Capital Chatter: The special session is on
Oregon politics get odder by the day as legislators prepare for the May 21 special session called by Gov. Kate Brown.
Here's what we know: On Wednesday, Brown officially called the special session, despite reluctance among her fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans, and near-universal disdain from newspaper editorial boards around the state.
Brown said her proposal would give a tax break to Oregon's sole proprietorships, which are Oregon's smallest businesses. That is not exactly true. The tax break would not help one-person businesses. To qualify for it, sole proprietorships must have at least one employee besides the owner. Furthermore, analyses suggest that the majority of the tax break would accrue to people earning at least $200,000 annually.
Behind the scenes, the governor and key lawmakers have discussed changing the size or scope of the tax break, placing a time limit on some provisions, and a Republican idea of adding a tax credit for truly small businesses. However, those concepts are not reflected in the draft legislation Brown released this week. Neither is some Democrats' demand that the bill be revenue-neutral — increasing taxes elsewhere so the state does not lose money by granting a tax break.
Bear in mind that some demands might be public posturing by legislators, so they can later claim they tried to do this or that, or they can point to how much they "compromised."
Accounts vary as to whether Brown has lined up the 31 state representatives and 16 senators needed to pass the bill. Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, announced her support this week during a press conference with the Libertarian Party of Oregon.
a) urged Republicans to condemn Senate Bill 1528, the income tax bill signed into law this year by Brown, as unconstitutional;
b) said they would support state Sen. Brian Boquist's planned lawsuit against the bill; and
c) called for Republicans to proclaim that their participation in the special session was not be an admission that SB 1528 was constitutional.
Although Oregon's Libertarian party is split into two factions, with competing leadership, Richard Burke said both factions supported the above approach. Burke also
implied support for passage of Brown's special-session tax bill as a small-but-needed antidote to SB 1528.
Vetting the special-session bill will be a Portland-centric committee composed of some the most powerful legislators: House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland; Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem; House Democratic Leader Jennifer Williamson, Portland; Senate Democratic Leader Ginny Burdick, Portland; House Republican Leader Mike McLane, Powell Butte; Senate Republican Leader Jackie Winters, Salem; Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner; Boquist, R-Dallas; Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene; and Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton. Kotek and Courtney will co-chair the Joint Interim Committee on Sole Proprietors.
Rumors abound as to what could happen at the special session. Among the latest: Depending on the results of Tuesday's Democratic primary elections, liberal Democratic senators could pounce on the session as an opportunity to oust the moderate Courtney as Senate president.
• Few Oregonians have voted: If you've already voted in Tuesday's primary election, you're unusual.
As of Thursday, ballots had been received from a mere 15 percent of Oregon votes.
Here's a sampling of turnout among Oregon counties: Baker, 22.4 percent; Clackamas, 12.2 percent; Clatsop, 17.8 percent; Columbia, 13.5 percent; Deschutes, 15.3 percent; Gilliam, 33.9 percent; Grant, 27.3 percent; Jackson, 15.5 percent; Klamath, 16.3 percent; Lane, 15.4 percent; Marion, 13.2 percent; Multnomah, 12.0 percent; Polk, 15.1 percent; Tillamook, 20.9 percent; Umatilla, 16.5 percent; Wallowa, 29.1 percent; Washington, 11.8 percent; and Yamhill, 15.0 percent.
So if you haven't turned in your ballot you certainly have plenty of fellow procrastinators. Ballots must be received at any county elections office or official drop-site in Oregon by 8 p.m. Tuesday.
• Comparing candidates: Here are my thoughts on sizing up the candidates, based on having interviewed hundreds — probably thousands — of politicians during several decades of election cycles.
Ideology matters. But not in the way you might think.
As a voter, you must decide whether to cast a "statement vote" or support a more effective but ideologically impure candidate.
Once elected, rigid ideologists rarely are effective. Most governing in Oregon happens from the broad political center. One reason is that politicians come and go, but entrenched bureaucracies limit swings to the left or right. That's good for continuity, bad for making rapid change.
Someone on the extreme right or left usually will find himself or herself marginalized, limited to making thunderous speeches but unable to move policy.
This is a hard lesson for many first-time officeholders, especially in the Legislature. They come into office with aspirations they consider so legitimate and common sense that they expect their colleagues automatically will go along.
Ah, but few issues are as simple and clear-cut as they appear from the campaign trail. And in the 90-member Legislature, there are at least 90 points of view.
• Trust trumps ideology: Relationships among politicians are like marriages. They flourish with mutual respect, trust and empathy; they die from dishonesty, broken promises and greed.
• Incumbents have an edge, even if they shouldn't: Challenging an incumbent is difficult, because that person has experience, name recognition and, often, more money.
Many challengers further hamper themselves by spending their time tearing down the incumbent instead of advancing their own ideas and solutions. That implies voters are not smart enough to tell whether the incumbent is good or bad.
• Whom would you hire?: Elections are a hiring process. You're choosing who would best represent you on a multitude of issues, which is why I never applied a single-issue litmus test. And most often, you're picking someone to work in a team environment.
You want to discern the candidates' ideas and creativity; flexibility vs. rigidity; personal temperament; and experience in finance, management and policymaking.
Wary of politicians who seemed fossilized, I would ask such questions as:
- Give an example of how and why you changed your mind on an issue.
- Tell me about a political mistake you made (or, for new candidates, a mistake in business or other area) and what you learned from it.
- On what issues, do you and your opponent(s) agree?
- What newspapers, magazines and websites do you regularly read to keep up on the news? (I was looking for breadth of information.)
Two other questions often asked in job interviews:
- What is the hardest thing you've ever done? This gives insight into what the person considers hard.
- Which position would you play on a football team? This gives a clue about a person's personality and expectation of being in charge versus being willing to work in the trenches without needing recognition.
• Chalkboard changes: Whitney Grubbs, who worked for Gov. John Kitzhaber, has been named executive director of the Chalkboard Project. Under former President Sue Hildick, who resigned after 13 years, Chalkboard was arguably the most influential voice on school reform in Oregon.
Grubbs was chief of staff for the Oregon Education Investment Board — an entity that was not one of Kitzhaber's finest ideas — and she served as Chalkboard's deputy director during 2015-16.
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.