Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly." -- Touchstone
One of the refreshing surprises of the 2014 congressional elections was to see how so many of America's working classes and family farmers gave Congress a resounding mandate to protect the rich from starvation.
The tour guide at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, an energetic and enthusiastic woman of about Isaac's vintage, painted a sympathetic portrait of our 37th president. For example, she described the 1960 presidential election as a contest between a highly intelligent vice president seasoned with eight years in the administration, experienced in foreign policy, with a steady hand, against a naive and inexperienced playboy. She did reluctantly admit that John Kennedy was handsome and attractive, and Richard Nixon . . . "well, he had to work with what he had." The Nixon Library did have a remarkably fair and balanced depiction of Watergate and the events that led up to President Nixon resigning the office, installed after Mr. Nixon died to replace the exhibit that he had approved.
Three things struck me. One was when our guide, in talking about the famous people who had visited the Nixon Library, told us that Justice Brennan had visited the Library a year or two ago and was very impressed with it. Justice Brennan died in 1997. The second thing was when she mentioned that the British had burned the White House in World War II, conflating a war in which we were allies with a war 130 years earlier in which we weren't.
The third thing was one of the delicious ironies which is either a complete coincidence or the result of an Isaac-like humorist at work behind the scenes. On the bus to the Library, our group was shown a half-hour film about President Nixon, produced in the early 1990s with the President's cooperation. (He died in 1994.) The film had to discuss the Watergate scandal, which it did -- almost exactly 18-1/2 minutes after the film started. A coincidence? You be the judge.
I've sometimes wondered if the Congress of 1845 wasn't showing a bit of collective spirit when it set our national election day to be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November - hence always on or between November 2 and November 8 - because the central day of that span, November 5, had been celebrated in England as a day of Thanksgiving since 1606 by reason of the discovery on November 5, 1605 of a plot to create hundreds of vacancies in the House of Lords by setting off a large gunpowder charge in the building's basement. Later known as Gunpowder Treason Day, it is now celebrated as Guy Fawkes Day. Standard historians say that Congress chose that week in November because it allowed enough time between Election Day and the date in December on which the presidential electors gather in the state capitols to cast their ballots, but I like to think that Congress was, in a sly way, fixing our election date to commemorate the day, 240 years earlier, on which the spiritual ancestors of the United States Senate were saved from a treasonous attempt to impose term limits.
I haven't figured out a larger societal principle from comparing Governor Kitzhaber's election results today with those of the marijuana measure, but I think there's something interesting lurking in the data. Measured by percentages, the Governor outpolled legal weed by a noticeable margin only in ultra-conservative Wheeler County. Marijuana outpolled Dr. Kitzhaber by a consistent margin in most of our other counties, and by 10 points or more in six conservative counties around the east and south edges of the state: Baker, Curry, Harney, Josephine, Klamath, and Lake. I understand the appeal of legal marijuana in Curry and Josephine Counties, where the stuff is said to grow well and may be the largest cash crop in the area, but I don't have a theory for why the marijuana measure outpolled the governor in Baker, Harney, Klamath, and Lake Counties. It may be that the good voters of those four counties believed that four years of a Dennis Richardson administration would be easier to take with a toke.
The Oregonian has called the governor's race for John Kitzhaber, who has 48.8% of the reported vote compared to 45.7% for Dennis Richardson and 5.6% for the other four candidates and write-ins. Dr. Kitzhaber leads by 30,000 in the actual voting.
Isaac agrees with the Oregonian's call. When all the votes are counted, Dr. Kitzhaber will have received about 808,000 votes, against 706,000 votes for Mr. Richardson. The governor's margin will widen almost entirely because Multnomah County has many votes yet to count, and the uncounted vote in Multnomah County will add another 83,000 votes to the governor's margin, just enough to get him above the 50% mark. Isaac predicts that he will end up with 50.8% of the vote against 44.9% for Mr. Richardson.
Yet Governor Kitzhaber shouldn't be complacent about winning. Had the race continued another three weeks, he might well have lost. He will carry only eight of Oregon's 36 counties (two of those by less than a majority), and is trailing in counties that he should have won, such as Clackamas, Marion, and Linn. He will win the race only because of his strong showing in Multnomah County, where he is receiving 70% of the vote. If Multnomah County didn't count, Dennis Richardson would be the next governor. Put another way, in Multnomah County he's running barely evenly with legalizing marijuana, and he's well behind legal marijuana in most of the rest of the state. He has a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the state in the next four years. Good luck, Governor; you will need it.
This year's senate race presents an easy choice. The incumbent, Democrat Jeff Merkley, seeks a second term against a challenge from Republican Monica Wehby, a physician who is seeking her first elective office. First-term senators are rather like fourth sons of reigning monarchs: they bear imposing titles and get respect in public, but aren't expected to accomplish very much. It's sufficient for them to select one or two issues on which to seek the public's attention while they learn their way around the nation's capital.
Shortly after arriving in Washington, Senator Merkley found an issue: the financial crisis that hit in 2009 and its effect on Wall Street, the large banks, and the rest of America. He and Senator Carl Levin proposed an amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act to add the "Volcker Rule," a rule that would have barred traditional banks (i.e., banks that the federal government insures, including those that the feds think are too big to be allowed to fail) from engaging in certain risky investments. The bill to which the Merkley-Levin amendment was attached did not become law, but the text of their amendment was attached to another bill and in a slightly different form became law. (It's also noteworthy that this was known as the Merkley-Levin amendment and not as the Levin-Merkley amendment because Sen. Levin joined the Senate 30 years before Sen. Merkley did.) In several different ways since then, Sen. Merkley has continued to press for some fairness in the banking and tax system.
The Oregonian rightly rejected Dr. Wehby as a candidate -- she and her campaign both imploded and the race effectively ended weeks ago. The Whimperer called Sen. Merkley "smart, thoughtful, certainly well-intentioned [and] even right at times," but declined to endorse him either, apparently (as far as I can tell) because he sometimes disagrees with Senator Wyden and wants to raise the cap on Social Security income taxes to fund higher benefits for old people. The Oregonian correctly notes that in his first six years in the Senate Sen. Merkley has not solved any major problems. Neither have the other 99. He is off on the right track, however, and has earned a second term. You may, as I will, vote to re-elect Sen. Merkley.
The real puzzle this year is the Governor's race. John Kitzhaber, the incumbent Democrat, seeks a fourth term against Republican challenger Dennis Richardson, a six-term state representative from southern Oregon whose legislative experience has included extensive work on Oregon's budgets. Rep. Richardson started his campaign several years ago with an extensive outreach program (I landed on his mailing list for reasons I still haven't fathomed), and he's run a competent campaign since then. Where he has fallen short is on policy: when pressed in debate he retreats to platitudes instead of specifics, and he's awkwardly navigating the narrow and sometimes negative space between the social policy views of the conservatives who nominated him and the moderates whose votes he needs to win. On policy grounds I would favor Governor Kitzhaber for a fourth term, albeit with serious reservations about his expensive lapses on Cover Oregon and the Columbia River Crossing.
To quote Ian Fleming, however: "But, but, but, and again but!" The stream of revelations about the contracts of the Governor's fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, with entities that seek favors from the State of Oregon concerns me. I have the same worries that I would have about our nation's energy policy if (say) Michelle Obama accepted a seat on the board of Exxon. That tips the scale for me against voting for Dr. Kitzhaber. The Pamplin newspapers also concluded that neither major party candidate in the Governor's race deserves support. They recommended that Democrats write in Ted Wheeler and Republicans write in Allen Alley.
I don't plan to write in a non-candidate; the governorship should be reserved for people foolish enough to want to serve. I intend to cast my vote, with some hesitation, for Chris Henry of the Oregon Progressive Party. If you feel as I do about Gov. Kitzhaber and Rep. Richardson, I recommend a vote for the minor party candidate with whom you are most closely aligned. For Tea Party conservatives, that's likely Aaron Auer of the Constitution Party. More traditional conservatives can vote for Libertarian Paul Grad. Those to the left of Isaac have Jason Levin of the Pacific Green Party available on the ballot.
Measure 89 [not 88; thank you, Sarah Ames Carlin] would adopt as part of the Oregon constitution the sentence "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex." If the words sound familiar, it's because they are adapted almost word for word from the national Equal Rights Amendment, which Oregon and 34 other states ratified in the 1970s but which did not get approval from the necessary 38 states to become part of the United States constitution. This measure would be unremarkable but for the reason that the Oregonian advances for voting against it. Its editorial writers recommend that Oregonians vote against Measure 89, not because it is bad policy, but because (in their view) it isn't necessary. Current law, the Whimperer says, already provides women protection against state and local discrimination, and so this measure would do nothing but clutter up the Oregon constitution.
Let us retrace the slow movement of Oregon women toward full status as persons. The Oregon constitution of 1857 granted full remedial rights to men with this noble phrase: "Every man shall have remedy by due course of law for injury done him in person, property or reputation." It is not known whether the framers believed that women should not have remedies at law, or that remedies were unnecessary for women because they would never be injured. However reluctant the framers were to protect women, they did at least protect their property, adopting as Article VI, §5, this passage: "The property and pecuniary rights of every married woman at the time or marriage, or afterwards acquired by gift, devise, or inheritance, shall not be subject to the debts or contracts of the husband, and laws shall be passed providing for the registration of the wife's separate property."
Then in 1862 Oregon moved backward a step, passing a law that the husband of a married woman must be joined with her in any lawsuit, except if the action concerns her separate property, or wages for her work, or a "wrong committed against her person or character." This law remained in force until 1927.
In 1878 Oregon expanded the rights of married women, slightly, by authorizing a married woman "to receive the wages of her personal labor" and to sue and be sued in her own name.
To the credit of our long-gone legislators, they did in 1880 enact an omnibus statute that removed from wives all civil disabilities that did not exist against husbands, "provided, however, that this act shall not confer the right to vote or hold office upon the wife." A long history of the state's meanderings toward but not to equality is in the Oregon supreme court's opinion in Smith v. Smith, a 1955 case in which a wife sued her husband for injuries from an automobile accident. The question before the court was whether the law barred her from suing her spouse for injuries resulting from his careless driving. The court -- again, this was as recently as 1955 -- held that Mrs. Smith's status as the wife of Mr. Smith barred her from suing Mr. Smith for her injuries. If she wanted to be protected from his careless driving, the court said, she should have bought insurance.
Return now to the Whimperer's editorial. The writer said that Measure 88 is unnecessary because Oregon courts have held that Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon constitution accomplishes the same thing. That is absolutely correct. What Oregon courts have said today, however, they may say differently tomorrow. The Smith court upheld the common-law rule prohibiting one spouse from suing the other for negligence with these homely sentences, that sound as if they come not from 1955 but (barring the reference to the automobile) from 1855:
The argument to the effect that when a husband has beaten his wife, the peace and harmony of the home has already been destroyed, is a valid one, but it applies with force only to intentional wrongs. We are sure that the learned jurist would not say that the peace and domestic tranquillity of the home is ended every time that a wife is shaken up by the inattentive conduct of her husband in operating the family automobile, or vice versa. Nor can it be said that domestic felicity has been forever lost if a husband slips on a carelessly oiled kitchen floor.
Fifty-nine years ago the Oregon supreme court assumed that husbands and wives might both drive, but only a wife would oil a kitchen floor. It's time to put a statement of equal rights into the constitution and not trust in our supreme court to believe tomorrow what it believes today but didn't believe yesterday. Isaac is voting "Yes" on Measure 89.
Somewhere in America -- very likely in quite a few somewheres in America -- researchers are poring through old newspapers and pre-Google reports to uncover all the statements they can find that leading Democrats made in 1980 about Ronald Reagan's age being a reason not to elect him as President. Mr. Reagan was 69 years and 349 days old when he took the oath of office in 1981, the oldest man ever to be sworn in for a first term. (The only person older than that to be sworn in as President was Mr. Reagan himself, when he was sworn in for his second term four years later.)
Why the research? The leading Democratic contender is Hillary Clinton. If elected in 2016, she will be 69 years and 86 days old when she is sworn in on January 20, 2017, making her the second-oldest person ever to be sworn in for a first term as President, an issue her shadow campaign is keenly conscious of but doesn't want to discuss.
More interestingly, at age 69 she is almost certain to be older than the Republican nominee. It used to be common for the Republican presidential candidate to be younger than the Democratic candidate -- Franklin Roosevelt was younger than Herbert Hoover (1932) but older than his other three opponents -- but it's been a rarity since then. Thomas E. Dewey (1948) was much younger than Harry Truman, Barry Goldwater (1964) was a few months younger than Lyndon Johnson, and George W. Bush (2004) was two and a half years younger than John Kerry, but these are exceptions. In the 13 presidential elections since the birth of Barack Obama, the Democrat has been younger than the Republican in 11 of them.
The Democrats' age problem in 2016 isn't going to be that Mrs. Clinton is 69 years old; it will be that she'll likely be 15 years older than her opponent unless the Republicans nominate Jeb Bush, who is only 5 years younger than Mrs. Clinton. I see an opening for a young Republican who wants to run on a platform of change and who isn't tied to the Tea Party - a conservative reformer. Whether the GOP can get its act together sufficiently to find, nominate, and not destroy such a candidate is another question entirely.
The Oregon constitution prohibits persons who are employed in one branch of our government from holding a paying position in either of the other branches, with some exceptions. This prohibits judges, who are employed by the judicial branch, from teaching in public colleges and the University of Oregon law school (Oregon's only public law school), which are part of the executive branch, and similarly prohibits them from serving in the Oregon National Guard, which is also within the executive branch. Measure 87 would allow the public schools and colleges to employ state judges as teachers, and would allow judges to receive compensation for serving in the Oregon National Guard. (The law doesn't prohibit judges from being employed by private schools, only by public schools.) Judges have enough problems in their workaday lives to make me wonder why they would seek out yet more hostile fire, whether from silent snipers or snarky students, but this proposal doesn't create any ill effects that I can see. It will get a "yes" vote from Isaac.
Measure 91 would allow the state to regulate and tax the cultivation, sale, possession, and use of marijuana: it would make marijuana legal in a manner similar to our regulation of alcohol. In fact, the measure proposes that the OLCC would regulate marijuana growers and sellers. Of all the arguments pro and con this measure, the two that most appeal to me are these. First, legalizing the possession and use of marijuana in small amounts would reduce what we spend on the justice system by removing from the justice system people who aren't dangers to society and letting the courts and jails prosecute and house people who really ought to be in prison. Second is that the press by the government (mostly the national government) to fund its police forces through civil forfeiture (i.e., "If we catch you running a grow house, we'll take your house away even if we never charge you with anything") has pushed commercial growers to set up shop in the unforfeitable and not very policeable national forests, creating dangers to Oregonians who want to enjoy the outdoors without running into booby traps or armed guards. Adopting this measure would remove the financial reason for large operators to set up in the forests, would reduce the money flow to organized gangs, and would let a number of our politicians (including some that I know) be a little more honest about how they like to unwind after a hard day of legislating. Isaac is voting "yes" on 91.
It's ballot season! Leading off is Ballot Measure 86, which would amend the constitution to requirethe legislature to establish the "Oregon Student Opportunity Fund," to issue bonds to fund it, to invest the proceeds, and to devote the net earnings to provide financial assistance to Oregon students "pursuing post-secondary educatoin, including technical, professional and career training."
This measure attracted 14 "yes" arguments in the Voter's Pamphlet, and only one "no" argument, which came from the irrepressible Steve Buckstein of the Cascade Policy Institute. "God," as Napoleon famously said, "is on the side of the big battalions," but sometimes public policy isn't. The state needs to do more to support public education, but Measure 86 is a good idea poorly implemented. Isaac will be voting against it. Here's why.
First, it's missing an important definition. The measure provides financial assistance to "Oregon students," but does not define whether an "Oregon student" includes only an Oregon resident studying in Oregon, or if it also includes an Oregon resident studying out of state, or an out-of-state resident studying in Oregon. If the state is going to borrow money to invest in post-secondary education it should make it clear that the money will be spent only in Oregon.
Second, I'm innately suspicious that the trustees of the large fund will invest portions of the funds to advance noble social policy goals (e.g., supporting innovation in the manufacture and delivery of solar panels), or to high-fee hedge funds, rather than to provide a reasonable return combined with safety of principal. Our track record of sticking to our knitting isn't very good.
Third is the loophole in Section 6, which provides that if the Governor declares an emergency and a supermajority of the legislature concurs, the money in the fund may be spent for "any lawful purpose," as long as the legislature approves a plan to replenish the fund eventually. Would the legislature call the near-bankruptcy of several Oregon counties an emergency to justify tapping the fund? Maybe . . . and there goes the money for the fund's stated purpose.
The drafters of this measure meant well, but they executed poorly. Thumbs down from Isaac.
Jesuit High School is coming in for some criticism today after it cancelled the scheduled visit of nine student leaders from the African nations of Congo, Niger, and Ivory Coast. The principal of the school, Paul Hogan, wrote that even though the students came from nations that have reported no cases of Ebola, "the situation with Ebola is fluid and uncertain at this time, including in the U.S."
As Texas has reported more Ebola infections than Congo, Niger, and Ivory Coast put together (it's not very hard to surpass zero), under the same principle Mr. Hogan should ban Texans, and recent visitors to Texas, from visiting the Jesuit campus while the situation remains "fluid and uncertain." We can't be too careful about protecting the children!
At least, that's what I make of Safeway marketing an Oroweat product described as "Jewish rye bread" with a sticker that suggests using it to make sandwiches of ham and cheese. Gastronomically it's a fine idea, but theologically it leaves something to be desired.