- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Mail Tribune, Feb. 28, on the death of Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson:

There are politicians who are in it for prestige, for power, who run for office to boost their sense of self-importance. And then there are politicians like Dennis Richardson.

Oregon’s secretary of state died Tuesday at his home in Central Point after a long battle with brain cancer.



We didn’t always agree with Richardson. He held staunchly conservative views on social issues. But we never doubted his dedication to making government work better, and he devoted much of his career to the state budget process and promoting fiscal prudence.

Richardson was a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam, but he didn’t make a big deal out of that. After his military service, he earned a law degree from Brigham Young University. He was an attorney in private practice for many years.

He served on the Central Point City Council, was treasurer of the state Republican Party and GOP chairman of the Second Congressional District before running for state representative in 2002. He served six terms, rising to co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee in 2011, when the House was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. He handled that tricky situation with his usual aplomb.

Richardson ran for governor in 2014, losing to Gov. John Kitzhaber in a hard-fought campaign despite questions about influence peddling involving Kitzhaber and his fiancée. In 2016, Richardson made a bid for secretary of state, and became the first Republican to win statewide office in 16 years.

The secretary of state’s job - the second most powerful in state government - long has been seen as a stepping stone to the governorship, but Richardson insisted he had no further interest in the top job and would devote his energy to his new position, especially his role as the state’s chief auditor, a function he said had been neglected by Democrats reluctant to challenge their party’s control of state government.

His staff of auditors issued reports revealing wasteful spending on health care and mismanagement in the state foster care system, among other programs. Those were embarrassing to Democrats in charge, but long overdue.

Still, he vowed to approach the office in a nonpartisan way, and he succeeded. He was an advocate for greater voter participation, and was among state elections officials who rejected President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud and refused to turn over data on Oregon voters to the administration’s voter fraud commission. He also proposed a nonpartisan commission to draw legislative district boundaries after the next census.

Gov. Kate Brown says she will appoint a caretaker to fill the vacancy, someone who will promise not to run for the job.

Oregonians will have to hope for a 2020 candidate who will approach the position with Richardson’s singular drive and dedication. That’s a tall order.

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The Bulletin, Feb. 28, on the Trump administration’s new rule that bars taxpayer-funded family-planning clinics from making abortion referrals:

Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon’s attorney general, is preparing to sue the Trump administration over a new rule that essentially prevents those who work in family planning clinics around the state from discussing abortion with their clients. She’s right to take up the fight.

The administration issued new rules Feb. 22 that bar clinics receiving Title X funds from referring women elsewhere for abortions and eliminates a requirement that abortion counseling be offered. The fund pays for family planning services, including contraceptives, and it already was illegal to use them to finance abortion services.

Barring clinic staff from even discussing abortion goes a giant step farther than the existing ban, however, and it should be overturned. It prevents medical staff from discussing a legal medical procedure with the women they serve. Until now they’ve been able to talk about abortion, but they have been barred from referring women for abortion services.

In addition, those clinics that have provided abortions, even if not paid for with Title X funds, must now either end those services or house them completely separately from their other family planning services.

In Oregon, according to the National Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Title X-financed services were provided to nearly 45,000 women in 2017. Most of that money went to counties, with school-based health clinics receiving the second largest chunk.

No Oregonian should have to go to a health care provider and be told that some legal option for care cannot be discussed, yet that’s exactly what the new Title X rules require. Rosenblum will join a number of her counterparts from other states in suing the administration. This time, they’re right on target.

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The Register-Guard, Feb. 25, on U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden remaining focused on Oregon and its pressing issues:

Most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal, either for recreational use or only for medical purposes. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is refreshingly candid about whether Congress will eventually follow the lead of those 33 states.

“It is just a matter of time of time before we get this passed,” he told the Register-Guard editorial board in a far-ranging discussion last week. “It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when?’”

The problem is that “when” is unlikely to arrive soon. A strong pro-legalization vote in the Democrat-controlled House could add pressure on the Senate. But Republican senators, who hold the majority in that chamber, are not as open to marijuana legalization as they were to non-psychoactive hemp.

It took Wyden years to win Senate support for hemp, which has a long history in America and predominantly is grown for industrial purposes.

Wyden again introduced federal legislation this month - a Senate bill aptly titled S. 420 - that would decriminalize marijuana and allow it to be regulated and taxed like alcohol. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer is sponsoring similar legislation, H.R. 420, in the U.S. House.

Last year, Democrat Wyden teamed with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to pass legislation that legalized hemp production, allowed hemp researchers to get federal grants and opened the door for hemp growers to use conventional banking practices.

The two senators recently wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging him to expeditiously implement the hemp legislation. Hundreds of Oregon hemp farmers will benefit.

Meanwhile, Congress and the federal government still officially consider marijuana to be as dangerous as heroin, a notion that has been disproved for decades. As a consequence, marijuana businesses that are legal under Oregon law have difficulty obtaining regular banking and other financial services.

On other topics:

Wyden continues to lobby the Federal Communications Commission for a three-digit phone number - similar to 911 for police, fire and medical emergencies - to provide suicide prevention and mental health support.

It is an excellent idea but only if the number immediately connects the caller with a mental health and suicide-prevention counselor, instead of merely being a referral service.

Lane County will benefit if Wyden and Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho can make permanent the Secure Rural Schools program. Although often teetering on its last political legs, the money has helped offset the loss of timber revenue for rural counties, especially in Western Oregon.

Funding alone will not solve Oregon’s dismal high school graduation rate. We think congressional intervention seems necessary. We would like to see Wyden and Congress tie funding to the importance of such benchmarks as third-grade reading levels.

Wyden deserves credit for helping write and win congressional approval of massive legislation that protects a number of wild lands and rivers in Oregon and other states. As with much of his work, it was a bipartisan endeavor.

Next up should be added protections for Oregon’s Rogue River.

Unlike too many of his Senate colleagues, Wyden is not running for president. Kudos to him for staying focused on Oregon, including holding town halls in all 36 counties each year.

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