they only watch the Super Bowl for the ads.  Probably few people in Oregon are saying that about tonight's Civil War match-up between Oregon State and the University of Oregon.  But one political group is betting that football fans will be paying attention to the commercials.  Vote Yes For Oregon is planning to air a 30-second spot during the first hour of the game, which is sure to draw huge ratings across the state.  The group is trying to drum up support for Measures 66 and 67, a pair of budget-balancing tax hikes approved earlier this year by Oregon lawmakers.

A spokesperson for the main opposition group, Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, says they looked into buying an ad in tonight's game, but decided against it.  Pat McCormick said purchasing even one 30-second commercial during the game would consume one-third of their weekly advertising budget.  McCormick says the tax measure opponents were quoted a cost of $30,000 in the Portland market and $15,000 in the Eugene market to run an ad during the Civil War game. 

Scott Moore with Vote Yes For Oregon wouldn't say how much his group paid for tonight's ad, but he says it was much less than $30,000, presumably because they purchased air time well in advance of the game.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Congestion Pricing: Not Just A Portland Thing

ODOT officials briefed the media today on plans--hazy as they are at the moment--for a congestion pricing pilot project in the Portland area.  The clock is ticking for ODOT.  The agency has less than three years to develop and implement such a plan, which would likely involve tolls on crowded highways that could vary depending on time of day and/or number of people in the car.  It's the result of a 16 line snippet called "Section 3" in HB 2001, a massive 37-page transportation package approved by the Legislature in May.  The upshot is that ODOT has until September of 2012 to pick a site for the pilot project, work out the logistics, make any necessary infrastructure improvements, and educate the public about what will be an entirely new concept in Oregon.

But while HB 2001 calls for only one congestion pricing pilot program, ODOT officials are laying the groundwork for taking the concept statewide.  The Oregon Transportation Commission last month applied for a $2.5 million federal grant that would allow the state to study "the appropriateness, public acceptance, required actions and components of a systematic application of congestion pricing."

What does this mean?  In short, the Federal Highway Administration wants states to study congestion pricing on a regional basis, not simply for single, isolated projects.  In an October 30 memo to members of the Oregon Transportation Commission, ODOT Director Matthew Garrett ruled out using the federal grant to satisfy the requirements of HB 2001, citing the time constraints and limited scope of the Oregon Legislature's bill.  However, Garrett says that the federal grant, if received, would allow the state to "further explore the possibility of some 'systematic' application of pricing in the Portland region or other urban areas." (Italics mine)

Garrett goes on to note that Oregon's grant application would not include mention of any specific congestion pricing proposals.  The reason?  "Such a commitment would undermine public outreach efforts," writes Garrett.