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Capital Chatter: Idle hands can create mischief

Legislative leaders want a one topic, one-day special session to limit political danger.

What if Oregon had a special legislative session and nobody came?

That won't happen. Oregon State Police could be dispatched to round up recalcitrant legislators.

But the reality is that other than Gov. Kate Brown, nobody around the Oregon Capitol — including her fellow Democrats — seems enthralled about the special legislative session she has called for May 21.

This is not to imply that no one agrees with Brown's proposed income tax cut for an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 small businesses that operate as sole proprietorships and have employees.

Timing is everything. As Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, told me "There's no emergency for this session. We weren't expecting this."

There also is no final bill, yet. So neither the governor nor legislative leaders have started counting votes. But Brown told me she's confident she'll have the votes to pass the bill.

Legislative leaders want a one-topic, one-day special session. That is likely to occur, despite some Democrats and Republicans wanting to bring up other issues, such as housing, immigration, gun control and broader tax changes.

Unlike regular legislative sessions, special sessions have no constitutional limit on their length. But Democratic legislative leaders are determined not to let it drag on.

Courtney — one of the few Democratic lawmakers willing to comment on the record — said special sessions are dangerous because they're unpredictable. Lawmakers are grumpy because they don't want to be there. Most have little to do other than vote on the bill(s) approved by legislative leadership.

As Proverbs reminds, idle hands can create mischief.

• A Republican perspective: Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, referred to Brown's call for a special session as "political pandering at its best."

He suggested trying to "squeeze some lemonade out of this lemon" of a special session by including limited liability companies and S-corporations in the tax break, providing tax relief for minimum-wage workers and creating a tax deduction for student loans.

• Money, money, money: As I've written before, the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend constantly sends fundraising appeals to supporters.

What surprises me is the lack of other campaign news. But this week his campaign announced he had received five editorial board endorsements made by Oregon newspapers in the Republican gubernatorial primary. The endorsements' overarching theme is that Buehler is the Republican best-positioned to run an effective campaign against Brown.

On Wednesday, the Democratic Party of Oregon said Buehler was hemorrhaging cash: "Buehler's cash on hand has been plunging as he tries to win an increasingly competitive primary race."

The next day, Buehler's campaign issued another fundraising appeal: "With Election Day fast approaching, our opponents have become increasingly desperate.

"In recent days it has reached a fever pitch, as the Oregon Democratic Party continues to attack Knute because they know that when he wins, Kate Brown loses.

"But even more troubling are the daily lies and attacks from [Republican candidate] Sam Carpenter against Knute. …"

The fundraising would support a campaign radio ad that likens Brown and Carpenter, saying she likes to raise taxes and he doesn't pay his taxes: "Kate Brown, Sam Carpenter — two politicians we can't trust."

• Committee changes: Courtney has appointed Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, to the 26-member Task Force on Autonomous Vehicles that the Legislature created this year.

Relatively new Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Tualatin, will join the Senate human services committee, as will new Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, who fills the Senate vacancy left by Jeff Kruse's resignation. Heard also was appointed to the Senate education committee.

• Making the Capitol inclusive, accepting: The Legislature is recruiting for a diversity, accessibility and inclusion administrator. The job will pay $49,584 to $72,960 a year.

When I asked about the new position, I was told it arose from the Legislature's efforts to build an "inclusive and accepting workplace at the Capitol, where everyone feels welcome and safe. Legislative leadership recognizes diversity, equity, and inclusion as core values of the institution. They have prioritized hiring this position to ensure that diverse experiences and perspectives are integrated into every aspect of the work at the Capitol."

The job description is for a "highly social position" whose responsibilities include "developing the agency's inclusion and equity program's long-range plans, goals, objectives, and milestones, and evaluating program effectiveness; reducing barriers to protected classes and those under-represented, engaging the organization in dialogue that promotes understanding, respect, and inclusion in the work environment; and collecting data, conducting analyses, and providing reports on the [legislative] branch's progress related to accessibility, equity, inclusion, and diversity."

• Hmm: As Senate president, Courtney repeatedly blocked legislative action on National Popular Vote, which would pledge Oregon's electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote for U.S. president. Such a pledge could mean that presidential campaigns skip small-population states, such as Oregon. Or at the most, do fly-by drop-ins at PDX.

In the past two years, Courtney has partially relented, saying he would allow legislation that would send the issue to Oregon voters as a ballot measure. That sounds reasonable.

But National Popular Vote doesn't want a public vote on Oregon's role in the Electoral College. That strikes me as inconsistent.

An Oregon co-director of National Popular Vote, Elizabeth Donley, said in a Jan. 31. 2018, statement that National Popular Vote would fail if put on the ballot, because its supporters likely would be outspent.

Instead, National Popular Vote and its supporters have run ads against Courtney and are backing his Democratic primary opponent, Joyce Judy of Salem.

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.