23 Feb

A swearing-in that just wants to return to normal

SALEM – This time, no procession.

The installation of an Oregon governor is a ceremonial occasion, with the Senate formally welcomed to the House chamber and the state’s high-level judges, statewide elected officials, former governors and ultimately the incoming executive himself (or, sometimes, herself) escorted down the House aisle by a legislative honor guard. For the last inaugural – exactly, and unbelievably, just five weeks ago – John Kitzhaber’s ceremony had everything but apes and peacocks.

Wednesday, Kate Brown’s inauguration had none of that. What it had was a pervasive sense of relief, swirling around the Capitol like a sunrise.

Last month, Kitzhaber delivered a lengthy, eloquent inaugural address, deep with vision and policy objectives. Kate Brown offered a much briefer message, less about a distant horizon to be imagined, more about land mines to be avoided – many of them exploding over the past weeks, others going off that very morning.

“I pledge to you today that for as long as I am your governor, I will not seek or accept any outside compensation, from any source,” Brown declared, speaking to the circumstances that had just made her governor. “And I pledge further that while I am governor, the members of my household and the members of my staff will not seek or accept any outside compensation, from any source, for any work related to the business of the state of Oregon.”

Brown’s pledge was underlined by the appearance of Willamette Week story that morning, revealing emails from Kitzhaber showing him trying to limit an ethics investigation and from his companion Cylvia Hayes laying plans to maximize her public and private income from Kitzhaber’s fourth term.

“Oregon has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons,” said Brown in her brief remarks, and the press gallery was jammed in a way none of the more elaborate ceremonies were able to draw, jammed with high-tech cameras and out-of-state notebooks.

To the national media, the story was about a governor’s sudden collapse, or the first U.S. governor with a bisexual background – a point that House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, also made in her congratulatory statement. In Oregon, it was about what seemed a Capitol-wide effort to reclaim credibility for state government, including what may be the first governor’s inaugural address to stress a faster response to Freedom of Information requests.

“You heard her talk a lot about what I’ve been saying about transparency,” said Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, after the ceremony. Moreover, “She came to my district to talk about it, to a little coffee shop in West Linn. She didn’t have to do that.”

It was a moment when everyone was reaching for a bipartisan moment – after saying he would skip the ceremony, Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, agreed to attend, although he insisted he wasn’t endorsing anything Democratic. Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, recalled working with Brown to organize the 15-15 Senate in 2003, and expressed confidence in being able to work with Brown again.

The installation of the second woman governor of Oregon seemed to set off a bipartisan stir among legislative women. “Look at all the women in state leadership,” said Rep. Jennifer Wlliamson, D-Portland, a list that now includes the governor, the attorney general, the House speaker and the majority leaders of both houses. Nobody knows if this arrangement will produce any greater cooperation, but people were eager to look for some anywhere.

A range of crosscurrents cut through the Capitol Wednesday. Unlike the typical pattern, the new governor was arriving in the midst of a legislative session, with bills and the budget already advancing, and the new Gov. Brown trying to jump onto a streetcar already speeding along. The building had all the ingredients of a hyperpoliticized feel; Brown would have to file for election just one year and one month after taking office, and run again two years after that. With the next open governor’s election suddenly receding from 2018 to 2022, other hopefuls might run out of patience.

But the hope at the Capitol Wednesday was that Oregon politics could now somehow return to something that could qualify as ordinary, even if ordinary included Democrats and Republicans calling each other names and Democrats elbowing each other on the way to a primary. That included the hope that a governor who knows state government but has an ordinary domestic relationship, with someone completely unconnected with state government, might get us there.

At Wednesday’s installation, even the benediction was shorter.

And hopefully, not as badly needed.

NOTE: Thisa column appeared in the Sunday Ore4gonian, 2/22/15.

23 Feb

Brown, urban Dem, needs to hear some country

Like any new governor, Kate Brown’s first assignment is to reach out.

In this case, out from Salem, out from Portland.

For decades, there’s been a widening gap between metropolitan Portland and the rest of the state, a gap intensified by economic recovery in Portland and persistent recession elsewhere. Rural resentment has been strengthened by so much of the state’s elected leadership coming from Portland.

John Kitzhaber, with his Roseburg roots and his cowboy boots, could cover some of that distance. Kate Brown, from inner southeast Portland and a former Democratic party leader in the state Senate, will have to try a little harder.

Especially after the legislature finishes, that will require her being a physical presence around the state, in Grants Pass and Prineville and Pendleton. In this session, it means reaching out to and working with the legislators from those areas, almost all Republicans.

That means looking out for economic development opportunities for rural areas. If there’s a transportation package, it has to include the concerns of Eastern and Southern Oregon. In higher education, it means concern for the regional universities in Klamath Falls, Ashland, Monmouth and La Grande.

Kate Brown can do all this. And now that she’s governor of the entire state, she’ll have to.

NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV, 2/21/15.

23 Feb

Linking urban, rural Oregon a Pearl of an idea

Among all the unfathomable aspects of the past week in Oregon, leading to Wednesday’s installation of a new governor, one seemed particularly striking.

With a Democratic governor badly wounded, Republicans did not lead the call for his finish. In fact, they seemed reluctant to see it happen.
Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, originally suggested he could not attend Kate Brown’s swearing-in. House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Prineville, mourned the “good working relationship” Republicans had with the departing John Kitzhaber, and McLane said the governor had deserved to make his own decision on leaving.

He expressed concern about Brown and “Portland’s left, or liberal, interests,” and warned, “Oregon needs to be served by folks who have all of our interests at heart, not simply who attends the best restaurants in the Pearl District.”

Disgruntlement from rural Oregon is understandable; at the moment, both U.S. senators, the governor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general are all Portland Democrats, giving the state leadership about the same diversity as the Portland City Council.

Since 1987, every Oregon governor has had a Portland voting address.
But Kitzhaber, although currently a Portlander who chose to commute from Portland to Salem rather than live in the governor’s mansion, did represent Roseburg in the legislature for 16 years. He retained and cultivated timber connections, and an interest in fishing and belt buckles not universal in Northwest Portland. Republicans don’t see that connection with Brown, who lives in the inner eastside Portland area known to political consultants as the Kremlin.

But whatever the politics of Happy Hour in the Pearl, it’s a mistake to divide Oregonians into the people who grow food and the people who eat it.

Food, in fact, is becoming an increasingly important connective tendon across an Oregon urban-rural gap that’s been widening for 30 years. Portland’s food world, far from a dismissal of the rest of the state, actually looks outward toward it.

If Oregon’s elected leadership were as widely regionally sourced as Portland menus, rural Oregon might feel less alienated from developments in the state Capitol.

(Nor is this just a question of Portland, let alone the Pearl. In Bend, right next to McLane’s Prineville district, restaurant people would bridle at the idea that all of Oregon’s elevated Northwest cuisine is served within a fork’s throw of light rail.)

The Pearl may not be anybody’s idea of a direct pipeline to rural Oregon. But the Carman Ranch beef at Park Kitchen, the Draper Valley chicken at Irving Street Kitchen, the Oregon cheeses on the list at Bluehour and the Columbia Valley fruits marking each dessert chef’s nightly special all represent the kinds of interconnections useful in state government. The rising tide of Oregon wines, which hardly ever come from vineyards next door to gelato shops, reflect a whole additional set of ties to other parts of the state.

The links go back a long ways, symbolized by chef Greg Higgins, back when he was at the Heathman Hotel in the 1980s, establishing his own connections to farmers and listing the farms on his menu. (At his own restaurant, Higgins has become a national spokesman for farm-to-fork.) Now, diners in the Pearl and lots of other places expect their menus to include the arugula’s home address.

And restaurants, in Northwest Portland or elsewhere, are just a part of the connection. The explosion of farmer’s markets, not just dozens in the Portland area but all around the state, has provided a new visibility and even some income to people who don’t live inside Urban Growth Boundaries.

The prospect for this link are becoming only more promising. The projected James Beard Public Market on Portland’s riverfront, according to executive director Ron Paul, would create 200 jobs in Portland and 100 in rural Oregon. It’s not exactly a replacement for the timber industry, but it represents a powerful commonality of interest that should – but doesn’t always – connect the Pearl and Prineville.

Nobody thinks it’s the entire economic destiny of rural Oregon to pump produce to Portland. But there is an increasing connection across the state, built of Carlton pork belly and Bendistillery gin, that can be harder to find in the building where voters send legislators to try to work together.

It might even make more sense, as a statewide unifying event, if a legislative opening or governor’s swearing-in were marked less by speeches than by a dinner.

Maybe even a dinner in the Pearl.

As Rodney King didn’t quite say, can’t we all just order from the same menu?

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 2/18/15.