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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Culture of corruption

'Freak' dancing politicians? Not in our house.

The Oregonian's recent coverage of sexually explicit dancing ("Call it dirty, call it flirty: 'Freaking' shakes up Legislature," Feb. 18) implied that the Salem Masonic Lodge ignores or tolerates immoral behavior among lawmakers and lobbyists. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people in the community have been frustrated by the behavior of some policymakers when dancing. They hoped that by drawing public attention to the issue, it might bring the community closer to a reasonable solution. Indeed, many voters had been informed of what was going on but were not acknowledging that there was a problem. And while we applaud the role of the media in bringing the issue to the fore, it's also important that the community be clearly informed.

So let's be clear: Salem Masonic Lodge in no way condones or tolerates behavior that could be considered disrespectful or immoral. The lodge supports three groups - the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, the Government Standards and Practices Commission, and the Oregon Law Commission - the very purpose of which are to instill ethical behavior and responsibility, and lawmakers and lobbyists from these programs contribute greatly to society.

The lodge rents a hall for many events with the intention of providing a healthy atmosphere for social gatherings. The lodge has on several occasions rented the hall to Our Oregon - a combination of SEIU and OEA, Oregon's largest government unions - which holds midweek dances for lawmakers during the session. Before renting to Our Oregon, there was a thorough investigation of its credentials, its business plan and the character of its leadership. We found the organization to be trustworthy, and we continue to believe that its mission is worthwhile.

We all sympathize with the plight of the Legislature today as they struggle to control their freak dancing behavior at social gatherings. Some have responded by canceling student field trips to Salem. We, in turn, will not permit our building to be an alternative where lawmakers and lobbyists can turn to behave inappropriately.

The problem is complex. Locations where policymakers can gather after session hours to enjoy themselves are difficult to find. So we applaud attempts to provide appropriate, ethical alternatives. That is what we expect Our Oregon to continue to provide at Salem Masonic Lodge - a safe, supervised environment for legislators to enjoy themselves. To assure such an environment, Our Oregon has encouraged that lawmakers attending its dances be dropped off and picked up by constituent chaperones from their district. The gatherings are closely monitored by the Ethics Commission and the Elections Division and are chaperoned by responsible interns. There is almost zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol. And Our Oregon has also encouraged union stewards' attendance and participation in its dances.

We're pleased to furnish a location that provides this for our legislators and lobbyists. High ethical standards and responsibility to society are the very heart of Oregon's political culture.

Greg Jackson, William Douglas and Theodore Balestreri are the three top executives of Salem Masonic Lodge.

The Oregonian, GUEST OPINION, Feb. 28

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cry, the beloved Clackamas

Another county 'shortfall' thanks to PERS
Officials pay lobbyists for federal money instead of looking within

Here we go again. Another timber county with a tax base starved for a century by President Teddy Roosevelt's timber tax-for-property swap fiasco, with tax revenues sucked dry by decades of PERS, and whose economic revival is being held hostage by a never-ending anti-Measure 37 campaign - now shifting blame for its woes onto taxpayers.

Last week, Jackson County announced that libraries will be picketed in April.

Yesterday, Fred A. Stickel, spokesperson for the anti-Measure 37 campaign and publisher of The Oregonian, joined with Clackamas County officials to announce plans to end maintenance of some roads this summer, as part of a plan to distract from PERS and Measure 37, blaming financial woes instead on the loss of $12 million in phased-out federal timber tax grants.

Stickel and county officials are also asking departments, including public safety, homeland security, emergency management, health and human services and parks and recreation, to make contingency plans for trimming their budgets 5 percent. Stickel said that separate programs to maintain hiking trails and stop the dumping of garbage in forests rely completely on the federal funds and could be eliminated or funded at the expense of other county programs.

The Oregonian is adopting its typical "the sky is falling strategy" to cynically use the timber-tax issue to shield public examination of PERS and Measure 37.

The bait-and-switch scheme allows government-growth advocates to take advantage of the September expiration of the federal Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, which Congress approved in 2000. Enacted originally with sunset provisions that have already been extended once, the federal government made up for revenue that timber counties lost due to the logging ban in national forests. The Act is part of a vaunted state-federal partnership turned fiasco, dating to a Progressive Era confiscation of state land.

The phased-out federal money amounts to just 5 percent of Clackamas County's general fund.

PERS is Oregon's gold-plated Public Employees Retirement System. The cost consumes more than twice the national average, and amounts to up to 23 percent of public budgets. If PERS was somewhere in the middle of the pack, timber counties could have adjusted to the loss of timber-tax. There would be no crisis.

Measure 37 is the citizen initiative, twice approved by voters, that restores property rights that were suspended in 1970 under Oregon's draconian land-use planning law. It is being phased-in presently. Unlocking 37 years of land value appreciation in rural counties under Measure 37's responsible development provisions will reinvigorate the property tax base in rural counties and easily compensate for the loss of timber-taxes. But fewer than 1000 opponents of property rights, led by Si Newhouse's mouthpiece - The Oregonian, are lobbying the state Legislature to cancel Measure 37.

In the case of Clackamas County, Stickel even employed two area spokespersons to enter hypocritical high dudgeon, using the timber tax distraction to decry the loss to a County road fund. The Oregonian has long-opposed road-building in Oregon.

According to county road maintenance supervisor Darrel Burnum, about $4.5 million from the federal program went to maintaining collector roads, which feed traffic from residential roads to highways. Every summer, contracted workers repave the most beat-up collector roads, he said. The extent of the maintenance differs from year to year because some roads cost more to improve than others.

This summer that maintenance probably won't happen except for minor patches, said Jonathan Mantay, county administrator. The county can delay maintenance of its 1,400 miles of roads for a short period but can't avoid it forever, Mantay said, adding that the county has been working on a long-range plan to manage without the federal funds since 2000.

The specifics of department cuts will be worked out later this year as the county commissioners balance the budget, which is typically adopted in June and last year totaled about $590 million. Mantay said that Clackamas and other Oregon counties have been lobbying to restore the federal aid program, which brought about $220 million in annual payments to Oregon, more than any other state.

Gov. Tim Nesbitt has been lobbying for a last-minute extension of the act but so far has been unsuccessful. U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., said through her press secretary that she considers reinstating the bill as one of her top priorities. In a recent statement to Congress, Hooley said that she considered the loss of money "a full blown-crisis" for Oregon and other states.

The Oregonian, Feb. 27, By PETER ZUCKERMAN

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Newhouse: No new houses

Anti-Measure 37 campaign's intended consequences

It has become clear that The Oregonian will judge the 2007 session by how well legislators inflict property rights destruction on Oregon residents. While stridently opposing the natural resources industries at every turn, Si Newhouse's mouthpiece is now cynically blaming Measure 37 - the twice-approved property-rights restoration measure - for jeopardizing the future of the state's agricultural industry. Newhouse is the reclusive out-of-state New York City billionaire media mogul whose family has owned Oregon's only statewide daily newspaper for 57 years.

The newspaper has clearly gone over the line from "urging", as they say, into express advocacy. Their modus operandi, according to publisher Fred A. Stickel, is to "trick voters into accepting an adroit compromise" that would simply cancel the property rights ballot measure that was approved by statewide voters two times. Newhouse is devoting huge sums to bully legislators in print, to act quickly to postpone the schedule Measure 37 laid out for action on claims.

Should legislators suspend Measure 37? If lawmakers don't, then property rights will move forward as voters directed. That, in turn, will increase the value of housing stock and increase local property taxes that have been sucked up by PERS and seized by the federal government in the timber tax-for-property swap fiasco. But Si Newhouse - driven by his insatiable desire to create an Oregon in New York's image - already has his, and he doesn't want anyone else to get theirs.

Measure 37 claims have the potential to increase the value of at least 132,346 acres of the Willamette Valley's most livable land. If all these developments move forward as planned, land-use specialist Jim Johnson points out, Oregon stands to gain an astonishing amount of taxable real estate suitable for residences that has been locked down and depressed for 37 years. Measure 37 begins the process of reclaiming vast property values the state has essentially lost since 1970's enactment of draconian land use regulation.

"The Willamette Valley is Oregon's best place to live," Johnson said in a news release last week that criticized The Oregonian's misguided campaign. "In terms of value, (the Willamette Valley) is where the vast majority of our population resides. We're talking great views, we're talking great cycling roads and trails, we're talking land that's been well-maintained, we're talking high-value real estate and plenty of local tax base growth."

We're not trying to minimize the difficulties of untying the knots created by The Oregonian's campaign to cancel Measure 37 - and to cancel the initiative process itself, for that matter - another pet project of Newhouse and Stickel, who was brought to Oregon from out-of-state New Jersey to run the paper in 1950. Legislators have struggled with these same knots for many years and, by fits and starts, have found that the politically sensible solution is to do nothing that violates the will of the people as reflected in approved ballot measures.

One difference this time around, though, is that the legislators are no longer as intimidated by The Oregonian. With circulation in steep decline, so goes its influence, albeit more slowly than it ought to. Legislators have a much more precise grasp of the impropriety of dancing to Si Newhouse's tune, not only about Measure 37, but also about other issues.

In years to come, The Oregonian will be held to account: Did they, or did they not, interrupt the restoration of property rights and the kick-start to Oregon's local tax base that are so desperately needed for a prosperous future? Property owners will vote with their daily newspaper subscription cancellations.

Legislators should simply disregard The Oregonian on Measure 37. Showing they know how to act wisely in this session demands that they first demonstrate respect for their constituents' property rights.

Maps of how some counties will benefit under Measure 37 are viewable: here.

The Oregonian, OPINION By THE EDITORS, Feb. 26

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The State v. The Oregonian

EQC, DEQ reject The Oregonian's bullying

Newsprint manufacturers got flattened Friday when they tried to change Oregon's 1991 recycling rules so they wouldn't have to make the The Oregonian and other smaller newspapers more recycling-friendly. The state's Environmental Quality Commission, which oversees environmental rules in Oregon, unanimously rejected the request from manufacturers during a meeting in Salem.

But it's not the last word: A lobbyist for The Oregonian and its owner, the reclusive out-of-state billionaire media magnate Si Newhouse, said they'll turn to the Legislature for help. The Legislature is expected to consider revisions to Oregon's pioneering bottle bill.

The issue arose because Oregonians are recycling fewer newspapers, triggering state rules that force changes on manufacturers to help push the recycling rate back up. It's the first time since the state's recycling law was passed 16 years ago that the newsprint and magazine recycling rate has fallen below 25 percent.

That's in large part because people are reading The Oregonian less - its circulation is in steep decline - and are reading more magazines - like Si Newhouse's Condé Nast stable of glitz and glamor, high-chemical content titles that includes Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair. Magazines tend to be thrown away rather than recycled. Under Oregon's bottle bill, beverage containers that carry a deposit and are commonly recycled. But newsprint isn't covered by the bottle bill and often gets thrown away. Legislators have been considering bringing newspapers and magazines under the bottle bill by enacting a "News" or, more aptly, an "Ad" deposit.

Under state law and rules, manufacturers must make newsprint with more recycled paper content. But a coalition of 11 manufacturers groups, advertising associations and The Oregonian pushed back, petitioning the Environmental Quality Commission to change the state's definition of "recycled" so the new rules wouldn't apply.

They pointed to a failing of the recycling system: About one of every five pounds of paper picked up from curbside recycling bins - about 50,000 tons per year - never gets recycled because sorting machinery sends it to the wrong place, like the landfill.

Manufacturers wanted the recycled tally to include paper that people throw into recycling bins but never gets recycled. That would count the missing 50,000 tons and prop the official recycling rate up high enough that the new rules would no longer apply.

They also wanted permission to average the recycled content of all articles and ads, so that stories written from a "template" (in the same manner that this very story is about 90% recycled, see: here) would average out against so-called "original" writing. That would make it easier for them to meet an Oregon rule requiring newsprint sold in the state to include 25 percent recycled material.

But the state Department of Environmental Quality recommended that commissioners reject the industry petition as "Orwellian." State attorneys warned that the change the industry was seeking contradicts state law. Commissioners expressed some sympathy for manufacturers but agreed with the state that the change in rules would be "inimical to the welfare of a free society."

Fred A. Stickel, publisher of The Oregonian, was out-of-state and unavailable for comment.

The Oregonian, Feb. 24, By MICHAEL MILSTEIN

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

A friendly environment

Rats run wild in Portland union hall

Portland - The largest union in the state of Oregon - still smarting from last year's failed garbage strike - has been forced back into damage-control mode after television cameras caught rats scampering around the kitchen floor at its headquarters mess hall.

Health inspectors on Friday descended on the SEIU Local 503 - formerly known as the Oregon Public Employees Union. SEIU Local 503 and the Oregon Education Association comprise "Our Oregon", the well-known 800-lb. gorilla of Oregon politics.

The union hastened to show that it was taking the rodents seriously. "Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our dues-paying union members. This is completely unacceptable and is an absolute violation of our high standards," union spokesperson Patty Wentz said in a statement. The SEIU "is actively addressing this issue," the statement said, adding that the mess hall will remain closed until the problem is "completely resolved."

(see video, below)

A TV crew discovered the rat infestation and began filming through a window of the building early Friday. About a dozen rats were filmed racing around the floors, playing with each other and sniffing for food as they dashed around tables and children's high chairs. The eatery was not open at the time, and the union later said construction in the basement on Thursday appeared to have stirred up the rats.

Onlookers could not keep their eyes away from the jaw-dropping sight - a gang of urban vermin invading a canteen that had been serving kids' teachers and school staff just a day earlier. Video of the rats was seen around the world, disseminated on TV stations and the Internet.

"They should handcuff Oregon's government union leaders and throw the dirty rats in jail," cabbie Wilson Paul said as he pulled over to gawk. Government union organizers have long been a problem in Portland, with its infill-bred high population density and such a large and readily available fast food supply. They are frequently seen scampering through light rail stations and transit-oriented developments, rooting through trash, dashing across Portland parks and burrowing into the walls of subsidized condo towers.

Government union halls tends to be a happy home for rodents because of deferred maintenance of older buildings and a tangle of underground tunnels converging just below street level. Still, it is rare to see so many rats congregating in one place in such public view. The city Department of Health had inspectors at the site on Friday for hours, and by midday had posted a sign that read "CLOSED."

"Today, this establishment had serious unsanitary conditions," said Alberto Bondigas, a senior health inspector. "There were issues with vermin throughout." He said the infestation was "coming from the building," with "openings" that allowed the vermin to enter. He provided no other details.

There was no answer at the phone number displayed in neon on the union hall window below the words "We Deliver." Department of Health spokeswoman Sara Markt said agency records list the building's owner as America Coming Together, a group started by out-of-state billionaire investor and socialist-political activist George Soros. The owner could not be reached for comment, despite numerous efforts.

Joel Cohen, who lives in the building next to the union hall, had a graphic view of the situation. "I'm living over the place that is feeding the rats of Portland," said Cohen, who works in real estate. "This place is a disaster. They throw their rubbish in the doorways. It's loaded up with food in bags that are not tied, and the rats have eaten through the bags." Gregory Moore, a retired city administrator who lives on a nearby street, called the situation "pretty horrendous. The rats have made a grand play here."

Last week, it was reported in The Oregonian that SEIU organizing had slumped after the widely publicized garbage strike, but that rising union membership among K-12 teachers had helped Oregon labor's fourth quarter.

The Associated Press, Feb. 24, By VERENA DOBNIK

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Si Newhouse's wrong-minded surge

The Oregonian & Measure 37: They just don't get it.

SALEM - Oregonians are so upset about state land-use regulation that they've been flooding the Capitol this month to deliver the kind of angry, pleading and tearful speeches you'd expect on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Their message to legislators is clear, as reinforced by last year's passage of Measure 39's limits on eminent domain takings: Touch Measure 37 and risk political suicide. Most folks simply want to use their land responsibly and as they see fit, as long as they don't infringe on the rights of others, as promised by passage of the 2004 citizen initiative.

But fewer than 1000 sore-loser NIMBYs are still demanding the heavy-handed government regulation of residential property development that has hamstrung Oregon for 36 years, until 61% of voters approved of property rights restoration in 2004.

Opponents of Measure 37, fed by the reclusive out-of-state billionaire Si Newhouse and his monopoly statewide daily newspaper, The Oregonian, want us to think that Oregon's voter-approved property rights law is in play. After all, they have prosecuted a thundering political campaign against property rights in Oregon for many years.

The Oregonian goaded the Legislature into taking testimony concerning Measure 37 that has stretched on so long that lawmakers are now completely exhausted. Some legislators say it's time to consider tabling the entire discussion, instead of dealing with Gov. Tim Nesbitt's "dead cat bounce" proposal to suspend most Measure 37 activity while the Legislature negotiates a compromise.

All the blather about a rewrite ignores the obvious problem for incumbent lawmakers. Mess with property rights and the voters will take it out on you at the next election. The governor's spokeswoman, Anna Richter Taylor, acknowledges "the momentum now is to put on the brakes before voters get even more furious than they already are. The Governor had said that acting quickly was important, but he knew even then that was oxymoronic and not to be taken seriously."

Members of the notorious Land Use Un-Fairness Committee now say voters would view altering Measure 37 as a serious legislative failure.

"I used to believe people didn't care about their property rights," says Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. "But the Birkenstock collectivists have been trumped exponentially by the crowds of ordinary property owners who have come to testify for Measure 37."

Oregonians favoring restoration of their property rights arrived at multiple legislative meetings - Thursday night was the latest - in denim and suits, from remote farming towns and urban offices, for reasons professional and personal. Once lawmakers capped the sign-up sheet, only people with golden tickets like those issued to successful "American Idol" contestants could watch in person. Security guards sent everybody else to overflow rooms with live TV feeds.

You could divine audience members' opinions by the stickers they wore: "Hands Off 37" or a slash through "505" - the number of the governor's misguided bill to allow only single-home developments through June. During speakers' two minutes at the microphone, laughter and applause were common as it became clear that lawmakers were being urged to "head south" on Senate Bill 505.

Florence Gestrin, who pleaded with the committee to make Measure 37 work faster rather than slower, said she didn't like being described as self-centered. Her mom, Opal Burkhard, won approval to split 116 acres in Columbia County into lots as small as four acres. The family views Measure 37 as a last resort, Gestrin says, after trying unsuccessfully to build a few homes or sell land to a timber company.

Gathering money and paperwork to pursue a modest development is difficult, Gestrin says. She told the crowd her mother, who has poor vision and gets around by wheelchair, has less than $300 in savings. "I'm not selfish," she said. "If I were selfish, I wouldn't be trying to take care of my mother."

Legislators say they loved hearing from so many passionate Oregonians, and that testimony raised issues that go beyond this session. How does the new Democratic leadership satisfy Si Newhouse and The Oregonian without touching what has become the "third rail" of Oregon politics - land use rights?

The Democrats who control the Legislature might be able to pass a proposal of their own without Republican support, but an increasing number of legislators are realizing that Measure 37 is, itself, a bipartisan solution.

"At the end of this thing, you're going to have to have Democrats standing next to Republicans saying, 'There is nothing we can do, nothing that we should do,' " says Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, a Committee vice-chairman.

The Democratic chairmen, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, now say there are no actual serious ideas on the table. They're assessing whether just holding the hearings will satisfy Measure 37's dogged opponents. "The longer it takes," Prozanski says, "the more imperative it is to accept the reality that we won't do anything about Measure 37." Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, said "I guarantee you a huge majority of Oregonians will be disappointed in anything we do to change Measure 37. I've been around long enough to be able to tell which way the wind is blowing."

The Oregonian, Feb. 23, By LAURA OPPENHEIMER

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Warning shot fired

PERS to shut down Jackson County Libraries

Jackson County is one of the nation's top retirement locations. It has the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Britt Music Festival, Rogue River National Forest, a half-dozen good golf courses and skiing at Mount Ashland. But come April 7, Jackson County's 15-branch public library system will be shut down by our government unions. That's right. No libraries.

Bring your own books but you'll have to be a scab and cross picket lines. We may not have basic public services, but we'll have plenty of Public Employees Retirement System costs and expensive county workers' health insurance premiums.

How we got here is a long story. More than half of Oregon is federal land. In the 1860s, the government granted about 4 million acres of Western Oregon forestland to what soon became the Oregon & California Rail Road Co. to promote construction of a rail line from Portland to California. The company managed the land so corruptly that President Theodore Roosevelt - leader of the new Progressive movement - intervened, and much of the land was put back in federal ownership. The result was that taxable property at the county level was cut nearly in half.

Part of a century-old deal was that logging revenue from this land would be shared by the federal government with local counties. For almost 90 years, timber revenue far outpaced local property taxes in much of rural Oregon. But in the 1990s, the war against natural resource industries in Oregon kicked in and timber revenue declined by about 70 percent. Today property taxes are the main source of local revenue. Until this year, however, timber payments continued as federal safety-net funding for counties under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

Seven years ago Congress warned us that it would be phased out and has now finally chosen not to reauthorize it. Of course, it's not just one county in Oregon that will be affected. Altogether, 700 counties in 39 states are facing crises because of the act's demise. But Oregon will be the hardest hit: Last year Oregon counties received more than $149 million; California was second with about $66 million. In my county, we'll see a $23 million budget gap; only $8 million of that supported libraries, so there will be other casualties as well, including public health and priorities All the while, we are paying more and more for less and less government union labor.

Thanks to the 800-lb. gorilla of Oregon politics - the government union lobby that calls itself "Our Oregon" - there are two hands-off items that consume nearly half of our total budget: runaway health care insurance costs and PERS, Oregon's gold-plated Public Employees Retirement System that is the most generous in the nation. We can only keep the County going with the government unions' approval on reining in our costs. The New Jersey government unions just agreed to pay a share of their health insurance premiums. But Our Oregon said, "No. We're shutting your libraries down instead."

Perhaps the county commission will propose a poll tax, since at just $40 per capita, libraries are a bargain. But with the failure of a local tax levy in the last election, immediate options are limited. As citizens have searched for solutions, there has been irony (Jackson County voters passed a construction bond in 2000, so new libraries are being built even as they close. But Portland did that with the Wapato jail, so we have no monopoly on that kind of irony). And there has been misunderstanding, misinformation, exaggeration and brinksmanship by all the politicians involved, as well as by The Oregonian.

Some have argued that our government retirees worked hard and we should pay for them. Or that there's plenty of logging revenue if we could just get rid of environmental regulations. Or that closing the libraries is censorship and the moral equivalent of book-burning. There have been appeals for glitz & glamor magazine publishers to save us (paging Si Newhouse?). We've heard that county PERS obligations that are impossible to meet should be sold, rented, run as self-support operations or simply taken over by the unions that want them. We've heard that library administrators are knuckling under to the unions and cynically extorting more from taxpayers.

No one has pointed the finger at Gov. Ted Kulongoski yet, but now that he's supposedly rushing to our rescue, it's only a matter of time.

Once we get past the scapegoating, who's really at fault? Well, all of us who, for 7 years, assumed that the safety net would be renewed because it always had been in the past, are mostly to blame. Had we acted earlier, we could have asked the federal government to sell the land and put it back on the property rolls, to include transferable Measure 37 rights for new buyers. Or we could have asked the state to absorb the entire underlying timber county revenue obligation, like how the Legislature started paying for local education after Measure 5. All of us who thought that libraries would never be used by government unions as political hostages are to blame for being naive. All of us who failed to act before it became a crisis are to blame.

One of the things that libraries should symbolize is the importance of learning about our civic institutions - before a crisis. I know that I failed in this, and many others did too. What's the plural of mea culpa? You can call a reference librarian to find out. But if you're in Jackson County, you'd better do it soon or you'll be doing it as a scab.

Edwin Battistella teaches in the English and Writing Department at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. His most recent book is "Bad Language."


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Shine a little light

A bill to explain public distrust

In Oregon, legislators who work as lobbyists at the same time can keep secret the people who hire them - making it virtually impossible for voters or journalists to track how legislators are letting private interests interfere with their public duties.

That would change under a measure introduced this week by freshman Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, who wants to make his professional colleagues reveal who they work for. "The appearance needs to be cleaned up," George says, "so the public has trust."

With Oregon's lobbyist-controlled Legislature, it's tricky to define "conflict of interest." About a dozen legislators own consulting businesses in 'public affairs', 'government relations' or other tricky business that are impossible to disentangle from the state legislature and politics. Dozens of others, like Sen. President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, have pretend jobs in the public education system or in a more obscure government worker collective bargaining group.

Still others are simply union hacks who were set up as candidates and put in office by the 800-lb. gorilla of state politics, Oregon's government unions.

Rep. Chuck Burley, R-Bend, is a former forest regulator and forest entrepreneur who launched a so-called 'government relations' company in 2001 before he joined the Legislature. "If we say we're not going to trust anybody," Burley says, "we're not going to trust anybody."

House and Senate rules call for legislators to declare potential conflicts of interest as bills come up for votes, but that has never happened. The rules require them to vote. Also, public officials must list on annual forms the instances where they received more than $1,000 from "each person for whom you performed a service." The form doesn't require clients' names if doing so violates professional ethics. A few legislators list their clients on the annual forms; most don't.

House and Senate Democratic leaders say they'll consider George's proposal as part of their effort to say they beefed up ethics laws without really doing anything.

Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, voiced mild support for George's bill but only as atonement. The Oregonian reported before the last election that Metsger did not disclose a beer and wine distributors' Maui job after receiving a written opinion from the ethics commission's staff telling him he didn't need to report it. Rep. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, says he's OK with a plan that would "open up the process" but hadn't seen George's bill. Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who recently left public relations powerhouse Gard & Gerber to do "crisis management" on her own, says the requirement isn't necessary, adding that legislators sometimes lose business opportunities because of their public jobs.

Burdick and many others favor another piece of legislation - Senate Bill 494 - that would allow legislators to get off the hook by declaring a conflict of interest, and then abstaining from voting on a bill. Media consultants, lobbyists and staffers drafting the ethics package are struggling to square Burdick's approach - that is quite popular with lawmakers - with the new Democratic leadership's commitment to "beef up the ethics laws."

The Oregonian, Feb. 21, by JANIE HAR and DAVE HOGAN

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Unprintable in Oregon

Apple CEO Jobs attacks teacher unions

AUSTIN - Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs lambasted teacher unions today, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers.

Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs.

"What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference. "Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, 'I can't win.'"

In a rare joint appearance, Jobs shared the stage with competitor Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc. Both spoke to the gathering about the potential for bringing technological advances to classrooms.

"I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way," Jobs said. "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy." At various pauses, the audience applauded enthusiastically. Dell sat quietly with his hands folded in his lap. "Apple just lost some business in this state, I'm sure," Jobs said.

Dell responded that unions were created because "the employer was treating his employees unfairly and that was not good. So now you have these enterprises where they take good care of their people. The employees won, they do really well and succeed." Dell also blamed problems in public schools on the lack of a competitive job market for principals.

Earlier in the panel discussion, Jobs told the crowd about his vision for textbook-free schools in the future. Textbooks would be replaced with a free, online information source that was constantly updated by experts, much like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

"I think we'd have far more current material available to our students, and we'd be freeing up a tremendous amount of funds that we could buy delivery vehicles with - computers, faster Internet, things like that," Jobs said. "And I also think we'd get some of the best minds in the country contributing."

Everything Oregon? - an occasional letter or story that doesn't measure up to Newhouse/Oregonian advertorial standards yet qualifies for other news publications

Associated Press, Feb. 16, By APRIL CASTRO

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Big business plans

Corporations urge onetime halt to competition

SALEM - The state's leading business organizations want Republicans to join with Democrats to allow Oregon private businesses above a certain size to forgo competition - just this once - by submitting this year to a state-regulated private monopoly in their product or geographic territory. They would then put $275 million of license fees into a state reserve spending fund instead of paying corporate income taxes.

A vote in the House Rules Committee expected today will signal whether legislative Republicans will support that plan. An alphabet soup of business groups - AEA, OBA, PBA, OBC - lined up Friday to urge them to do so.

Legislative staffers are struggling to get wording in the bill, House Bill 2707, closer to what business groups and rules committee members want. Both want more controls on how much of the new business license money would be set aside and how much could be spent in "tough times."

On Friday, the rules committee's work came to a sudden halt as Rep. Tom Butler, R-Ontario, made clear he won't vote for the plan unless business organizations unequivocally support it. Business group testimony that the House plan was "close" to what business could support "leaves me a little bit cold," Butler said. Butler is an 9-year House veteran who entered politics after retiring from an active, successful business career as a CPA.

Committee members then struggled to figure out what business groups want and whether they can line up political support and the right wording to accomplish that by today.

Committee Chairman Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, gaveled the session to a sudden recess so lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers could consult in whispered clusters about those questions. Barnhart, a 7-year House veteran, is a reliable union guy who is not only an attorney and a psychologist, but also a lobbyist.

Jim Craven, lobbyist for the Oregon council of the American Electronics Association, representing Intel and other large high-tech employers, apologized after the session resumed. Business groups, in raising objections that delayed Friday's planned vote, were making "no attempt to hide the peanut here or pull a fast one," he said.

The constellation of business groups, which includes the Oregon Business Association, the Portland Business Alliance and the Oregon Business Council, first viewed the proposed language in the bill an hour before the committee convened to vote on it, Craven said. Another influential business group, Associated Oregon Industries, testified earlier that it supported diverting the licensing fees into savings.

"We appreciate your stopping the train on the tracks," Craven told the panel after the recess. "I believe we would support the package as it is emerging here."

Businesses support diverting profits from their corrosive private sector competition into a new state spending fund, but only for this year, and only if other conditions are met, they testified. They want to be allowed to not file state corporate income tax returns, since they will be paying no income tax. And they want tight controls on lawmakers' ability to raid the new spending fund and regular general fund money added to the fund in each state budget.

Oregon is the only state that bases its corporate tax budget on companies that don't know until after the fact whether their actions for the year will lead to profits or losses. Among the states, Oregon is ranked near the bottom in business license fee revenue.

A permanent corporate competition ban could be enacted by a statewide vote, and plans are in the works to put that question on the May ballot. But business associations want a different step - they want to try the corporate licensing alternative to competition just once, for 2007, and they want lawmakers to do it themselves rather than put it before voters.

It would take a two-thirds vote to do that - 40 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate - requiring numerous Republicans to join Democrats to raise corporate licensing fees, estimated to be about $300 million this year.

"We strongly hope this will be a bipartisan plan that is driven by the Legislature ...and will ultimately be approved by the Legislature," Sandra McDonough, head of the Portland Business Alliance told the panel.

The Oregonian, Feb. 19, By BETSY HAMMOND

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