- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Medford) Mail Tribune, Feb. 26, on getting a legislator to hold town hall meeting:

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden hasn’t been among those members of Congress confronting angry crowds at town hall meetings since President Donald Trump was sworn in - in large part because he hasn’t held one recently in populated places such as Medford or even Jackson County. He needs to face the music by holding an in-person town hall here.

At the same time, his detractors need to understand that angry confrontation isn’t likely to change his mind on anything. Calm, respectful discussion is more likely to get their message across.

Trump’s election and his declared intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, galvanized many who have benefited from the law by obtaining health insurance, some of them for the first time. Local members of Indivisible, a national movement aimed at defending the ACA by lobbying members of Congress, have been marching weekly in Medford.

The need for Walden to meet with more constituents is even more acute because of his new position as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care.

Walden did hold a teleconference from Washington, D.C., with Indivisible members who came to his Medford office. That was a gesture, but only that.

Earlier this month, Walden held five in-person town halls in the sprawling 2nd District - in Mitchell (population 130), Mount Vernon (525), Arlington (695), Weston (840), and Boardman, the metropolis of the lot at 3,555.

It’s nice to keep rural residents connected with their congressman, and those residents deserve a chance to meet their representative in person just like everyone else. Walden’s staff stresses that he holds a town hall in every county in his district at least once a year. His deputy chief of staff told a Bend TV station that he held 27 in the district last year, and 134 in the past five years.

That’s nice, too - but he hasn’t held a public town hall in the immediate Medford area since 2015. The last one in Jackson County was in Rogue River last spring. He hasn’t held one in Bend - now the 2nd District’s largest city - since January 2013.

Walden has promised to hold a live town hall in Medford and one in Bend - by the end of the year.

Given the frenetic pace of change under the Trump administration in little more than a month and the resulting uncertainty about the future of health care and other issues, that’s just not good enough. To give more people a chance to attend a town hall, he needs to go where the people are. That means Jackson County, the district’s most populous at 213,000, and Deschutes County, population 176,000. And sooner rather than later.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Feb. 22, on health coverage for kids:

The “Cover All Kids” bill now before the Oregon Legislature has worthy goals, but it’s likely to face strong opposition from many voters.

House Bill 2726 would ensure that all kids have access to health care as a basic human right. Currently, an estimated 17,600 children - about 2 percent of children in the state - aren’t covered for injuries, even serious ones; illnesses, including communicable ones; or preventive care.

The bill is already facing opposition on two fronts: 1) The children targeted by the “Cover All Kids” bill are currently uninsured because they are not legal residents. 2) This expansion of health care benefits would come at an estimated cost of $55 million over the next two years - at a time when Oregon is facing a $1.8 billion budget gap.

It’s hard to imagine that any Oregonian would walk by a suffering child without wanting to help - or would demand to first see proof of legal residency.

But most voters aren’t being faced with an actual child, only the abstract idea of “illegal” children receiving free insurance through the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid. To make it worse, the state would have to cover the full cost of insuring these children, as opposed to the rest of Oregon’s 1 million Medicaid recipients, whose health-care costs are mostly paid by the federal government.

Gov. Kate Brown told the House Committee on Health Care on Monday that money from the general fund already has been allocated for this purpose. She’s now going to have to convince legislators - and voters - that this is the best use for the money.

It helps that the bill has bipartisan support, but that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk.

The bill and its counterpart - Senate Bill 558 - have been tagged with emergency clauses, which means that if they pass they’ll go into effect immediately, instead of 90 days after the session ends, and can’t be referred to voters.

But if voters - already annoyed by the Legislature’s abuse of emergency clauses in the last session - are upset enough about HB 2726 and SB 558, they can still act to repeal them if they are passed. This would have to be done by forcing an initiative vote - not a quick and easy process, but not an impossible one.

And voters in the past have said no to some measures that would aid illegal immigrants, such as one to allow them to have Oregon driver’s licenses.

Supporters of the expansion of health care to undocumented children need to think about how to make their case to the voters by appealing not just to their emotions, but to logic and self-interest.

They need to talk about the larger cost - both financial and to public health - of not providing health care to almost 18,000 children. This includes preventing and treating communicable illnesses and providing care before a health issue worsens and costs more to treat or repair. Coverage also reduces the number of people who rely on emergency rooms for their care or who are unable to pay medical bills, both of which increase overall health-care costs.

Some opponents of the bills objected to them on the grounds that providing health care to children will increase illegal immigration. In reality, the majority or illegal immigrants to the United States are working-age adults, with almost two-thirds ages 25 to 44, according to procon.org, a nonprofit research organization. And illegal immigration from Mexico, the largest single source of illegal immigration to Oregon, has declined as Mexico’s economy has improved, falling to a near-historic low in 2015.

If Oregonians want to decrease illegal immigration, their best option is to lobby their representatives in Washington, D.C., to maintain strong trade relations with Mexico - not withhold health care from children. That hurts, not helps, the state.

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The Bend Bulletin, Feb. 25, on requiring high schoolers to pass a civics test:

Some Americans are abysmally uninformed about their government and how it works. That lack of knowledge spurred state Rep. Paul Evans, D-Salem, to sponsor House Bill 2691, which would require high schoolers to demonstrate proficiency in civics before graduation.

While the idea sounds good, it’s not the sort of thing that should be added to the state’s graduation requirements. Those requirements already provide for plenty of civics education, as do state education standards from kindergarten through grade 12.

It’s true, however, that some Americans are uninformed about the nation in which we live. According to a survey done for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and released in September 2016, about a third of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, much less all three (judicial, legislative and executive). And while 77 percent said Congress cannot establish an official religion, nearly 10 percent thought Congress could outlaw atheism (it can’t). Only about a third of those polled knew what happens to a case when the Supreme Court ties on it (the opinion of the lower court stands).

Here in Oregon, students are taught civics throughout their lives in public school. It begins in kindergarten, when children learn about the value of rules, among other things, and extends through high school, when they’re taught about the “functions and process of the United States government,” learn the responsibilities of voters and study documents including the constitution and Federalist Papers, among others.

HB 2691 wouldn’t change that. Rather, it would require, in addition to classroom work, a proficiency “measure” before a student could graduate. The bill leaves it up to individual districts to decide just how that measurement should be made.

An understanding of government is important, to be sure, but requiring a civics test for graduation is not.

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The Oregonian, Feb. 25, on Oregon’s role in U.S.-Russia relations:

It was the second questioner at Sen. Ron Wyden’s recent town hall meeting in Oregon City that hit the nerve. A woman stood amid at least 1,000 people packed into the city’s high school gymnasium and said:

“The elephant in the room is the (Trump) administration’s current relationship with the Russians. This feels like the most dangerous time we’ve been in for decades.” Amid a roar of approval, she asked: “What can you do to get information declassified?”

Wyden, a Democrat who ended a statewide 11-town-hall-meeting tour in Portland Saturday, paced about the basketball court in sneakers as he went straight to the elephant. In addressing it, he unmasked himself as something of a zealot - no surprise to Oregonians who’ve watched his persistent questioning of officials on Capitol Hill about the federal collection of metadata on unwitting citizens, cybersecurity in a world of terrorism, the erosion of personal privacy from technologies that include drones. He pledged to the Oregon City crowd, as he did in other town halls: “I am a committed to making sure this is not swept under the rug.” And then he characteristically went large in shouting above the cheers, “This goes right to the heart of the legitimacy of the government.”

Oregon has plenty of federal concerns. Dam and wildlife management in the vast Columbia River Basin, whose hydroelectric output drives much of Oregon. Logging on federal lands, covering more than half of Oregon. Water brokering in the Klamath Basin. Boatloads of national taxpayer money funneled annually to Oregon agencies in support of health care, public education, highways that connect everyone and everything. Meanwhile, President Trump has placed everything in question.

But Russia?

In an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board following his Thursday town hall in Ashland, a hoarse Wyden was plain: “Yes, Russia. It comes up every time. I get asked about it when I’m buying a chicken at Fred Meyer.” He paused. “Oregonians want to be heard on this.”

Concern over the potential President Trump-Vladimir Putin association has escalated nationally over several months, from a presidential election in which Russian tampering was alleged and during which Trump flippantly invited Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. More recently, a spy-novel cast of characters comprising Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and a fired Gen. Michael Flynn lends intrigue, and in some case outrage. Throughout, Trump has refused to release his tax returns, which would likely reveal any business interests in Russia.

Enter Wyden. He unsuccessfully introduced legislation last year that would require presidents to release tax returns, which he characterized for the Oregon City audience as representing “the lowest ethical bar.” And he has since hammered the message home that Trump has a lot of explaining to do. More than most, he is the voice associated with holding Trump to account.

Wyden is right to consider the U.S.-Russia relationship of peculiar pertinence to Oregon. It’s what his bosses, the public, want him to focus upon. And, in a vital display of democracy, his bosses have shown up in great number to say so. “It’s just extraordinary,” Wyden said. “I have never seen anything like this before.”

Significantly, Wyden opens his town halls recalling the fabled “Oregon Way,” which has no book, no code, no statute to neatly define it. But historically the “Oregon Way” is about cutting through public clatter on complex challenges and quietly finding solutions - as if democracy can work rationally and by consent of the governed. The names Vic Atiyeh, Tom McCall, Mark Hatfield get tossed about as “Oregon Way” leaders who bettered the state through steady advocacy while devising clear measures to be taken to achieve agreed-upon goals.

Wyden has a shot at bringing the “Oregon Way” to Washington in a darkening time: for Oregon, for the nation. On behalf of Oregonians first, Wyden can’t do enough to lay bare whether the nation’s president has engaged improperly with an adversary, shattering trust so deeply that folks in Oregon City and across the state wouldn’t know whom to believe anymore.

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The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, Feb. 24, on voter fraud in Oregon:

Here’s a message from Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson to President Donald Trump: If you’re looking for evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 general election, you’re wasting your time looking in Oregon.

“I’m pleased to report that in Oregon we have reviewed the processes and we are confident that voter fraud in last November’s election did not occur in Oregon,” Richardson wrote in a letter to Trump. “In short, elections in Oregon cannot be hacked.”

President Trump repeatedly has said he would have won the popular vote in the 2016 election were it not for 3 million to 5 million immigrants in the country illegally who voted for Hillary Clinton. (Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.) He has not offered any evidence that voter fraud occurred on anywhere near that scale, but he apparently is not willing to concede the point - and, apparently is unwilling to settle for the consolation prize of actually winning the presidency. Trump has called for a thorough investigation.

Richardson, the first Republican elected to a statewide office in Oregon in a couple of decades, doesn’t stand to lose much political credibility here by pushing back a bit against the president. In fact, it might bolster his standing among the state’s Democratic voters, who hold a comfortable numerical advantage.

But Richardson’s stance still was welcome to see - and a related point he made is worth exploring.

In his letter, he asked Trump to roll back an Obama administration initiative to declare elections systems as “critical infrastructure.” The designation was made shortly before last year’s presidential contest in response to allegations of Russian meddling in the election. Richardson and other secretary of states pushed back against the designation, worried that it might open the door for allowing the federal government more authority over elections systems. In his letter to Trump, Richardson wrote “federal intrusion into Oregon’s election process should be rejected.”

Richardson said he had no problem with sharing information about potential threats to our elections with the federal government. But he told Trump that states should retain “full authority over elections.”

That seems sound. In fact, one of the hurdles hackers face when attempting to wreak havoc with our elections is the decentralized nature of our elections. And there seems little need to create a centralized election system under the aegis of the federal government.

A decentralized approach also allows states to try their own experiments with elections. Oregon, for example, could have been prevented from its successful vote-by-mail system if it had been required to jump through a variety of federal hoops. Now, other states interested in following Oregon’s lead can do so - and, in fact, they should.

As far as voter fraud in Oregon goes, Richardson did tell The Oregonian newspaper this week that his election office is looking into two addresses that received a suspicious number of ballots. More than 6,500 addresses across Oregon receive more than 10 ballots, but they tend to be locations such as retirement homes and fraternities or sororities. Richardson told the newspaper that two addresses, which he declined to identify, seem suspicious and that investigation into the two is continuing. He cautioned that no actual voter fraud has yet been found.

We have worried that Trump’s continued insistence about widespread voter fraud is an attempt to pave the way for tighter voter ID laws or other measures that could make it more difficult for certain segments of the population to cast ballots. But Oregon continues to roll in the opposite direction - this state has aggressively removed barriers to voting. It’s encouraging to see Richardson rolling in that direction as well.

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