- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers.

The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, May 20, on the impact of the state’s motor-voter registration program

Despite what we argued in an editorial earlier this week, it may be too early to conclude definitively that the state’s motor-voter registration system had little or no impact on Tuesday’s primary election.

Certainly, the overall numbers from Tuesday’s election were impressive: Officials expect that final tallies will show that 1.2 million Oregonians cast ballots in the election. If that expectation holds, this will be only the second primary election in state history with more than 1 million ballots turned in. (The other election came in 2008, when Oregon voters were galvanized by an epic struggle between Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.)

Some of that increase likely comes from population growth in Oregon. And it’s also true that the state’s motor-voter registration program has added more than 50,000 new voters this year.

One big question about those new voters, though, was this: Would they vote in the primary? Preliminary data from the Oregon Motor Voter Coalition (a proponent, as the name suggests, of the motor-voter system) suggests that at least some of them did: The coalition said that Oregon voters registered through automatic programs such as motor voter in some cases actually voted at a higher rate than people who registered through traditional means.

For example, the coalition reported, about 20.3 percent of Republican voters registered through automatic programs were turning in ballots, compared to 12.7 percent of Republicans registered through traditional means.

You could say that, well, sure, those new Republican voters were at least politically motivated enough to take the trouble to affiliate with a political party, unlike the vast majority of motor voters, who remained nonaffiliated. (The act of affiliating with a political party requires the new voter to return a postcard, and most new voters did not do so.) But the coalition says that even new unaffiliated voters turned in their ballots at a higher rate than their peers - 10 percent, compared to a 3 percent rate for nonaffiliated voters who registered through traditional means.

Fans of the motor voter program were celebrating those numbers this week.

But the bigger question remains - and likely will remain unanswered, at least until an enterprising political scientist digs deep into the data: Did the influx of motor voters play a role in affecting the outcome of any of the state’s elections?

Certainly, you might look at the surprisingly easy win that Bernie Sanders enjoyed over Clinton on Tuesday night in Oregon as a possibility, especially since what limited polling was done in the state suggested that Clinton was in the lead. But Democratic turnout in Oregon was less than it was in 2008, suggesting that voters just grew weary of the race this year, especially as it became clear that Oregon would not be playing a pivotal role in the presidential primaries. (For the record, Clinton did better in Oregon in 2016 than she did in 2008. She lost to Sanders by a 55-43 percent margin. In 2008, Obama claimed 59 percent of the vote. And Clinton still will collect 51 delegates from Oregon, compared to 55 for Sanders, so the results don’t put much of a dent in her delegate lead.)

In addition, the fact that Clinton seemed to write off Oregon entirely, with a very limited campaign presence and no appearances in the state, seems to suggest that her pollsters had a better understanding of Oregon’s tendency to back a scrappy underdog in a primary.

As for the state’s new voters, they may not be as politically disengaged as we initially thought. But their first acid test will come in the November election.


The (Bend) Bulletin, May 21, on legislation affecting central Oregon farmers

Central Oregon farmers should not be allowed to become an endangered species.

If the Endangered Species Act is going to require big or small changes in how irrigation districts take water from the Deschutes Basin, Congress needs to provide the money to protect the farmers from being threatened.

It’s encouraging to see that Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, has taken a step toward making money available. The Senate agriculture appropriations bill contains some $50 million in new funding that is more specifically aimed toward fixing the kinds of problems Central Oregon has. The money has criteria attached to it that fits the region’s irrigation districts - a need to make improvements to conserve water, improve efficiency or otherwise improve habitat.

It doesn’t mean the districts are going to get $50 million. The language would have to survive intact on a journey through Congress and be signed into law. Local districts would still have to apply. They would have to compete with other applicants that face similar challenges. But it would be new money available.

Think of it as a nonearmark earmark in the post-earmark era.

A key issue in the Deschutes Basin is using water better. Nearly 90 percent of the streamflow from the Deschutes River in Bend is diverted during irrigation season to irrigation canals, according to the Deschutes River Conservancy. The change is particularly noticeable in the winter when water is stored. Just below Wickiup Dam, flows in the Deschutes River can drop to 20 cubic feet per second starting in the fall, compared to as much as 1,500 cfs in the spring.

There may be partial solutions that can be done for no money. One analysis suggested more water could simply be let through the Wickiup Dam in most years, as much as 100 cubic feet per second more. There’s also a ongoing study of the Deschutes Basin that will attempt to identify other fixes.

Most solutions cost money. Piping canals conserves water, but it’s expensive. For instance, piping all of Central Oregon Irrigation District’s main canals could save as much as 400 cfs for the Deschutes River. It might cost more than $300 million.

That’s why it’s so important for Oregon’s congressional delegation to look for ways for the federal government to help.


The (Eugene) Register-Guard, May 22, on opioid use in Oregon

Oregon is awash in opioids, with the second-highest rate of prescriptions in the country and a skyrocketing death rate from opioids. The death rate in Oregon from these drugs - which include Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet - surpasses any other type of drug poisoning, including alcohol, methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine.

Physicians who are dealing with this are, unhappily, reaping a crop that was sown more than 25 years ago.

There was a major movement in the 1990s to push doctors to do more to treat pain - or risk possible censure by medical boards for failing to do their job. Opioids were deemed a safe and effective option.

One small company, Purdue Pharma, touted a new medication as not only effective in reducing pain, but also having a lower risk of abuse because of its time-release properties. The new drug, Oxycontin, quickly became popular.

In 2007 Purdue admitted, after being hauled into federal court, that it had misled the public about OxyContin’s risk of addiction.

That admission came too late.

Health care professionals are now aware that opioids are not as safe - or even effective - as once believed. The same cannot be said for patients, particularly those who have become dependent on opioids and need them to feel normal. There are Lane County physicians who say they have been threatened with malpractice lawsuits, even physical violence, by some patients and their families when they try to wean a patient off opioids.

These patients flatly refuse to believe the opioids are, in fact, ineffective in treating many types of pain and may even make it worse in some cases, such as lower back pain.

Research now shows that weight loss and exercise are the most effective ways to reduce pain in many cases, but that prescription can be a tough sell to many patients.

Oregon has made some progress in recent years in dealing with opioid dependency. There is a statewide registry that allows allow doctors to see if a patient has additional opioid prescriptions from other physicians. Local emergency rooms no longer prescribe opioids for migraines and urgent care clinics won’t prescribe opioids for chronic pain.

After peaking in 2006, prescription opioid deaths in Oregon had fallen by about 35 percent by 2012, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. But this was still 250 percent higher than in 2000 - and some physicians say they see use and abuse growing again.

Opioids still account for 6.7 percent of all prescriptions written in Oregon today - about a third more than the national average. Some areas in Lane County have still higher rates of opioid prescriptions, with parts of Springfield reaching 45 percent; Cottage Grove, 9 percent, and Florence, 10 percent, according to CDC figures.

If Lane County, and Oregon, are to win the battle against opioid addiction, more needs to be done.

This includes looking at areas with the highest rate of opioid prescriptions to determine what’s going on and deal with it.

It also means increasing connections and sharing more information among the different parties who deal with opioid addictions, including all types of health care providers and nonprofits that deal with addiction.

While there is a reporting system that allows doctors to see if a patient is obtaining multiple opioid prescriptions, there is no requirement to check the database, which does not include prescriptions written in emergency rooms. And physicians who have used the site complain that it is cumbersome and hard to use.

Better partnerships and connections between health care providers, insurers and employers also is needed for a coordinated approach to attack opioid addiction.

Some insurers, for example, may not cover alternative treatments for pain that would replace opioids. And programs to help a patient lose weight and exercise as part of a program to reduce pain may not be readily available.

A system to identify and divert patients who are at high risk for opioid abuse to an agency that specializes in substance abuse, such as Serenity Lane, also would be helpful.

And specific guidelines for prescribing opiates should be in place, focusing on such parameters as prescribing the lowest active dose for the minimum amount of time and considering offering other, non-addictive options if there are factors on record that show a possible disposition to abuse.

There is room for, and a need for, innovative approaches in dealing with the opioid epidemic.

Trillium Community Health Plan, which manages Medicaid for area residents, is exploring the possibility of putting out a “request for proposals” to form one or more chronic pain centers. These centers would treat the most complex cases of patients dealing with pain, requiring treatment beyond what might be offered by a primary care physician. About 28 percent of Trillium patients have chronic pain.

Opioid abuse is not just an issue for the people who are dependent on opioids, and their families, it is an issue for the community. It causes needless deaths, takes people from being productive members of society to non-productive and feeds into rising health care costs and crime.

It will take a coordinated effort, with support from everyone from individual community members to health care providers, health insurers, counselors, employers and law enforcement.

But it is an effort that is worth making, and that promises a significant payback.


The (Pendleton) East Oregonian, May 20, on the state’s primary election and superdelegates

Oregon’s primary election is in the books, and some deciding votes were cast on issues both large and small.

But in the national presidential race, it may have been a complete waste of time. Donald Trump is the only candidate left on the Republican side, and he won a majority of the GOP vote here. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders easily handled Hillary Clinton, winning all but one county - Gilliam - and outpacing her by about 13 percentage points.

But Sanders’ win only gained him a few delegates, and those may well be canceled out by Oregon superdelegates pledging their support to Clinton.

It has Sanders supporters - and Clinton detractors - claiming foul and accusing the process of being undemocratic. In two words: It is.

And who would ever assume such a process would be? Remember, this is not an election for Americans to choose their next president. This is an election for two political parties to choose their representatives. How state governments all over the country get roped into spending taxpayer dollars to achieve that is beyond us.

There is nothing democratic about different states holding elections on different dates with different rules - some primaries and some caucuses, some closed and some open, some with day-of registration and some that required registering weeks in advance.

Remember, too, that unlike the presidential election in November, you “win” delegates, not states. Though cable news likes to trumpet who won Wisconsin or Alabama, it doesn’t matter. Delegates are the only thing that matters - not states, nor votes necessarily.

And since the Democratic party is the only major party with their nomination still up for grabs, let’s look at how those delegates are chosen. For the Dems, 2,383 delegates are needed to wrap up the nomination, and Clinton is right at the precipice of doing so. She has 2,293 pledged delegates while Bernie Sanders has 1,533. Clinton also has about 3 million more individual votes cast for her in primary elections than Sanders, and that is partly why she is ahead on delegates.

But it’s not the only reason: There are 715 superdelegates in the Democratic primary, which carry plenty of weight and can help choose the eventual nominees.

Parties created superdelegates because they want to avoid the populist, idealist candidates that can stimulate their base and then get clobbered in national elections. In modern history, it has happened to both parties: the extreme conservative Barry Goldwater for the Republicans in 1964 and liberal, anti-war darling George McGovern for the Democrats in 1972. After both candidates floundered in election day routs, the parties rearranged their nominating system to give their insiders more sway.

Those rascally voters may pick the candidate they like most, but they might not pick the candidate who can win the White House. And to political parties, winning the position of power is more important than any democratic principles.

Oregon’s 11 Democratic superdelegates include names you’ve heard of, and some you have not. They are: Suzanne Bonamici, Kate Brown, Laura Calvo, Peter DeFazio, Frank Dixon, Lupita Maurer, Jeff Merkley, Karen Packer, Ellen Rosenblum, Kurt Schrader and Larry Taylor.

Six of them have pledged their support to Clinton, despite the fact that Sanders won significantly more votes here. Three others remain undecided, so Clinton’s unearned gains could still grow.

It is understandable then, that outsider candidates like Sanders and Trump have excelled in this primary season. Voters are disappointed with each party’s inability to pull together for the good of the country. Neither Sanders nor Trump has long been a member of the political party whose nomination they are running for, and many of their views are outside the party platform.

Trump has succeeded at destroying each and every mainstream candidate the GOP could throw at him. Clinton looks like her mainstream power will be enough - barely - to hold off Sanders.

If Clinton crushes Trump in November, look for the GOP to change their primary rules to make it even more difficult for an outsider to win the party’s nomination. They want to win the presidency much more than they want to win votes.


The Yamhill Valley News-Register, May 19, on forest land management

For decades, the federal Bureau of Land Management has been stuck between the rock of Northwest timber counties and the hard place of environmental advocacy coalitions.

In matters of public debate, the best solution is often somewhere in the moderate middle. In the case of federally owned O&C; lands, that would entail some sort of forward-thinking plan providing increased logging on BLM lands and establishing and enforcing measures to better protect streams, forests and the habitat they provide.

The problem is, opposing sides become so caught up in their ideologies they are unable to work toward a viable solution.

A Tuesday story detailed the battle over the BLM’s latest draft plan to manage forests. Environmental groups have filed an appeal, accusing the agency of failing to protect the public trust, while the Association of O&C; Counties submitted a legal challenge arguing that the plan would fail to deliver mandated timber harvest levels.

Yamhill County is an O&C; county, but with much less stake than others. It doesn’t rely on O&C; funds for general revenue, which has put some Southern Oregon counties on the brink of dissolution.

But the Yamhill County commissioners loosed a deluge of criticism to BLM representatives at a recent meeting, and it took the “give back our lands” tone of the movement trying to force the government to relinquish all western holdings.

Environmental groups are blinded by their own ideology, of course, and to no lesser extent. They keep repeating mindless mantras like, “Clearcutting kills fish” and “We don’t need more clearcuts” - rhetoric designed to convince the public that decades-old practices remain in play.

In fact, the BLM is employing ecological logging practices developed by regional scientists. They include clearcutting small patches and allowing habitat to naturally regenerate. That approach works better than thinning, which creates a falsified matrix of wooded lands, scientists argue.

The private business sector has been willing to meet somewhere in the middle. It really has no option, as environmental challenges continue to clog the court system otherwise, stalling all activity.

It’s too bad environmentalists are willing to go above and beyond to preserve the marbled murrelet, but refuse to consider any measures to preserve our rural communities and economy, the demise of which lead to poverty, drug abuse and child neglect. On the other side, county representatives would be better advised to speak in more measured fashion instead of falling into a feud dominated by trite arguments.

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