Friday, July 30, 2010

Big Independent Party Winner? "None of the Above"

The clearest winner in the just-concluded Independent Party primary?  "None of the above."  Of the 60 races on the Independent Party ballot statewide, the most votes were cast for "none of the above" in 15 of them. In another race, "none of the above" came in tied for first. So, the winners in a full one-quarter of the races were basically a disembodied concept that we can only assume means something to the effect of "a pox on both your houses," or maybe "throw the bums out."

Perhaps the most notable candidate to lose to "none of the above?" Representative Phil Barnhart, the powerful Democratic chair of the House Revenue Committee. Incumbent state representatives who also lost to "none of the above" were Deborah Boone, Chris Harker, and Jefferson Smith (in a squeaker..."none of the above" defeated Rep. Smith 8 to 7). In most cases, "none of the above" defeated candidates who appeared on the Independent Party ballot by themselves. However, "none of the above" pulled out a victory in the 44th House district, defeating Kitty Harmon and Laura Bell 9 to 7 to 6. In the 3rd Congressional District, "none of the above" dominated Jeffrey Lawrence and Michael Meo, though that could be a true measure of support for a candidate who didn't appear on the ballot: Third District incumbent Earl Blumenauer.

It's worth noting that voting for "none of the above" was not the same as voting for a write-in candidate. The Independent Party provided a separate box to check for that option. I suppose if the premise of the Independent Party is that voters want to identify themselves as an independent voice, then it makes sense that so many people would deliberately choose to vote for no candidate at all. But with such a small turnout (four percent), it's hard to draw any real conclusions about any of these results.

Kitzhaber Not Heading To Dudley's BBQ

Don't expect to see Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber at his Republican counterpart's "Bipartisan BBQ" next month. Chris Dudley is asking state lawmakers to his Lake Oswego home "to get to know each other as people so we are able to work together as leaders." Of course, if Dudley wins the election, one of the people he won't need to work with is Kitzhaber. That may explain why Kitzhaber, when I asked him today if he was planning to attend Dudley's barbeque, responded:  "I don't think I got the invitation."

In fact, Kitzhaber says he's never even met Dudley. A possible meeting this afternoon at the Oregon Mayors Association conference in Cottage Grove doesn't seem like it will happen, after all. The OMA had invited the candidates to make a joint appearance, but Dudley's campaign said the suggested timeslot wouldn't work for them. Kitzhaber's camp released a letter in which the former governor said he'd be willing to stick around for Dudley's afternoon timeslot if that meant the two could jointly answer questions. But Kitzhaber departed the conference this morning after his speech, and an aide said that since they did not receive an answer from the Dudley campaign, the assumption at this point is that the joint appearance won't happen. I'll update this post later this afternoon after Dudley speaks.

UPDATE:  The afternoon went according to script. Dudley showed up and spoke to the mayors for about 25 minutes, and Kitzhaber stayed away. I'm told the former governor was just up the road in Eugene, attending several events including the opening of his Eugene campaign office. Nothing he couldn't break away from and zip the 10 miles or so back down I-5 to Cottage Grove. But Kitzhaber's people evidentally felt they'd made their point and weren't prepared to have their candidate burst into the room when Dudley was speaking.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kitzhaber Wins Endorsement, Launches TV Ad

Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Kitzhaber today picked up a key labor endorsement and simultaneously took to the airwaves. The former governor received the blessing of SEIU, which is the union that represents the largest number of state employees. It also represents thousands of local government and private sector workers. The SEIU traditionally endorses Democrats, so this news isn't a surprise. But the union didn't make an endorsement in the Democratic primary, so no doubt this comes as something of a relief to the Kitzhaber campaign, which can now, in all likelihood, count on some generous contributions from the union and its members.

Meanwhile, Kitzhaber launched his first ad of the general election season, airing in all of the state's major television markets. Republican Chris Dudley has been airing television ads for several weeks. Dudley leads Kitzhaber in fundraising.

A Tale Of Two Images

Here's an interesting column in The Oregonian about two vastly different reactions from readers concerning side-by-side photos of gubernatorial candidates Chris Dudley and John Kitzhaber. One reader suggested the photos clearly portrayed Dudley as a bold leader, while Kitzhaber was depicted as an off-kilter confidence man. A second reader felt just the opposite.

In the age of the internet, radio journalists are expected to take photos for online versions of stories. I've snapped a few of each candidate, but to be honest I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about what the photos I take say about the subject in question. Mainly, I focus on getting pictures that are, well, focused.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mixed Verdict On Casino Petitions

Here's an interesting twist to the effort to open a non-tribal casino in east Multnomah County:  The Oregon Secretary of State's office announced this morning that only one of the casino-related petitions has qualified to the ballot. Specifically, elections officials say the petition that would create an exception to the casino-ban currently in the Oregon constitution did not have enough valid signatures to qualify. That would seem to render moot the second petition, which creates the legal framework for the specific proposed casino in Wood Village. At this point, that second petition appears headed for the ballot, but it's not clear yet what the business group behind the casino will do. Stay tuned...

UPDATE:  Co-petitioner Matt Rossman says he and his business partner may sue to try to force the Secretary of State to accept more of the signatures that his group submitted. It's not clear how successful that would be, as Oregon courts have frequently given the Secretary of State's office broad authority to conduct the signature verification process however it likes. Barring a successful lawsuit, it appears as though Oregon voters will basically see one-half of a two-part casino ballot measure. Rossman says that if the statutory measure does pass, it would essentially lie in limbo until such a time that voters approve a constitutional amendment. That could happen as soon as next year if lawmakers choose to refer it to the ballot (and there's no particular indication they'll do that) or it could happen in 2012 if there's another, more successful petition drive, or it could happen...never. After all, there's no guarantee that the financing will still be in place in two or three years to actually build a casino, much less conduct a campaign to get the amendment passed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Redistricting Petition Fails, Now Heads To Court

It's looking less and less likely that Initiative Petition 50 will make the ballot..  Backers of the petition--a constitutional amendment which would dramatically change the way Oregon creates new legislative districts by taking it out of the hands of lawmakers and turning the job over to a panel of judges--have failed to submit enough valid signatures, according to an announcement today by Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown.

In a way, that's no surprise since the petitioners submitted just over the minimum amount of signatures needed--110,358--to qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot. Typically petitioners try to submit well beyond the minimum amount needed to qualify, since it's inevitable that many signatures will be thrown out for a variety of reasons.But by their own admission, signature gathering for IP 50 didn't kick into high gear in time to provide for that kind of padding.

What makes this case interesting is that sponsors, led by Republican initiative activist Kevin Mannix, contend that state elections workers threw out way too many signatures from the get-go, for reasons that Mannix argues are, well, nit-picky. Mannix's group filed a lawsuit that will get its first hearing in a Salem courtroom this afternoon. But even if all of those signatures that are the subject of the lawsuit are ruled valid, it's still not clear whether IP 50 would actually make the ballot. It will be interesting to see how far Mannix takes the lawsuit, if it becomes clear that he'd be paying legal fees solely to make a point (as opposed to having a practical impact on the outcome of this specific petition).  If Mannix really feels strongly that he's in the right (you can assume he does) and if he plans to continue to be active on the initiative scene (also a safe bet) then he might be gearing down for a lengthy legal battle. But that would require funding, and since another of Mannix's measures has qualified for the 2010 ballot, he might choose to pour resources into getting that one passed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Time To Sink This Metaphor?

My story yesterday that previewed today's meeting of the Legislature's Emergency Board included quotes from two people who compared the current budget situation to that of a swimmer struggling to stay afloat. Perhaps the lawmakers on the E-Board heard that story, or--more likely, I'll admit--the metaphor is just too obvious. Either way, we heard a lot about lifeboats, swimmers, and rough seas during today's meeting. Take a listen:



The speakers were, in order:  Rep. Bill Garrard, Rep. Vicki Berger, Sen. Jackie Winters, Sen. Peter Courtney, Sen. Alan Bates

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Legislative Staff Recommends Less Ambitious E-Board Agenda

Legislative leaders are touting a plan to restore funding for in-home care for seniors and the disabled at tomorrow's Emergency Board meeting. While lawmakers acknowledge the restorations represent only a small part of the overall $158 million cut to human services, the action would restore funding for some assistance programs such as Oregon Project Independence, if only through next February. Top lawmakers say the restorations, in large part, would be funded by a DHS "Special Appropriation" reserve fund.

But an analysis by Legislative Fiscal Office staff recommends that lawmakers wait on taking action on some of the restorations, including Project Independence. While lawmakers say they'll use $15.4 million of the Special Appropriation fund (about half), legislative staffers recommend using just $7.8 million of it. They note that the biennium is "only 50% over" and that lawmakers "need to retain (the) bulk" of the Special Appropriation fund to guard against further "problematic revenue" situations (i.e. an even worse economic downturn).

Spokesmen for both House Speaker Dave Hunt and Senate President Peter Courtney downplayed the difference between the lawmakers' agenda and the Legislative Fiscal Office recommendation. They each said the E-Board would approve the lawmakers' version at tomorrow morning's meeting. You can read the analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Office here. The final two pages detail the differences between the staff recommendation and the lawmakers' recommendation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Gas Tax Methodology


In a story that aired today, I reported that the next increase in Oregon's gas tax--six cents per gallon--won't happen until January. Lawmakers wrote the bill in such as a way as to allow the gas tax hike to go into effect sooner. But as my story notes, that's a virtual impossibility now. Here's how it breaks down:

First, let's look at the relevant language in the bill. You'll find it at the top of page 28. Specifically, it says "the amendments" (which include the 6 cent gas tax hike) take effect when "the Oregon Department of Administrative Services finds in its quarterly revenue estimate" that "there has been an increase of at least two percent each quarter for two or more consecutive quarters in the last 12 months in seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment or January 1, 2011, whichever comes first."

Let's plain-language that a little:  The gas tax goes up January 1, 2011 unless the state has two consecutive quarters of 2 percent job growth, in which case it goes up when that growth is officially noted in the state revenue forecast.

Since the bill took effect last fall, Oregon has not exactly been producing scores of jobs. So the gas tax has remained steady. In fact, I think it's safe to say that most lawmakers assumed the economic growth that would trigger an early gas tax hike would not occur, and that the gas tax would not, in fact, go up until January of 2011. But with the release last week of the June job numbers, we can now say that with near-absolute certainty. That's because, according to state economist Tom Potiowsky, "based on our seasonally adjusted numbers, second quarter jobs increased by 0.5 percent."  And since second quarter job growth did not meet the two percent threshold, it's therefore impossible for the state to have two consecutive quarters of two percent job growth before the end of the year, when the gas tax increase takes effect anyway. 

One caveat: the June job numbers are subject to revision. It's not uncommon for the state Employment Department to adjust the previous month's numbers when issuing the latest figures. However, Potiowsky tells me "I doubt the change in the June job numbers could be big enough to push the second quarter growth rate to 2 percent or higher." Even under the unlikely scenario of a dramatic revision to the June jobs figures, the gas tax would still need a similar two percent growth in the third quarter, which means the gas tax would not go up until the final month or so of the year.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Two Petitions Make The Ballot

This just in from the Secretary of State's office:

Two initiative petitions have qualified for the November ballot. Each needed 82,769 valid signatures to qualify.

IP 13 "imposes mandatory minimum sentences for certain major felony sex crimes and driving under the influence convictions."  It's the brainchild of Republican initiative activist and former lawmaker Kevin Mannix. The Secretary of State's office says it qualified with 68% of its signatures being valid, or roughly 93,000 of the 136,000 submitted.

IP 28 "establishes medical marijuana supply system and assistance and research programs; allows limited selling of marijuana."  This would be a major overhaul of the state's medical marijuana program, but it would not change who is allowed to legally use marijuana. The Secretary of State's office says it qualified with 66% of its signatures being valid, or roughly 86,000 or the 130,000 submitted.

As many as four additional petitions may still qualify for the November ballot. The Secretary of State's office has until August 1st to determine which ones make it and which ones don't. Specific "ballot measure" numbers will be assigned later, so look for "IP 13" and "IP 28" to appear on the ballot under different numbers, most likely something in the mid-70's.

UPDATE:  I should probably note that these petitions have only qualified on an "unofficial" basis thus far. They'll become "official" on August 1st, barring any legal challenges or "amended verification reports." 

Monday, July 12, 2010

OEA Endorses Kitzhaber

Generally speaking, it's no surprise that the Oregon Education Association is endorsing John Kitzhaber. The state's largest teachers' union, after all, has a long history of backing Democrats. But the OEA picked Kitzhaber's opponent in the Democratic primary, Bill Bradbury. At the time, the union rallied around Bradbury's promise to boost education funding by rolling back tax breaks. 

Any lingering skepticism about Kitzhaber seems to be gone, with OEA president Gail Rasmussen saying in a press release:  “(John) Kitzhaber understands that our schools are the cornerstone of our democracy and the lynchpin to our long-term, economic health. Oregon educators are proud to support John Kitzhaber for Governor.” 

With the election still many months away, today's early endorsement could be a signal to OEA members that it's okay to back Kitzhaber with their time and money, even if he didn't wow the union during the primary season.
 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Select-a-gov

Independent--in every sense of the word--candidate for governor and Soloflex millionaire Jerry Wilson posted on his website today a link to a handy quiz to help you select who you should vote for in this year's Oregon governor's race. It's not immediately clear who created the quiz, which has ten questions on a variety of social and economic issues. You're asked to select which statement closest fits your position, and give each issue area a ranking of "high, medium or low."

Just for fun, I went through and checked the first choice under each question. Surprise, surprise: The candidate that comes closest to my answers is...Jerry Wilson! Alas, the next four candidates listed as most closely matching my hypothetical positions are all no longer in the race: John Lim, Allen Alley, Bill Bradbury and Bill Sizemore. (Amusingly, both Bill Bradbury and Bill Sizemore each matched "my" belief structure at the 40% level).

I took the quiz a second time. This time, I selected the second answer for each position statement. Once again, Jerry Wilson topped the list of candidates matching my answers. Only this time, he shared the lead with Bill Bradbury and John Kitzhaber.  

Ted Ferrioli Opines On Wizards And Warrior-Poets

Senate Republican leader Ted Ferrioli is fond of strident floor speeches and caustic press releases. Still, Ferrioli tends to produce some of the more entertaining rhetoric emanating from the capitol. In a column in today's Statesman-Journal, Ferrioli paints the state's current budget crunch as a melodrama, featuring a wizard and a "warrier-poet" (Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Dave Hunt, respectively).

Ferrioli's message is that the Legislature needs to meet in an immediate special session to directly address the budget shortfall. That's a proposal that was rejected by lawmakers in a vote last month, and has received mixed support from other legislative leaders. At this point, a special session is not likely to happen until after the next revenue forecast, at the end of August. But even then it's no sure thing.