Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 election: Time to panic?

Wehby, Buehler are this year's RINOs
The good news about the general election is that we only have a week left of negative TV ads, throw-away political fliers and constant robo-calls.

The bad news is that we still have a week left of all that garbage.

Since it is a non-presidential election, the media tell us that the opposition party, the Republicans, stand to make big gains by winning control of both houses of Congress.

We shall see.

There is a general crankiness out there in spite of the fact that the economy is doing better than it has in a decade, the stock market is at record highs and gas prices are well below $3 a gallon in some places.

But, good news doesn't sell TV ads or whatever newspaper fill their pages with these days.

Not that ebola or ISIS or the Ukraine aren't news, it's just that they have little or no effect on anything in America.

So, when all else fails, push the panic button of irrationality.

That always works.

Or, at least until the election is over and then it will be back to 24/7 coverage of the next iPhone.

But, all the bloviation doesn't seem to have much impact here in Oregon.

In Deschutes County, ballot returns, in our vote-by-mail system, were at just 17 percent as of Friday. At this rate, we'll likely get in the 60 percent range next week, which is generally good news for Republicans, who usually need less voter turnout to win and the reason why they push to suppress the vote across the country.

Four years ago, the turnout, inspired by tea-baggers, reached nearly 73 percent.

Well, that party is over.

The usual social issues are absent from the Oregon ballot this time around. Plus, the Republicans running for the Senate and our local state House seat both back abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

Yes, they're Republicans in Name Only or RINOs.

That's the real news.

Monica Wehby, though, will likely lose her bid for the Senate by a double-digit margin, but Knute Buehler should win the local House seat comfortably.

Naturally, during the primary, Wehby and Buehler obscured their views on those issues in order to win the votes of the social conservatives out there.

After securing their primary victories they tacked to the center in order to win over the non-affiliated voters, which make up a quarter of the electorate.

Well, Oregon Right to Life (ORtL) felt used and sent out a postcard urging their like-minded citizens to not vote for Buehler. "Leave the ballot line BLANK," the group wrote.

ORtL claims that Buehler has "joined with other Republicans here in Oregon to push the Republican Party to support abortion on demand."

Once upon a time, Oregon Right to Life could have a major impact on statewide elections. But, that NRA-type of influence will be severely tested this time around.

Buehler is betting that he'll win over enough non-affiliated voters to offset the "voter suppression" attempt by ORtL.

But, should he lose, it will send a big message to other GOP candidates that opposition to abortion is the most important issue to rank-and-file Republicans.

If Buehler wins, the war over social issues will finally fade away.

"This would leave pro-lifers with no party that supports their values," ORtL wrote.

Or, ORtL will form its own party and siphon off votes from future GOP hopefuls.

We can only hope.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GMO labeling, weed, equal rights, driver card should pass

There are seven statewide measures on the ballot this November, and six of them are worthwhile.

Measure 86: This allows the state to incur some debt to finance college for Oregonians. Currently, the state has little financial stake in post-secondary education. The result is that college tuition in Oregon has doubled in 10 years. Also, Oregonians are finding it more difficult to get accepted to an Oregon college because the schools are relying on out-of-state students, who pay more than double the in-state tuition rate, to balance the books. Vote Yes.

Measure 88: This "provides Oregon residents a 'driver's card' without requiring proof of legal presence in the U.S." Yes, this is mainly targeted at undocumented Mexicans whose work at low wages helps sustain the state economy. This has widespread support because it brings Mexicans into the system so that they can eventually become legal here. Predictably, race-baiters who live and die by Fox News are vehemently opposed. That's a damn good reason to vote Yes.

Measure 89: An equal rights amendment to the state constitution. It puts into writing, what is largely happening anyway, that women and men have equal rights. Um, this is more than 150 years overdue, or since 1859, when Oregon joined the union. Vote Yes.

Measure 90: Open primary. This creates a single primary ballot, where the top two vote-getters advance. It allows Oregon non-affiliated voters, who represent about a quarter of the electorate, to help choose the candidates for the general election. In principle, it makes sense. California and Washington already use this system. However, out-of-state money is backing this measure because, like the states to the north and south, Oregon leans strongly towards Democrats. In the current primary system, Democrats vote for the centrist, level-headed politician, while Republicans usually back a candidate so extreme in their views that they can't possible win the general election. Essentially, this bypasses the kooky Republican primary and allows for a more centrist-seeming Republican to make it to the top two. It's a ruse to help Republicans get elected to a statewide office. This measure will surely pass, but I'm still voting NO.

Measure 91: Yes, legalization of marijuana is back on the ballot after failing two years ago when Washington and Colorado voters passed their measures, which altered the landscape. Yes, weed will bring with it problems, just like alcohol. But, in a state which produces and consumes its beer-gut-size share of craft brews, it is totally hypocritical to then turn around and say pot users should go to jail. Is it better to be drunk and driving or stoned and driving? Neither, they're both bad. But the genie is out of the bottle on this one. It's an economic issue now. Creating jobs, like in Washington and Colorado, for the growing, processing and selling of marijuana is needed in a state with such high unemployment. Plus, young people are moving to states that legalize marijuana. If this measure doesn't pass now, it will soon enough. The times they are a-changing. Vote Yes.

Measure 92: This requires food manufacturers and retailers to label "genetically engineered" foods as such. Yes, genetically modified organisms or GMOs are generating their fair share of controversy. The food manufacturers, backed by mega-agri-businesses like Monsanto, say the financial sky will fall from all the new labeling. Completely bogus. People have a right to know what's in the food they consume. It's long overdue. Vote Yes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bend city council vote a mess

It doesn't really matter who wins a seat on the Bend City Council because city governance is so screwed up, no councilor could have any real impact.

The most recent head-scratcher has to do with OSU-Cascades. The city council heard the challenge to the city staff's approval for a 10-acre campus knowing that the ultimate campus size would be 10 times that size. Yes, it would be good to have a master plan, but city code doesn't demand one. That's what they call planning in Bend. Councilors said they couldn't do anything about it.

If there isn't anything they could do, then they shouldn't be on the city council to begin with.

Then, this same council keeps jacking up water, sewer and storm water fees at more than triple the rate of inflation. They've been doing this for a decade. A modest 1,200-square foot home in Bend that houses three people and has a 300-square-foot lawn can pay $150 a month in summer for water and sewer, and almost $100 a month during the winter.

Yes, they are trying to pay for a costly water upgrade, but the sewer and storm-water fees keep rising to subsidize millionaire developers in Bend. Instead of raising development fees, the city is deferring them.

In fact, the city just raised the storm-water tax on homeowners and has never even considered enacting a building impact fee on developers and builders, as allowed by law, to offset storm-water runoff.

Instead of enacting a 3-cent-a-gallon gas tax, like most larger cities do in this state, the city council caves to anti-tax nuts. We have no sales tax and ton of tourists that could help offset their impact on the roads. It's really a no-brainer, and that's what we have on the council.

Instead of getting re-elected, most of these yahoos should be recalled. They're a complete embarrassment. Save, for Mayor Jim Clinton, the only councilor looking out for city residents.

Of course, the councilors are just the tip of the iceberg of dysfunction in Bend.

City planners answer only to the development/real estate crowd and could care less what the majority of Bend residents think. I've been to a number of community meetings over the years and can vouch for this claim.

Voting for a city councilor is a waste of time. The only solution is suing the city.

That's why the Truth-In-Site group, which opposes the west-side location for OSU-Cascades, has a chance to influence the city because it is challenging the city's approval of the pumice pit site to the state land-use board of appeals.

If you really want to influence government, hire a lawyer. And, no, I'm not a lawyer.

Anyway, position's 5, 6 and 7 of the council are contested this time around.

In Position 5, vote for Nathan Boddie because he appears to look out for all the citizens of Bend. His opponent, incumbent Mark Capell, is an absolute joke with no clue about what the citizens in this town want.

In Position 6, there is no one really to endorse out of the four running. Ron Boozell, Casey Roats, Lisa Seales, and Richard Robertson. Roats, through the Bend water system he owns, represents the old guard. Boozell is not credible. Seales teaches at OSU-Cascades and can't be trusted on the west-side campus. Robertson is disabled and he is passionate about issues facing the disabled. Vote for Robertson. At least he stands for something legitimate.

In Position 7, incumbent Scott Ramsay is an empty suit representing the status quo of current infrastructure dysfunction in Bend. His opponent, Barb Campbell, is rightfully concerned about the skyrocketing water and sewer rates in this town. Vote Campbell.

Again, it doesn't matter who wins, because unless Bend citizens are willing to sue the city, nothing will change here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

2014 state election endorsements easy

Even the state fact book is blue
Since Republicans cower from fielding electable candidates to statewide office, Nov. 4's general election doesn't provide much drama.

Gov. John Kitzhaber should win an unprecedented fourth term even though he's had a terrible third term led by the total failure of Cover Oregon, the health insurance exchange.

Plus, his fiancee, former Bendite Cylvia Hayes,  just revealed that she had a third, sham marriage in the 1990s to an Ethiopian immigrant so that he could stay in this country. She pocketed $5,000, which she failed to report on her taxes. Talk about October surprises.

But, Kitzhaber faces a state legislator, Dennis Richardson, who is so extreme in his far right-wing views that he'll have a hard time winning over many non-affiliated voters, who make up almost a quarter of the electorate.

Even The Oregonian newspaper, which now skews right, endorsed Kitzhaber because his opponent is so far-afield from "Oregon values."

Obviously, a newspaper endorsement doesn't mean much these days.

It's important, though, that Kitzhaber wins because this state does not need a divisive, clueless figure in Richardson to run this state. As a Mormon, Richardson's first allegiance is to his religion not his state or country.

The other major statewide race should see Democrat Jeff Merkley easily win a second term to the U.S. Senate.

Merkley has represented the state well, is likable and approachable. He definitely deserves a second term.

His opponent, Dr. Monica Wehby, is just not ready for prime-time. She's another political dilettante. She believes, like many self-absorbed people, that she deserves to win a statewide office even though she's never held elective office.

Well, her ex-husband and a former boyfriend had to call the police to stop her from harassing them.

She claims she's an "independent" Republican and not beholden to GOP orthodoxy. Yet, on her website, she plagiarized Republican talking points on health and economic issues.

Of course, these revelations did not come from any media source in Oregon.

No, the websites Politico and Buzzfeed broke those stories.

Newspapers used to have some investigative reporting, but those days are long gone. Commercial TV stations have never been known for making many political scoops because they've been wholly dependent on political ads to finance their operations and do not want to offend anyone, at least not Republicans.

Like all Democratic candidates for statewide office, Merkley is bolstered by a sizable advantage among registered voters.

Democrats lead Republicans 38 percent to 30 percent, which, amazingly, is an increase over the last election cycle.

Yes, Oregon is a "blue" state, thank god.

But, Bend is not as "blue."

Democrats, locally, are 35 percent of the electorate, the Republicans about 30 percent and non-affiliated voters 25 percent.

This should give the edge to Democrat Craig Wilhelm in the state House race for Bend.

But, Republican Knute Buehler, a political neophyte who lost a winnable race for Oregon state secretary two years ago, has run a savvy campaign.

In order to appeal to those non-affiliated voters, Buehler backs abortion rights and marriage equality.

Those stances didn't fully come to light until after the primary, but once they did, Buehler lost the backing of right-wing groups, but gained some support of the non-affiliated.

Also, Buehler is running TV ads showing Democrats who plan to vote for him.

Most decisively, though, Buehler resorted to negative ads, which usually tip the balance in close elections.

What annoys me about Democrats, particularly in local elections, is that they do not employ as negative campaigning as Republicans do. Yes, these ads are unseemly, but they work.

Wilhelm will likely lose the election because he did not go negative.

It will be interesting to see if Buehler's shift in positions on social issues will cost him enough Republican votes to sway the election. Or, will the wing-nutters abandon their principles and vote for Buehler.

Keep Oregon "blue": vote Kitzhaber, Merkley and Wilhelm.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What happened to progressive government?

Once upon a time in America
The recent PBS documentary on the Roosevelts reminds us that progressive government is a thing of the distant past.

Teddy Roosevelt fought the big corporate trusts of his day and won. He also set aside more than 125 million acres for national forests under public protection and was known as the Great Conservationist. That Roosevelt would be hounded out of the Republican Party today.

FDR, aided by his wife Eleanor, was the most progressive president in history. His administrations ushered in most of what we take for granted today: the minimum wage, child-labor laws, Social Security, the FDIC, the G.I. Bill, etc.

There has been some social progress since FDR's time, but the breakthroughs have been few and far between.

President Johnson gave us Medicare, Medicaid and civil rights for African-Americans.

All this proved too much for Americans and we went into a nearly 50-year period of regressive policies spanning Democratic and Republican administrations.

Not until President Obama has this country started to move in the right direction again.

Yes, the Affordable Care Act doesn't go nearly far enough, in that health care should be a single-payer system like Medicare. But, it's a major step in the right direction.

President Obama is the first president to recognize the legitimacy of same-sex marriages and the Supreme Court has largely agreed.

He's trying to raise the minimum wage to where it would be, in buying power, in 1968. He wants equal pay for equal work and he wants us to stop rewarding corporations for sending jobs overseas. Republicans have largely thwarted those efforts as well.

These modest gains under Obama could very well lead to another extended period of regressive governance which began in 2010, led by the Tea Party, complete with tricorn hats.

The local daily newspaper editorialized against the government mandating paid sick leave for workers in the private sector. That mindset also opposed the creation of the minimum wage and child labor laws decades ago.

Time magazine ran an article arguing that the reason the latest session of Congress is the least productive in history is that both Democrats and Republicans have largely got what they've wanted and there isn't much else to accomplish.

That is so wrong.  There is much to do.

There are no laws that can be written to eliminate racism, sexism or homophobia, but we can do a lot more to protect the rights, not to mention lives, of minorities and women.

There is a battle being waged in this country between religious rights and human rights, and human rights are losing. That must be reversed.

Those that believe America should be a "Christian" nation need only marvel at what an Islamic nation looks like today.

Also, by remaining addicted to oil we are not only beholden to the crazies of the Middle East but we are also now destroying our ground water through fracking.

Relying on coal for electricity is bad for the environment in so many ways.

President Obama has tried to steer this country toward a more clean-energy future, but entrenched interests, namely the "oiligarchy," have thwarted those initiatives.

Just as Social Security is still being challenged by Republicans today, it will likely take decades for Americans to accept "Obamacare" and gay marriage.

Unfortunately, the only progress that Americans and the media seem to embrace is what new iPhone is being released. That, and keeping up with the Kardashians.

So, I guess we deserve whatever regressive era that lies ahead.