- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Salem) Statesman Journal, Oct. 15, on choosing Oregon’s next governor:

Kate Brown deserves two more years to show Oregonians what she is capable of as governor.

Brown, who was then secretary of state, ascended to the governorship last year after Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned. Now Oregonians will decide at the Nov. 8 election whether Democrat Brown or Republican Bud Pierce should serve the final two years of Kitzhaber’s term.

Three lesser-known candidates also are on the ballot.



In many ways, Brown and Pierce are closely matched. Both are longtime leaders in their respective circles, Brown in Democratic politics and Pierce in the medical community. Both are known for being thoughtful, approachable and compassionate. Both talk about the importance of improving education, the economy and transportation.

Kate Brown’s strengths

A governor serves as Oregon’s CEO, and perhaps that is Brown’s signature accomplishment. When she took office, she found weak management in numerous agencies, especially the sprawling Department of Human Services.

Brown painstakingly changed leadership at 14 agencies, moving successful administrators into higher profile jobs - such as at DHS and the Department of Administrative Services - and recruiting new leadership from around the country. In doing so, she has diversified state management, appointing more women and people of color.

Brown has shown that she can learn on the job: to focus her priorities instead of trying to do everything, and to recruit legislative champions to promote her ideas in the Legislature.

Her personable nature is a tremendous asset. People - including her political opponents - like her, regardless of whether they agree with her. She and her husband, first gentleman Dan Little, have fit in well in Salem, living in the governor’s official mansion much of the time.

Brown is much more liberal than Kitzhaber and more cautious. The cautiousness might not be bad, given how many big ventures - from health care to education - the state has wound up undoing.

Her weaknesses

Brown has shown little inclination to stand up to liberal Democrats in the Legislature, who steamrolled the minority Republicans on energy, firearms, workplace and other issues. That does not bode well for Brown’s being a governor for all of Oregon,rural as well as urban.

She has shown little ability to achieve pragmatic political compromises. Examples include the failure of a transportation funding package in the Legislature and the largest tax increase in Oregon history being put on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Unlike Pierce, Brown supports that Measure 97, which we believe would be destructive to Oregon’s economy and further cement Oregon’s reputation as an anti-business state.

Bud Pierce’s strengths

Brown’s main challenger, Dr. William “Bud” Pierce, is a longtime Salem resident. He is a senior partner of Hematology/Oncology of Salem, which has 75 employees and four clinic sites. Pierce and his wife, Selma, are well-known for their volunteerism and philanthropy.

He is a past president of the Oregon Medical Association and other organizations. This is his first run for public office, but he says his medical leadership has taught him the ways of politics.

His background in science - he has a Ph.D. in experimental pathology along with his medical degree - has steeped him in analyzing problems and finding solutions.

Pierce combines fiscal conservatism with a passion for addressing society’s ills. Homelessness is a genuine issue for him, reflecting his theme of improving economic opportunity for all Oregonians.

Republicans have a tough time winning statewide office in Oregon. It’s not just that they are outnumbered by Democrats, as well as by other non-Republican voters, but the Republican campaign infrastructure has withered during years of unsuccessful statewide candidacies. By running a strong campaign, Pierce can help rebuild that infrastructure.

His weaknesses

Pierce faces the same challenge as past candidates who came from outside the political realm: Experience in politics and in government trumps inexperience.

Good ideas alone are not enough to carry the day. Oregonians have been burned by grand ideas that lacked substance. They want to know specifics and how those ideas actually will be implemented.

Moving state bureaucracy forward is a constant challenge, as Brown knows from her years in the legislative and executive branches. But until Wednesday, when Pierce outlined his proposed state budget, he had talked more in broad themes than in specifics.

Pierce also stumbled badly in a recent debate with Brown when discussing domestic violence and sexual assault. Although his comments were misinterpreted, he showed little understanding of two societal issues that have been widely discussed in the Mid-Valley. A series of apologies followed across several days, starting with one in which he appeared to put the blame on people for “taking my comments the wrong way” instead of assuming full responsibility himself.

This episode raised concerns about his political awareness, and it factored into the Statesman Journal Editorial Board’s decision to endorse Brown.

The bottom line

This election is to choose a governor for the next two years. Neither candidate has shown himself or herself to be the inspirational, visionary leader around whom Oregonians will rally.

Pierce faces a steep learning curve. That takes time. Brown has been solid, making major mistakes - her support of Measure 97 being one - although she has not been as centrist as Oregon needs.

It makes sense for Oregonians to capitalize on Gov. Kate Brown’s experience for the next two years instead of starting over.

Where they stand

Democrat Kate Brown’s top three issues:

-A seamless system of education.

-Ensuring Oregon thrives economically.

-Healthy, safe communities.

Republican Bud Pierce’s top three issues:

-K-12 education reform.

-Rural poverty.

-Diminishing homelessness

___

The Daily Astorian, Oct. 14, on the corporate tax measure:

Measure 97 is on the ballot because Oregon governors and legislators past and present failed to do their jobs, and now voters must decide whether to approve the largest and most controversial tax increase in state history.

If approved, the enticing but misleading measure would create a 2.5 percent tax on the gross sales of “C” corporations exceeding $25 million. It would generate an estimated $3 billion per year. According to the ballot measure, the money would be intended for schools, health care and senior citizens. Nobody disagrees that we need to revamp our flagging education system, improve health care, help our senior citizens and to solve the serious crisis in funding public employee retirements.

But Measure 97 isn’t the way to accomplish those goals. The measure is severely flawed and could create just as many problems as it tries to solve. Voters should see through the misleading claims of its union-backed supporters and soundly defeat this proposal.

The gross receipts tax is a tax on sales, not profits, and in reality is a regressive, hidden sales tax that will greatly impact Oregon consumers - and, most of all - low-income residents who can least afford it. Because it taxes only sales, it could wipe out the profit of businesses that generate high sales but low margins. Grocery stores, for example, typically have margins of only 2 percent or less.

The measure’s backers assert the tax will only affect about 1,000 large out-of-state corporations like Comcast and Walmart that don’t pay their fair share in Oregon. What’s not in their message, though, is that those 1,000 corporations account for 88 percent of all retail sales in Oregon.

And all businesses in Oregon, not just those that fall under the tax, will feel the sting of this badly conceived measure. Businesses will see costs rise because their supplies and services, including electricity and other utilities, will go up in price. That will potentially happen at each step of the supply chain as goods go from manufacturer to retailer to consumer and the effect could far exceed the 2.5 percent the tax would generate.

Measure 97 supporters also say the companies will simply absorb the higher taxes and won’t pass it on by increasing prices or lowering expenses by cutting jobs. At best that’s terribly naive and more likely just disingenuous.

Company shareholders expect returns to grow, not decrease, and it will result in increased prices all along the line. That makes the measure a hidden sales tax. It will have an impact on goods and services Oregonians purchase every day, including groceries and medicines that most sales taxes exempt. The Legislative Revenue Office, a nonpartisan state agency, estimated the increase would be about $600 more a year in taxes per Oregonian.

The revenue office’s study also projects the measure would cost 38,000 private-sector jobs during a 10-year period, while a study commissioned by supporters says it will only cost 13,000 jobs. That same study says public-sector jobs would grow by 33,000 during the same period. In either event, growing public-sector jobs at the expense of the private sector is not good economic development policy. Additionally, the revenue office study points out that the ballot-measure language does not ensure the revenue would be used for its intended purposes. By law, the money would go into the state’s general fund, and the Legislature can use the revenue directly or indirectly for other uses such as funding the Public Employees Retirement System.

We know our local schools are not adequately funded, and our students deserve better. We also know health care costs will rise, and we know the state signed a contract - an unaffordable one, perhaps, but still a contract - with state employees.

The state needs to find ways to increase and stabilize revenue streams, but a big no-strings-attached money grab bag is not the answer. Voters should defeat this measure, then hold legislators and the governor accountable for getting business and labor together. Once at the same table, they shouldn’t leave until we have a plan for stable funding for Oregon schools and health care programs.

Measure 97 isn’t the answer.

___

The East Oregonian, Oct. 11, on criminal justice reform:

It’s a notable and important development that Oregon sheriffs and police chiefs are recommending simple drug-possession charges be treated as misdemeanors instead of felonies in certain circumstances. It’s also crucial that such a step - if taken - doesn’t lead to an anything-goes attitude to illicit drugs.

As denoted by our state’s enthusiastic legalization of recreational marijuana, Oregon is inclined to be a leader when it comes to re-examining legal and social strategies for dealing with drugs. Along with Washington, Colorado, Alaska and a growing rank of other states that have abandoned a losing struggle against a substance many regard as less harmful than alcohol, Oregon police now are ready to scrap the century-old orthodoxy that punishment is the best way to discourage possession and use of other drugs.

The law enforcement groups note that felony convictions “include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities.” In essence, conviction on a drug-possession charge can condemn a person to circumstances that make life permanently more difficult. This can have the contradictory result of paving the way for future drug use by hopeless and marginalized citizens.

Convicted users should instead be given individualized, mandated treatment. Such a consequence isn’t a slap on the wrist, carrying with it the likelihood of financial cost, loss of personal time and the embarrassment that accompanies being required to get help. But the cost to offenders and to taxpayers would be far less than prosecuting a felony case, imprisonment and years of follow-up.

Legislators must weigh the options carefully before any change is made. It seems likely, however, in a time of severely strained law enforcement and criminal justice budgets that some degree of experimentation is both desirable and inevitable.

___

The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Oct. 17, on Oregon’s compliance with the Real ID law:

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a comprehensive review of security protocols found pervasive problems with piece of identification most commonly carried by Americans, the state-issued driver’s license. State standards for issuing licenses varied widely, some were easily counterfeited, and few provided more than basic information. Congress sought to remedy these problems by passing the Real ID Act of 2005, but failed to follow through with the resources states need to comply with the law.

The law requires all states to issue what are called Enhanced Driver’s Licenses by 2009 - licenses embedded with a chip linked to a database containing biometric and identification data. The act also requires states to issue licenses only to people who can provide proof of citizenship. The Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2009 that compliance would cost the states $3.9 billion, but appropriated only about 1.5 percent of that amount.

The act declares that state compliance is voluntary, and allows states to apply for extensions of the 2009 deadline. Oregon and other states are relying on those extensions now. But the latest extension may last only through next June - by which time compliance will be voluntary only if the bearers of non-compliant driver’s licenses never need to board airplanes or enter secure federal buildings such as courthouses.

Oregon greeted the Real ID Act as an unfunded mandate. The state has complied with the proof-of-citizenship requirement, but the 2009 Legislature passed a bill prohibiting state agencies from spending state funds to issue the Enhanced Driver’s License. As the deadline looms and the DHS becomes more reluctant to grant extensions, the showdown between states and the federal government threatens to create serious inconveniences. Oregonians might need a passport, for instance, to pass an airport security checkpoint.

The obvious solution is for Congress to provide states with the funds needed to implement the Enhanced Driver’s License program. Ensuring that state identification meets a uniform federal security standard is a matter of national concern, and the federal funding would keep the standard from being weakened by states that can’t or won’t pay the cost of implementation. Congress should act, before Oregonians start missing flights.

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