Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Opened Up The Voters' Guide And There I Was

The online version of the voters pamphlet for the 2010 general election is now available for viewing at the Oregon Secretary of State's website. No real surprises at first blush--no cases of major candidates forgetting to file a statement, for instance. One candidate did use a line from a story I produced about his opponent--properly attributed, of course. But more on that later.

Of the 7 measures on the ballot, opponents filed arguments against a measure in just three cases:  Measure 73, which increases penalties for some repeat sex offenders and drunken drivers; Measure 74, which would establish a system of medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon; and Measure 75, which would lay the groundwork for a non-tribal casino in east Multnomah County.

Gubernatorial candidates Chris Dudley and John Kitzhaber both make their cases using rhetoric familiar to anyone who's been following the campaign. Kitzhaber, a Democrat, emphasizes his experience in state government and also mentions his cross-nomination by voters in the Independent Party's online primary. He makes no mention of his opponents. Dudley, a Republican, devotes an entire paragraph to Kitzhaber's "legacy of failed leadership" and uses a sentence from a piece I filed in April in the run-up to the May primary:  "When John Kitzhaber left office in 2003, the economy was in shambles and the acrimony was thick in the Oregon legislature."

There's certainly nothing unusual about candidates using clips from media coverage in their campaign literature.  But if you want to see that sentence in its original context, click here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

He Doesn't Sound Convinced

Today's unveiling of the latest revenue forecast was something of a prickly affair. It wasn't just that the news was--yet again--bad. After all, previous revenue forecasts have yielded similar, if not worse, economic projections. But you get the sense that lawmakers are just tired of the ongoing doom and gloom. Democrats tried repeatedly to seize on any little bit of positive data, often receiving answers from state economist Tom Potiowsky to the effect of "Yes, you could say that, but then again..."

Republicans, on the other hand, seemed doubtful that there was anything positive at all in the forecast. When Potiowsky described current economic conditions as a "soft and slow recovery," that drew some prodding from GOP Representative Cliff Bentz, who said he didn't see any signs of any recovery--soft, slow, or otherwise--in his sprawling, rural eastern Oregon district.  Take a listen to the exchange between Bentz and Potiowsky:

What the audio doesn't show is the look of sheer skepticism on Bentz' face when he replied "Hmm, thank you" to Potiowsky's explanation. That drew laughter from fellow lawmakers and prompted Potiowsky to follow up by saying "Timing is the issue."

It certainly is. If lawmakers knew when the economy would recover, it would make it easier to chart their course for the next six months. As it is, lawmakers and the governor seem on track to cobble together a patchwork of funding sources to offset part of today's announced budget shortfall. But the half-billion dollar drop of earlier this year still largely stands, except for a handful of human services programs that got re-funded through February. Lawmakers still haven't restored cuts to the Department of Corrections that will be needed to prevent the closure of three prisons. With today's news of another round of across-the-board cuts, there's an even bigger hole in the DOC's budget. While House Speaker Dave Hunt stated point blank today that "prisons will not be cut," it means that every dollar used to restore the corrections budget is a dollar that won't be used elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Debate Over Debates Heats Up, Again

Chris Dudley's campaign is ratcheting up the rhetoric in the ongoing "debate over debates."  Dudley, you may recall, announced recently that he would take part in four debates. John Kitzhaber had earlier announced that he would appear in seven debates. While the two schedules included similar venues, the only specific time and date that matched up was a September 25 joint appearance at the League of Oregon Cities conference in Eugene. Now, the Dudley campaign says it is running radio ads statewide "announcing" the debates that Dudley has agreed to. The ads conveniently leave out the fact that Kitzhaber hasn't specifically agreed to these debates and had in fact earlier rolled out his own debate schedule. Of course, these ads aren't really about announcing debates. In fact, if you listen closely to the Portland version of the ad which I've linked to below, you'll notice that Dudley doesn't even say where or how anyone can view or attend the debate. And in a big radio no-no, Dudley fails to remind listeners at the end of the 60-second commercial the supposed key point of the ad--namely, the October 7th debate.

GOP Offers Coulter, Dems Need Toilet Paper

In the space of a couple of hours today, I received emails from the state's two major political parties. First, the Oregon Republican Party announced the kick-off of tickets sales for their upcoming fundraiser featuring lightning-rod conservative political commentator Ann Coulter. Then, the Democratic Party of Oregon sent out an email soliciting office supplies. First, the Coulter event:

She'll speak at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland on October 1st. Tickets range from $40 to $150, not counting Ticketmaster surcharges of as much as $25 per ticket. That's a relative bargain compared to another upcoming Coulter speaking engagement--her scheduled September 25 appearance at a gathering of gay Republicans in New York City, where tickets start at $250 apiece. Nevertheless, her Portland speech promises to rival Sarah Palin's appearance in Eugene earlier this year as a political spectacle. You just can't imagine someone like Coulter coming to Portland without generating a healthy dose of controversy.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Oregon is seeking help of a more personal kind. The organization sent a memo to supporters today asking for donations of office supplies. The email contained a link to an online survey in which the key question is:

5. I'll donate (or loan) supplies to a campaign office! I can bring:

What follows is a lengthy list that includes paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, and "computers capable of accessing the internet."  I assume the "(or loan)" portion of this request does not apply to the toilet paper.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Casino Group Says No Amendment Needed

The group trying to open Oregon's first non-tribal casino said today, in effect:  "Constitutional amendment? We don't need no stinkin' constitutional amendment!" After months of trying to qualify a pair of measures to the ballot that would put in motion a complex series of legal changes needed in order to open a casino in the Portland suburb of Wood Village, the firm behind the effort was dealt a blow last month when the Oregon Secretary of State's office ruled that the petition that would have changed the Oregon Constitution to allow casinos did not have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. A companion petition, which enacted the legal framework that would authorize the specific casino in question, did qualify. That will go before voters in November as Measure 75.

The casino backers were trying to overturn the Secretary of State's ruling and get their second measure on the ballot. They were scheduled to make their case in front of a judge in Salem tomorrow. Now, the group says it's a moot point as to whether the constitutional amendment makes the ballot or not. They say the existing measure is enough to do the trick.  The "Good for Oregon" laid out their case in a statement released this morning. Here's an excerpt:

At issue is Article XV, section 4(12) of the Oregon Constitution that was added when the voters authorized the Oregon Lottery and Tribal Casinos: “The Legislative Assembly has no power to authorize, and shall prohibit, casinos from operation in the State of Oregon.”

Greg Chaimov, attorney at Davis, Wright, Tremaine and former chief counsel to the Oregon Legislature, said, “the prohibition authorizing casinos and the requirement to ban casinos  applies to the Legislative Assembly, not to the people.”

Even if this reasoning passes muster in the courts (and you can be sure it will be challenged), the casino backers would still have to get approval from local voters in Wood Village to proceed. The group has scheduled a press conference in the eastern Multnomah County suburb on Thursday in which they plan to roll out their campaign. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Furloughs: 6 Down, 4 To Go

Consider this post another episode in my ongoing series of posts warning you of an upcoming furlough day for most state workers. This will be furlough day number 6 of the 10 scheduled in the current biennium, which lasts through June 30, 2011. To see which offices will be closed tomorrow, click here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dudley Clears $3 Million Mark

With a slew of contributions reported by his campaign over the last two days, Chris Dudley has now raised more than $3 million in his bid for governor. Of course, Dudley reached that mark a few weeks ago. Campaigns, at this point, have up to 30 days to report contributions and expenditures. And that means Dudley's actual total is by now, in all likelihood, well past the $3 million mark.

Either way, it's well above John Kitzhaber's current reported total of $1.7 million. Kitzhaber's campaign is taking its time in reporting contributions. In fact, they appear to be taking full advantage of the 30-day reporting window. (That window shortens to a week in late September.)  So, Kitzhaber has possibly passed the $2 million threshold but would still appear to be well behind Dudley.

And while Dudley has generally been spending his money as fast as he receives it--meaning both he and Kitzhaber have had roughly the same amount of "cash on hand" at any given time--as of today, he's well ahead of Kitzhaber in terms of available money to spend. Kitzhaber reports having about $167,000 in available cash, while Dudley has just over a half-million. Again, those figures don't necessarily reflect current numbers, but for now it appears as though Kitzhaber will have to be more circumspect than Dudley about how he spends his campaign funds. Speaking of spending, Dudley last evening released a "26 point plan to control spending and reform government" on his website.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Democratic Governors Association Launches Anti-Dudley Site

It looks like the Oregon governor's race is getting some more attention on the national level. The Democratic Governors Association launched a website this week attacking GOP candidate Chris Dudley. The "You Don't Know Dudley" page has a photo of Dudley in a tuxedo and paints him as wealthy and out-of-touch. Is this a sign that Democrats are getting more concerned about John Kitzhaber's ability to win an office that's been a fairly safe bet for Democrats over the past quarter-century? Emily Bittner of the Democratic Governors Association tells me the group "believes very, very strongly in John Kitzhaber" but they also "don't want to take anything for granted." Several polls have shown Dudley and Kitzhaber in a dead heat.

This isn't the only attack website in this year's governor's race, although it's the first that I know of that's paid for by a national group. The Democratic Party of Oregon has its own version, while the Oregon Republican Party has a site attacking John Kitzhaber.

Dudley Not The Only Ex-NBA'er Running This Year

At 6'11", Chris Dudley usually towers over everyone in the room. But even Dudley would have to look upwards if he ever ran into Shawn Bradley, who clocks in at 7'6". Like Dudley, Bradley is a former NBA player making his first foray into politics this year.  Both are running as Republicans, but while Dudley is shooting for the moon in his bid for Oregon governor, Bradley is content with trying for a seat in the Utah House. He's taking on a three-term incumbent in Tim Cosgrove, one of just 22 Democrats in the 75-member chamber.

Bradley and Dudley's NBA career share some similarities. Each enjoyed a relatively long run in the league--16 seasons for Dudley, and 12 for Bradley. Their careers overlapped in 11 of those seasons. The hype around Bradley was bigger: He was selected as the number two overall draft pick in the 1993 draft. He never did make it to superstar status, though unlike Dudley, Shawn Bradley has his own page on the Internet Movie Database.

Another major difference?  In this year's race for governor, Chris Dudley has reported raising nearly $3 million so far. Shawn Bradley, on the other hand, reports a grand total of $5,263. Most of that came in the form of a personal loan from Bradley to his campaign.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Libertarian Candidate On Debates: "Hey, What About Me?"

It looks like the Kitzhaber campaign has a taker for its proposed schedule of seven debates. But it's not Republican opponent Chris Dudley who wants to take on Kitzhaber, a Democrat. Instead, it's Libertarian candidate Wes Wagner.

In an "open letter" to John Kitzhaber posted on Wagner's campaign website, Wagner says that he's "not normally in favor of this particular form of political contest" since he believes "the format does not really provide the best opportunities for issues to be explored in depth." Nonetheless, Wagner says, "a large number of Oregonians appreciate" debates, and Wagner says he'd be happy to take part, writing:  "Since, by most appearances, Mr. Dudley is disinclined, or incapable due to his busy schedule, to present himself at this time to offer cogent and articulate counterpoints in that forum, I would be willing to do so in order to ensure that you would not suffer the indignity of being on stage alone for lack of any opposition."

Kitzhaber's spokeswoman, Jillian Schoene, says it's not up to the Kitzhaber campaign to decide if Wagner will join Kitzhaber on stage. She says Wagner would have to contact the organizers of each proposed debate to secure an invitation. Schoene says Kitzhaber "welcomes" Wagner or any other candidate who attempts to be included.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kitzhaber Cranks Up The Debate Rhetoric

John Kitzhaber is upping the ante in the traditional "debate over debates" that marks many political campaigns. The Kitzhaber campaign this evening released a schedule of seven debates in September and October that it says the former governor has committed to attending. The line-up is fairly typical for a high-profile Oregon campaign:  Twice on television, twice before City Clubs (Portland, Eugene), and three times in front of various interest groups. Only one would take place outside the I-5 corridor: a September 9 showdown in front of the Eastern Oregon Business Alliance in Burns. (An October 24 debate would be broadcast statewide on television, and an October 8 debate at the Portland City Club debate would air statewide on OPB radio.)

There's just one little major footnote, however. Chris Dudley hasn't agreed to any of these debates. Dudley spokesman LeRoy Coleman said in an email that the Dudley campaign is still in the process of determing the debate schedule. Coleman adds that Dudley "looks forward to debating John Kitzhaber."

It's quite likely that one or more of the debates on this schedule will actually occur. Dudley told the Oregon Mayors Association last month that "there's no question" he'll debate Kitzhaber. But until those debates are actually firmed up, the Kitzhaber campaign appears as though it won't let up in banging the debate drum. Why? Well, it's clear that Kitzhaber's people think that painting Dudley as being afraid of facing off head-to-head with Kitzhaber will make Dudley--and his lack of political experience--look like the weaker candidate. In my experience, however, by the time Election Day rolls around, the tit-for-tat over debates is a distant memory.

Oregon Leaders React To State Aid Package

President Obama swiftly signed into law today a bill that's essentially a mini-bailout to states. Oregon's share of the $26 billion package is expected to come in at around $270 million. Just under half of that will go to K-12 education; the rest to human services. Oregon leaders expressed gratitude to Congress for the cash, but were quick to note that it doesn't completely head off budget cuts. The total represents less than half of the $570 million budget gap announced in May.  Here's a sample of some of the reaction:

Governor Ted Kulongoski:
“This assistance comes at a critical time where demand for public services is growing while state resources continue to be volatile and uncertain.

“At the end of this month, we have our next state quarterly revenue forecast – and three additional forecasts before the close of the current 2009-11 biennium.  Given the performance of the national economy during the past few months, we should anticipate further revenue losses until a recovery clearly takes hold.
“With this additional assistance, we must be smart and prudent. We must strike a balance between addressing the short-term needs of our citizens and planning for the longer-term.  And we must make sure we are utilizing these resources in a way that best helps provide stability and certainty for our state and our citizens today and into the future.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo:
"The number of Oregon teachers saved by this federal funding is estimated at approximately 1,600. (The money) will be distributed through the State School Funding formula. These funds can be used for compensation and benefits to retain existing educators, hire new educators, or recall educators that have been recently laid off. 

"Unfortunately, these funds are less than half of the $243 million cut from the State School fund in June.  While this is welcome relief for our school districts, this is not a long-term solution. Most school districts will still be faced with budget reductions for the 2010-11 school year including restricted course offerings, staff reductions, or a shortened school year.”

House Speaker Dave Hunt:
“These funds won’t solve all of our budget challenges. Even with this $270 million in federal funds, we are making nearly $300 million in cuts to state services and programs. These new federal dollars – dollars Oregonians sent to the federal government and will now get back – will help keep those core services intact, but will not eliminate the need for cuts.
“With an August 26 revenue forecast coming, we are analyzing the bill Congress passed today to determine the restrictions and requirements that could impact our ability to use these dollars to protect critical services. Once we have the forecast, we hope to be able to use these federal funds to mitigate the worst of the cuts to critical health care services and our schools."

Monday, August 9, 2010

More About Citizens' Initiative Review

Here are a few tidbits that I couldn't fit into the on-air version of my story on the Citizens' Initiative Review:

Organizers from Healthy Democracy Oregon (HDO) say they sent out invitations to 10,000 randomly-selected registered voters in an effort to round-up a wide cross-section of people to populate the two panels. (This week's panel is reviewing Measure 73, and next week's panel is reviewing Measure 74.) Of that initial group, roughly 350 people responded. HDO says it screened that group for a variety of demographics, including age, ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, party affiliation and to make sure they had people representing different parts of the state. In the end, they got two panels of 24 people each, plus a few alternates.

Lawmakers approved the bill in 2009 that authorizes what is essentially a pilot project. There is no cost to the state, other than the incremental cost of dedicating space in the Voters' Pamphlet to the statement(s) produced by each review panel. The funding for the current pair of panels comes from a variety of foundations and private donors, according to HDO's Tyrone Reitman. He says each week-long session costs roughly $125,000, which includes a $150/day stipend for participants plus meals and lodging, as well as the cost of renting meeting space at the Salem Conference Center.

Without additional legislation, this will be a one-off experiment. Reitman says the goal is to convince the 2011 legislature that this year's Citizens' Initiative Reviews were successful. And he says ultimately, the idea is that the state would pay for these panels, which would convene for every measure that makes the ballot. But Reitman says he realizes that such an expenditure is unlikely in the current fiscal environment, so perhaps a continuation of the privately-funded method is more realistic. Of course, there's nothing to prevent HDO from continuing the Citizens' Initiative Review process without legislative approval. But they would not be granted a prominent, dedicated slot in the Voters' Pamphlet. HDO would have to purchase space under the guise of being "For" or "Against" a ballot measure, which, I gather, would be somewhat antithetical to their mission.

While I compared the process in my on-air story to a jury trial, there are a few key differences. First, unlike the jury-selection process, no one who was randomly selected to receive an invitation was compelled by law to respond. Second, while panelists can request testimony from experts, they do not have subpoena power. However, Reitman tells me that HDO has identified "likely" witnesses who have been put on notice that their presence may be requested. He says in most cases, the potential witnesses have agreed to be available. And of course, another huge difference is that at $150/day, the stipend is far greater than jury duty pay. The level of pay was determined based on an average of Oregon salaries. The idea was to remove as many barriers to participation as possible.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

More About DA Pay

In case you missed my story on District Attorney compensation, the situation in a nutshell is this: Oregon DA's point out that they're the only elected officials likely to see a pay cut as a direct result of Governor Ted Kulongoski's across-the-board budget cuts. They're asking the Legislature's Emergency Board to restore their funding, which amount to 4-6 weeks of pay. Here are some additional details I couldn't fit into the radio version of the story:

As of now, the DA's have not actually seen their salaries cut. Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau, speaking on behalf of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, tells me that the plan right now is to take the pay cut in one lump sum. That would mean going without a paycheck for an entire month (although according to Beglau some DA's get a supplemental paycheck from their host county). But the timing of that month is crucial: the current plan is to do that next June, which would be the final month in the current budget cycle.

So why not spread the pay cut pain out over 12 months, starting from when the allotments took effect in July? Basically, it's a huge gamble. The DA's think they can come up with a solution to their fiscal woes between now and next June. There are several ways and reasons this might happen.

1. Sheer political pressure. The prospect of seeing 36 District Attorneys go without pay for an entire month could be enough to spur lawmakers to act, regardless of the consequences to other parts of the budget.

2. An economic rebound. If the economy improves even modestly between now and next June, lawmakers may have enough money to restore funding for DA salary, especially if...

3. The feds step in. No, the federal government isn't especially concerned about the personal financial well-being of Oregon District Attorneys. Instead, it's looking more and more as though Congress will send another round of emergency aid to states. While the money would be targeted mainly toward education, it would allow states like Oregon to free up cash to spend on other things. Of course, that could be a lot of different things, but the District Attorneys will certainly be front and center making their case to lawmakers.

4.  A long shot attempt to save money elsewhere works.  Most of the money in the District Attorneys' budget goes to the salaries of the DA's. County governments typically pay the salaries of the assistant DA's, as well as most other staff and office expenses. So when the DA's had to cut their budget, they didn't have many options. One of those options would be a waiver of their risk insurance assessment. Basically that's an insurance policy that all state agencies are mandated to pay, to offset the cost to the state of managing claims against the agency. A waiver would be unprecedented. In fact, Department of Administrative Services spokesman Lonn Hoklin tells me that no agency has so much as even requested one before. What's more, there isn't really a procedure for processing such a request. Hoklin says the DA's have been told that to request a waiver, they'll need to formally ask--in writing, naturally--for one. Hoklin says as of today, the DA's have not done that.

So, given these options, the DA's have decided not to start taking a pay cut now. They figure something's bound to give between now and June. Their best bet, in the short term, seems to be a September meeting of the Legislature's Emergency Board. I spoke today with Democratic Representative Peter Buckley, the top House budget-writer. He told me that the DA's request is certainly in the mix, but that lawmakers will wait until after the next revenue forecast--due August 26--to decide what actually makes the agenda.

Kitzhaber Gets Help From Gregoire

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is coming to Portland next week to headline a $100 a pop fundraiser for Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber. Gregoire is serving her second term in office, and was Washington's Attorney General during Kitzhaber's entire two terms as Oregon governor. The Kitzhaber campaign says it will be "a unique opportunity to meet two western governors that share the same core Democratic values."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dudley Snags The Comedy Central Vote

A lengthy write-up in the New York Times' sports section was enough to catch the attention of the satirists at Comedy Central. In a posting on the cable channel's political blog, the jokesters write

Oh, this old story again: The six foot eleven inch ex-NBA player with the Yale degree and the type 1 diabetes runs as the Republican candidate for governor in a state composed primarily of lumberjacks and lesbian hippies.

The writer, Sara Benincasa, goes on to note that Dudley supports some traditional lefty causes and that his wife is also named Chris. She concludes:

A million votes for Chris Dudley, the other Chris Dudley, and their adorable giant children, now.

Of course, the last Oregon candidate to catch the attention of a basic cable channel didn't win when the real votes were counted up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ballot Measure Numbers Now Assigned

Numbers have now been assigned to the seven measures that will be on the November ballot. The first three are legislative referrals, while the other four are initiative petitions. Here are the numbers and titles given each measure, as announced today by the Oregon Secretary of State's office:

Measure #70
Amends Constitution: Expands availability of home ownership loans for Oregon veterans through Oregon War Veterans' Fund.

Measure #71
Amends Constitution: Requires legislature to meet annually; limits length of legislative sessions; provides exceptions.

Measure #72
Amends Constitution: Authorizes exception to $50,000 state borrowing limit for state's real and personal property projects

Measure #73
Requires increased minimum sentences for certain repeated sex crimes, incarceration for repeated driving under influence

Measure #74
Establishes medical marijuana supply system and assistance and research programs; allows limited selling of marijuana

Measure #75
Authorizes Multnomah County casino; casino to contribute monthly revenue percentage to state for specified purposes

Measure #76
Amends Constitution: Continues lottery funding for parks, beaches, wildlife habitat, watershed protection beyond 2014; modifies funding process

Still to be decided is the fate of another initiative petition, which would remove a ban on non-tribal
casinos in the Oregon Constitution. Without it, a companion petition (now Measure 75) is a moot
point for the time being. A judge has scheduled a hearing in a lawsuit over that petition for later this month.