Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Capitol Crosswalks Are A-Changing

It's always an adventure to cross the street in front of the capitol building.  There are several crosswalks on both Court and State Streets, and while most vehicles stop for pedestrians, it only takes one oblivious driver to really ruin your day. The crosswalks are already given relatively high visibility by the "piano key" stripes painted on the street. It looks kind of like this, minus the four British dudes.

Now, as part of a bond measure approved by Salem voters, the city of Salem--at the request of the Legislative Administration office--is installing new "attention-grabbing strobe lights" to help alert motorists to the presence of a pedestrian. When you want to cross the street, you push the button...lights flash...and traffic comes to a halt. That's the idea, anyway. Here's a video of what the new system will supposedly look like.

You have to wonder what former state senator Vicki Walker would think of the new system. After a brush with death outside the capitol building one day, Walker suggested on the Senate floor that perhaps she ought to carry a red flag the next time she crossed the street. In fact, Walker's remonstrance was so memorable it's worth digging it out of the archives for a listen.  People who come to the capitol, Walker said, "should know that on their way across the street they are not going to go to their grave."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Oregon's First Lady On Her Teenage Years: "It Got Grim"

My interview with Oregon's First Lady, Cylvia Hayes, gave me far more material than I could put into the radio version of the story. So here's a few more minutes with Hayes, recorded in the governor's ceremonial office at the capitol. In this clip, Hayes describes the rustic, bat-infested shack in rural Washington where she lived as a child:

  Cylvia Hayes-early years by Chris Lehman

On another point: As I noted in the story, Cylvia Hayes is currently the only non-married person afforded "First Spouse" status by a governor's office. In the National Governors Association "Spouse Roster" there are four states with no First Spouse. The governors of Illinois, Minnesota and New York are divorced and unmarried. (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is in a long-term relationship, but his girlfriend is not identified as the state's First Lady.) The governor of the fourth state, Vermont, is separated from his wife and as such, the state has no one in the First Lady role. But of the 46 states with "First Spouses," Oregon is the only one with an unmarried First Couple. You can read all about First Spouses (including the six men known as First Gentlemen) at this website.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

14 Oregon Legislative Incumbents Win Opposite Party's Nomination

The road back to Salem just got easier for 14 legislative incumbents. Official results from last month's primary were posted today, and they show that 14 sitting lawmakers won not only their own party's nomination, but the write-in nomination of the opposite party. The list includes eight Republicans and six Democrats. To put it another way, that's a full 21% of the incumbent lawmakers on the ballot. And it's up dramatically from the last election cycle, when just three incumbents won the write-in nomination of the opposite party.

In every case, however, there was no candidate on the ballot from the opposite party. So it's very likely these incumbents wouldn't have faced major party opposition in the fall anyway. But it's possible that a write-in candidate from the opposite party could have surfaced--in fact, two such write-in candidates won their party's nomination: Republican Suzanne Gallagher, who will face incumbent Democrat Ginny Burdick in SD-18; and Antone Minthorn, who won the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate in SD-29. He'll face Republican Bill Hansell in the race to replace the retiring David Nelson.

It's also possible that with a little effort, a party could have nominated a place-holder write-in candidate to secure the spot on the ballot until a more serious candidate could be recruited. The write-in nominee would then step aside (assuming they were in on the plan) in place of the "real" candidate. By winning the opposite party's write-in nomination, these 14 incumbents (whether deliberately or not) have effectively averted that possibility.

Another quick note:  I've previously noted here that Republican Matt Wand fell short in his attempt to win the Democratic write-in nomination. That's very different than what I've outlined above, since there was in fact a Democrat on the ballot in Wand's district. Also, in southern Oregon's HD-56, Republican Tracey Liskey won the Democratic write-in nomination but was disqualified due to Oregon's "Sore Loser Law." It turns out Liskey came in second place in the race for the Republican nomination (falling to Gail Whitsett), so under Oregon law he was ineligible to accept the Democratic nomination.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Game On: GOP's Write-In Efforts Appear To Have Worked

At 10:15 this morning, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber announced that he'd selected Ellen Rosenblum to fill the remainder of John Kroger's term as Attorney General. Less than six hours later, Rosenblum picked up an opponent in the November election. Of course, neither events were a complete surprise. Rosenblum had won the Democratic nomination for Attorney General in the May primary, so it's not a big shock that the governor would select her.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Republican Party had been encouraging its members to write-in the name of James Buchal after the party failed to find a candidate in time to make it onto the primary ballot. This afternoon, the Secretary of State's office released unofficial totals showing that Buchal appears to have secured the nomination. Likewise, Democratic incumbent treasurer Ted Wheeler will face successful GOP write-in candidate Tom Cox.

Both Cox and Buchal have an uphill battle if they want to win in November. Both Rosenblum--by virtue of running a vigorous primary campaign--and Wheeler--by virtue of the incumbency--start off with more name recognition. Of course, Rosenblum and Wheeler are probably not household names in Oregon. So a well-funded opponent could probably make some inroads. But neither Cox nor Buchal fit that description, so far. Cox hasn't reported a single dime in contributions, and Buchal reports campaign assets of just $100, all of which came in the form of a loan from himself.

Compare that to Wheeler and Rosenblum's campaign coffers. Wheeler has about $100,000 in cash on hand, and had the luxury of an uncontested primary. Rosenblum, after spending more than a half-million dollars to defeat Dwight Holton in the Democratic primary, now reports having just $32,000 in cash.  But she's proved capable of raising money and will likely have little trouble replenishing her warchest.

Of course, it's logical to think that GOP donors may have been waiting to see if Cox and Buchal would actually make the general election ballot to start forking over cash, so the totals don't mean much at this point. But you have to think Cox and Buchal have a tall order when it comes to rounding up enough cash to finance a statewide campaign in such a relatively short time period.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Do These Things Happen In Threes?

I wonder when was the last time, if ever, two statewide elected officials in Oregon prematurely left their office in such close proximity. Attorney General John Kroger's last day will be June 29.  He's leaving to become president of Reed College in Portland. Meanwhile, Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo will leave at virtually the same time. She starts a job with an education non-profit on July 1st.

While Kroger's replacement will be announced any day now, there won't be a similar replacing of Castillo. That's because the law that would have eliminated her job at the end of her current term specified that if Castillo resigned early, the governor technically would become Superintendent of Public Instruction. The law allows the governor to appoint a "deputy" who will essentially serve as an agency head of the Department of Education. But the days of having an elected state schools superintendent are for all intents and purposes over.

Friday, June 1, 2012

An Insider's Guide To Ethical Shopping At The Nike Employee Store

Okay, Oregon government officials: Now that you've been formally cleared to go shop at the Nike Employee store in Beaverton, you may be wondering: What should I buy?

A bit of background first: The store is normally open only to employees of Nike, but the company and its workers give away thousands of guest passes each year. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission--responding to an inquiry from a Nike lobbyist--ruled today that public officials, including lawmakers, can accept passes to shop at the store without violating state ethics laws. The passes, it seems, are not exactly a rare commodity. Nike says some 80% of the customers at the Nike employee store aren't actually employees. They get guest passes through friends or family who work there, or through vendors who do business with Nike, or at charity events. Indeed, reviews of the store indicate it's so accessible, there's often a line out the door just to get in. So the Ethics Commission figured that a visit to the Nike employee store wouldn't be a case of granting special privileges to a government official.

But there's at least one government official who's already shopped at the Nike store. State representative Tobias Read, who works until recently worked as a product developer for Nike, says he's spent quite a bit of cash there. Of course, as an employee, he gets had the right to shop there whenever he likes. His advice to first-timers? "I advise people to have a list of items they want. It's easy to get carried away." Read says he often catches himself thinking "I didn't know I wanted this before I came in here." The discounts, Read says, are "substantial" but he stopped short of offering specific examples of product pricing, noting that he doesn't officially speak for Nike. It's not hard to find internet postings by people bragging about how much money they saved by shopping there, however.