- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Bend Bulletin, Oct. 30, on the sin within sin taxes:

The Oregon Health Authority is proposing whopping tax increases as a way to balance its Medicaid budget.

The Oregon Health Plan, which covers Medicaid patients in Oregon, faces a budget deficit of some $830 million in the coming biennium. The agency hopes to fill the gap, in part, by raising taxes on wine, beer, cider and cigarettes. The increases - 150 percent on a pack of cigarettes plus 10 percent increases in alcohol taxes - no doubt will be sold as health measures that just happen to raise oodles of boodle along the way.



Sin taxes are popular because so many of us use the “sinful” products not at all or not terribly regularly. They are taxes on things acknowledged to have negative repercussions on society.

There are good reasons to tax them, but the taxes can be regressive. People who make less money tend to spend more of their money on alcohol and cigarettes.

Any health impact of increased sin taxes may indeed be progressive, but what’s really the likely outcome? People will just be paying more to get what they want.

The affordability of booze and cigarettes doesn’t transform people into health nuts. It’s cheaper to drink water, not wine. It’s cheaper to be a nonsmoker than a smoker.

It’s not like jacking up prices on sinful products over the decades have turned smoking and drinking into rarefied habits of the wealthy. A sin tax increase can be an effort to do good that does bad for the poor.

Oregonians would be better served by a broader, general tax that is not so regressive.

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East Oregonian, Oct. 29, on the logical ends of political hate:

Bumper stickers proclaim, “Kate Brown is not my governor.” T-shirts, magnets and decals declare, “Donald Trump is not my president.”

Those items are reprehensible.

They are far from the magnitude of the shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue and the mailings of pipe bombs to high-profile detractors of President Trump.

But they are dangerous to our political souls and those around us, if not to our physical bodies. Kate Brown in Oregon and Donald Trump in America hold public offices that represent all of us, regardless of whether we agree with them or not.

Public disagreement and civilized protest can be a sign of a healthy republic, but defining your life by the protest can be destructive.

It certainly appears to have been for Cesar Sayoc, who has been charged with sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats. His ardent support for Trump isn’t what defined his life - his hatred toward others is.

Ronald Lowy, a lawyer for Sayoc’s family, described it well in a New York Times interview: “He lacked an identity. He created a persona.”

That persona was stoked anonymously in a like-minded online community, and his actions, while ultimately failing their intended purpose, showed the logical conclusion to such rage.

In Pittsburgh the consequences of that anger were tragic, as 11 people were gunned down during religious worship.

Although it will come as news to many partisans, political views can be polar opposite and legitimate. Neither Brown nor Trump deserves vilification. Neither one merits being called an extremist.

Trump has intensified America’s political and cultural divides through his polarizing, us-vs.-them mentality. Sadly, many Democrats have responded in kind. There is no good end to this game. Such rhetoric might be appropriate for a football coach; but in politics, America needs more of the rugby or lacrosse style in which opponents battle fiercely on the field and then join for pizza afterward.

This is not a plea for everyone to play nicely, although that would be good. We know that one editorial cannot cause a person to say, “By golly, now I know I shouldn’t vilify my political foes - just like I shouldn’t run with scissors or play with lighters!”

Rather, we humbly suggest that if people are dismayed by the current political tenor - we believe most are - that they take it upon themselves to change the tone. This might sound like a contradiction, but the place to start is with those who share their views - the candidates, political parties and organizations whom they support.

No one can change the other person, regardless of how much arguing takes place. Research indicates that such arguing usually cements a person’s existing view. Instead, people have greater opportunity to influence the like-minded individuals who already have their trust. Together, help them see the value in pulling back on the rhetoric and reclaiming truth instead of pushing insinuation.

Consider what could happen if voters demonstrated irrevocable civility and demanded civility from the candidates they supported. Until that becomes the societal expectation, the current political climate will only worsen.

A place to start is Oregon’s gubernatorial race, where both major candidates and their allies have been competing over who can wallow deeper in the gutters of political slime, mistruths and negativity.

Kate Brown and Knute Buehler are both decent individuals, though you would not know that from the opposition campaign ads. Both deserve respect for aspiring to the office of governor. Neither is perfect. Yet after the election, one will have the task of unifying Oregon.

___

The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oct. 28, on Gov. Brown tripping up on transparency:

Earlier this year, Gov. Kate Brown’s chief of staff proclaimed in Trump-like fashion that Brown has had “the most transparent administration in memory.”

Which raises the question: In whose memory? Her mixed record just took another dive this week when the Brown administration sought to delay releasing key information in two separate incidents - school performance ratings in one case and 2019 legislation proposals in the other - until after the Nov. 6 election. Such secrecy for documents that the government has routinely released in the past hardly seems to be the mark of a leader who prioritizes open government. Nor does it square with the image Brown has sought to cultivate as a governor whom Oregonians can trust to do what’s right for the public.

Unfortunately, it does match up with an embattled incumbent locked in a close race who’s worried such revelations might drive voters to her Republican opponent, Knute Buehler. Brown should recognize that withholding information about how our government works does not help her campaign nor does it build support for her agenda if she wins another term. With election day less than two weeks away, she should reacquaint herself with the notion of transparency, quit withholding documents that are of legitimate public interest and give voters the unvarnished picture they deserve of her record and plans.

The events of the past week should be a wake-up call for the Brown campaign that the governor is on the wrong side of transparency.

Last Tuesday, The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Betsy Hammond broke the news that state education director Colt Gill, with Brown’s blessing, had quietly decided to postpone releasing the annual report cards for schools from its traditional October release until Nov. 15 - nine days after the election. Gill didn’t give districts a reason for the delay and there was no update on website documents that listed an October date for the ratings.

The public reaction to the news was quick and fierce. This is, after all, a state with the third-worst graduation rates in the country and a startling 20.5 percent chronic absenteeism rate - almost one percentage point worse than last year and the year before. Brown’s laissez-faire leadership in education has been a central issue in the gubernatorial campaign. And the delay caused many to question whether Brown was seeking to hold off negative headlines for the sake of her re-election.

With criticism mounting, Brown directed Gill to release the data last Wednesday, but the lack of transparency continued. In a press conference last Wednesday, Gill dodged some questions and gave vague answers to others. He confirmed that the school data had been ready for release - refuting his own spokesman who had insisted to Hammond just the night before that the data wasn’t ready. And his explanation for the delay - so that the education department could call local superintendents to talk about their needs and ensure other “supports” were in place - didn’t carry the urgency one might expect for a wholesale delay.

Even the press conference was choreographed to limit disclosure. A spokeswoman for the governor, Kate Kondayen, cut off questions and whisked Gill out of the room. She stopped a member of the Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board from following and said Gill would not answer any more questions, as Gill stood a few feet away, saying nothing.

The public wasn’t alone in rebuking Brown’s lack of transparency. Shortly after the education press conference, a Marion County Circuit judge issued a ruling in a separate transparency case against the Brown administration. Judge Audrey Broyles ordered the Department of Administrative Services to turn over the 260-plus forms outlining bill proposals for the 2019 Legislative session. The state has routinely released such forms in the past to the requestor, attorney Gregory Chaimov, but insisted this year that they remain confidential until the end of November - well after the election.

Unfortunately, while Broyles found that the records would be of “significant public interest,” the governor’s office doubled down, seeking an emergency stay to keep them from having to turn over the public records. A commissioner for the Appeals Court granted the stay. While Chaimov’s attorney may seek reconsideration of the order, voters who want some inkling of what policies and laws a Brown administration plans to pursue in the coming Legislature may be out of luck.

At what point will Brown recognize that transparency should be the default, not the exception?

In that vein, Buehler should also heed the calls for him to release his full tax returns for the 2015 to 2017 tax years. While there’s a big difference between the imperative for transparency of basic government functions and that of a candidate to release financial filings beyond what’s legally required, critics raise a fair point about lingering questions regarding his income. He should take the opportunity to demonstrate for Brown what transparency looks like.

Oregonians shouldn’t have to battle their governor to release information about how their taxpayer-funded government operates. Transparency matters for maintaining Oregonians’ trust in government and in their leaders - particularly as those leaders ask for their vote.

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