Editorials from around Oregon

March 20, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Eugene Register-Guard, March 20, on not taking guns away from University of Oregon police:

Last year, Portland State University police shot and killed a man who was trying to break up a fight outside a bar. Now a state lawmaker wants to take guns away from some university police officers. His fellow lawmakers should pass. One tragedy doesn’t justify making schools less safe.

Portland Democratic Rep. Diego Hernandez has introduced a bill to forbid university police in cities with more than 150,000 residents from carrying firearms. That’s a roundabout way of saying at the University of Oregon and PSU.

We have no doubt that Hernandez has good intentions. Faculty and students raised concerns about guns on campus, so he is serving those constituents. But, in the words of University of Oregon Police Association President Steven Barrett, his bill is “a drastic, ill-conceived, simplistic fix to a nuanced, complicated, and difficult issue.”

Targeting just urban campuses is counterintuitive. If anything, campus police forces in big cities have greater need to carry guns than their counterparts in smaller communities. Urban campuses are open to the public. Most people who stroll onto campus are benign, but in any city, troublemakers and violent individuals walk the streets, too. When they come onto campus, if an extreme situation arises, police need the right tools to respond.

Campus police also respond to incidents off campus, especially in neighborhoods with high concentrations of students. Eugene’s West University, for example, has seen an unacceptable number of assaults, thefts and other crimes in the past year.

It’s important to note that university police in Oregon are full-blown police officers, not just security officers. They receive the same training as city cops, including in proper weapon handling and crisis response.

That’s not to say there’s no room for change and improvement. In addition to solid training, officers on a diverse campus like the University of Oregon must have sensitivity toward people of color, LGBTQ and others. Police presence — especially armed police presence — impacts people differently.

The Daily Emerald reports that campus police are aware of these sensitivities, and are inviting students and campus community members to be active participants in helping them internalize them so that every officer responds appropriately. That work must continue here and at all Oregon universities.

Campus police also could improve interdepartmental communication with other law enforcement.

For example, Hernandez cited an incident at the University of Oregon last year as justification for his bill. In May, police pointed their guns at a student DJ who had been directed to leave the Erb Memorial Union. Hernandez and many media outlets misreported that those officers were with the campus police. In fact, they were Eugene police there to assist, but they had not gotten clear instruction that the student was coming out. Communication broke down.

That incident is important because it is one of the two that supporters of Hernandez’s bill have misused to support their goal. Without it, they have only the single shooting at PSU. One incident is not sufficient justification to disarm fully trained and equipped police officers who keep Oregon universities safe.

If Hernandez really wants to help, he should take a more nuanced approach focused on training and procedure.


The Bend Bulletin, March 16, on letting voters decide on death penalty:

Oregonians have been of two minds about the death penalty over the years. That’s why it is especially important to let voters, not the Legislature, have the last say on whether this state should effectively outlaw execution as punishment for the state’s worst crimes.

House Bill 3268 would ignore that crucial step. Instead, the measure, sponsored by state Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, would simply change the definition of “aggravated murder” to eliminate everyone now on Oregon’s death row. Execution would be available only when two or more were killed in an act of terrorism.

Favor the death penalty or not, an end run around voters is no way to decide the question.

The state’s history with capital punishment shows just how often we’ve changed our minds on the subject. Oregon became a state in 1859 and first adopted the death penalty in 1864. Voters outlawed the procedure first in 1914 by a narrow, 157 votes, margin. It was reinstated, again by voters, by a much larger margin in 1920.

They changed their minds again in 1964, repealing the death penalty a second time. Just two days later, Gov. Mark Hatfield commuted the sentences of the three people on death row, including Jeannace June Freeman, then 22, who had been convicted of killing her lover’s 6-year-old son by throwing him off the bridge into the Crooked River Gorge in May 1961.

Voters reinstated the death penalty in 1978, only to have it overturned by the state Supreme Court in 1981. Voters reinstated it again in 1984.

It’s hard to say what voters would do if asked to vote on the death penalty again. Nationally, execution is far less common than it used to be. Oregonians should get that chance, however — the number of states that do not have the death penalty has about doubled since the punishment was reinstated here, suggesting views on it are changing. Simply eliminating most crimes from that punishment, as HB 3268 would do, skips that important step and should be defeated.


East Oregonian, March 15, on redrawing electoral lines needing to be a fair and open process:

Democrats hold Oregon’s fate in their hands — at least for the near term.

The party has a three-fifths supermajority in the state Capitol this legislative session, gained through a fair election process that has edged in their favor over the past decade. They also have the governor’s seat, which means if Democrats are united behind a bill or budget, there’s little that can stop it from passing.

It’s not because of some conspiracy or an unequal playing field. Oregon voters simply lean left, when considered as a whole, and the state’s districts are a fairly accurate assessment of where the voters’ allegiances lie.

This accuracy is largely due to the fact that in 2011, the last time the boundaries were drawn for electoral districts, the Oregon House was divided equally between Democrats and Republicans. That even split didn’t keep politics or contention out of the process, but did produce legislative maps that both parties could agree upon.

It was the first time since the 1950s that the legislature was able to complete the task on deadline without intervention by the secretary of state or courts.

As the 2020 census nears, new districts will be drawn. It is likely this will even include carving out a sixth U.S. House district for the state of Oregon.

It’s crucial that this process isn’t dominated by a single party, no matter how much that party’s ideologies and policies may be in favor right now.

We urge serious consideration of the plan to move the responsibility from the legislature to a nonpartisan committee consisting of people from all corners of the state, who can attest to logical boundaries and balanced representation.

The unfairness of gerrymandering, as it has come to be known, is well documented in states around the country. The balance of a district can be tilted with some clever strokes of the pen, spreading already minority voters thinner and effectively eliminating their voice. It’s a tactic that has been employed successfully by both parties in an effort to solidify power.

And it’s bad for democratic representation. No matter a person’s political leanings, they must vote with the assurance that their ballot hasn’t been rigged into irrelevancy by their own representatives.

As the saying goes, voters should pick their lawmakers and not the other way around.

Late Secretary of State Dennis Richardson was a champion of reform. A redistricting task force in 2017 recommended the job be handled by an independent commission in an open setting with clear criteria for the new boundaries. It would follow models in California and Washington.

It’s a critical task. Our population shifts and changes over time, and making sure that voters aren’t overlooked keeps our democracy functioning.

No party should have the upper hand when it comes to deciding voting districts for the next decade. That’s why we are in favor of amending Oregon’s constitution to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission to redraw legislative districts after each census.