Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ted Kulongoski: The Exit Interview

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski is leaving office. He’s been a state lawmaker, Oregon Supreme Court Justice, and has served two terms as Oregon governor. As of January 10th, 2011, Ted Kulongoski will have a new status:  Retired.

I sat down with Governor Kulongoski in his office at the state capitol on December 16, 2010. The governor discussed a variety of topics ranging from his renewable energy policies to his relationship with disgraced former governor Neil Goldschmidt. You can read and/or listen to the 6-minute feature story I produced by clicking here.

Or, you can listen to the raw audio of the entire interview by clicking on the "play" button below. I started my interview with Governor Kulongoski with an easy question. How does it feel to be on the cusp of leaving office?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You Know Christmas Is Over When...

...the tree in the capitol rotunda looks like this. Of course, the decimation of the capitol Christmas tree was planned and executed in broad daylight. The 1935 fire that destroyed Oregon's previous capitol building was not. For more on that fire, head over to the Wilsonville Public Library next Thursday, January 6, for a program called "Whodunnit: The Burning of Oregon's Capitol in 1935."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Reading For Lobbyists

If you tuned in to just about any of the interim committee hearings this week, you heard lawmakers engage in a curious ritual:  Introducing a slew of draft bills, known as "legislative concepts," and then promptly disavowing them. This doesn't mean they didn't agree with some of the proposals contained therein. But many--submitted at the request of a constituent, task force, commission, etc.--were clearly something that lawmakers didn't want their names attached to.  Now, that long list of legislative concepts (they become "bills" when they're actually introduced on the floor of the House or Senate) is available for your reading pleasure.

The list is way too long for anyone who doesn't take perverse pleasure in government-ese to sift through. But it's fun clicking on random LC numbers to see what turns up. Why, here's a proposal that would set in motion a plan to require bicyclists to obtain licenses. And here's a plea for Congress to fund "mobile health care buses for women veterans."  Stationary buses just won't cut it for the people behind this cause, who didn't follow the command of a previous editor of mine to avoid using the words "woman" or "women" as an adjective.

Somebody apparently wants to lower the maximum penalty for failing to file ethics statements. Someone else thinks the state needs a Task Force on Technology and Security of Personal Health Care Information. And someone else thinks the state really ought to look into Oregon's "geological opportunities."

And on, and on, and on. It's worth noting of course that many of these bills will be shuffled off to committee once the session starts and never see the light of day again. But if you're a lobbyist whose job is to put out fires before they start, now is the time to take a careful look at what legislative pitfalls may await.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So, Where Does A Lame Duck Go On Vacation?

With lawmakers in Salem this week for a round of committee hearings, it marked the final chance for outgoing politicians to have their day in the sun. But in the case of Republican Scott Bruun, his days in the sun came soon after the November 2nd election, in which he lost in his attempt to unseat Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader. Bruun told his colleagues today during an informal ceremony on the House floor to honor outgoing lawmakers that he licked his wounds of defeat in Hawaii.

Brent Barton left the northern hemisphere altogether. The Democrat, who after one term in the House tried and failed to win a seat in the Oregon Senate, said he traveled all the way to Argentina. While Barton didn't reveal the purpose of his trip, a quick check of the Buenos Aires forecast shows Argentina--currently in the throes of summer--to be a warm-weather vacation spot right now.

However, Democrat Judy Stiegler has them both beat--pending the outcome of her husband's job search. Stiegler, who lost her bid for a second term in the Oregon House, says her hubby--long-time Deschutes County District Attorney Mike Dugan, who was himself ousted by voters earlier this year--has applied to become the Special Prosecutor for the south Pacific island nation of Palau. Stiegler tells me that Dugan saw the job listed on a District Attorneys list-serv and sent his resume "on a lark." Last week he interviewed with a government official from Palau who kindly agreed to meet him in Los Angeles. Stiegler says the job would last for two years, and she's not sure if she'd tag along to Palau in the meantime. One thing's for sure:  She'd have plenty to do there. So what are Dugan's chances at landing the job? Who knows? But oddly enough, no one else seems to want it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Task Force Proposes Per-Mile Tax For Electric Vehicles

A task force charged with trying to come up with alternatives to the traditional gas tax has proposed a six-tenths of a cent per mile tax for drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The proposal, contained in a legislative concept introduced today by the House Interim Committee On Transportation, would take effect beginning in 2014. The task force report says that "now is the time to apply this new charge to motorists who will not pay a fair share for road use because they drive vehicles that use no gasoline at all or very little." However, the task force report notes that members "did not want to create a disincentive to the purchase and operation of electric vehicles" and therefore set the per-mile rate lower than the approximate per-mile gas tax rate that drivers of traditional vehicles pay, which the report pegs at roughly 1.43 cents per mile.

The tricky part continues to be how to assess the tax. For the time being, the bill draft would not require drivers to install a GPS-style tracking device on their vehicles. They would instead report their mileage using an "electronic data transfer." (It's not immediately clear how this would work.) Drivers who aren't concerned about the government tracking their every move could choose to use a GPS unit to track their mileage, but this would be on an "opt-in" basis.

There are plenty of other logistical details left to be completed. How, for instance, would Oregon avoid charging people for miles driven in other states? (One task force member suggested submitting a receipt for a dinner in say, Seattle, as evidence a driver had left the state...a proposal that was quickly poo-pooed by one lawmaker as being cumbersome and vague.) Plus, the proposal is a tax increase, meaning it would require a three-fifths vote in each legislative especially tricky task in the upcoming session.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kulongoski Knows The Clock Is Ticking

As of today, Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski has exactly one month left in office. That means whenever the governor does something ceremonial--cuts a ribbon, for example--it could very well be his final time. And the governor is clearly aware of this. As he sat down yesterday in his ceremonial office to sign an executive order, Kulongoski remarked that "it may be the last time he gets to sit (here)." Then, he paused and corrected himself, to the laughter of those assembled: "Well, I guess I could come in here and sit down" a few more times. But without an audience, would it really be the same?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kitzhaber Versus The Ducks

Poor John Kitzhaber. After more than a year on the campaign trail, and after raising and spending millions of dollars, Kitzhaber will be sworn in to office on January 10th. Know what else is happening January 10th? Only the biggest football game in the state's history. Based on the amount of ink devoted to this weekend's Civil War game, I'll bet Kitzhaber's inauguration won't be the top story of the day for the state's newspapers on the following morning. Forget "above the fold." I'm guessing Kitzhaber will be lucky to make the front page at all, especially if the Ducks win.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

House Democrats Choose Roblan

After a week that kept Salem-watchers breathless with speculation, House Democrats have chosen Coos Bay Representative Arnie Roblan as their nominee for Speaker, or Co-Speaker. While this doesn't end the negotiations between the evenly split House Democrats and House Republicans, it does--apparently--put an end to the internecine feud among the Dems. Or, to put it another way, no matter which way the D's and R's sort out the issue of who gets the gavel, as it were, it won't be current House Speaker Dave Hunt. But don't expect Hunt to fade into the wallpaper--he's still in line to serve as House Democratic leader. He held that position during the 2007 session, more or less. (He was House Majority leader, since Democrats had the majority. In a tied chamber, there will be no Majority or Minority leader.)

Here's the press release from the House Democrats:

House Democrats Unify Behind Arnie Roblan
as Speaker or Co-Speaker Nominee
Oregon House Democrats today unanimously selected State Rep. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) to be their Speaker or Co-Speaker-nominee for the Oregon House at a caucus meeting Saturday. State Rep. Dave Hunt (D-Clackamas County) will remain as the House Democratic Leader.
House Democrats also reaffirmed their commitment to a true shared governance model with the House split evenly at 30-30.
“I am extremely honored to have been chosen by my colleagues to be the Speaker or Co-Speaker nominee. We are fully prepared to continue discussions with our Republican counterparts as we work to find a fair and equitable governance model,” said Rep. Roblan. “Our core governance values rest with the majority of House members. We support a model that ensures the majority of House members will be able to bring a bill to the floor and that majority rules will also govern House committees. We are fully prepared to continue negotiations, and our caucus has united behind a governance plan that honors the will of the majority of all House members.”
The House Democrats' leadership team is now as follows:
Speaker or Co-Speaker Nominee: State Rep. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay)
Democratic Leader: State Rep. Dave Hunt (D-Clackamas County)
Democratic Whip: State Rep. Tina Kotek (D-N/NE Portland)
Deputy Democratic Whip: State Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton)
Assistant Democratic Leaders: State Rep. Jules Bailey (D- SE Portland), State Rep. Phil Barnhart (D-Central Lane & Linn Counties); State Rep. Val Hoyle (W. Eugene and Junction City); State Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-E. Portland).