Editorials from around Oregon
Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Bend Bulletin, July 10, on Department of Human Services working to delay and conceal progress on foster care:
What a terrible time for the Oregon Department of Human Services to conceal what it’s doing to improve foster care.
The state has paid out millions in settlements for failing to ensure the children in its care were safe. An Oregon Secretary Of State audit found in January that DHS has been “slow, indecisive, and inadequate” in fixing recurring problems in the foster care system.
To its credit, DHS pledged to address all 24 of the audit’s recommendations for improvement. The agency wrote it would cultivate the “need for transparency, strong and open communication.” DHS published on its website some updates on its progress, though it didn’t address all 24.
When we asked for a more comprehensive update in mid-April, DHS was slow and inadequate. DHS staff went to considerable effort to write a more comprehensive memo for The Bulletin to update the public about its progress. But DHS did not release it. To get it, we had to compel its release under state public records law. That’s the DHS idea of transparency?
Internal DHS emails show the agency’s leadership was more worried about how the information might be seen than being open with the public about what it was doing. Jay Remy, who was the head of public information at DHS at the time, wrote on May 9 he was worried releasing a response might surprise Gov. Kate Brown’s office or the Secretary of State’s Office. He advocated delay.
Jeannine Beatrice, chief of staff at DHS, responded: “If we push it off, we need to get something on line that shows progress??.??as we promised in many communications that we would be transparent going forward.”
“I agree,” replied DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht.
Remy then added in an email on May 10 that Kate Kondayen, who worked in Gov. Kate Brown’s office, wanted to hold off releasing anything and roll it into a media campaign. That’s not transparency; that’s control.
DHS never told us why it would not give us a comprehensive update. We got tired of waiting and made a public records request on May 21 for emails related to our request for information. That’s how we got those internal emails and the release of the memo. (You can see a version of that memo on our website.)
DHS didn’t even get our public records request right. Under state law, DHS had 15 days to give us a reasonable estimate about when our records request would be completed. We never got that.
The episode with DHS is a good lesson in why Oregon needs strong public records laws. All the government talk of transparency can be a charade.
East Oregonian, July 10, on two ways to view Hammond pardon:
Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds Tuesday morning.
Because the president doesn’t work well with others, and because a majority of Americans disagree with him on most issues, he has found the legislative route to change too difficult. So he has grown partial to pardons. Sure, the effect is so narrow to be microscopic, but it generates headlines just the same.
Celebrities, lobbyists, congressmen or business elites approach Trump with a pet issue or person they feel was mistreated by our system of justice. They generally find the president all ears. Pardons play into his personality complex that rests somewhere between messianic and dictatorial.
Enter the Hammonds. They check many of the boxes that sells to Trump’s base: a narrative of vengeful, overwrought government justice brought to bear on a white, resourceful family. Understanding that, it’s no surprise he took notice.
And there are reasons he should have.
Back in 2012, we recommended President Obama grant the Hammonds clemency and allow the father and son to return to their Harney County ranch. We thought there was a small window when such a decision could be made, writing: “At the end of their terms presidents typically grant pardons or clemency to a host of federal inmates whose cases are too politically controversial for all but a lame duck to handle.”
It’s striking now to see how Trump has made so much that was once too controversial so incredibly normal. He has shifted us all from our foundation — it’s reasonable now to doubt NATO and the FBI, and consider the benefits of separating children from their parents and partnering with vicious dictators of foreign governments. All had been — and we would argue still are — anti-American sentiments that Trump has brought into the mainstream.
To some extent, so is the decision to pardon the Hammonds.
The father and son received a fair trial and were found guilty. In addition to lengthy probation, Dwight Hammond was originally sentenced to six months in prison, his son one year. The original prison sentences were served. But those sentences ignored the minimum mandatory five-year sentence prescribed by federal arson statute. The government appealed, the sentences were overturned and the trial court ordered the Hammonds back to prison to serve out the remainder of the five-year sentences.
That’s what they had been serving until Tuesday, when Trump’s clemency was granted. The decision was hailed by the Oregon Farm Bureau, by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, the Oregon Cattleman’s Association and the Bundy family who led the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
“Today shows we were right, we went there for a good reason and our efforts have finally come to fruition,” Ryan Bundy told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “All of those who went with us and supported the Hammonds, they should be pardoned also.”
The decision was slammed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and others in urban areas, and even some in Eastern Oregon who confronted and chased out the Bundys.
“The federal court ... followed the Rule of Law in overturning the Hammonds’ reduced sentences for committing arson on Oregon fed lands,” Rosenblum tweeted. “POTUS, who has not set foot here since being elected, has pardoned them. We can only wonder why.”
The Hammonds committed a crime and were found guilty in Pendleton by a jury of their peers. That is fact. Still, we argue the sentence levied upon them should not be so set in stone.
Even most liberals would agree that mandatory minimum sentences are problematic and often unduly harsh. And if we’re going to reform the justice system away from locking too many Americans behind bars, the change must come from everywhere.
And that’s where we come down on this: The Hammonds are neither saints nor devils. We are happy they are headed home, and we hope they return with more respect for the government agencies they live and work alongside. The Hammonds have shown very little of that in the past.
At the same time, we must make sure the extremist factions and the militia movements that supported the Hammonds are not emboldened by this decision. The Bundys led a group of people that Eastern Oregon resoundingly rejected — despite small pockets of local support. Trump’s decision should do nothing to change our understanding that what the Bundys did was wrong, even though they were found not guilty in a court of law. Perhaps that lack of conviction is due to the same overly ambitious prosecution that also caused problems in the case of the Hammonds.
It seems to us then that commutation of their sentence would have been a better choice than outright clemency. It would have made clear that the government respects the rule of law and the wisdom of a jury, but that the president now believes the federally mandated sentence for that crime was just too harsh. We have said the same all along.
We hope this is a narrow victory for two men and one family. If it is twisted into a triumph for an extremist element who believes they have been called by God and the Constitution to threaten, fight and war against the government, then the decision to pardon will have a long-term and damaging effect.
Albany Democrat-Herald, July 10, on fair season beginning with big questions:
Mid-July typically marks the start of county fair season in the mid-valley, and this year is no exception: The Linn County Fair is scheduled to officially start July 18, although 4-H participants will start flocking to the fairgrounds as early as Monday.
The Benton County Fair usually gets underway a couple of weeks after the Linn fair shuts down for the year. This year’s Benton County fair is scheduled to start on Aug. 1 — but, again, those industrious 4-Hers will be descending on the fairgrounds a couple of days earlier to settle in.
This year, both fairs take place against an intriguing backdrop, as officials in both Linn and Benton counties ponder ways to put their fairs (and the facilities where they take place) on a firmer fiscal footing. The Linn County commissioners were first out of the gate: Earlier this month, they approved a countywide 3 percent transient lodging tax for motels, hotels, bed-and-breakfast establishments and local campgrounds; the tax will be imposed in addition to state and local lodging taxes. The tax is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1.
The idea is that most of the money collected will be earmarked for the Linn County Fair & Expo Center, which now is more than two decades old. The facility has served the county well, but it’s starting to show its age, and it’s hard to find steady sources of revenue for maintenance and improvements. In a typical year, the fairgrounds might require an infusion of about $250,000 or so from the county’s general fund.
We suspect that the Linn County commissioners would prefer that the facility and the fair break even. (The same likely is true of the Benton County commissioners.) We think that’s unlikely to happen in either case, and we’re OK with that — the fairs, like the city of Albany’s River Rhythms series, provide a valuable service to residents. (And the Linn County Fair, unlike many other county fairs across the nation, has enjoyed increasing attendance each year, so it’s obviously a service that residents value.)
With that said, the addition of the transient lodging tax should be a boost to the fair’s bottom line — and should help provide some resources to keep the fairgrounds looking sharp.
Benton County’s fair is in somewhat similar shape, although it has suffered from declining attendance in recent years. (It didn’t help that last year’s fair coincided with a particularly brutal heat wave; nothing saps fair attendance quicker than excessive heat.)
So it’s no surprise that Benton County’s commissioners also are giving serious consideration to their own countywide transient lodging tax.
The fairgrounds fiscal picture in Benton County is somewhat reminiscent of that in Linn County: The county’s two-year budget calls for spending $343,000 each year for the fair and its fairgrounds. Of that annual amount, $120,000 per year is devoted to facility maintenance and $223,000 for operating support.
Now, $120,000 for maintenance each year only goes so far: If the Benton County Fairgrounds had access to more money for maintenance, that could eat away at some of the backlog and also could increase the fairgrounds’ ability to attract additional events. And every general fund dollar that doesn’t have to go to the fairs (in either county) is a dollar that can be used for another purpose, such as paving roads and public safety.
It can be tough sledding for county fairs these days, especially considering the increasing competition from other entertainment events, such as the country music festivals in Linn County. But we still think these fairs offer something that other events cannot: The chance to connect again with your community in a relaxed setting. It would be a shame to lose that. So these conversations about how to support and maintain these signature local events are timely, and valuable.
The Eugene Register-Guard, July 9, on a public display of horse-trading:
Three of Oregon’s most influential political actors — Gov. Kate Brown, Nike Corp. and Our Oregon, which represents public employee unions — played political chess in advance of last week’s deadline for initiative petitions. The endgame keeps one measure from appearing on the ballot in November, and will shape the campaigns against two others. It’s all perfectly legal, but ordinary voters can be excused for feeling a bit queasy.
Our Oregon was on its way toward placing an initiative on the ballot that would have required disclosure of tax and other information by publicly held companies, including Nike. In a deal brokered by Brown, Our Oregon agreed to shelve that proposal in exchange for Nike’s agreement to oppose two other measures — one that would require a legislative supermajority to reduce or eliminate state tax breaks, and a second that would prohibit sales taxes on groceries. Nike’s opposition comes with a $100,000 donation to a committee formed to fight the two initiatives.
Political horse-trading is nothing new, but it’s rare to see such a clear example of the practice played out in public. Nike opposes forced disclosure of its finances. Our Oregon opposes limiting the Legislature’s options for scaling back tax breaks or raising business taxes. So they made a deal.
Perhaps it’s old-fashioned to regard the initiative process as a tool that belongs to the people. Special interests long ago learned to use the process for their own purposes; employing paid signature-gatherers to bring to the voters proposals that have little grass-roots support and blocking grass-roots efforts with legal delaying tactics are now standard practice. In this instance, one initiative proposal became a bargaining chip that was traded away to bring a big donor aboard the campaign against two others.
A higher degree of sophistication is now required of voters. As always, they need to evaluate the merits of ballot measures. But they must also understand the politics behind what’s on the ballot — and what’s not.
The Oregonian/OregonLive, July 8, on gun-control advocates needing to let Salem do its job:
As contradictory as it may seem, gun-control advocates should breathe a sigh of relief that a proposed ballot measure to outlaw assault weapons in Oregon won’t go before voters in November.
Initiative Petition 43, hastily filed in the weeks following a mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, was overly broad and clumsily written, seeking to ban a wide range of military-style rifles and semi-automatic pistols. A provision to criminalize ownership of such weapons was needlessly inflammatory, igniting a firestorm among gun owners who could face felony charges if they failed to meet timelines for registering, surrendering or destroying any of the listed weapons.
While legislating complicated policy via initiative is rarely a good idea, IP 43 organizers ratcheted up the degree of difficulty with a rushed timeline that left no room for error. This was not the gun-control proposal on which to bet the house.
And of course, there was error. The Oregon Supreme Court last month rejected proposed ballot language drafted by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum as misleading and inaccurate. The delay killed backers’ chances for collecting the necessary signatures by July 6 to qualify the proposal for the ballot. They are now eyeing the 2020 election.
But the clergy members and others leading the campaign should rethink that plan. Their best chance for lasting change comes not through threatening a divisive battle at the ballot box but by working with lawmakers, gun-owners, gun-control activists and others to pass reasonable firearm restrictions that balances rights with responsibilities.
There’s reason to trust the Legislature on this front. Lawmakers have already made significant strides — with some bipartisan backing, no less - in tailoring gun restrictions to achieve well-defined goals. In 2017, Republican Sen. Brian Boquist championed a groundbreaking bill that allows authorities to seize an individual’s firearms if a judge determines the person is at risk for harming themselves or others.
In the first four months of the law’s enactment, judges have authorized taking weapons away in at least 24 cases, as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Gordon Friedman recently wrote. Those who either voluntarily surrendered their weapons or had them seized included a Brookings man who loaded his gun during a fight with his wife over her decision to leave him; a Portland man who posed for photos with his semi-automatic rifle and talked of planning a school shooting; and a Pendleton man whose sister stopped him from returning to work to shoot his boss after being fired. Other cases included firearm owners who were suicidal, delusional or compromised by drugs or alcohol.
While it’s too early to draw firm conclusions about how well the law works, the fact that legislators passed such a bill - without a referral to voters - is a clear sign that Oregon’s elected officials have the courage, focus and will to adopt reasonable and targeted restrictions.
Similarly, a few Republicans joined Democrats in 2017 to pass a bill closing the “boyfriend” loophole in state law. The bill, prioritized by Gov. Kate Brown, prohibits intimate partners who have been convicted of domestic violence or stalking from being able to purchase firearms. Previously, the law covered only spouses. While a more modest change, the bill again shows that legislators are willing to buck powerful gun interests for sensible reforms.
That might not satisfy the go-for-broke activists who want monumental changes now - whether or not the sought-after “fixes” will really fix anything. But they should also recognize what go-for-broke politicking generates in response. As IP 43 gained steam, gun-rights advocates started their own county-wide ballot initiatives seeking to undercut enforcement of any new restrictions. Dueling ballot initiatives, each seeking to outdo the other, only guarantee that such escalating efforts turn any common ground that could have been found into scorched earth.
We don’t need any more battlegrounds. We’ve already seen too many schools, malls, concert venues, nightclubs and newsrooms be turned into those. The campaign’s backers should focus their attention on Salem and push for change there.