Sunday, June 27, 2010

Out Of Office Message

Capitol Currents will be taking some time off and will return in early July. If you don't want to miss a post, be sure to sign up for our e-mail distribution list. Or, you can use an RSS reader to stay up to date. You can find out more about both of those options along the right-hand column of the page. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kulongoski Prepares For Reset Speech

Governor Ted Kulongoski is spending the day getting ready to deliver what could be his final major speech as an elected official. You have to think he'll have some going-away words later this year before his second and final term expires, but tomorrow's "Reset Cabinet" speech is quite possibly the final time the Governor will unroll significant policy proposals. It comes in the form of an address to Portland City Club.

Of course, it's unclear how many of those proposals will gain traction. After all, barring a possible budget-balancing special session, the legislature isn't scheduled to meet during the remainder of Kulongoski's tenure in office. Some of the governor's proposals may require voter approval, and wouldn't go on the ballot until next year at the earliest--and even that process would require either legislative approval or a robust signature gathering campaign.

So what does the governor expect to accomplish? Could he be trying to make a bold statement in order to establish a legacy? Not likely, says OSU political analyst Bill Lunch. Lunch tells me the governor's message tomorrow "could be painful." But Lunch says that message isn't just for the general public. It's for Kulongoski's fellow politicians. Take a listen:

If you want to hear the governor's speech at Portland City Club, you have a couple of options. At some point after the speech is over, it will be posted to the City Club archives.You can also listen to it on the radio or watch it on television. That information can be found here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Poll: Kitzhaber, Dudley Knotted At 41%

Oregon gubernatorial candidates Chris Dudley and John Kitzhaber are:

1.  In a dead heat
2.  Tied at 41% among likely voters, according to a new poll of 399 Oregonians conducted by Davis, Hibbits, and Midghall.
3.  Likely to generate a lot of donor interest by talking up the fact that it apparently won't be a waltz to victory for Kitzhaber, or a lost cause for Dudley.
4.  Both stocking up on vuvuzelas for an election night victory party.
5.  All of the above, except--hopefully--number 4.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A $265 Bid For Governor

It looks like Portland lobbyist and attorney John DiLorenzo is closing out the books on his short-lived run for governor. Actually, DiLorenzo never did enter the race--officially or otherwise--but he kept political watchers waiting as he toyed with the idea for several months. It's not clear what impact DiLorenzo would have actually had on the race. Arguably, he could have attracted votes from the right and the left. But would it have been enough to make a difference in the outcome? A moot point, now.

Not only did DiLorenzo tell supporters this week that he's not running, he also appears to be tying up the loose financial ends from his non-campaign. DiLorenzo had formed an exploratory committee, bolstered in large part by a $150,000 loan from one of his business ventures. This week, he returned the money completely unspent. DiLorenzo reported a few expenses:  $165 for unspecified "management services" and $100 in "miscellaneous cash expenditures." DiLorenzo paid for these expenses out of his own pocket. At $265, this was probably one of the cheapest gubernatorial campaigns on record for someone who would have been considered a legitimate candidate. On the other hand, if you use the old "votes-per-dollar-spent" measuring stick, it was a horrible investment.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's Furlough Time Again

Friday is the fifth of 10 scheduled furlough days for thousands of state workers during the current two-year budget cycle. Click here to see the full run-down of what's open and what's closed. And if this blog entry isn't enough of a public service, I'd suggest you read the handy public service announcement prepared by the state. For maximum effectiveness, gather your friends and family around and deliver the news in your best radio announcer voice.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Republican Seat Vulnerable After Sonnen Drops Out

Republicans are scrambling to find a new candidate today in House District 37. That's the West Linn/Tualatin seat currently occupied by Scott Bruun. Bruun isn't seeking re-election because he's running for Congress against Democrat Kurt Schrader. In the May primary, real estate agent and professional fighter Chael Sonnen ran unopposed for the Republican nomination. Now, Sonnen tells something called "Fight! The Premier Mixed Martial Arts Magazine" that he's quitting the race. (The publication incorrectly indicates that Sonnen is running for Oregon State Senate. He's actually running for an Oregon House seat.) In a statement to the magazine, Sonnen cites a legal case involving his real estate agent career that he says could "disqualify (him) from running for office." He offers no additional details. Sonnen had also come under fire recently for posts on a Twitter page in his name.

Oregon law allows parties to substitute a candidate if the nominated candidate drops out of the race between the primary and the general election. So Sonnen's decision leaves Oregon House Republicans with the task of finding a new candidate before a late August deadline to finalize the ballot.While it's likely they will, that person will enter the general election cycle with several disadvantages. First, the Democrat in the race, Will Rasmussen, has some name recognition in the district after winning a three-way primary in May. Second, Democrats hold a 700-voter registration edge over Republicans in HD-37, though there are more than 8000 minor party and unaffiliated voters in the district. Third, with this turn of events you can be doubly sure that House Democrats will be aggressive about getting out the vote, since this is a rare opportunity this election cycle for Democrats to pick up a seat. I say "rare" because Democrats currently hold 36 out of the 60 seats as it is, and not all of the other seats currently held by Republicans will be competitive in the fall.

For his part, House Republican leader Bruce Hanna is staying optimistic. In a statement, Hanna said:

"We are confident that voters in House District 37 will have a strong Republican candidate who is committed to serving the district and putting Oregon's economy back on track."

Maurer Concedes


Ron Maurer is letting his supporters know he'll no longer push for a recount in his ultra-tight race for Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction. Maurer posted a message on his Facebook page that read, in part:
"Given limited resources, all practical measures were taken to ensure that all of the ballots were counted correctly.The campaign was a fascinating journey."
Maurer narrowly lost the non-partisan race to two-term incumbent Susan Castillo. As of today, the margin between the two is 2520 votes. That's not expected to change much between now and when the results become official tomorrow. But the margin of defeat for Maurer is actually much smaller than that. Because this is a non-partisan contest, state law provides that the winner in the May primary is the outright winner only if he or she receives more than 50% of the vote. Because more than 2200 people voted for a write-in candidate, Castillo exceeded the 50% threshold by just 128 votes. That razor-thin edge led Maurer to consider requesting a recount, but that would have been a pricey proposition--more than $100,000. With Maurer's campaign fund nearing the "empty" mark, it would have taken both a hurried fund raising effort as well as a perhaps unprecedented number of ballot reversals for success...and even that would have simply propelled Maurer to the general election phase. At that point he'd have to convince donors that he was able to defeat Castillo despite coming up short in May.
 Maurer wasn't immediately available for comment this morning. 
UPDATE:  I spoke with Maurer this afternoon and he told me that he felt he had exhausted "all plausible avenues" to overturning the result. I asked him if he felt like he had gotten enough support during the race, especially from the Republican Party. (Though Superintendent of Public Instruction is a non-partisan position, Maurer is a GOP state representative and was clearly running as the conservative candidate in the race.) Maurer told me he thinks the Oregon Republican Party should have a "serious conversation about how they are going to approach non-partisan races in the future." Maurer says he thinks as little as $10,000 in additional funding could have made a huge difference. And he says if any polling had been done on this race, and presumably showed how close it was, then perhaps some donors would have stepped up near the end. 
But at this point, it's all academic.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

DiLorenzo Stops Before He Starts

Willamette Week, which last week reported that "there's more evidence that (Portland lawyer and lobbyist) John DiLorenzo is seriously considering a run" for governor, now reports that DiLorenzo has decided against it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

No Decision Yet For Maurer

Ron Maurer says he needs some more time to decide his next move in the race for Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction. Maurer is currently a Republican state Representative. He was trying to unseat Susan Castillo, a former Democratic lawmaker seeking a third term in the state's top education job. Maurer and Castillo were the only two candidates on the May ballot for the non-partisan position. Typically, that means the one who got the most votes would win the seat outright and would not need to run again in November.

But in a strange twist, more than 2200 people submitted write-in votes. While that normally wouldn't have made a difference, in this case it almost did. That's because to avoid a run-off, the leading vote-getter must get more than 50% of the overall vote. Right now, Castillo is standing at 50.02% with all of the votes counted (but not "official" yet). So Maurer has to decide whether to request a costly recount or be content to let the result stand. When I spoke with him this afternoon, he told me he's mulling whether to request a recount in Lane County, where he says there are some "issues" that may have prevented an accurate count. The Lane County clerk isn't ordering a recount, but Maurer says he's still thinking about paying for one himself. He says that would cost somewhere between $13,000 and $16,000. But his campaign is essentially out of money--it currently shows a cash balance of just $48--so it's not immediately clear how Maurer would pay for a Lane County recount, much less a statewide one, which would cost upwards of $100,000.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kulongoski Nixes Prison Cuts

It didn't take long for some of the proposed agency cuts to get a thumbs down from Governor Ted Kulongoski. The governor's staff says that after an initial review, Kulongoski will reject the Department of Correction's plan to close down three minimum-security prisons. The governor is also throwing cold water on about $3 million of cuts to community corrections grants (the second item on this sheet.)

But since the governor can only order across-the-board cuts, and since the Department of Corrections has been saying all along it simply can't meet the 9% cut threshold without closing facilities, the effort to keep those prisons open becomes more complicated than the governor simply saying "Try again, DOC." At this point, the plan appears to be to let those cuts go forward, on paper. The DOC, in its cuts list, notes that the prisons would not be shut down until this fall. That gives lawmakers time to restore funding for those prisons via the Emergency Board, possibly using the small stash of reserve funds still on the books. It's also possible that a new influx of federal cash will help help offset human services and education cuts, which in turn would free up general fund money to use elsewhere...such as for keeping prisons up and running. So it's not clear how this will all play out, but for the time being the specter of prisons closing their doors (or would you say that a prison "opens it doors" if it ceases to operate?) appears to have quickly come and gone.

"Agency Allotment Reductions" Are Now Online

The "agency allotment reductions" that are frequently referred to as "cuts lists" were posted online just moments ago. I'll be looking through them today, but it's worth noting that these aren't the definitive cuts that agencies will be making. Here's the next step, according to Governor Ted Kulongoski's office:

      "The Governor will make an announcement about final reductions by the end of June, at which point DAS will work with agencies to “unschedule" funds in accordance with the nine-percent reductions."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Here's A Crime I Bet You Didn't Know About

A press release from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has brought to my attention a crime that I never knew existed. Namely, a Hermiston man named David Shepherd has plead no contest to misdemeanor charges of failing to file annual dry cleaner reports with the state of Oregon. It immediately occurred to me that I, Chris Lehman, have not filed any dry cleaner reports recently, but I assume one can only commit this crime if you run a dry cleaning business. Otherwise, I'm in trouble.

Apparently there are a host of obligations you have as a dry cleaner operator and Shepherd, according to DEQ, had "a long record of failing to comply" with many of them. In addition to a previously assessed $15,000 civil penalty, Shepherd faces 18 months of probation, a $2000 fine, and 50 hours of community service. The press release notes that last fall, Shepherd's business was evicted from the property and the property owner paid for the clean-up of the remaining dry cleaning chemicals.

Monday, June 7, 2010

At Least One Republican Opposes Special Session

On a day when Democratic leaders in the House and Senate urged their colleagues to vote against calling themselves into a special session, at least one Republican said he's inclined to agree. Representative Gene Whisnant wrote in a newsletter to constituents that he believes this isn't "the right time" to convene a special session. Here's his rationale:

      "I believe there will be further revenue shortfalls before June 30, 2011 because I do not believe we will receive the projected $733 million revenue increases from Measures 66 & 67.  Thus, I believe we will have additional shortfalls to address...I believe that state agencies can still provide current missions at a reduced level with these additional reductions to their budgets.

As of this afternoon, the current vote tally is as follows:

20 "No"
14 "Yes" 

1 "No"
2 "Yes"

The deadline to return the special session ballot is 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Not voting is the functional equivalent of a "no."  A majority in both chambers (31 in the House, 16 in the Senate) would have to vote "yes" for the special session to convene. I'm still not sure why so few Senate members have actually voted, especially considering it was the Senate Republican caucus that kick-started this effort in the first place. As of today, not even all of the lawmakers quoted in this press release have even voted.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Emotions Raw In School Superintendents Survey

The Confederation of Oregon School Administrators sent out a survey to school districts across Oregon following news of Oregon's latest budget shortfall. COSA asked districts how they planned to absorb the roughly 9% cut to state funding that would result from Governor Ted Kulongoski's call for across-the-board budget cuts.

COSA executive director Kent Hunsaker gave me a copy of the responses to the survey this afternoon. The authors of the responses are not identified specifically, but COSA says the survey went to "superintendents and business managers." Most districts did not respond, preferring to take a wait and see approach before commenting publicly. But many school officials who did respond certainly didn't hold back. Here's a sample:

Grants Pass: "Well, this is sobering news to say the least."

Crook County"Might as well close her down!" (In fact, that's exactly what's happening. The district is shutting its doors two days early.)

Lebanon: "We have little choice except to take drastic knee-jerk measures--and we talk about being committed to student achievement and better outcomes for students. Come on, who are we kidding?"

Banks: "If we have many more funding reductions we may as well close the doors."

Lincoln County: "I have no clue what we will do....We are at capacity in our class rooms (fire code). Worst case is we close early and lay everyone off...which would be sometime in April probably."

House Members Are Quicker Voters

Members of the Oregon Senate sure aren't too eager to weigh in on whether to hold a budget-cutting special session.  As of this afternoon, 22 out of 60 House members had responded, compared to just 2 out of 30 Senators. The current tally:

15 "No"
7 "Yes"

1 "No"
1 "Yes"

Of course, if the current trend holds in the House, it may be a moot point whether Senators even vote at all. For lawmakers to call themselves into a special session, it takes a majority vote in both chambers. That means 31 votes in the House and 16 votes in the Senate. So of the 38 remaining House members, 24 of them would have to vote "Yes". (A non-response is counted as a "No".) That's theoretically possible, but it would take a dramatic turnaround. Lawmakers have until 5 p.m. on Wednesday to cast their ballot.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"No Reponse" Leads In Special Session Vote

Ballots went out last week in an effort to initiate a budget-cutting special session. The push is being led by Senate Republicans, who say they want to prevent Governor Ted Kulongoski's across-the-board cuts. The Democratic governor set those cuts in motion on the same day as state economists predicted a more than half-billion dollar shortfall in the current spending plan. Some lawmakers say they should handle the budget-cutting duties themselves, since the Legislature has the ability to make targeted cuts, unlike the governor.

It takes a majority of both chambers to agree for the legislature to call itself into a special session. The deadline to vote is 5 p.m. next Wednesday. (Like a "real" election, postmarks don't count.) As of this afternoon, few lawmakers had returned their ballot. House Chief Clerk Ramona Kenady says just 4 out of 60 Representatives have voted--two in favor of the special session, and two against. Secretary of the Senate Judy Hall tells me her office hasn't received any ballots back yet. Unlike a floor session, where absent members can be compelled to vote through a "Call of the House" (or Senate), there's no requirement that any lawmaker actually vote on the issue of whether to call a Special Session. Not voting is the functional equivalent of a "no" vote, since it takes an affirmative vote from a majority of members in each chamber--not just the ones who voted. So it's not immediately clear why a lawmaker would bother to vote "no," except to fend off accusations later on that they didn't care enough to take the time to vote.