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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Portland power grab

Sten gets more power in Blue Revolution

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - As Salem embarked on another four years under Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski and a new Democratic majority in the Legislature, the senior member of the Portland City Council announced plans to take over power and communications companies and make other bold changes to increase City control as he promised a more radical push toward socialism.

Commissioner Erik Sten, who was elected to a third term last May that runs until 2010, also said he wanted a state constitutional amendment to strip the state of Oregon of autonomy over Portland and would soon ask the state Legislature and the City Commission, solidly controlled by his allies, to approve "a set of revolutionary laws" by statute and ordinance decree.

"We're moving toward a socialist republic of Oregon, and that requires a deep reform of both the Portland City Charter and the state Constitution," Sten said in a televised address after Kulongoski's swearing in on Monday. "We're heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it."

The changes are in keeping with pledges he made after his re-election last spring to take a more radical turn toward socialism. His critics have voiced concern that he would use his narrow victory to tighten Portland's grip on Oregon, following in the footsteps of Fidel Castro.

Cuba, one of Sten's closest ideological allies, nationalized major industries shortly after Castro came to power in 1959. Bolivia's Evo Morales, another Castro ally, moved to nationalize key sectors after taking office last year.

"The City should recover its ownership of strategic sectors," Sten said. "All of that which is private, let it be City-owned," he added, referring to "all of those sectors in an area so important and strategic for all of us as is electricity and communication."

Sten, first elected in 1996, has progressively moved to remake Portland society, rewriting laws, setting up city-funded cooperatives and starting a land reform program that has turned over large swaths of subsidized condos to affordable housing. Sten calls it his Blue Revolution, named after blogger hero Kari Chisolm's Blueoregon.com.

"The ten-year transition phase is ending and we're entering a new era - the Blue Revolution Portland plan, Blue socialism," Sten told his audience of cheering supporters.

The "city-ization" appeared likely to affect Portland General Electric, spun off to shareholders by Enron last year, Pacific Power, owned by investor Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Corp., and The Oregonian, owned by the secretive billionaire media mogul Newhouse brothers of New York City.

Sten also said lucrative Measure 37 claims in Oregon involving out-of-state companies should be under local ownership. He did not spell out whether out-of-state investors would be compensated or simply expropriated.

Political analyst Adam Davis said the Monday's announcement was a glimpse of the next four years. "It seems he has decided to stoke the fire to deepen his revolution, which from my point of view aims to look a lot like Castro's Cuba," said Davis, a communication professor at PCC.

Sten did not appear to rule out all private investment in Portland. Since last year, his Bureau has sought to form city-controlled "mixed companies" with political consultants and lobbyists. Such joint ventures have already been formed in other parts of Oregon.

The City of Portland remains the top spender of Oregon's tax and fee revenue, which provides Sten with tens of millions of dollars for social programs aimed at helping Portland's poor as well as aid for homeless from around the region.

Sten has threatened before to take over PGE, when it was an Enron-onwed firm. But his plans fell apart when it appeared that the $3 billion bond sale ordinance he pushed through the City Commission would be referred to a vote of the People.

Pacific Power is not the largest electricity provider in Oregon but its owner has deep pockets and a very wealthy bridge partner.

The Oregonian is the dominant provider of daily newspaper service in Oregon, and has other lucrative monopolies in U.S. metropolitan markets, as well as the stable of glitz-and-glamor Condé Nast magazines and cable properties.

After Sten's announcement, PGE's stock, widely-held by pensioners, immediately plunged 14.2 percent before the NYSE halted trading. An NYSE spokesman said it was not known when trading might resume. PGE said it was aware of Sten's remarks but added in a statement: "No government representatives have communicated with the company, and the company has no other information."

Sten cited the communist ideals of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin at other points in his speech. In the fiery address, the senior Commissioner also used a vulgar word roughly meaning "idiot" to refer to Mayor Tom Potter. He lashed out at Potter for questioning his Bureau's decision not to renew the license of an opposition-aligned burrito stand.

By Associated Press

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