Friday, October 29, 2010

A Sign-By-Sign Guide To Being An Inmate

Minutes after the final inmates were transferred to other institutions today, reporters were escorted through the now-closed "Oregon State Penitentiary Minimum" in Salem. But despite the lack of any actual prisoners, signs of recent life abounded--from the half-used rolls of toilet paper left in the cells to the tomato and pepper plants still bursting with fresh produce in the garden. Another sign of life in the prison? The numerous signs on the walls of literally every hallway and common area in the facility. Here's a sample of just a few:

This was in the prison library. It's unclear if  "not talking at all" was also an option.

Hey!  No cribbage playing in the library!

This was in the chapel. The Prayer of Jabez is probably the most ecumenical religious sentiment of them all. I'm sure all prisoners can identify with the plea to "enlarge my territory."

You have to wonder what sort of disputes led to this rule.

Prison is probably the only place where men have to be warned against doing their laundry too often. It's anyone's guess why these signs are accompanied by a hot dog and a stack of pancakes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

77% Of You Have Not Voted

As of yesterday, nearly a half million people had voted in Oregon this time around. Impressive number, but it's a 23% turnout rate, meaning fewer than a quarter of those eligible have voted so far (not counting ballots arriving today). According to the Secretary of State's office, the leading county--from a percentage standpoint--is lightly populated Harney County, at 40%. The smallest turnout rate belongs to the state's largest county, Multnomah, at just 19%. To see where your county ranks, click here. If you haven't mailed your ballot yet, there's still a day or two that you can safely do so in order to beat the deadline of next Tuesday at 8 p.m. (Postmarks, as always, don't count.) If you want to save a stamp, or if you don't think the USPS will deliver your ballot fast enough, you can always drop it off at any of the state's hundreds of ballot drop sites. To find one near you, click here.

No Sleeping In For GOP Faithful

The Oregon Republican Party wants you to get up early this Saturday morning. Doors open at 7 AM at Parkrose High School in Portland for a rally with gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley and two special guests: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. And while I try not to be too nit-picky about spelling...because I'm perfectly capable of unleashing my own typos...I do find it amusing that the GOP goofed up the name of one of its prominent guest speakers. While the error has since been corrected, here's a screenshot of the invitation as it appeared for some time on the Oregon GOP website this morning:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A New Poll, And A Bonus Sound Bite

Surprise, surprise:  A new poll shows the Oregon governor's race is going to be close. Like numerous previous polls, the difference between Republican Chris Dudley and Democrat John Kitzhaber is within the margin of error. That's an important distinction, says pollster Tim Hibbitts, who made his point in a conference call with reporters. In fact, in another  recent poll, Kitzhaber held a slight lead, and that too was within the margin of error. But in a highly charged election season, Hibbitts thinks some people will see this new poll as a sign that momentum has shifted. He doesn't think that's a valid takeaway, but he phrased it in a way that I decided wasn't something listeners might want to hear while sitting at the breakfast table. So I present it to you here:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Detritus Of Security

People coming to Wednesday's rally with President Barack Obama in Portland were warned ahead of time to expect "airport-like security." But unlike at the airport, people entering the Oregon Convention Center didn't have to do so in their sock-feet:

But also unlike at the airport, people weren't even allowed to bring in a "carry-on" bag. I saw numerous people leaving the entrance after finding they weren't permitted to bring their backpacks inside. Having no place to stash them, they had no choice but to head home. One guy tried to hide his backpack in some bushes, but was quickly reprimanded by a security guard:

The man's question ("Why can't I put it up there?") was never answered. If only he had been carrying a bottle of water. In that case--as these pictures show--it would have been perfectly acceptable to toss it. Thankfully, the President was protected from all that Aquafina and Pepsi. But you have to wonder if the Democrats were missing out on another potential revenue-generating opportunity:  the bottle deposits from all the banned beverage containers strewn about must have been worth at least $50.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

7 Year State Forester Ousted In 8 Minutes

Actually, the process of removing Marvin Brown, the head of the Oregon Department of Forestry, wasn't simply the product of an 8-minute Special Meeting of the State Forestry Board this afternoon. Board members discussed and evaluated Brown's job performance during two Executive Sessions--one in July, and another in September. But actual votes need to be taken during public meetings. Hence, the swift removal of Brown today during a brief, mostly-over-the-phone meeting of the Forestry Board.

Technically, Brown resigned. And there's no indication right now of a smoking-gun scandal. Board Chair John Blackwell said after the meeting that the Board was simply felt that a new leader was needed--someone who would be more aggressive about working with stakeholder organizations.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Virtual Debate

Gubernatorial candidates Chris Dudley (R) and John Kitzhaber (D) haven't rubbed shoulders very often this year. In fact, their first-ever meeting didn't take place until late September at the League of Oregon Cities conference in Eugene. Their only actual debate came on September 30 on KGW television in Portland. And aside from a couple of joint editorial board interviews, you'd be out of luck if you wanted the chance for a side-by-side comparison of the two office-seekers. But if you'd like to hear and compare the two candidates' stances on a variety of issues, then check out Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Virtual Debate" website. OPB's web team has combed the audio from various interviews and speaking engagements by Kitzhaber and Dudley, and assembled their answers into various categories, such as public safety, education and taxes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Still Not Decided? Go See Candidates In Person

As ballots start arriving in mailboxes this weekend, the two major party candidates for governor are making a push for votes. Republican Chris Dudley has embarked on a week-long bus tour, with stops today in Salem (pictured) and Eugene. You can see a list of the next few days at this link, though it currently does not show any stops beyond Sunday.

John Kitzhaber hasn't announced any statewide bus tours, but his campaign is busy preparing for at least two events next week. The first is a Tuesday evening appearance on KOBI television in Medford. The second is what could turn out to be his campaign's marquee moment: a rally with President Barack Obama at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. To attend that rally, you'll need to register in advance.

Fact-Checking A Robocall

Republican State Senate candidate Mike Forest has the unenviable task of trying to unseat Peter Courtney, a Democrat who also serves as Senate President. Courtney is one of the most powerful politicians in Oregon, and his district includes much of Salem. Forest is being far out-raised and out-spent by Courtney, but he did manage to squeeze in a round of robocalls this week. Here's a copy of the one I found on my home answering machine on Wednesday:

Just for fun, let's examine the claims that Forest makes in his robocall:

1. "Mr. Peter" voted for higher taxesIt's not clear which taxes Forest is referring to, but it's true that Senator Courtney voted "yes" on several tax increases during the 2009 legislative session. Those include higher taxes on the wealthy and on some businesses. Majority Democrats said the increases were necessary to prevent additional budget cuts. The two bills ended up on the ballot as Measures 66 and 67, which Oregon voters approved. Courtney also voted for higher taxes on health insurance premiums and on motor vehicle fuel.

2. He tried to close down the blind school.  This is a curious statement. The Oregon legislature didn't simply try to close the Oregon School for the Blind; they succeeded. Senator Courtney voted for the bill, along with 20 other members of the Senate.

3.  He voted to let violent felons out of prisons. Forest is likely referring to an effort by lawmakers in the 2009 session to put certain aspects of a voter-approved criminal sentencing measure on hold. The bill also increased the so-called "earned time" that non-violent offenders could accumulate, thus allowing them to get out of prison early. Anti-crime groups decried the decision, which was approved by a two-thirds majority in both chambers, including a "yes" vote from Senator Courtney. In the February 2010 Special Session, lawmakers, including Courtney, voted to temporarily suspend the earned time provision.

Interestingly, what Forest doesn't mention is another bill that Senator Courtney voted for: Senate Bill 863 from the 2007 legislative session. That's the bill that bans political robocalls to phone numbers registered on the federal Do Not Call list--a list, incidentally, which includes my home phone number.

I checked in with the Oregon Attorney General's office, which handles complaints about the Do Not Call list. So far this year, there have been a grand total of 15 complaints about political robocalls. Only three of those complaints were regarding a specific candidate--in each case, the candidate being complained about was W. Ames Curtright, who came in fifth place in the Republican gubernatorial primary. The other 12 complaints were about various political action committees.

Vote, Then Buy Liquor

In a year in which one of the candidates for governor is calling for an end to state-run liquor sales, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission wants you to know it's okay to buy alcohol on Election Day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Edit Twice, Print Once

Okay, this isn't a story about printed ballots. This is about the electronic kind...which makes it even more astounding that this hilarious but awful error can't be fixed before Election Day. In Oregon, ballots should start arriving in mailboxes this weekend.

Dudley Says Kitzhaber Wants To Tax The Jobless

The campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley released its latest ad today. This one includes a fairly incendiary claim: John Kitzhaber "says we need a sales tax so people without jobs pay taxes." As proof, Dudley's handlers offer up the following quote from an article in the Portland Tribune:

Kitzhaber did not hesitate to use the “sales tax” term, though he said it’s just one of the options that should be under discussion so the state is not so reliant on income taxes. As incomes shrink and the number of jobless remains high, he said, it illustrates more clearly why Oregon needs to stop depending so much on personal income taxes to pay for the bulk of its general fund budget.

Kitzhaber has frequently stated during this campaign that he thinks the state should consider a sales tax, an idea which causes most Oregon politicians to run screaming and yelling in the opposite direction.  He's usually careful to fall short of an all-out endorsement of a sales tax, saying it's just one of several ideas to put on the table. But as ballots are due to arrive in mailboxes starting this weekend, the Dudley campaign clearly thinks voters will react negatively to even the thought of discussing a sales tax.

But the Dudley campaign makes a huge leap in logic when it says that Kitzhaber says Oregon "needs a sales tax so people without jobs pay taxes." As you can see from the original article, Kitzhaber was pointing out that Oregon's heavy reliance on personal income taxes makes the state's revenue stream especially volatile in times with high unemployment. Of course, it's true that a sales tax, which is paid by rich and poor alike, would bring in some money from unemployed people buying clothing, electronics, or restaurant meals. (Grocery items are excluded from sales taxes in many states.)  But the ad makes it seem as though Kitzhaber is proposing a sales tax for the specific reason that jobless people--who aren't typically big spenders, one would think--would pay those taxes. That's a bit of a stretch.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama's Visit Includes Portland Stop

The John Kitzhaber campaign has announced more details of President Obama's visit to Portland. The President is scheduled to speak at a "rally" in support of Kitzhaber on Wednesday, October 20 at 4 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. Unlike Obama's last visit to Oregon in May of 2008, which included a massive rally in Portland's Waterfront Park, this event will require tickets. The Kitzhaber campaign says tickets will be free and that details on how to get a ticket will be forthcoming.

UPDATE: The Democratic Party of Oregon has set up a website for reservations. The party says that if you attend the rally, you should expect "airport-like" security. So, leave those 4 ounce tubes of toothpaste at home. Novice authors, presumably, will be permitted to bring copies of their latest book.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

State Hospital Plans November 18 Dedication

The public will get a chance to tour a portion of the new Oregon State Hospital campus on November 18. The Salem facility is undergoing a massive renovation. A section of the historic "J" building (seen in the photo) is being preserved for a mental health museum, but much of the iconic building--made famous in the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"-- is coming down. For a dramatic side-by-side "before and after" photo, click here. Of course, "after" isn't really here yet. The project isn't due for completion until next year--indeed, much of the doomed "J Building" is still standing. But the many of the new buildings are nearing completion--hence, the November 18 dedication.

A morning, invitation-only ceremony will feature Governor Ted Kulongoski, Senate President Peter Courtney, and others. From 2 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. on the 18th, the building will be open to the public for guided tours of the admissions area, kitchen, dining room, courtyards, patient rooms, tub rooms, nurse's station and therapy rooms. Hospital replacement project spokeswoman Patricia Feeny says patients will begin moving into the new sections on November 29.

Friday, October 8, 2010

There's No Debating This: Dudley's Busy

The "debate over debates" has largely subsided. What increasingly appears likely to be the only debate between Chris Dudley and John Kitzhaber was held September 30 on KGW television. Talk of a second televised debate in Medford has yet to result in anything definite, and with each day that goes by, the election draws closer and a second debate seems less of a possibility.

That hasn't stopped Kitzhaber from trying to make more political hay from the lack of debates. The Democrat is participating in a "single chair" debate today at Portland City Club. The Kitzhaber campaign sent out a media advisory saying that today's event "should be the eighth debate of the general election." (You can hear the Dudley-less debate tonight at 7 p.m. on OPB radio.)

So where will Chris Dudley be over the noon hour today, while John Kitzhaber is sitting on a lonely stage in downtown Portland? With the kids, of course. Dudley is scheduled to visit the Boys & Girls Club of Bend at 12:30 this afternoon. While the Dudley campaign evidently knew more than a month ago that it couldn't, or wouldn't, participate in the City Club debate, the campaign waited until 5:30 last evening to announce his visit to Bend.

Um...Thanks, I Guess

In a ranking that's unlikely to be used as campaign fodder for either camp in the governor's race, the financial news website ranks Oregon as the "27th Best Run State." The site notes that Oregon is, "on average, is a fairly well-run state."  If you're a Democrat, at this point you're patting yourself on the back. ("You see that?  We're fairly well-run!")  But that somewhat positive remark is immediately followed by a negative one, which notes that Oregon "has, however, been hit extremely hard by unemployment." That's a talking point that sounds right at home in the campaign of Republican Chris Dudley, which has ceaselessly noted the Oregon's unemployment rate has been higher than the national average for 14 years.

Oh well. At least we're not Idaho. Coming in just one spot lower than Oregon at #28, Idaho is described thusly:
"With the exception of having a low crime rate and the lowest debt per capita in the country, the state known for its potatoes and vast wilderness has an otherwise unremarkable resume."  The site gives Wyoming the number one ranking, and Kentucky gets slapped with #50. Washington state is #15.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Commute From Ontario

You never know where a story will take you. In preparing my report on Measure 71, which would change Oregon's Constitution to require annual legislative sessions, I arranged an interview with Republican Representative Cliff Bentz. Like most other House Republicans, Bentz voted against referring the annual sessions measure to voters. And since Bentz has a longer commute to the capitol than any other lawmaker--he hails from the eastern Oregon border town of Ontario--I thought it might be interesting to hear his take. So I sat down with him for a chat during one of his recent trips to the capitol for a series of legislative hearings.

As you might expect, Bentz says he based his decision on the wishes of his constituents, not because of the prospect of making the journey to Salem more often. But there's no doubt that Bentz has a long trip to get to the capitol. And in the course of the interview, I learned the pros and cons of the various methods of getting from eastern Oregon to the Willamette Valley. For one thing, Bentz claims it's better to follow a winding ribbon of two-lane highway across the middle of the state than use the more roundabout--but predictable--interstate highway route. Take a listen to our conversation, starting from when I asked him how he travels from Ontario to Salem:

Of course, the long commute may keep things a little easier for Bentz, politically speaking. He faced no opposition in either the primary or the general election this year.

As a side note, two of the three legislative Republicans who voted in favor of the annual sessions measure represent districts that include the state capitol building:  Representative Vicki Berger and Senator Jackie Winters. The only non-Salem Republican to vote for SJR-41 was Senator David Nelson, who represents a district that includes much of northeast Oregon, including Pendleton and La Grande.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Week Left To Register

Want to cast a ballot in the upcoming election? In Oregon, you have exactly one week left to register to vote. The deadline is October12. You can register online at this link. If you think you're registered, but want to make sure...or, if you can't remember if you updated your registration since you last moved, you can check your status at this link.

The state Voters' Pamphlet should start arriving in mailboxes tomorrow. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters starting October 15. And of course, the deadline to return your ballot is Tuesday, November 2.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The $193 scandal

As scandals go, this one was relatively cheap. Taxpayers apparently footed the bill for 20 employees of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to take what the Statesman-Journal dubbed a "field trip" to the Columbia River Gorge last week. The paper deemed the story worthy of front-page, above-the-fold coverage. It wasn't until readers turned over to the conclusion of the article further back in the section that it was revealed that the trip cost a whopping $193, which works out to exactly $9.65 per employee on the trip. Agency officials defended the trip as a "valuable training and work exercise for employees." Workers were said to have visited with other Parks employees in the field and discussed a variety of work-related issues.

It turns out, the paper was tipped off to the spendy trip by a caller "who said he was recently laid off from his job at the Oregon Revenue Department." The problem, of course, is that the Oregon Department of Revenue hasn't laid anyone off recently, a fact confirmed to me today by an agency spokesperson. The department had recently planned to, but lawmakers reversed that decision.

The Costliest Couch

Some state press releases are just too good not to pass along. Word came today from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that the agency has fined an Oregon State fraternity $1,000 for "illegal open burning of a couch." Seems the guys at Delta Upsilon got a little carried away during a party last June. The couch was reportedly five feet long and included "painted or treated wood, foam cushions and upholstery." Those items "emit dense smoke or noxious odors when burned" which is a big no-no, especially in town. Couch burning seems to be a biennial tradition at Delta Upsilon. The DEQ notes it previously issued warning letters after couches were burned in 2006 and 2008 at the same site.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Kitzhaber Reaches Central Talking Point Faster

In a pre-debate post, I predicted two specific phrases that we'd hear from the candidates. Republican Chris Dudley, I said, would tell us that it's time for "a new direction." And Democrat John Kitzhaber, I anticipated, would declare that this is "no time for on-the-job training."

And sure enough, the two candidates did not disappoint. The only matter of suspense was how soon they would get to their oft-used talking point. And the winner, by 10 seconds, is John Kitzhaber.  Exactly 15 seconds after he was first given the mic, Kitzhaber used the phrase "on-the-job training" to point out Dudley's lack of experience in government. Dudley, on the other hand, waited a full 25 seconds after he began to speak to say that Oregon needs "a new direction." 

No One Had a Jan Brewer Moment

It will be interesting to see how the Dudley and Kitzhaber campaigns slice and dice the debate over the coming days and weeks. Predictably, both camps say their guy was the winner. If you're a Kitzhaber supporter, you probably enjoyed seeing the former governor in fine debate form. If you're a Dudley supporter, you can honestly say that other than a few stumbles, he held his own against a far more experienced debater. The bottom line is, no one had a Jan Brewer moment. The Arizona governor, as you may recall, gave a mind-bogglingly awful opening statement during a debate last month. And now, it seems, her opponent is using video from that performance in ads against Brewer. I wonder what snippets from last night's Oregon debate will make their way into campaign commercials here?