Editorials from around Oregon

February 28, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


Albany Democrat-Herald, Feb. 28, on health care and the role of the Legislature:

A proposal to ask voters to decide if the right to health care should be part of Oregon’s Constitution seems unlikely to survive this year’s legislative session.

Supporters of the proposal, House Joint Resolution 203, do not think they have the votes to pry the measure out of a Senate committee in the final days of this short legislative session.

We were surprised — pleasantly so — to hear the news. (The Oregonian first reported the story.) After the measure passed the House of Representatives, about two weeks ago, we wrote an editorial in which we predicted that the Senate almost certainly would approve it as well, sending the matter to voters to decide in the November election.

Here’s a case in which we are pleased to say that we were wrong.

We were worried about the possible financial impact to the state should voters enshrine the right to universal health care in the constitution. And it appears that similar worries on the part of senators played a big role in cooling the resolution’s momentum.

It wasn’t just conservatives or Republicans expressing worries about that point: The Oregon League of Women Voters weighed in as well. In a letter to the House committee that was considering the measure, the league noted that it supports access to health care at the federal level — but warned that it could be a costly mistake for Oregon to take on the burden alone.

“The state of Oregon has insufficient income to support its current responsibilities and cannot provide the added cost of health care coverage for all its residents at this time,” the letter read in part.

Lawyers for the Legislature responded by saying that the constitutional amendment would only require the state to provide access to “cost-effective, medically appropriate and affordable” health care, not that the state would have to actually provide that health care. But that distinction apparently failed to do much to soothe the concerns of senators.

Oregon is great at hatching these kinds of universal goals, these grand aspirations. But we’re not always so great at working out the details.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, the driving force behind the proposal, noted that this is the third time the measure has stalled in the Senate. We have little doubt it will be back before the 2019 session, and maybe with a little bit of additional thought about how it might affect the state’s always-tenuous finances. (In fact, considering how the Legislature works, there’s always the possibility that it could lurch back into life this session — but that prospect seems remote.)

But this unexpected legislative development serves as a reminder of how difficult it can be to get bills through the Legislature.

And that’s not a bad thing.

It should be immensely difficult to get a proposal through the Legislature. And, conversely, it should be easy to kill bills. In fact, one of the most important functions the Legislature serves (and one that is generally undervalued) is to kill bills.

There’s a reason why we ask legislative proposals to run through such a gantlet of committees and hearings before even one chamber gets to vote on a measure. (And why we ask the proposal to follow the same process in the other chamber.) Here’s the reason: Most of the ideas submitted to the Legislature don’t deserve to become law.

The entire legislative process is meant to identify fatal weaknesses in proposals that don’t measure up and to strengthen other proposals to the point where they can pass muster.

If this puts you in mind of “I’m Just a Bill,” that great song from “Schoolhouse Rock,” it should. That song ends with Bill being signed into law. It’s a happy ending, but remember how the song starts: with Bill, seemingly abandoned on the steps of the Capitol. You get the sense Bill has been there a few times before.


The Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 28, on health care guarantee lacking means of delivery:

A proposal to invite voters to add a guarantee of universal health care to the Oregon Constitution’s Bill of Rights has died in the Senate. Its demise should be unmourned — even welcomed. In the absence of a firm plan for keeping such a promise, a constitutional right to health care would be either meaningless or a cause of litigation.

The state Constitution’s Bill of Rights contains 46 sections, most of them protecting Oregonians’ civil rights. House Joint Resolution 203 would have added Section 47: “It is the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, medically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.” Section 47 would differ from those preceding it in that it would commit the state’s government to providing something, rather than limiting the government’s power over citizens.

If HJR 203 had been approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, a proposal to amend the Constitution by adding Section 47 would have appeared on the November general election ballot. The resolution’s sponsors were encouraged by voters’ approval of Measure 101 last month, which retained financing mechanisms for the state’s Medicaid program, and by the fact that with an expanded Medicaid program and the increased availability of private insurance under the Affordable Care Act, about 94 percent of Oregonians have health insurance of some kind.

But HJR 203 said nothing about how Oregon will meet the cost of extending health care to that final 6 percent of the population. Nor does it chart a course for continuing to pay the state’s increasing share of the cost of Medicaid. It doesn’t address the Trump administration’s continuing efforts to chip away at the Affordable Care Act, which already are making private insurance more expensive for some people.

Backers of a single-payer health care system, including some supporters of HJR 203, claim that the state could provide health care to everyone at less aggregate cost than the current patchwork of insurance bureaucracies. They may be right, but even if they are, the first step for Oregon would be to put a solid plan in place. The state should make no promise until it is certain the promise can be kept.


The Oregonian/OregonLive, Feb. 27, on Portland City Council banking on Wells Fargo:

In March 2017, Mayor Ted Wheeler said via Twitter that he wanted the city to look at breaking up with Wells Fargo, which held the contract to provide general banking services for the city. It was a savvy move that recognized Portlanders’ deep distrust of a company mired in controversy over customer fraud cases and support of a contentious pipeline project.

So it’s surprising that city staff is now in the final stages of negotiating a new contract with Wells Fargo that would lock in the scandal-plagued company as the city’s partner for the next five years. After evaluating bids from five banks, the city selected Wells Fargo to maintain the city’s deposits, enable the city and its bureaus to issue payments, offer a range of branch services to city employees and other functions. The agreement calls for the city to pay Wells Fargo a maximum of $600,000 for services over the life of the agreement, according to Jeff Blade, the procurement supervisor in charge of the bid.

As contracts go, the amount is relatively modest. Normally, it wouldn’t even need to go before the City Council to get approval. But the mayor’s spokesman told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board that the chief financial officer plans to bring the contract to the council for review.

That’s a good move. While Wells Fargo scored the highest of the five bidders evaluated by the city, the council owes the public thorough consideration of whether it should do business with a company whose actions contributed to the repossession of thousands of cars, wrought havoc on many of its customers’ credit scores and otherwise targeted some of the same people that City Council considers constituents.

Outrage over Wells Fargo is nothing new. Just 11 months ago, Portlanders lobbied the city to divest from Wells Fargo, due to its role as a lender to the Dakota Access Pipeline project. While the council declined to single out Wells Fargo, it did decide unanimously to pull all its investments in corporate securities.

But the public’s anger predates that. There’s the scandal uncovered in 2016 in which the bank’s employees had opened more than 3 million fake accounts under customers’ names in order to meet sales quotas. And the scandal uncovered in 2017, in which the bank was found to have charged hundreds of thousands of customers for auto insurance they did not want or need, which, the bank acknowledged, may have contributed to 20,000 people losing their cars to repossession.

While Wells Fargo has made many changes in response, there’s still reason for concern. As recently as Feb. 2, the Federal Reserve took the unprecedented step of restricting Wells Fargo’s growth until it “sufficiently improves its governance and controls.” A press release from the central bank cited the bank’s “recent and widespread consumer abuses and other compliance breakdowns by Wells Fargo” for refusing to let it expand its business.

The city council should also be troubled by this pattern. They should pay particular attention to Wells Fargo’s curious response to a direct question asking whether, in the previous five years, the company had to pay a fine, settlement or issue refunds; had been involved in civil or criminal actions or been the subject of significant regulatory action. Instead of mentioning the $142 million fund announced in July 2017 to settle a class-action lawsuit over the fake accounts, or mentioning the $100 million fine it paid to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in September 2017 or mentioning the $80 million refund pool set up in July 2017 for those charged due to the auto-insurance scandal or bringing up the many federal and state investigations into its activities, Wells Fargo claimed amnesia and dodged the question.

“The disclosure requested is extremely broad in scope, and, at any given time, an organization the size of Wells Fargo may be subject to the aforementioned actions, some or all of which may be confidential in nature. At this time, and to the best knowledge of the Wells Fargo representatives preparing this response, Wells Fargo has not been subject to any of the aforementioned actions within the past five years that would have a material adverse impact on our ability to provide the services requested in this RFP,” the company responded.

While Blade said company representatives addressed its business practices elsewhere and in follow-up interviews, Wells Fargo’s inability to give a forthright response should be of concern to the city when it looks for a business partner.

Few banks can claim a spotless record. Wells Fargo certainly isn’t the only company found to have engaged in fraudulent activity and abhorrent practices that bilked customers out of their money. And it would be unfair to assume the bank’s efforts to rebuild its image and the public’s trust are insincere.

But the bank simply should have to meet a stricter level of scrutiny in order to gain the city’s business. Thankfully, the City Council will have the opportunity to provide that.


East Oregonian, Feb. 26, on there being no excuse for former Gov. Kitzhaber:

Former Gov. John Kitzhaber and the state ethics commission agreed: He did not intend to break Oregon’s ethics laws.

But to quote a Latin maxim, “Ignorance of the law excuses no one.” And that is where Kitzhaber and the ethics commission disagree.

Kitzhaber may not have intended to use his official position to financially benefit himself or his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. But he did too little to prevent conflicts of interest — real or perceived. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission voted unanimously to accept 10 preliminary findings that he committed ethics violations.

Three years after Kitzhaber resigned as governor amid the ethics turmoil, other federal and state investigations have ended without charges. Instead, the controversy has come down to these 10 alleged civil violations. And even a commission investigator squirmed over one — whether Kitzhaber unwittingly benefited from frequent flier upgrades.

Most of the allegations revolve around Hayes’ unique position. This likely was the first time a first lady served as an official policy adviser to her partner, the Oregon governor. At the same time, she continued her private consulting work, often on the same issues as Kitzhaber was pursuing.

She erred by intertwining her roles. He erred by allowing that to happen, as he conceded to the ethics commission.

Kitzhaber’s contrition is belated but welcome. Still, he doesn’t seem to fully “get it.” Like many powerful people, he has fallen into the trough of certitude, believing his integrity invincible.

“I have withstood the scrutiny of eight elections and 26 years in public office and this is the first time that my integrity has ever been questioned,” he told the ethics commission. “I have certainly made my share of mistakes but using my office for the purpose of obtaining financial gain or avoiding financial detriment is not one of them.”

In the previous century, such certitude undermined another well-known Oregon politician — former governor and then-Sen. Mark O. Hatfield. He, too, initially treated allegations of ethical missteps — ones involving his wife’s business, his family finances and his acceptance of gifts — as unwarranted assaults on his character. He, too, later recognized his lapses in judgment and sought to make amends.

The Kitzhaber and Hatfield cases are not parallel in facts and magnitudes but in the mistaken faith in one’s ethical infallibility.

Kitzhaber’s transgression was not what he did. It was what he didn’t do: Establish and protect strong ethical walls separating his fiancée’s public and private roles.

That failure cost him his governorship.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, Feb. 26, on training, teamwork saving a life:

If you absolutely have to have a heart attack in the mid-valley, and can’t make the arrangements to have it occur in, say, the heart and vascular unit at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, you could do a lot worse than at Burcham’s Metals in Albany.

That’s the lesson a 52-year-old Albany man, Mike Murphy, learned in January when he collapsed in the buying yard of the scrap-metal business.

What happened after that was recounted last week in a riveting story by the Democrat-Herald’s Jennifer Moody. (Gazette-Times readers didn’t get a chance to see that story, but the online version of this editorial includes a link to it; the story is well worth your time.)

Murphy has been on medication for several years to help cope with atrial fibrillation. This is the first time, however, that his heart simply stopped.

When he collapsed just after 9 a.m. on Jan. 22, though, he immediately drew the attention of workers at Burcham’s. A little bit of luck was involved: One of the workers, Mike Davis, was working a forklift at the time and was in exactly the right place to see Murphy topple.

But a lot more than luck came into play after that. As it turns out, Jay Burcham, the owner of the business, is a stickler for making sure that all his employees are trained in emergency procedures. And this is real training, not the kind of PowerPoint pablum that passes for training at too many businesses these days: All of Burcham’s employees are trained, for example, in CPR and renew that training every two years. All of them know their jobs in case of emergency.

“We made that decision many years ago,” Burcham said. “You just stay on top of it.”

And “staying on top of it” is a good summary of what happened next at Burcham’s on the morning of Jan. 22.

Davis and Mitch Johnston, who also was working nearby, raced to Murphy’s aid and were by his side in seconds.

Murphy’s eyes were open and glazed and he wasn’t breathing. Johnston checked for a pulse in his neck and couldn’t find one, so he radioed the office to call 911.

Johnston started right in on CPR.

In the office, Angela Miller was making sure emergency responders were on their way. Then she left a message for Burcham, who was at a meeting and had silenced his phone, and called Murphy’s company to make sure his managers and family members were in the loop.

In the meantime, other Burcham’s employees sprang into action. Erik Roos went out to Pacific Boulevard to direct the Fire Department as personnel arrived. Davis and Mark Wagner got on forklifts to clear the area so paramedics would have easy access. Jay Poppleton ran for the automated external defibrillator.

Johnston later admitted worrying that he wasn’t doing a good enough job with his chest compressions, but not to worry: When paramedics arrived, they asked Johnston to resume his work so that they had time to set up their own defibrillator.

It took two shocks to restart Murphy’s heart, and another on the way to the hospital. He spent some time in the emergency room at Samaritan Albany General Hospital, then was transferred to cardiac care at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, where he remained for the next five days. The crew from Burcham’s visited him there.

“All these people are just amazing,” Murphy said. “My angels saved me.”

Angels who were well-trained in emergency procedures, because a manager thought that was important.

If other companies are interested in building the same kind of safety culture that’s in place at Burcham’s, the employees there will be happy to share their stories.

And if you need an endorsement that the safety training at Burcham’s is paying off, Mike Murphy will be more than happy to oblige.

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