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Capital Chatter: Students respond to Brown

Brown got the audience members to commit to finishing high school and having a plan for the future.

Gov. Kate Brown's speech this week at Churchill High School in Eugene might be the best one I've heard her give.

She seemed to speak from the heart instead of reciting lines. She told a fresh anecdote instead of reprising stories from previous speeches. She modulated her voice and kept the teens' attention. She stuck to a concise focus – the relevance of a high school education, especially hands-on learning – instead of covering too much.

Brown got the audience members to commit to finishing high school and having a plan for the future.

Teens are not an easy audience, and Brown was masterful, starting with her opening anecdote. She talked about her grandparents – her doctor grandfather who struggled with addiction much of his life and her nurse grandmother who supported the family – and how those experiences contrasted with her own upbringing.

Legislators and others who attend Brown's State of the State speech on Feb. 5 will hear that story. Her visit to Churchill on Tuesday was the first of three high schools where she was trying out the education portion of her State of the State.

• Kate Brown as Oprah Winfrey: After her speech, Brown roamed the audience like a talk-show host, taking students' questions. There was no shortage of questions. They asked about PERS, climate change, internet neutrality and other hot political topics. One student asked why special education programs seemed to get short shrift. Another told of being homeless and asked what could be done.

More students approached the governor afterward to converse privately. I was struck by how Brown interacted with them, giving each one her full attention.

One student complained that Churchill didn't have enough textbooks, to which Brown suggested that the student talk with the school principal about the problem.

• More mental-health counselors, treatment needed: One student talked privately with Brown about the need for mental health programs.

In Oregon and across the country, mental health remains a significant challenge among adolescents and young adults. As a college instructor for two decades, I estimated that at least one-fifth of my students approached me with mental-health concerns. The overall percentage among students probably was higher, because those were only the students who felt comfortable confiding in me.

• Buehler's take on Brown's trips: Knute Buehler, who is challenging Brown in this year's election for governor, responded Tuesday to her high school tour with this press release:

"Republican gubernatorial frontrunner state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, today issued a statement in response to the governor's announcement that she is giving a round of speeches at high schools:


"'More than 20,000 Oregon kids have dropped out of Oregon schools since Governor Kate Brown became governor. Governor Brown only funded 57 percent of Ballot Measure 98 to combat dropouts and promote career education. Governor Brown's offered no plan to reduce rising pension costs, making the funding crisis in school districts even worse. And one in four Oregon kids fail to graduate from our high schools. Governor Brown is a failed leader for education in Oregon. As governor, rescuing Oregon schools from the failing status quo will be my number one priority – period. I will lead to secure pension reforms to get more dollars into classrooms and academic reforms to boost student achievement.'"

• What will the Legislature do? The Associated Press will hold its annual legislative preview day for journalists on Jan. 29. Oregon journalists will talk with Brown, the Oregon Senate leadership and the Oregon House leadership. Those interviews should provide insights into the 35-day legislative session that starts Feb. 5.

Hanging over the Legislature is what to do if Measure 101 fails in the Jan. 23 election. I talked with Brown after the Churchill event, asking about her expectations and concerns for the 2018 Legislature. She said her No. 1 priority was passage of Measure 101 to keep the Oregon Health Plan funded.

The second issue was how the Trump tax plan would affect Oregon's budget and Oregon taxpayers. She also highlighted several of her proposed bills, including a plan to tackle Oregon's opioid crisis. It includes a pilot program to put peer recovery mentors in hospital emergency rooms to help people who have just overdosed.

• What is ready for primetime? Democratic legislators will push the Clean Energy Jobs legislation, an Oregon version of a carbon cap-and-invest program. Will it pass the Legislature? That is unclear.

The legislation is promoted as bicameral — having support in both the House and Senate — but I haven't heard anyone claim it's bipartisan.

Republicans, who are in the minority, oppose the bill. Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, said the legislation should be called the "Manufacturing Phase Out Act of 2018."

The state Senate will be the key. In the 2017 Legislature, the Senate took some contentious House bills, such as pay equity, and massaged them into legislation that was more centrist and eventually passed the Legislature with bipartisan support. Other contentious House bills, such as renter protections, died in the Senate.

Each year, some bills have little chance of passage but are introduced to raise an issue or to keep an issue alive. Last year, bills to reduce Oregon's mortgage-interest deduction went nowhere. This year, there likely will be bills to tax major nonprofits and to loosen land-use regulations in Eastern Oregon.

And a new bill dealing with drug prescription prices – the Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act – has bipartisan support. Sponsors are Reps. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, and Ron Noble, R-McMinnville, and Sens. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, and Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls.

• Remembering a longtime lobbyist: Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, and Senate Republican Leader Jackie Winters, R-Salem, expressed sorrow at the death of longtime Salem lobbyist Mike Dewey.

Burdick: "The characteristics I admire most in the people I work with are integrity and principle. Michael Dewey embodied both. We are going to miss him around the Capitol for his knowledge of the legislative process, honesty and integrity."

Winters: "Mike Dewey was a well-respected and trusted lobbyist, someone you could always count on to keep you well-informed and put a smile on your face. Mike and his family were longtime family friends, and I will miss working with him and seeing him at the Capitol. To his family, my thoughts and prayers are with you."

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. On Friday, Jan. 19, he will be a panelist at the Portland City Club, talking about the 2018 Legislature. The public can attend the noon event – there is an admission charge – or watch it online.