The Oregon Employment Department fiasco: Gov. Brown needs to look in the mirror.

brokenmirror

In blasting the bungling at the Oregon Employment Department, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown needs to look in the mirror.

The fact is the Oregon Employment Department has been a dysfunctional mess for years under three Democratic administrations.

On May 31, 2020, Brown fired Kay Erickson, Director of the Employment Department, after an uproar over delayed payment of unemployment benefits to thousands of struggling Oregonians.

“In the middle of this pandemic, the continued delays from the Oregon Employment Department in delivering unemployment insurance benefits to thousands of out-of-work Oregonians are unacceptable,” Brown said in a statement.

Brown neglected to point out that it was she who named Erikson Director in Aug. 2016, effusively praising her at the time as “an innovative and collaborative leader.”

She also failed to point out that in January 2016 she had also fired the previous director, Lisa Nisenfeld, who had been appointed in September 2013 by another Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber.

Nisenfeld had also taken over a dysfunctional agency that had lost the trust of the Legislature and wasted money on problematic software projects.

In November 2013, The Oregonian reported the Employment Department poured nearly $7 million into development of a failed software project before scrapping the project altogether.

A July 2013 state assessment of the Employment Department had uncovered distrust, dysfunction and “warring factions” led by the agency’s top deputies, as well as multiple failures in the department’s IT department.

“The Information Technology department of the Oregon Employment Department (OED) is in need of leadership, governance, priority setting, methodology, contract administration, and appropriate HR practices,” the assessment said.

The 2013 assessment also lambasted IT governance. “When the (2008-2009) recession hit, multiple projects were added to the IT workload, senior managers left with poor hand off and no continuity with regard to IT sponsorship work,” it said. “These projects were not prioritized and IT was left relatively unsupported.”

Then there’s the fact Oregon received $85.6 million in one-time modernization funds from the U.S. Department of Labor way back in 2009, when Democrat Ted Kulongoski was governor.

The upgrade was supposed to solve problems associated with the use of computers that were running systems dating back to the Reagan administration and earlier. Although subsequent audits have warned that the Employment Department remained woefully unprepared for a spike in jobless claims, most of that federal money remains unspent.

Brown has been governor since February 2015. It’s time to stop blaming everybody but herself and fellow Democratic governors for the fiasco at the Employment Department.

Oregon’s Republican Party is committing suicide

seppuku_by_mark_san

It’s hard to watch a party self-destruct.

If you look at all the races on the Oregon ballot on Nov. 8, it’s clear that the Republican Party has largely abdicated its position as the loyal opposition.

It starts at the top with the U.S. Senate race. Anybody know who the Republican candidate is? His name is Mark Callahan. I can tell you he went to OSU. But his website doesn’t list any events he’s attending and OpenSecrets.org reports he has raised just $15,852 (compared with Democrat Ron Wyden’s fundraising total of $11.4 million).

The 3rd and 5th District races for the House of Representatives aren’t any better.

In the 3rd, which includes most of Multnomah County, including Portland east of he Willamette, 10-term Democrat Earl Blumenauer is opposed only by Progressive Party candidate, David Delk, who says he has no experience. OpenSecrets.org reports he has raised nothing (compared with Blumenauer’s fundraising total of $1.1 million). Of course, the 3rd has been held by a Democrat since January 1937.

In the 5th, the Republicans did manage to recruit Colm Willis to run against Democrat Kurt Schrader. Willis has deep Oregon roots, graduated from Willamette University’s School of Law and worked as a staff member on a U.S. Senate committee, but he has raised just $239,113 (compared with Schrader’s $1.6 million)

How about the governor’s race?

budpierce

Bud Pierce

Bud Pierce may be a great doctor and a nice guy, but he was invisible statewide, a cipher, until this election. He’s managed to raise $2.5 million, but Brown has raised $3.5 million and Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982.

An OPB poll released on Oct. 17 showed that Brown leads Pierce by an astonishing 46 percent to 33 percent. This despite the fact that even Willamette Week offered faint praise for Kate Brown, declaring, “Brown’s greatest political strength is her affability—and her ability, so far, to blame problems on her predecessor.”

Work your way down the Oregon ballot and it gets worse, with many Democrats facing NO republican opponent.

The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC), a state-oriented national organization that seeks to elect Republicans to state legislatures, identified the Oregon State Senate and House of Representatives as targets in the 2016 elections. You’d never know it.

In the Oregon State Senate races, there’s no Republican candidate in the 14th, 18th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd Districts.

In House races, there’s no Republican candidate in the 9th, 27th, 34th, 35th, 36th, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th and 49th Districts.

How in hell the Republicans ever hope to recover power in Oregon under these circumstances is beyond me. And that’s not healthy for Oregon. One party dominance leads to corruption, cronyism, recklessness and abuse of power.

The thing is, if the Republicans would focus on building a strong bench, skillfully build public awareness of those with the greatest potential, encourage them to run for office and back them up with ample financial support, they can win and change the dynamic of state politics.

Look at the 2010 race between Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley. Despite some clear errors in strategy and execution, Dudley captured 694,287 votes, only 22,238 fewer than Kitzhaber’s 716,525. Damn close. More promising for the Republicans, Dudley carried all but 7 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

2010governorrace

Blue counties: won by Kitzhaber;                 Red counties: won by Dudley

Lane and Multnomah Counties, two Kitzhaber won, may be a lost cause for Republicans, but if Dudley had been able to peel off more votes in the other 5 he might well have won.

In other words, offer appealing, moderate candidates, back them up with financial resources, run strong campaigns across Oregon and Republicans can win.

City Club of Portland: wrong on Measure 97

tax-increaseAppalling! What else can you say?

Members of the City Club of Portland voted Tuesday to support Measure 97, which proposes imposing burdensome gross receipts taxes on Oregon businesses that could total $6.1 billion in the 2017-19 biennium.

It’s hard to believe that such a distinguished civic group could support such a flawed scheme.

Oregon’s General Fund expenses are expected to grow by about 14 percent, or $2.7 billion, in the 2017-2019 biennium. The budget anticipates only about half that will be covered by new revenue, translating to a projected $1.35 billion shortfall.

Given such things as public employee pay increases, higher Medicaid expenses, and pension rate increases for state government and school district employees covered by PERS, some additional revenue may be justified. But not $6.1 billion. That’s highway robbery.

And collecting the additional revenue through an odious gross receipts tax, which ignores a business’s profitability, or lack thereof, is irresponsible. How well-educated City Club members, many of whom presumably work in the private sector, could endorse such a tax is inexplicable.

Also damning is the uneven applicability of Measure 97’s proposed taxes. Taxation of just C Corporations would create a vastly uneven playing field for Oregon businesses.

As the minority noted in the City Club’s committee report, “Many large businesses are LLCs and S corps, and they often compete with C corps in similar sectors. For example, Fred Meyer (Kroger) and Safeway grocery store chains are C corps and would pay the tax. New Seasons Market, a B corporation,47 and Albertson’s, a limited liability corporation (LLC),48 would not pay it. “

The flaws in the City Club’s arguments in favor of Measure 97 are evident right off the bat.

The City Club committee charged with determining the merit of Measure 97 said it “…presents a long-awaited opportunity to assure adequate investment in the health, education and the well-being of Oregonians.”

Nonsense!

The fact is there is absolutely no guarantee the legislature will apply Measure 97 revenue to early childhood through grade 12 public education, healthcare and services for senior citizens, in the coming years as the measure states.

If Measure 97 is approved by voters, the Legislature can appropriate its revenues “in any way it chooses,” Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson said in an Aug. 1 letter to Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville, a member of the House Committee on Revenue. Not only are Legislators “not bound by the spending requirements” of Measure 97, they can “simply ignore” them,” Johnson added.

What is most likely is that over time Measure 97 revenue would be spread around like honey in response to pressure from self-serving special interests with access to, and influence on, decision-makers.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) said when endorsing the measure, “If that passes, we’ll have a lot of money to pay for stuff.” The hundreds of groups that spend millions annually lobbying the legislature will have plenty of ideas on what “stuff” to spend the money on.

There’s also a high likelihood that some of those lobbyists will seek exemptions from all or part of the tax, just as Nike cut a deal with former Gov. John Kitzhaber and the legislature in 2012 to protect it from changes in the way the state calculates the company’s state income taxes.

Gov. Brown has already said she’d favor some “technical adjustments” if Measure 97 passes, including:

  • Allowing businesses to subtract a portion of their Oregon payroll from their corporate tax bill.
  • Prohibiting businesses from changing their corporate status “for the primary purpose” of evading the new gross receipts tax. (As written, the measure would exempt “benefit corporations” from the new tax)
  • Helping out software companies in Oregon by classifying sales of their services based on the location of the purchaser, rather than the location of the company selling the service.

The majority of the City Club committee that recommended a “yes” vote on Measure 97 also argued that “… the potential benefit of adequately funded state services outweighed any of the tax’s potential detrimental effects and that the consequences of prolonging the state’s revenue shortage where (sic) too great.”

Outweighed “any of the potential detrimental effects”? In other words, satisfying the state’s greed with $6.1 billion in additional revenue per biennium is more important that an expected dampening of income, job and population growth. Give me a break.

Finally, in endorsing Measure 97, the City Club is giving an easy out to liberal Democrats who want to avoid tackling difficult spending issues.

For example, as the minority pointed out, the unfunded PERS liability is $21-$22 billion. If nothing is done to deal with the creeping cost of PERS, even the Measure 97 windfall won’t be enough to avoid a funding crisis.

It’s not as though Oregon’s budget problems snuck up on the Democrat-controlled Legislature, leaving it no choice but to abdicate its responsibilities and leave it to a poorly crafted union-inspired ballot measure to fix things.

It’s been abundantly clear for a long time that trouble was coming. Where was the grit to fix things right?

 

If it matters to Oregonians, it’s in (The Washington Post) Willamette Week

For those of you who don’t remember, Bob Packwood was the first.

Former Senator Bob Packwood (R-Ore)

Former Senator Bob Packwood (R-Ore)

On Nov. 22, 1992, the Washington Post reported that 10 women had accused Sen. Bob Packwood of sexual harassment. Even though one of The Oregonian’s own reporters was among the 10, and the paper had gotten tips about Packwood’s behavior, incredibly it had failed to aggressively pursue the matter. The Oregonian’s failure to break the story was mortifying for the entire paper.

Adding to the shame was a bumper sticker that began appearing around Portland:

washPoststicker

Oregonian editor, Bill Hilliard, later told the Washington Post, in a massive understatement, that his paper “should have been a little more aggressive… We were worried about ruining a man’s career.”

Neil Goldschmidt was second.

Neil Goldschmidt

Neil Goldschmidt

Nigel Jaquiss, a reporter at Willamette Week, was researching the role of former Oregon Governor, and later power player, Neil Goldschmidt, in efforts to take over Portland General Electric. He was making good progress on the story, but got hints there was more.

“It was shaping up to be a pretty good story,” Jaquiss told the American Journalism Review, “but I kept getting pushed by people… ‘There’s more you ought to be looking at… There’s a girl..'”

Jaquiss’ aggressive digging eventually revealed that Goldschmidt, when he was the married Mayor of Portland, had begun raping a neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter on a regular basis over a three-year period. Sources said Goldschmidt often took the girl to her parents’ basement, to hotels and other private spots for sex.

When Willamette week posted a summary of the story on its website, it spread like wildfire. The Oregonian had been beaten again.

Not only had The Oregonian been beaten again, this time by a local alternative weekly, but The Oregonian made things even worse. When it ran the Goldschmidt story it appeared to many readers to soft-pedal Goldschmidt’s actions as “an affair” with “a high school student”. Oregonians went ballistic.

A memo of a staff meeting at the Oregonian revealed that there was a lot of internal angst, too. The memo noted: “Steve Duin felt strongly that our coverage today was too reverential. We are dealing with a child molester. He made a very impassioned plea for doing the who knew what when story — lots of people became rich riding Goldschmidt’s coat tails — and why they kept it secret. He suggested that readers might think we’d learned nothing from Packwood and that we are hands off people in power.”

And now the Kitzhaber-Cylvia Hayes scandal.

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

Again, it was Nigel Jaquiss and Willamette Week that broke the story and followed up with bombshell after bombshell.

The Oregonian followed up with some revelations, but it was late to the party. It’s most significant role in the evolving saga was to run an editorial on Feb. 4, 2015 calling on Kitzhaber to resign, arguing, “…it should be clear by now to Kitzhaber that his credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor.”

What’s happening to The Oregonian, once the state’s dominant paper of record, now a mere shadow of its former self?

It may sound hackneyed, but great newspapers like the Oregonian were once the indispensable guardians of our freedom. Seasoned reporters have served as watchdogs to ensure good government and reinforce good citizenship. The Oregonian has been a key ingredient of  civic dialogue and discourse in the state.

David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who created the award-winning HBO series The Wire, warned at a U.S. Senate hearing on the “Future of Journalism”, that “high-end journalism is dying in America.”  Oregon can’t afford for The Oregonian to be among those at death’s door.

 

Disclosure: I worked as a reporter at The Oregonian during the 80s and 90s.