Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rudyard Kipling Is On The Agenda

Did you know that famed Nobel-prize winning author Rudyard Kipling once spent a day fishing on the Clackamas River? When the Oregon Geographic Names Board meets this Saturday, the 25-member volunteer panel will consider a proposal to name an 18' x 60' rock in the river near the town of Carver after Kipling, who--according to local lore--spent one sunny day in 1889 perched atop the outcropping. And boy, did he ever enjoy himself. The 23-year-old writer was in the midst of a tour of the American west, and he wrote rhapsodically of his day on the Clackamas River.

For a taste of Kipling's enthusiastic description, I turned to retired Oregonian outdoors writer Tom McAllister, a long-time member of the Geographic Names Board. McAllister read for me a brief snippet of what Kipling had to say:

Tom McAllister Reads Rudyard Kipling

Whew! That's the kind of writing that tourism agencies would pay top dollar for, and indeed, Kipling's description supposedly spurred interest far and wide about the delights of Oregon. If you want to see the rock that may soon bear Kipling's name, you'll have to get a boat. McAllister says the rock isn't visible from any road or other public property.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sometimes, Even Your Enemy Says Something You Like

It's no secret that the folks at Our Oregon are no fans of the PolitiFact division of The Oregonian. Over the past 6 months, the left-leaning group has taken to calling it PolitiFarce, PolitiFiction, and PolitiFail. But while Our Oregon calls the O's fact-checking unit "an exercise in journalistic self-parody," it's not afraid to plug some of PolitiFact's conclusions into its own campaign literature. In a blog post today about the real estate industry-backed Measure 79, Our Oregon--which opposes the measure--writes that "the Yes on 79 campaign's messages have been described by the media as 'inaccurate and ridiculous...'"

So, who in the media described Yes on 79 campaign messages as "inaccurate and ridiculous?" You guessed it: PolitiFact Oregon. In a nice bit of irony, the Our Oregon blog post which uses PolitiFact's terms to help build the case against Measure 79 is immediately preceded by a blog post entitled "PolitiFarce Strikes Again."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Kate Brown Won't Be Issuing Voter Turnout Prediction

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown apparently won't be keeping up the election season tradition of issuing a guess about what percentage of the state's registered voters will cast a ballot. In Oregon, it's a ritual that dates at least as far back as 1966, when then-Secretary of State Tom McCall predicted a 72% turnout. Most Oregon Secretaries of State have kept the tradition alive, and that guessing game has become a lot easier now that vote-by-mail allows elections officials to generate some actual hard data from early returns on which to base the final prediction. During the last presidential election in 2008, for instance, Bill Bradbury predicted a modern record turnout of 86.5%. That turned out to be a little optimistic, but not by much.

Since taking office in 2009, Kate Brown has issued turnout predictions for every statewide election. In the January 2010 special election, the prediction was 62%. (This turned out to be right on the money.) In the May 2010 primary Brown predicted a 37% turnout. (Actual turnout was 41%.) In the November 2010, the prediction was 72%. (Actual turnout was 70%.) In May of this year, Brown didn't settle on a specific number, but she told the Oregonian she expected turnout for the primary to be "in the low 40's." (Actual turnout was 38%)

But don't look for a prediction this time around. Brown's spokeswoman, Andrea Cantu-Schomus, says, "As you can imagine it does take some time and research. We are focusing on our get out the vote efforts, encouraging Oregonians to register and vote."

Of course, Brown, the candidate, is probably watching the early returns closely. The Democrat is locked in a fierce political battle to keep her job against Republican challenger Knute Buehler. As of the latest count, just over 14% of Oregon voters have returned their ballot. So far, Democrats have returned their ballots at a slightly rate than Republicans.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Voters Pamphlet In 113 Seconds

Need a little entertainment on your next 23 hour road trip? Then consider listening to the entire Oregon Voters Pamphlet as read aloud by a voiceover artist at a Beaverton production studio. (She maintains a remarkably even keel as she reads through everything the state's political hopefuls felt like cramming into their Voters Pamphlet statement.) But who has the time to listen to all 23 hours? That's why I've helpfully condensed it down to a breezy 113 seconds. Enjoy!

The Oregon Audio Voters Pamphlet, Condensed

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jefferson Smith's Troubles Used As Campaign Issue In Legislative Race

Jefferson Smith is a Democratic state representative, but he's making far more headlines these days as a candidate for Portland mayor. And many of those headlines have been, well, less than flattering. Some of Smith's supporters have even started to withdraw their endorsement of him. Now, it appears that Republicans are going to use association with Jefferson Smith against other Democrats running for office. The House Republican campaign arm is criticizing Democratic House candidate Brent Barton  for continuing to endorse Smith, calling Barton's support "troubling."  Nick Smith of Promote Oregon Leadership PAC said "If Barton truly believes violence against women is a serious issue, he would follow the others in dropping his support."

The attack on Barton could be a sign that Republicans think they could pick up the suburban Portland seat that Barton is seeking. It's an open seat, since current officeholder Dave Hunt is not seeking re-election. Democrats do hold a reasonably large voter registration edge in the district, however.

But while Barton is a former state rep who served alongside Smith for one term in the Oregon House, there's no particular reason to think he holds a special connection to Smith. In fact, the GOP press release about Barton could largely be re-issued verbatim with the names of a number of other Democratic House candidates in Barton's place.  As of this writing, I count at least 14 such candidates listed as supporters on Jefferson Smith's campaign website. Jared Mason-Gere, the spokesman for Future PAC, the House Democrats' campaign arm, had no comment on the Republicans' strategy of associating Democratic candidates with Jefferson Smith.

Friday, October 12, 2012

GOP Opposes Measure That Republicans Helped Get On The Ballot

The Oregon Republican Party wants you to vote against a measure that made it to the ballot with strong support from Republican lawmakers. Measure 77 gives the governor constitutional authority to declare a catastrophic disaster and to redirect funds for disaster response. It was referred to the ballot during the 2011 legislative session in the form of House Joint Resolution 7.

But despite the fact that HJR-7 passed with nearly unanimous support from both parties (the vote was 30-0 in the Senate and 57-3 in the House), the GOP State Central Committee has come out against the proposal. According to an Oregon GOP press release, committee members "voiced concerns about potential unintended consequences and possible misuse of Disaster Declarations."

The Secretary of State Race As Seen Through A Blue Oregon Blog Post

Kate Brown's re-election campaign is starting to pay attention to Bob Wolfe. Who's Bob Wolfe? He's running for Oregon Secretary of State as the nominee of the Progressive Party. He's also been active in the effort to legalize marijuana in Oregon, and has been in a dispute with Brown over whether or not his initiative was properly disqualified for the ballot earlier this year. (A separate marijuana legalization measure did qualify.) Earlier in the year, Brown's office had fined Wolfe a record $65,000 for allegedly paying signature gatherers based on the number of names they collected, a big no-no under Oregon elections law. Wolfe disputes the finding.

So when Wolfe entered the race for Secretary of State, many viewed it as a thinly veiled attempt to "engage in a personal vendetta" against Kate Brown. At least, that's how former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury describes it in a lengthy entry at the left-leaning website Blue Oregon. Bradbury--a Democrat, like Brown--spends a few sentences dismissing the efforts of Republican challenger Knute Buehler, who's running an aggressive statewide campaign. But it's unlikely many Blue Oregon regulars would consider casting a vote for Buehler. Instead, Bradbury saves most of his wrath for Bob Wolfe, whom he calls "out for revenge" against Brown. While Wolfe has raised only a token amount in his run for office, he got a boost this week with a high profile endorsement by Ralph Nader, who also recorded a radio ad on behalf of Wolfe. Clearly, Brown's campaign is worried that Wolfe will draw some liberal voters away from the incumbent. If Wolfe gets even one or two percentage points on Election Day, that could swing the final outcome in Buehler's favor.

And Republicans know this. Conservative talk show host Bill Post weighed in on the comments following Bradbury's blog entry, saying that he's found Wolfe "to be an honorable man" and that "if you are a progressive, you have a great candidate in Robert Wolfe!"  Of course, Post doesn't really want a marijuana activist to become Oregon Secretary of State. His praise is a calculated effort to sway as many Brown supporters as possible to vote for Wolfe.

Whether that effort bears any fruit is a different matter, but it's also worth noting that several prominent marijuana legalization supporters also weighed in in the Blue Oregon comment section, blasting Bradbury and Brown. Pot activists proved to be a formidable force in the Democratic primary for Attorney General earlier this year, rallying around eventual winner Ellen Rosenblum with both moral and financial support. So far, Wolfe has not enjoyed that same level of support in his race for Secretary of State. Unlike Rosenblum, he's a definite long shot and would have little say over marijuana policy were he to be elected to that office. It's also worth noting that there are two additional candidates on the ballot besides Brown, Buehler and Wolfe: the Green Party's Seth Woolley and Libertarian candidate Bruce Knight.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Brad Avakian And The Politics Of Shop Class

On the campaign trail, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian likes to talk about a bill he championed in the legislature last year that aims to bring back "career and technical eduction" to Oregon schools. The measure, HB 3362,  passed without a single vote in opposition. It created a $2 million grant pool from the state's General Fund, and schools around the state were encouraged to apply for a piece of the money in order to create what Avakian calls a "21st Century shop class." Avakian uses this program as an example of his track record as head of the Bureau of Labor and Industries. He's facing a credible challenge this November from Republican state Senator Bruce Starr

Last evening, Avakian took his re-election campaign to a meeting of the African American Chamber of Commerce in Portland. He spent a great deal of his presentation describing the role of Labor Commissioner, and concluded by talking about his shop class bill and his hopes that it would create a new generation of skilled workers in Oregon. He said the first round of grants led to the establishment of new shop classes in 21 schools around the state. But Avakian seemed unprepared for the first question from the audience: "Of those 21 schools, are there any in Portland?"

No, the Labor Commissioner conceded, there are none in Portland. Grants were awarded to school districts in eastern Oregon, central Oregon, Eugene, and a few other places. But while Portland applied, it didn't make the cut. (You can see the entire list of grants here.)

The audience clearly wasn't pleased with this response, and peppered Avakian with questions about how the grants were awarded, who sat on the selection committee, was racial and ethnic diversity of students part of the criteria for choosing the grant-winners, and above all, why would the state's largest school district be shut out of a program like this?

Avakian, while emphasizing that he personally did not serve on the grant selection committee, said that the Bureau "reached out to every single school district in the state" and that he was confident that Portland would come up a winner in the next round of grants. There were more than 70 applications the first time around, and there simply wasn't enough money to award a shop class grant to everyone who asked. It wasn't clear whether the audience was satisfied with the answer. Avakian left immediately after his speech, but not before telling the audience he "wasn't going to stop until every middle and high school in the state" was able to offer a shop class. Including, presumably, those in Portland.

The Slower Increase In Voter Registration

My editor saw a story in the Seattle Times earlier this week about how Washington state has not experienced a very large uptick in voter registrations this year. Yes, there's been an increase, but not to the extent that you might expect in a presidential election year, and not anywhere near the increase experienced in the run-up to the 2008 election. The paper had looked at Washington voter registrations in January of 2008 and September of 2008, and compared that increase to the increase in registrations from January of 2012 to September of 2012. The Times' analysis showed that about one-third fewer new voters had signed up this year compared to four years ago.

We decided to crunch the numbers to see if Oregon has had the same experience. As I reported on the radio, the short answer is "yes." But in a one-minute radio spot, I didn't have the luxury to really delve into the numbers, so here's a bit more of what I found:

First, thanks to redistricting, the Oregon Secretary of State's office didn't have voter registration figures available from January of this year, so it wasn't possible to do a strictly apples-to-apples parallel analysis with the Seattle Times story. So I used February of 2008 and February of 2012 as my baseline numbers for each year, which I think is close enough to draw a fair comparison. And I calculated the increase to September of both years. In Oregon, voter registration increased by 6.9% over that time period in 2008, and by 5.8% in 2012. Or, to put it another way, new registrations are increasing at a 16% slower pace this time around.

 So clearly Oregon, like Washington, is seeing fewer new voters signing up this year. But the drop-off is smaller in Oregon than in Washington.

Friday, October 5, 2012

An Interview With 96-Year-Old Doctor/Actor Dean Brooks

The Mental Health Museum at the Oregon State Hospital opens this weekend with a series of events, some of which feature Louise Fletcher, who won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched in the movie version of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest."

But Fletcher won't be the only actor from that movie at this weekend's grand opening of the museum (which features an exhibit on the making of the movie, along with plenty of exhibits and artifacts of the real-life hospital where the movie was filmed). Dean Brooks, who appeared in the movie as "Dr. Spivey" and was superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital for nearly 30 years, and who made the now-legendary decision to allow Hollywood access to the Salem mental institution, is also scheduled to be at Saturday's ribbon cutting. That's significant, since Dr. Brooks is 96 years old. He's still sharp as a tack--I spoke with him last week--and thinks the museum at the hospital is a long overdue addition.

If you heard my story previewing the museum's opening, you heard a brief portion of my interview with Dr. Brooks.  But click on the link below for an extended length version of it, in which Brooks tells me more about the decision to allow the movie to be filmed at the hospital. Turns out, Brooks was initially angered by Ken Kesey's novel, but came to see it in a different light.

Chris Lehman's interview with Dean Brooks

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sometimes You Don't Need A Bill

Former Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski will be back in Salem tomorrow when a National Guard support facility at the Salem airport is renamed in his honor.  Interestingly, the renaming comes despite the fact that a bill authorizing the name change failed in the legislature last year. Senate Bill 601, sponsored by Senate President Peter Courtney, is pretty straightforward. In fact, the relevant section is literally one sentence long:

SECTION 1. The Oregon Military Department shall name the Salem Army National
Guard Flight Facility the “Governor Ted Kulongoski Army Aviation Training Center.”

The bill passed the Senate unanimously, and headed over to the House with more than three months to go before the end of the 2011 session. But it never even got a hearing in the House Veterans Affairs Committee. What happened? According to spokesmen for both Senator Courtney and Governor John Kitzhaber, the bill got caught up in partisan turmoil unrelated to the measure itself. The middle of the 2011 session saw several political skirmishes between co-chairs of various committees, as Democrats and Republicans shared power thanks to the 30-30 split. The bill honoring the former governor was apparently a victim of that bickering.

No fear. The Oregon Military Department decided it didn't need the legislature's approval to rename the facility. And so, with the blessing of Senator Courtney and Governor Kitzhaber, the name change was back on track.