Thursday, May 31, 2012

The "Ridiculous And Mortifying" Testimony Of The OLCC

If you were to read the blistering email from OLCC chair Cassandra SkinnerLopata to Governor John Kitzhaber's staff about her experience testifying at a February legislative hearing, you might be excused if you are a little underwhelmed by the audio from that hearing. SkinnerLopata wrote that a lack of adequate preparation and cooperation on the part of OLCC staff resulted in "ridiculous and mortifying testimony" that made her and the OLCC staff look like "bumbling idiots." She later writes that OLCC's paid director, Steve Pharo, purposely chose not to answer lawmakers' questions, and "chose not to save me from looking like a complete ass." SkinnerLopata ends her three-page email with an expletive.

But to a casual observer, there was little out-of-the-ordinary about SkinnerLopata and the OLCC's committee appearance. Yes, there were a few awkward moments. (Senator Jason Atkinson at one point asked how many OLCC staffers were present--the answer was six, plus SkinnerLopata.) But unless you were closely following the discussion about the relatively obscure policy matters contained in SB 1501, you certainly wouldn't have thought you were observing a train wreck to the degree described in SkinnerLopata's email. For his part, Pharo defended his and his agency's performance in a memo to the commission.

Here's the audio from the February 9 hearing:
  SB 1501 testimony by Chris Lehman

John Kroger Sets Resignation Date

John Kroger has decided to step down from his elected office of Attorney General on June 29 at 9 a.m. The Democrat turned in his letter of resignation to Governor John Kitzhaber yesterday (see below). Kroger had already announced last month his intentions to step down in order to take a job as president of Portland's Reed College. But the exact date of his departure was unknown until now. The bigger question of who the governor will appoint to serve the remainder of Kroger's term is still not resolved. A spokeswoman for Kitzhaber says the governor will "make a decision early next week." One possibility is Ellen Rosenblum, who earlier this month won the Democratic nomination for Attorney General.

053012 Kroger Letter

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Illinois Lawmaker Wants More Time To Read Bills

Illinois state Senator Mike Bost wants more time to read the bills headed to the floor. At least, that's one of the complaints the GOP lawmaker makes during a truly epic tirade that's making its way around the internet today. (Thanks to Jeff Mapes for the link.)

As it happens, Springfield, Illinois is where I first stepped onto the floor of an active legislative chamber during a previous public radio job. I didn't normally work at the capitol, but was in town for a few days on assignment. What struck me at the time was how little attention lawmakers paid to whomever was speaking at the time. The floor was buzzing with dozens of conversations, and the representative or senator who had the mic had to struggle to be heard. (Lawmakers in Oregon are generally more attentive, or at least quiet, while their colleagues are speaking.)

I'll bet nearly everyone was paying attention during Mike Bost's rant, though. What's really striking is how stone-faced the people around him remain...even the guy in front of him who gets showered by a cascade of tossed paperwork. It isn't until the 0:50 mark that a couple of people behind Bost crack a smile.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Probably Not The Best Thing To Say, In Retrospect

Robert Hulshof-Schmidt, the seven-year employee of the Oregon State Library who was convicted today of second degree forgery after admitting to faking documents to show he had a Masters Degree of Library Science from the University of Washington, was quoted last fall in a State Library press release announcing his appointment as State Librarian as saying:

"I appreciate the trust that the Oregon State Library Board, staff and the library community have placed in me."

Governor: "I Seem To Have A Tea Bag Stuck In My Ear"

John Kitzhaber is likely the first governor in Oregon history to publicly complain about having a tea bag lodged in his ear. Fortunately, a medical professional quickly advised the governor on how to resolve the problem. Here's the back story:

The governor christened a new "telehealth clinic" located in the basement of a state office building in Salem. In short, the clinic is a small room with a video conference screen that allows patients (in this case, state workers) to consult with a nurse practitioner with Providence Health Plan. (If you want a better idea of how it works, the Statesman Journal has a good description.)

After the governor cut the ribbon (a process which was repeated a few minutes later for a TV station that had shown up late), he eased into a chair in front of the video monitor as though, like Kenny Rogers, he had just dropped in to see what condition his condition was in. Of course, with the media and others watching, Kitzhaber was unlikely to bare his soul, medically speaking. Instead, he engaged in some banter with the nurse on the other end of the line in Beaverton:

Governor: "My chief complaint today is I seem to have a tea bag stuck in my ear."
Nurse: "Ah, really? Um, probably grab that string and just yank it."

So, problem solved. Afterward Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, called the video link a "great innovation." He said "the ability to actually see and interact directly with the patient is a huge advantage over just a simple phone call."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lawmaker's Write-In Campaign Falls Far Short

Earlier this month I wrote about how GOP state representative Matt Wand was trying to win both the Republican and Democratic nomination in his east Multnomah County district. Wand was encouraging Democrats to write his name in on their primary ballot. If enough people did so, Wand would effectively seal his re-election without ever going head-to-head against Democrat Chris Gorsek.

It appears as though Wand's quest fell far short. According to the unofficial election results from the Oregon Secretary of State, there were just 88 write-in votes on the Democratic ballot in HD-49. We won't know for a few weeks just what those names are. But needless to say, even if every last one of them is "Matt Wand" it would be far less than the vote total for Gorsek--which currently stands at 2,326.

In fact, Gorsek's Democratic primary total far exceeds Wand's Republican primary total, which is currently 1,806. You can't really predict a general election outcome based on the number of votes in an unopposed primary (more Democrats may have voted due to the contested Attorney General's race further up the ticket, whereas the GOP had a dearth of contested races elsewhere on the ballot). But registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in HD-49 by nearly 5,000 voters. And Wand surely knows that the district is not safe for incumbents. He was first elected to the Oregon House in 2010, ousting then-representative Nick Kahl, a Democrat.

Another Soundbite Bites The Dust

Last year I wrote about the challenge that radio reporters like myself can sometimes have in getting a soundbite on the air. Specifically, the challenge that comes during legislative hearings with multiple open mics. All it takes is one ill-timed cough and someone else's pithy remark is doomed--not for print, mind you, but for broadcast purposes. It happened again today near the end of state economist Mark McMullen's quarterly revenue forecast. Here's what he said:

"There's no real indication that anything's going to get a lot stronger, but right now in terms of our indicators we do look like we're on pretty stable footing for the near term. I think this summer will be okay, unless a meteorite hits or something."

And here's how it sounded:

  McMullen meteorite quote by Chris Lehman

The small throat-clearing by one lawmaker near the beginning of the sound bite is forgivable. But another lawmaker chose a really inopportune time to cough near the end, just when McMullen makes his remark about the meteorite. When I was listening to the forecast up in the hearing room, I thought that meteorite comment would work well to spice up what was otherwise a relatively ho-hum revenue forecast. But when I listened back to the tape...well, no one wants to hear hacking like that when they turn their radio on. So I turned to plan B, which was a more run-of-the-mill quote about economic trends.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Useless Political Factoid Of The Day

The Governor and the First Lady do not follow each other on Twitter.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Civility In Politics: Something I'll Talk About In Bend

If you happen to be in central Oregon next Thursday, I'd be honored if you checked out my presentation on Civility in Politics at the City Club of Central Oregon. It takes place over the lunch hour on Thursday, May 17 at the St. Charles Center for Health and Learning in Bend. In the meantime, I'm gathering examples of the good, bad, and the ugly when it comes to political discourse in Oregon. Got any suggestions? Feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Friday, May 4, 2012

GOP Rep. Tries To Defeat Democratic Opponent In The Primary

Portland area Republican state Representative Matt Wand is trying an unusual tactic in his campaign to get re-elected: He's trying to win both the Republican and Democratic primaries. The freshman lawmaker defeated incumbent Democrat Nick Kahl in the 2010 election, and he's wasting no time in trying to fend off Democratic challenger Chris Gorsek. Wand is encouraging registered Democrats in his east Multnomah County district to write him in on their primary ballot. By winning the Democratic primary, Wand would avoid a potentially costly general election campaign in a district that's seen its share of political battles over the past decade.

Wand tells me that the effort is a natural outgrowth of his efforts to reach across the aisle. "I promised my neighbors I would put our interests first without regards of the party affiliation of the people I’m working with," he said. "A lot of my supporters vote across party lines to support me." The numbers bore this out in the last election cycle: Wand won in 2010 despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans by a considerable margin in HD-49.

Wand's opponent, Chris Gorsek, isn't buying the incumbent's argument. Gorsek's campaign manager, Sara Francis, tells me: "We just feel like its kind of desperate. He obviously feels as though if we continue until November, he can't win." The Democratic Party of Oregon accuses Wand of "playing games."

With a Democrat on the ballot, it's likely a long shot for Wand to win his write-in campaign. But it's not unusual for legislative candidates to win the opposite party's write-in nomination when there are no other candidates on that ballot. In fact, it happened five times during the 2010 election cycle. That includes Democrat Lew Frederick, who won the Republican nomination on the backs of just three write-in votes.