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Capital Chatter: Don't blink; the Legislature is in town

Short sessions, held in even-numbered years, last merely 35 days. The pace is fast, almost frenetic.

Monday seems a long time ago. That was the day the 2018 Oregon Legislature opened. In a normal legislative session, by which I mean the 135-day sessions held in odd-numbered years, the big news this week would be Gov. Kate Brown's State of the State speech.

But short sessions, held in even-numbered years, last merely 35 days. The pace is fast, almost frenetic.

On Monday before the Legislature had even convened, Democrat Brown's leading Republican challenger for governor — Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend — held a press conference to denounce Brown's leadership and call for a $50 million investment in foster care.

On Tuesday, the Oregon Senate released the 51-page investigation report into sexual harassment allegations against state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans met off-and-on throughout the day, before issuing a statement accepting Kruse's offer to stay away from the Capitol "pending the conclusion of the process," presumably the Feb. 22 meeting of the Senate Committee on Conduct. On Thursday, a bipartisan but controversial land-use bill affecting Washington County was declared dead even before its public hearing was over.

And then Kruse resigned.

• Calls for Kruse's resignation had multiplied: Gov. Brown on Tuesday called for Kruse's resignation, but her statement was not widely disseminated. A number of other politicians and politicos also called for Kruse to step down, including Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, who represents part of Kruse's district.

The strongest statement had come from Bend Sen. Tim Knopp, who broke with his Senate Republican colleagues on Wednesday and called for Kruse to resign or retire. His full statement is worth reading, but here is an excerpt: "As one who has been forgiven and no doubt will need it again, I believe in forgiveness and second chances. In order to receive forgiveness, it involves contrition.

"I have not seen this from Senator Kruse nor the willingness to change behavior when given a second chance.

"Senator Kruse has the right to due process. However, the victims had the right not to be harassed."

Kruse's office was eerily empty this week, with three chairs blocking entrance. The door to his inner office was long gone, a penalty from Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, for Kruse's illegally smoking there.

Late Thursday, Courtney issued a statement that said, in part, "This week, I have been working with leadership in the Senate Republican Caucus to secure his resignation from the Senate."

Kruse's resignation means a new senator for District 1 will be chosen by the county commissioners of Curry, Coos, Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties.

• Changing leadership at ODVA: Meanwhile, Sheronne Blasi withdrew as Brown's nominee to head the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Mitch Sparks, ODVA's director of Statewide Veteran Services and who had been Blasi's supervisor in the short time before she was elevated to acting director of the department, will serve as acting director until Brown makes a new appointment.

I'm told Blasi withdrew for personal reasons and was not asked to do so.

• Rolling over the Republicans: Legislation was advancing, or dying, at such a rate this week that Republican Reps. Bill Kennemer of Oregon City and David Brock Smith of Port Orford complained about being overrun by Democratic committee leadership.

Democratic committee chairs are being short-sighted if they shut down comments, questions or concerns from Republicans. The same would be true if Republicans controlled the Legislature and treated Democrats that way.

A golden rule of management is that people want to be heard. Take away their opportunity, and you energize their opposition. Give them that opportunity, and you potentially temper their opposition.

A corollary is that you should always give more time to opponents than to your own side. One reason is you'll learn more than from people with whom you agree. But you also take away opponents' argument that they didn't get enough time. (Managers, such as committee chairs, also tend to underestimate the time disparity.)

As state Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, proved by getting Measure 101 on the ballot, it has become easier to launch initiatives. A well-organized volunteer group can use email to collect petition signatures to repeal practically anything the Legislature does. Even though Parrish was unsuccessful in convincing Oregonians to defeat Measure 101, legislators should be wary of how their comrades — and voters — will react to feeling shut out of legislative decision-making.

• The state of the state is … Brown's State of the State speech on Monday was notable: Governors typically deliver State of the State speeches to a joint session of the House and Senate in odd-numbered years. This was the first time a governor had done so for a short session. It should become a tradition.

Republican legislators in the audience applauded less than Democrats, but more than congressional Democrats did during Republican President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech last week.

Brown stuck close to her prepared remarks, which were given to the press beforehand on an embargoed basis. She added a sentence calling for passage of "sensible legislation to prevent domestic violence."

Someone, presumably from Brown's staff, placed paper signs with hashtags for reporters to use when posting about the speech on social media. It was a nifty idea, except it took a while for us journalists to realize what the signs meant. We initially interpreted them as signs indicating the usual press area in the third-floor House balcony had been reserved for someone else.

State Treasurer Tobias Read, Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, and Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, were the "designated survivors" in case a disaster consumed the Capitol during the joint House-Senate session. Each was off-site to be a survivor who would help reconstitute state government.

In response to the speech, Republican Rep. Rich Vial of Scholls told his constituents, "I appreciated Governor Brown's comments on the need to improve public education in Oregon while strengthening our economy, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to achieve those goals while simultaneously working to make our government more efficient, transparent, and responsible."

• Changes in the Buehler campaign: Jonathan Lockwood, the former spokesperson for the Oregon Republican Senate Caucus, has now parted ways with Knute Buehler's gubernatorial campaign. Not a shock. He and Buehler possess different styles. Lockwood is opening his own communication firm, Jonathan Lockwood & Associates.

• College costs keep going up: State Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, and other legislators are sponsoring House Bill 4141. Called the Student Voice & Transparency Act, it would require public universities to establish a tuition advisory council. Universities that planned tuition and fee increases exceeding 3 percent would have to provide explanations and plans to the state Higher Education Coordinating Council. Even more material would be required if the increases topped 5 percent.

According to Hernandez, the bill's other sponsors are Reps. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn: Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley; and Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek; and Sens. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay; and Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer. All are from west of the Cascades.

HB 4141 could be a worthy idea. The irony is that almost every mandate enacted by the Legislature increases costs, in this case for universities. The proliferation of federal and state regulations — many of them seemingly worthwhile — has abetted the growth of administrative positions in universities, and related costs.

• Not a statewide candidate: Rumors abound that state Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, is running for state labor commissioner or some other post. Not so, he says. He's seeking re-election to the Legislature.

• Wolves vs. livestock: I had not realized how often wolves kill Oregon livestock, until I signed up for the Wolves and Livestock Updates through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Hughesisms.com/Facebook, YouTube.com/c/DickHughes or @DickHughes on Twitter.

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