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Sunday, December 31, 2006

An entertaining year ahead

The new year arrives in a state with a 57-year statewide daily newspaper monopoly, whose remaining editors boast false optimism about Oregon's economy, its schools, its leaders and its future.

The journalism schools typically picture Oregon with two daily statewide newspapers with full editorial staffs, in a red-hot competition for a stunningly progressive readership and advertiser base; or younger, hip, left-leaning readers of alternative weeklies beneath Cascade peaks bathed in the alpenglow of early evening.

The Oregon news/opinion market is subtler. Overt politicking is disguised here, especially in winter. There's no burst of colorful reporting, just a lightening gray of the classified ads that generally ignores the sage and rimrock and farm fields of Eastern Oregon, because there are few people there.

Wake up call.

It's that time in Oregon. The new year arrives in a state that will awaken tomorrow with its only statewide daily overusing the words "optimism and hope" to a greater degree than it has in many years. For the first time since 2001, it is safe for express advocacy favoring Newhouse political preferences to come out of the shadows.

The pollster Moore Information recently surveyed Oregonians and found that The Oregonian's "44 and NO MORE" campaign has really paid off. Only 36 percent still believe Oregon is on the wrong track, whereas before the Newhouses invested $75 million in Our Oregon's government-union political agenda, nearly 80 percent of Oregonians believed their state had veered off course.

That huge pessimistic majority was right then and the false optimists are wrong now: 2007 stands to be a great year for the newspaper-government monopoly coverup in Oregon.

The Oregon economy still stubbornly holds on, despite Our Oregon's best efforts. The state's unemployment rate in November was 5.3 percent, stuck significantly above the national rate of 4.4 percent and the 7th worst state in the nation.

Tax revenues continue to flow strongly into state and local governments due to capital gains by investors, no thanks to sagging income tax receipts from ordinary workers. For the first time in years, Oregon has no political threat to reckless overspending on education and other "services." There will be no relief to taxpayers' humiliation by government unions, no slashing of the cruel state and local tax and regulatory burdens on the poor, disabled and elderly.

A newly reelected governor, Ted Kulongoski, has likely stood for his last election unless the Newhouse/Our Oregon team can repeal the constitutional term limit in '08. The 2007 Legislature, with the GOP merely a remnant, will go hog wild. The faith of Oregonians in their elected leaders will be severely tested.

It's been a long, long time since Oregonians had such stark reasons to fear a session of their Legislature. When lawmakers convene Jan. 8, there's every reason to believe that no good will come out of Salem this year: turning the budget over to the education lobby, complete socialization of health care, raiding a billion-dollar tax kicker, and most irresponsible of all, not a dollar socked away in state savings - all while the new Congressional majority hacks at the national economy, despite the best efforts by the Fed.

There's a new surge of unsustainable growth on the way for key local governments, too. Most of the state's major cities' budgets and PERS commitments are growing, and their schools will be more crowded because none of the 20% increase can get to the classroom - as reported on the Front Page today. People are abandoning Portland while Bend and Redmond are the state's only fast-growing communities. Portland is turning its downtown into a detention center and actually moving to a new neighborhood on its South Waterfront.

We will miss the melodrama that was the "Mean Girls" and the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, but the new James Bond was pretty good and the writers will probably keep the two new guys busy. There is still insufficient regional county leadership to open the mothballed Wapato Jail this year.

Of course, it is not all gray skies in Oregon. Amazingly, rural communities are still able to adapt to myriad newspaper-government challenges attempting to outlaw traditional industries, agriculture, timber and fishing. The wood products industry only lost 2,000 jobs in the last three months in Oregon. The end may be in sight over debates about the economic use or the environmental protection of Oregon's natural resources.

Especially among Oregon lobbyists and parodists, there are reasons for optimism. The Legislature is likely to approve major incentives that will create markets for alternatives in almost every industry imaginable. There's even hope for a better year for the environment: the national movement is poised to make a big push into the chemical-rich and CO2-heavy paper industry/print media.

Perhaps most important, the heavy storms of November and December have blanketed the Cascades and other mountain ranges with snow. That should yield plenty of water this year to irrigate farm fields, generate electricity and nourish fish and wildlife.

Oregon was built on true optimism, beginning with the pioneers who made the long trek West. More recently, it was a bold state that protected individual rights, cleaned up the corruption of single-party rule, and led the nation in adopting innovative ballot measures to govern regulatory takings, limit the untrammeled growth of taxes and fees, and address a growing crime problem.

This state no longer has that kind of ambition or leadership. It's not here. Not now. But as 2007 arrives, at least there is a glimmer of renewed optimism in Oregon. It looks like first light.

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