- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The Bend Bulletin, Feb. 12, on making secretary of state position nonpartisan:

Dennis Richardson, Oregon’s secretary of state, wants the Legislature to make his office a nonpartisan one. There are good reasons for making the shift.

The Secretary of State’s Office is part of the executive branch of Oregon government. The state constitution requires it to act as record keeper for both the Legislature and executive branch, to act as the state’s auditor of public accounts and to keep the state seal. In theory, at least, there’s no room for politics in any of those jobs. The secretary of state also plays a key role in redistricting, redrawing the boundary lines for political districts. That’s where Oregonians definitely want a less partisan person in charge.

Yet, as Phil Keisling, a former Oregon secretary of state, and Sam Reed, a former secretary of state in Washington state, wrote for the Governing website a couple of years ago, the race for the job, if not the job itself, has become increasingly political in the last 40 years.

As that has happened, the cost of running for the office has risen dramatically, according to Keisling and Reed. In Oregon in 2016, Democrat Brad Avakian had $2.3 million at his disposal for the campaign, while Republican Richardson had $1.66 million. A nonpartisan office might be less attractive for politicians whose real goal is to run for governor.

Meanwhile, given the nature of the secretary of state’s job, a partisan office holder put in place after a partisan race could be viewed as taking partisan positions once he or she is elected.

Oregonians need to know that elections, which are overseen by the secretary of state’s office, are on the up and up. If they believe the office holder is acting unfairly where candidates of the opposition party are concerned, they cannot trust the outcome of elections overseen by the office.

Richardson hopes to persuade lawmakers to approve the change. They should do so.


The Daily Astorian, Feb. 13, on a decision for Oregon’s commercial fishermen:

In an astoundingly ignorant and heavy-handed display of putting urban political correctness ahead of rural jobs, Gov. Kate Brown last week dictated that the citizen members of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission reverse their January decision that gave commercial fishermen a minimally fair share of the Columbia River’s salmon allocation.

Addressing commissioners as if they are misbehaving children, Brown told Chairman Michael Finley the commission majority’s acknowledgment of reality is “not acceptable” and that “I expect” the commission to acquiesce to her interpretation of the facts by April 3.

The commission agreed at a meeting on Friday in Tigard to take up the issue in March.

Many of the most important facts are not in dispute: Former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s dictated abandonment of decades of carefully nuanced salmon policy has not worked. Kicking commercial fishermen off the Columbia’s main stem as of Dec. 31, 2016, as Kitzhaber’s plan called for, is manifestly unjust and will hurt the economy of Clatsop County and other fishing-dependent communities.

Fish and Wildlife Commission members are in an infinitely better position to judge the ineffectiveness of salmon policies than is the governor. They know that alternatives such as seine nets operated from boats and the shore have been a clear disappointment. Off-channel locations where nets might be deployed to catch only hatchery fish are in short supply. State legislators and agencies have failed to keep financial promises to fishing families.

The commission’s former chairman was enthusiastic in applauding the January vote to back away from a rigid deadline to transition gillnets off the river. Salmon gillnets, in modern usage, are not the “walls of death” railed against by the governor’s urban friends, but are instead carefully crafted to catch a strictly limited number of hatchery salmon. Time, area and gear restrictions - including live recovery boxes for any accidentally caught naturally spawning salmon - limit impacts on wild fish.

In truth, the anti-gillnetting drive has never been about conservation, but about salving tender Portland sensitivities while delivering more salmon to recreational fishermen, especially those affiliated with the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, which owes its existence to fat-cat Texas oilmen.

Brown’s interference in this matter is a prime example of why some Democrats now struggle to connect with working people. Yes, all Oregonians want recreational fishing to prosper. But by rejecting any compromise on behalf of hardworking commercial fishermen, Brown places herself solidly against jobs for struggling rural voters. We all should remember that come Election Day.


The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, Feb. 12, on a tax for older vehicles:

The apparently short life and relatively unhappy life of House Bill 2877 should serve notice to Oregon taxpayers that legislators will be looking under every possible rock this session in search of revenue.

You might have heard about House Bill 2877, which emerged from the House Revenue Committee. This is the bill that would have assessed a $1,000 “impact tax” every five years on vehicles that were at least 20 years old. Money from the tax would have been directed to the state highway fund, which helps to pay for work on Oregon’s roads and bridges. To be fair, the bill would have exempted vehicles registered as antiques. It’s not clear how much revenue such a tax would raise.

The theory behind the bill apparently was that these older vehicles inflict a disproportionate amount of wear and tear on the state’s transportation infrastructure. We say “apparently,” because that’s not entirely clear - and members of the House Revenue Committee weren’t talking much about the bill, although a representative of the committee, presumably reacting to a public outcry against the bill, did say Friday that it would not be considered by the Legislature.

Well, that’s a little bit of comfort, but it’s worth remembering the ease by which legislative proposals thought dead can be resurrected as the session wears on.

In any event, we come not to praise House Bill 2877, but to bury it: This is exactly the kind of legislation that Oregonians point to when they argue that state officials pay little heed to the needs of the rural portions of the state. The bill, for example, didn’t include any provision for farm vehicles, many of which are older than 20 years but which nevertheless are in good working condition.

And the bill also would have done a disservice to those Oregonians who still are economically struggling and must drive older vehicles.

Rep. Sherrie Sprenger of Scio said it well: The bill was a “legislative indictment of poor Oregonians.”

“When I first heard about this, I thought it was ridiculous, just one more way to punish folks who can’t compete with Portland liberal standards and don’t want to,” Sprenger said, noting that she and her husband, Kyle, own two vehicles that would have been subject to the impact tax.

Rep. Andy Olson, who represents Albany, had much the same reaction: “This bill does not take into consideration the rural environment of our state, or the folks who try to maintain their vehicles for a long time,” he said in a statement. “Many are not in a financial position to purchase anything newer and others just like to keep their vehicles a long time because it is fiscally prudent.”

As a tax increase, the bill would have required support from Republicans as well as Democrats, who do not quite have the three-fifths majorities in either house of the Legislature required. And it seems likely that this bill would have attracted some opposition from Democrats as well.

An interesting side note: Since revenue from the impact tax would have gone to the state highway fund, that suggests that legislators are looking not just for money to plug the state’s estimated $1.8 billion gap in the general fund but also for alternatives to an increase in the gas tax to help fund one of the session’s top priorities: a transportation package to pay for needed work on Oregon’s roads and bridges. That search may yet come up with some intriguing alternatives, but this so-called tax on clunkers isn’t one of them: This one is just a lemon, through and through.


The Oregonian, Feb. 11, on keeping a state forest in public ownership:

As lawmakers knuckle down to balance a state budget with a $1.8 billion hole in it, a tiny meeting occurs in Salem Tuesday that could have huge outcomes for present and future generations. The State Land Board will meet to discuss the fate of the Elliott State Forest. One possibility includes selling it outright.

Hardly a magnet for sustained public attention, the Elliott is one of the last great amalgamations of citizen-owned forests in Oregon. Its 82,500 acres of rugged terrain, near Coos Bay, is coursed by fish-bearing streams and trails, and its steep slopes feature prolific stands of trees that are prime seabird habitat and the prize of loggers from surrounding communities. Over the last decade and a half, things got complicated. Environmental and species protections forced limits on logging, driving the state’s logging revenue down and firing up protesters who at the sight of a harvest would tree-sit and bring work to a halt. Lawsuits mired forward motion. Schools across Oregon, historically the beneficiary of the Elliott’s revenues, have scraped about for the lost money.

The land board tried but failed to fix things. In 2012 it approved a new management plan for the Elliott that would restore logging revenues - essential if the forest were to comply with its constitutional mandate to generate money for public schools. But a lawsuit followed, and the Elliott continues to fail to generate sufficient revenue. In 2014 the board initiated the Elliott Alternatives Project to examine possible land transfers and a renewed effort to win federal clearance for a habitat conservation plan that would protect species while boosting logging. No go. Facing the Elliott’s bleak revenue projections for the years ahead, the board in 2015 pulled the plug and set terms for a sale of the forest.

Selling the Elliott would do three things right away: bring in $202.8 million in cash, whose earnings from investment would go to schools; release the state once and for all from Common School Fund burdens; and allow state officials to meet their constitutional obligation of ensuring the Elliott benefits public schools.

But a sale of the Elliott would hurt over the long term by robbing Oregonians of their rich, biodiverse forest in a time when logging, recreation and environmental values must be brought into balance for lasting public benefit. Taking the Elliott out of public ownership would be short-sighted. The forest should instead be a model of resource and recreational management as population and economic expansion, not to mention climate change, challenge policymakers.

Tuesday’s meeting will be complicated by the land board’s new membership. Gov. Kate Brown is its only senior member. She will be joined by first-timers Tobias Read, the new state treasurer; and Dennis Richardson, the new secretary of state.

Significantly, Read proposed a bill in the 2015 Legislature that would have provided for land transfers of the sort that might save the Elliott from mandated timber production while allowing it or most of it to remain in public ownership. His spokesperson told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board last week that Read had not yet taken a position on the Elliott’s destiny.

Richardson toured the Elliott on Friday and in a telephone interview said he is undecided about the forest’s fate. But he made clear he wants to know what has changed since 2015, when the board, which included Brown, decided selling was the best solution. He expressed concern about the state’s “integrity” in putting the forest out to bid and then, after receiving an earnest proposal, changing direction.

Brown last December suggested the state could bond $100 million to purchase some of the forest while partnering, perhaps, with Oregon tribes and environmental nonprofits. She also put out a call for other imaginative solutions. But as of last week, there were none. That leaves the Elliott staring down the one bid for it by Lone Rock Timber Management Company, whose minority financial partner is the landless Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

Yet on Friday afternoon, Brown converted her December suggestion into an announced plan whereby the state would commit $100 million to “decouple a portion of the forest from the Common School trust lands” while ensuring the Elliott “would remain in public ownership, with either the state or tribes owning the land.” It’s clear Brown opposes privatization of the forest - a good thing - though she could find challenge in Read and Richardson.

Former state Treasurer Ted Wheeler had it right when he said in December that the newly configured land board should take the time it takes to get things right. That, above all else, will be the board’s test on Tuesday.

Unimagined future values are at stake. Let’s keep the Elliott in public ownership.


The (Medford) Mail Tribune, Feb. 10, on marijuana regulations:

Marijuana retailers are complaining that testing requirements for extracts imposed by the Oregon Health Authority are too strict, hurting sales and driving up prices. They may get some relief from lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, but they should get used to the kind of government regulations other industries have faced for years.

Cannabis extracts use various solvents to pull out and concentrate the active ingredient of marijuana flowers. Some retailers say extracts make up half their sales, but new testing requirements adopted last fall have caused delays and limited supply. Besides testing for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient, the rules require tests for 60 pesticides, even including DDT, which isn’t used in this country.

One dispensary owner says his sales are off 30 to 50 percent as a result. Another says marijuana should be treated like other agricultural crops, such as blueberries, which are tested in the field before harvest.

There is some logic to that, except for one key difference: blueberries and other agricultural crops are eaten. Cannabis extracts are first highly concentrated and then smoked. Undetected pesticide residue is likely to pose a greater risk under those circumstances than if a consumer ingests a few blueberries sprinkled on breakfast cereal. It’s not unreasonable for state health officials to err on the side of caution when trying to protect public health.

The medical marijuana industry operated under much looser rules before voters legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana. In an attempt to blend the two industries together, state agencies may have been overzealous, but that will sort itself out in time. Meanwhile, marijuana retailers should accept that government regulation is part of doing business.

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