Thursday, August 16, 2018

Independent candidate Mark Roberts makes national news.

How does the Oregon 2nd Congressional District candidate make the "big time" of national news?  

Answer: Call the First Lady a prostitute. 

Yes, Mark Roberts really did that.

Oregon's 2nd Congressional District Independent candidate made had a big media introduction to kick off the publicly visible part of his campaign. 

Getting noticed
Independent candidate Mark Roberts is on the ballot for the seat held by Greg Walden. He has a Democratic opponent Jamie McLeod-Skinner.  He won a place on the ballot by winning the uncontested Independent Party nomination.

Roberts-has some thought-out political positions which show up on his website, but he had not developed a visible campaign. There is no record of him having raised money.  Even with Google's help, I am aware of no campaign activity--except Twitter. He tweets.

That's about it. But recently that's enough.

He received national attention for his tweets in late July, when he said, "Did you know the First Lady works by the hour." with hashtags "think dirty" and "hoebag."

He made news, with stories on Fox, Newsweek, People Magazine, the New York papers, and more.
One tweet of several
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy asked the founder of Twitter to ban his account. The official spokesman for the First Lady called it "a pathetic attempt at getting himself in the news.

Roberts doubled down and defended himself, saying he was a victim of people who were trying to censor him. He has the First Amendment on his side, he said.

It got worse.

At least one of his critics was Jewish. Roberts' followup tweets included responses to her in which he made repeated references to her being Jewish. More controversy. Critics came to her defense and called his tweets flagrantly anti-Semitic. Roberts got written up and condemned in another set of national and international media outlets.

Roberts denied being anti-Semitic, saying he himself is Jewish..

Early in the campaign it seemed plausible that Roberts had the potential to affect the race. He calls himself an "independent conservative}" and could possibly have taken votes from Republicans discontented with Walden. Some 23% of Republican voters voted for alternative candidates, people who ran essentially no campaign. Theoretically, Roberts could have captured some of that conservative anti-Walden sentiment.

Or he could have taken votes from McLeod-Skinner. Perhaps she would have successfully made the case that Walden was not the "Good Old Greg" of the past, that he had joined the swamp--but the voter wanted an alternative other than her.

Roberts now seems less plausible as a candidate.

Defend, don't apologize
Candidates have one chance to make a first impression. Candidates are creating a brand, and once an idea gets into people's heads it is hard to change it. Roberts' tweets put him on the map with a brand. 

His brand: He is the guy who called Melania Trump a whore and defended himself by saying things widely described as anti-Semitic. 

It is possible this is a carefully thought out and intentional break-out move by Roberts, a way to become known quickly by saying shocking, controversial things that demand a response. It would be a "Hail Mary" move, to get famous and then pivot to serious issues against Walden.

This has worked for Trump. Be outrageous, be on TV, tell your story. Be the guy unafraid to offend. 

Or, possibly, Roberts thinks there is a significant anti-Melania vote out there. There was sharp anti-Hillary sentiment going back to her First Lady time. Or maybe he seeks the anti-Semitic vote--something which exists under the surface of American politics.

This could be strategy--courageous, and soon to be shown as cynical but effective.

Or, it could have been a very foolish, impulsive, rude series of tweets that will be an anchor on Roberts' political profile for the duration of the campaign and beyond.

I suspect the latter.

[A note on comments.  I am now moderating them to stop the anonymous trolling.]

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

McLeod-Skinner: "plucky, determined candidate."

Jamie McLeod-Skinner ambushed Greg Walden. She challenged him to hold some debates.

Wanting a debate 

Oregon's 2nd Congressional District may get finally get a face to face comparison between the candidates.

Bend Bulletin: "She did what a plucky, determined candidate should do."

Jamie McLeod-Skinner walked up to Greg Walden while he was stuck in a car at a parade in Joseph, Oregon and she challenged him to a debate. He said he would have his campaign look at it.

Her campaign said, "An incumbent who is proud of their record should not be hesitant to defend it in a debate."  Asked whether McLeod-Skinner has heard from Walden, her campaign answered, "nope."  Walden is getting editorial pressure to debate, Click. Bend newspaper, but debates create a dilemma for a candidate like Walden, so they may not happen.

He stopped doing town halls or other public appearances in the District. Too many of the wrong sort of people were showing up, people who opposed his efforts to end the ACA. The optics were of a congressman under siege by his voters. A debate would be formal and polite, but that, too, creates a problem. His work to abolish the ACA put him into conflict with what he had been saying in town halls about the Medicaid expansion that gave health insurance to the working poor and was a lifesaver for rural hospitals. Plus, he had spoken repeatedly about the need to protect people with pre-existing conditions. In Congress he helped lead the GOP caucus to abandon those positions. There is a record to defend.

A debate leaves him open to someone directly confronting him: You abandoned your principles. Worse, you abandoned your District. 

Debates put candidates side to side as peers. Voters can comparison-shop. A powerful incumbent would want to be understood as a giant surrounded by trivial aspirants, not peers. McLeod-Skinner will be hugely outspent and in an advertising war that image of big vs. small is confirmed. But in person she presents as a person of significance, a smart, knowledgeable candidate. She looks determined. She sounds certain. She speaks forcefully. She seems authentically District-based. She has popular issues--health access, pre-existing conditions, the Tax Bill, Klamath water, and The Swamp. She isn't a trivial aspirant.

And Walden is vulnerable.

She has an overarching story to tell that rings true to many people because it fits what is well known and undeniable:: Walden has become a big shot in DC.  The question is whether he has been thoroughly captured by The Swamp. She says he has been, and makes his seniority and campaign donations a negative. Nice guy went bad. Power corrupts. He represents big pharma, not Medford.  He represents Comcast, not Bend. He represents health insurers, not Pendleton.

Walden, in his ads, tells the different story. Same old Greg Walden, concerned about veterans and opioids.

 No one confronts him in the ads. A debate is different. 

The League of Women Voters has sent invitations for debates to the three candidates in the race. In addition to McLeod-Skinner and Greg Walden, an Independent Party candidate will be on the ballot. Their invitation said they wanted an "impartial debate, to educate voters about the candidates' views on issues and to stimulate voter interest and participation in the election."  

The invitation letter said that to be eligible candidates would need to meet objective criteria to show they were a credible candidate, via being on the ballot, having campaign staff, having a media presence with position papers and campaign appearances. Walden and McLeod-Skinner have active campaigns.  I have seen no published information on whether Independent Party candidate meets their standards. His campaign Facebook page is dormant. A Google search reveals no campaign speeches or activity. The website has no information him, which implies either that he has not raised or spent money or that he has not filed required reports. Not a good sign.

The League of Women Voters criteria were created to give them a basis for excluding nuisance or vanity candidates. The presence of the Independent in the debate might be a significant benefit to Walden. He would be able to group McLeod-Skinner in with the Independent candidate and act dismissively about the whole assembly of opposition.

McLeod-Skinner's best shot would be a two person debate. But Walden is a thorough professional and he understands the optics and risks. His best approach may be to beg off, or perhaps to agree to a debate only on the condition that the Independent candidate be involved, to complicate the event if it takes place.

Walden can avoid a debate without looking absent. We hear him on the radio, advertising heavily. "This is Greg Walden and I approved this ad."  It isn't a debate.

Tomorrow: a closer look at the Independent candidate. He has been making national news. 

[A note on comments. I am now moderating comments. Too many people were posting anonymously, including Curt Ankerberg who submitted disruptive trolling wisecracks.  I urge people who wish to comment to own their own comments by signing them.]

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Dark side of "Medicare for All"

The Washington Post headlined nonvoters elected Trump.  

It's the turnout, stupid.

There is a simple solution, right? Have a message that excites current nonvoters, like "Medicare For All."

Watch out. The message motivates the old white folks who do vote. They lose their special status.

The Pew Trust sponsored a careful examination of who voted and who didn't. The Washington Post reported on it: Click: Washington Post   Here is the link to the whole survey Click: Pew Survey

Their data confirm what we probably guessed all along. The people who turn out to vote skews old, white, educated, and not being in poverty.

Old people (like me) and white people punch above their weight. In 2016 voting, 27% of the voters who actually voted were over age 65 and 74% of the people who actually voted were white. Hillary's coalition of the oppressed ethnicities--black and Latinos--didn't turn out as well. 
Seniors vote.

The Pew data buttresses an idea that is going around within Democratic thinking: get a clearer message, one that gives black, brown, and working class white men a reason to vote Democratic. One of those ideas is "Medicare For All." It is income re-distribution, and it is a tangible benefit for the young, the working poor, the struggling middle class, and it addresses the growing "gig economy."

Sounds good, right? 

It is just what this blog has suggested in message simplicity and clarity. It just expands a familiar and popular program. The idea can be uttered in three words. 

So what's the problem? As we saw, old people vote.

"Medicare For All" takes something from seniors. People with Medicare have the equivalent of "elite status" on an airline. They have something special and there is nothing "special" if it is shared with everyone. Medicare recipients understand that they earned this special status by paying for it and by getting old.

Trump understands voter psychology of a zero sum world of winners and losers, and the resentment people feel about loss. It is a general Trump theme. If they win, you lose.

Trump implies there are only so many jobs, and immigrants take them away. In the zero sum mindset, America is a crowded lifeboat and immigrants are swamping the boat. American citizenship is special, and immigration devalues it, in that zero sum mindset. "Medicare For All" is another iteration of this idea.

People hate to lose things. Loss is experienced more vividly than gain. (I have 30 years experience as a financial advisor. I know this. People like gain, but they hate loss more. In my experience, about five times as much.)

Bottom line: For many seniors, Medicare For All does not feel like "fairness."  It feels like loss. Imagine yourself to be a United Airlines Gold Status traveler, who gets priority boarding and free luggage and the Exit Row, and the occasional free upgrade to Business, earned by having travelled for 100,000 miles. You now learn that, due to agitation by bargain travelers or maybe the courts, United Airlines announces that in the interest of fairness and equality, and a philosophy of giving special affirmative advantage to the less privileged, everyone gets priority everything. The airline doesn't say they are canceling Gold Status. They just now say everyone gets it, so now everyone boards at the same time, and everyone gets equal shot at the upgrades, and free baggage is now included in the higher ticket cost..

How would you feel?

Resentful, maybe? Cheated?  And maybe open to the idea that United Airlines should be "great again", and give the people who earned special status their special status back? After all, we played by the rules of the game, and now they want to cheapen the specialness by giving it to everyone.

Democrats need to understand and integrate this mindset into their messaging on "Medicare For All." Equal Medicare isn't fair and good, in the eyes of many seniors. It feels like a loss. Democratic policy and messaging can expand health care, but policy and message needs to communicate that seniors still get special something. Otherwise, the message will backfire politically.

Democrats would ignore this at their peril. After all, gain is less motivating than loss. Young people have something to gain and seniors have something to lose. And seniors vote. 

[A note on comments. This blog gets too many anonymous comments, including ones from Curt Ankerberg and others that are just nasty potshots and do not contribute to reasonable dialog.
I am going to moderate comments again. If you comment expect a couple hour delay in it being posted.  I urge two things: 1. sign your name. 2. if Curt Ankerberg or others want to make sharp witted troll comments, then get your own blog and do it there.]

Monday, August 13, 2018

Franklin Graham Weaponizes Prayer

Franklin Graham prays at Governor Kate Brown: Hardball politics, and a tax deduction, too.

"Let's pray for your governor, Governor Brown. Wouldn't it be something if she got saved? Amen."

                                                Franklin Graham, Clackamas County Fairgrounds

Franklin Graham asks 12,000 people to pray for Governor Kate Brown. "We pray for Kate Brown. And Lord, I pray that she would come to know your son Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior one day. . . . If the church went to the polls and voted, you could turn this state around. The enemy out there thinks the church is asleep."

He knew exactly what he was doing: pointing out and condemning Kate Brown and trying to shame her as a Christ-less lost soul, while pretending to care for her. If her spiritual life were his real concern, he would have talked with her directly, in private, not describe the state of her soul to 12,000 people at a rally.

Beating politicians at their own game. It is wink-wink politics. He can pretend to be the good guy, sincerely concerned about Kate Brown, but everyone understands the game. 

Some Christians may think it cheapens their faith to have talk of salvation and prayer be used as a weapon of negative campaigning and tribe building, but others won't care. There are no news reports of people among the 12,000 objecting. He is drawing lines in the sand, separating the sheep from the goats, the saved from the sinners, just the way God is described doing in Matthew 25. Franklin Graham is stepping in for God, defining her as a sinful goat.

Graham points his finger .Look at her, just look at her, one of the goats.

Four days ago former County Commissioner Tam Moore wrote in this blog about the takeover of the Oregon GOP by Bend preacher Walter Hess. The Party went from Main Street conservative to Christian-values populist. That change ended Tam Moore's political career as a Republican. He was defeated in the GOP primary by Donald Schofield, who presented a friendlier face to the evangelical Christians in ascendancy.

Moore's reflections quoted the Washington Post:  'Whether Huss is the wave of the GOP future, or as his critics believe, the voice of a hate-filled past, his victory represents one of the striking triumphs of evangelical religious participation in organizational politics. . . . Huss and his followers simply beat the politicians at their own game."

Franklin Graham is gaming the political system, cleverly, beating politicians at their own game. 

Issue information ads.  Readers have seen ad messages that go something ike this: "Congressman John Doe voted 'no' on a bill that put the interests of the Spotted Grouse ahead of our need for a pipeline that would create hundreds of new jobs for our community. This is an outrage. Call Congressman Doe and tell him to stop standing in the way of a strong economy."  The ad would conclude with a disclaimer, "This ad brought to you by Citizens for Jobs, who want you to know the facts about the pipeline and Congressman Doe."

Of course, such an ad would be, in fact, a flagrant political ad, but it employs a legal fiction. It did not explicitly tell voters to vote against John Doe. It pretends to be "informational." The hypothetical Citizens for Jobs organization would be a 501-c-4 organization, one free to do advocacy, and it is able to get money transferred to it from 501-c-3 tax deductible organizations like bone fide charities. Tax deductible money slides into political advocacy, hidden by the fig leaf that the ad is information from a church or charity, not an inducement to vote a certain way.

Franklin Graham is doing an attack ad from the pulpit, while pretending to be an act of religious kindness. In God's absence, he presumes to know God's intention and grace, he identifies an un-redeemed sinner, the Democratic Governor. 

See? Aren't I a wonderful man? I am praying for this sinner, not criticizing her. She is outside God's grace, oh how sad. I am not attacking her, I am praying for her. 

We get it., Reverend Graham. We see what you are doing.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Job of County Commissioner: Jeff Golden Reports

What does a county commissioner do?

Another in a series of reflections by former Jackson County Commissioners.

It isn't all accolades and victory parties. 

People who agree with a County Commissioner think he or she is simply doing the obvious, reasonable thing. There is no credit for that. However, people who disagree with the commissioner consider the person foolish or corrupt or politically extreme. How else could their decisions possibly be so unfair and wrong? 
Jeff Golden: November, 1986 clipping.

 As a commissioner I learned that people want county services, but they voted against taxing themselves to pay for them. I learned people wanted clean air, but they voted against a program to make people drive clean cars. I learned people have contradictory ideas on the value of their homes, thinking it worth a lot for the purposes of ownership or sale, but put a much lower value for the purposes of tax assessment. Same house, different mindset.

I was elected 6 years prior to Jeff Golden, and was out of office when he served. He got caught by two of the great hazards I had mentioned yesterday, hazards that could change everything for a commissioner.  One is a change in federal law--in his case in the form of regulations for protecting the spotted owl. The other is when a citizen group gets riled up. 

He had them both at the same time.

I remember reading the news at the time. Jeff Golden had used the forbidden words: "worker retraining."  Those were fighting words to some members of the political community, proof that he had given up on defending the status quo of federal timber policy. Jeff Golden was early to the new-normal of lower timber harvests. His words may have been thought reasonable and forward-thinking in the halls of Congress, where forest policy is created, but for a County Commissioner in a timber-dependent O&C county, he was thought a defeatist. 

It is dangerous to see the future before others see it.

Public TV show
Jeff Golden has stayed active in public life, having run for State Senate against Lenn Hannon, having been a radio talk show host on Jefferson Public Radio, and serving as the producer and host of the Public TV show Immense Possibilities. He is currently the Democratic nominee for State Senate on the ballot for this coming November.

Here is Jeff Golden's description of the crisis in timber policy, and his 4 years at the Courthouse:

Jeff Golden remembers: 

 Rules Changing Fast

I remember a photo that ran in newspapers across the country in the first week of May, 1989. I think I saw it in the front section of the New York Times.  It showed a plaid-shirted guy wearing a ball cap with a foot and a half of stuffed owl attached to the top. An arrow ran through the owl’s head.  

The picture had been taken the night before in the balcony of the auditorium in what’s now the Central High Auditorium in Medford, Oregon. The dead-owl guy was one of thousands of timber workers there for a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners.  Below and few hundred feet in front of him, I sat on the stage in between Commissioners Hank Henry and Sue Kupillas, trying to keep enough order for the 50-some people who had signed up to comment to be heard. 

At issue was which of two formal resolutions the Board should approve and send to Congress. Both said that the recent listing of the Spotted Owl as an endangered species, which reduced the massive flow of logs harvested from federal forestlands to a trickle, was plunging Jackson County into a world of hurt: massive job losses, mill cutbacks and closures, bankruptcies of small timber-related businesses, the slashing of federal timber receipts that the county relied on to support basic services.  

From there the two versions diverged. Version 1 called on Congress to end this nonsense fomented by environmental crazies, so we could go back to what we did best: cutting and milling trees to supply the world with lumber and plywood. Version 2 recognized that the harvest rate of recent years would strip our landscape and impoverish our people before long, that as much as we might want otherwise, the 1990s and 2000s would not be like the 1970s. This version called on Congress to help re-tool mills for smaller-diameter logs and help train workers to find other ways to support their families.

Newspaper clipping. Sometimes the headlines are good.
It was a tough meeting to run. Those speaking up for Version 1 set off loud cheers and foot-stomping. Those who liked #2 were booed almost to silence.  A small group of well-respected locals—I remember Mike Burrill of Burrill Lumber among them—paced the aisles to keep violence from breaking out.

We got out that night in one piece, but the community was broken. People were angry and scared, and it wasn’t a great time for seeing, or even being curious about, the other side’s point of view.  Almost overnight, the rules on logging had completely changed, and most of us who believed they needed to change didn’t think very much about the violent way people living by those old rules had had the rug pulled out from under them.

Rules Changing Fast would have been a good title for my term in the Courthouse (1987-1991).  The County’s population doubled between 1960 (74,000 people) and 1990 (147,000) as the state’s grew from 1,770,000 to 2,860,000. The flood of newcomers triggered regulations that were new and not real appealing to longtime Oregonians.  

Beyond the timber restrictions: 

   ***New rules limited  what rural landowners could do, County commissioners, sitting as a kind of land-use court, had the opportunity to enrage either a property owner or his complaining neighbors almost every week,

   ***How people could use their woodstoves on days of stagnant air. We enacted the country’s first woodstove curtailment ordinance, roughly as popular with some people as a gun confiscation law would have been.

   ***The gasses our cars and trucks could put in the air. The state of Oregon state began requiring Rogue Valley and Portland vehicles to pass tailpipe tests just before I took office,

What did all that feel like to people who had been here a while?  I started wondering that as a river guide, before my commissioner days. When Californians discovered the lower Rogue River in the 1970s, the rules changed. Local folks who’d grown up floating the river every summer were suddenly told they couldn’t, unless they won a permit in a competitive lottery.  

All to accommodate a massive inflow of new Oregonians they didn’t especially want in the first place. 

That was the flavor of mid-‘80s Jackson County. Is it very different today? I’m not sure.  

What I know is that commissioners have a tough job, and that doing it well takes enough patience to hear and care about concerns of vastly different people, and enough courage to stray now and then from your home base.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Job of County Commissioner: Peter Sage reports

What does a county commissioner do?

Another in a series of reflections by former Jackson County Commissioners.

I won anyway.
I was elected Jackson County Commissioner in November of 1980, notwithstanding the Reagan landslide in Jackson County. I served one term, then decided that politics was interesting and important work, but a bad career. I figured that the opportunities for advancement were blocked, and that my prospects for a long stay as commissioner were unlikely. I left the political world for the financial world.

How did a poverty-stricken 31 year old melon farmer win election against a sixty year old well-respected Republican attorney, who had statewide recognition as an expert on the laws regarding special districts, a man of prominence who had been president of the Chamber of Commerce?  He had TV ads from labor union and Chamber of Commerce spokesmen saying he was their choice. I ran ads saying I was staying clear of the special interests. I got lucky. He thought the issue was experience and credibility with influential people. I made the election about which of us was in the swamp. 

Commissioner Workday. It was a full time job for me. The job of a commissioner is to get people to work together toward consensus. It works better and faster when you are in the room.  

What did I do every day?  I went to meetings. 

I would listen to what was going on, explain or represent the county's interests. I would prepare for the meetings by reading board packets of staff reports and evidence. Then, at Commissioner meetings, we would talk, find agreement, and vote our decisions.

During my term of office I worked about 40-45 hours a week, working daytimes, but then there were one or two night meetings every week, plus occasionally things on weekends. The hours are flexible, and the meetings are in the courthouse and out of the office. Breakfast meetings. Lunch meetings. Night meetings. To do the job correctly meant attending the various advisory committee meetings of citizens who were involved with libraries, with planning issues, with the Historical Society, the Health Department, the Airport and every other department, and then the 13 cities in the county. There were three or four meetings every day. 

Meetings generated the need for more meetings. "Peter, I need you to talk with _______."

The Board chairman had additional duties sitting as a member of the Board of Equalization and I was chairman in 1982 and the first half of 1983. The Board of Equalization reviews appeals to your tax assessment. (If the Assessment and Taxation Department said your house was worth $100,000--a very nice house back in the early 1980s--but you thought it should only be assessed at $85,000, a taxpayer has a right to show evidence why $85,000 was more accurate than $100,000. The citizen taxpayer gets his "day in court." We needed to be polite and attentive and give honest consideration to the evidence they supplied. This isn't "efficient" government, but it is responsive, responsible government. We thought the taxpayer had the right to look the top elected official in the eye. I heard fifty or so appeals a day for about twenty days, on top of the other Commissioner duties. Those were long, long days.

A high energy person could be an active, involved County Commissioner plus have something else going. A farm. A business. A medical practice. But it means doing less, attending fewer meetings, delegating more. My obversaiton at the time was that the public needed more Commissioner interaction, not less.  I exhausted myself going to meetings.

Anyhow, that is how I did it.


Land Use. We downzoned the rural lands. Lots of people were unhappy. The great issue facing the county was that the county was "out of compliance" with the state land use planning directive to protect the forest and agricultural resource. Rural land in Jackson County had widespread areas zoned available to be divided into 5 acre parcels. The State of Oregon said no. They stopped all land divisions and building permits, pending creation of a new zoning map, one which preserved "resource land", in large enough blocks that they could be used as commercial farmland, not just suburban homesites. 

The resolution we adopted in the omnibus land use ordinance of 1982 was large forest and and farm minimum lot sizes. The county ordinance essentially stopped allowing farm land to be divided, and made it difficult for new dwellings to be built. This reduced the value of the property dramatically, plus it complicated estate planning for homeowners who had planned to divide their property between their children. I got lots of nasty letters and threats of recall. 

Table Rock area farmland
Some public meetings were brutal. Don't you know what you are doing to the value of my land, they asked?

We did, but the state policy directive was clear: we had to protect the land, not its market value.

At the time we realized we were protecting as "farm land" bare hillsides with thin soils that had never been farmed--poison oak and star thistle and maybe some occasional grazing of cattle in the spring. The county's position seemed indefensible. Those bare hillsides are farmland? The soil tests said yes, but past practice said no. Now, 35 years later, it turns out that that land does have farm value, as vineyards. Who knew?

Air quality. Back then cars polluted more than they do now. Today, with computerized fuel systems the cars won't run at all unless they are pretty efficient, but back then badly tuned cars were a real problem. Our summer air was worse than Los Angeles', with ozone pollution. Medford was famous for its bad air. In the winter we had pollution from the local mills mixing with the fog. People living near mills on the edge of town would scrape off a quarter inch of soggy ash from their cars every morning. The commissioners were required to facilitate the state setting up the auto inspection station, now on Biddle Road. The commissioners had multiple meetings explaining the health risks of pollution, the economic development problems, the reputation problems, but the public did not want the bother. We held an advisory vote and it lost three to one. The State lost patience with us and did it on their own.

Meanwhile, the mills said that the cost of putting scrubbers on their emissions would put them out of business. Those are jobs you smell.

Bottom line: I left office with the air as bad as when I arrived.

Financial Crisis and layoffs. The county got its general fund money from its share of the proceeds of the sale of federal timberlands on BLM and Forest Service lands. In 1980-1983 the Federal Reserve under both Presidents Carter and Reagan pushed interest rates up to 20%. The economy collapsed, but so did inflation expectations, so the policy worked, but at a cost. New homebuilding stopped. No one harvested trees. The Jackson County receipts fell from some $20 million down to $6 million.  We had just over 1,000 employees in 1981 but laid off over half of them, and had 490 in 1983. The only programs that stayed intact were the ones that had their own fees for income, for example the Clerk's office fee for recording deeds. New fees were unpopular and visible.

It used to be free. 
Until then parking at the airport was free. We established fees for parking. That was visible and unpopular. We put new fees on dog licenses and talked about fees for cats, but decided it was impossible. We planned to put fees on hikers who got lost and required expensive Search and Rescue teams to find them, but relented when the S&R people said that it would cause people to delay calling them, thus making the search harder and more dangerous.

If we could put a fee on it, we did. All that was unpopular. 

We had 6 sheriff deputies for the entire county--and remember they are a 24-7 operation, which meant we had one deputy on duty at any one time. The commissioners advanced an emergency tax levy to fill the gap, with a little funding for every department. It failed. The sheriff deputies responded by sponsoring an emergency tax levy plan of their own, with all the money to go for deputy sheriffs, with a campaign built around the slogan "let's show those stupid commissioners that what the public really wants are more deputies and nothing else." It failed, too.

By 1984 we were coming out of the homebuilding recession and people began cutting timber again, and timber receipts improved and we began slowly re-hiring. The crisis was unexpected and deep, but the county lived through it.

Summary: Unexpected change, unexpected consequences. The commissioners will face problems that may barely be imagined during their campaigns, because the problems will jump up out of apparent nowhere. A change in federal or state law may change all assumptions. An earthquake, a giant fire, a big accident on the viaduct that damages it, new laws regarding marijuana, a grape vine virus, a recession, a return of inflation, a public health emergency, a change in labor laws, a rebellion by voters over something, a court case decision regarding zoning--any of those could dramatically change what is on the plate of the county commissioners.

And, of course, the decisions they make have long consequences. The county established a defined pension program during my term of office. The county kept plugging away at developing the Greenway, which is both a boon and a source of problems. The zoning decisions have consequences for generations. The jail, once built, is there for decades. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

The job of County Commissioner: Tam Moore reports.

What does a county commissioner do?

First in a series of reflections by former Jackson County Commissioners.

Commissioners go to meetings. They gather opinions from people and groups. They explain procedures to people. They make decisions.
Tam Moore, journalist, 2012

They oversee planning and development of rural lands. They oversee county roads and bridges. They provide a budget and facilities for the Sheriff patrols and jail, for the assessment and taxation function, for the clerk's functions, the District Attorney and the court system, for surveys and ground water control. They oversee animal control, the airport, restaurant inspections, public health and communicable diseases, mental health, a parks system, and the Expo.

If a dog barks anywhere in the county, it's a county problem. If a teenager breaks a window, it's a county problem. If someone gets lost in the woods near Howard Prairie, it's a county problem.

And in the news now, when the jail is too small, it's a big, expensive county problem.

In 1975, when Tam Moore took office, county commissioners weren't thinking about commercial marijuana grow sites. The new jail they were planning seemed plenty large. The county had what people thought was an ample and reliable source of county income, revenue from timber being cut on federal forests. We had county government without having to levy taxes. What a deal, we thought.

Things change, and decisions commissioners make have long-lasting consequences. That is the point of this series.

Many of the people who saw the changes are still around. Tam Moore was a newsman at KOBI, then a County Commissioner, and then, once again, a journalist. He lives in Medford.

Tam Moore Reports:

"There was one of those 'ah ha' moments a couple of weeks ago when I read in this blog of turmoil in the local Democratic Central Committee. My mind went back to the Republican Party locally, at the state level, and nationally. 

After serving six years of active duty in the army--my last tour was Vietnam in 1967-- I rejoined California Oregon Broadcasting at the Medford TV station, KOBI. We had a full-time news staff of four, Max Chapman, Tam Moore, John Darling, and Anne Batzer. You had to be a jack of all trades.

KOBI news crew
At the local level, conservative evangelicals, led by the trumpet-cry of Walter Huss, a fundamentalist preacher from Bend, were organizing to take over county precinct committees, much to the consternation of the local moderates who 
represented Jackson County's establishment. The Huss take-over succeeded in the summer of 1977; he became chair of the state GOP. 

Those were the times Watergate unfolded, culminating in President Nixon announcing his resignation in a 1974 summer-time TV speech. I was holding a campaign fundraiser at Dave Lowry's home at the very same time. Not a soul except my campaign workers turned up. Everyone else stayed home to watch Nixon.

Voters in Jackson County elected me commissioner in November, 1974. I served from 1975 through 1978, defeated in the Republican primary that year. I found my experience as a news reporter, and the strategic thinking learned through military duty, invaluable in my four years on the Board, including two as Chairman.

This was the time of the Great Inflation of the 1970s. In one 18-month period stocks lost 40 percent of their value. Jobless rates were in double-digits. We joined with Josephine County to create the Job Council, an agency doing retraining and local job development using CETA (federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) funds. State law had sanctioned collective bargaining for public employees. We scrambled to make three-year contracts with the fledging county unions to control spiraling payroll costs.

Rogue Valley Transportation District formed in 1975, replacing a cobbled-together public transportation system growing out of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. It would be 1977 before they put a couple of vans on the road. It was the May election in 2016 when district voters finally approved a local tax levy most of us had rejected time and again over the decades.

One of the blessings of country finances in the 1970s was the ever-increasing flow of money shared by the federal government, fueled by timber sale receipts from federal timberlands within the county--O & C funds.

**It gave the Road Department funds to do significant work on the near 1,000-mile network of county roads, with emphasis on replacing aging bridges and improving roads getting heavy haul traffic from logging in the uplands.

**It made possible the consolidation of a county-wide library system, which stayed open in the Recession of the 1980s with only two remaining employees and the dedication of several hundred volunteers.

**It funded a network of county parks and boat access points to waterways, and assumed the City of Medford's debt and title to what is now the Jackson County Airport.

**It paid for the first county-wide land use plan created following state land-use goals adopted in 1975, including setting the first city urban growth boundaries. It kept the Assessor's office staffed, it put sheriff's deputies on the road, and it allowed the county to pick up part of the taxes levied by local school districts.

But most of all, that inflow of money made property taxes among the lowest in Oregon, while the Board and citizen advisory groups laid the groundwork for a new Justice Building and county jail. High interest rates earned by funds set aside for future building construction paid professional fees for the design of both buildings. The Justice Building was all but finished when I left office in January 1979. The jail, now termed grossly inadequate, began receiving inmates in 1981.

Tam Moore, writing for the Capital Press
Things were bad in the old jail on the top floor of our 1932 courthouse. A grand jury investigation during my tenure found we had fewer square feet per jail inmate than the minimum specified for each dog in state licensed commercial kennels.

In 1970 county population was 94,500, but despite high unemployment in the decade population neared 132,500 by 1980. The 2010 Census puts our population at 218,500. County voters approved a Home Rule Charter in May, 1978, creating the foundation for the government we know today. The charter has served us well.

Now, how do we deal with the political turmoil created by our own times. What is our political game?

When Walter Huss took over the Oregon GOP in 1977, the Washington Post observed 'Whether Huss is the wave of the GOP future, or as his critics believe, the voice of a hate-filled past, his victory represents one of the striking triumphs of evangelical religious participation in organizational politics. . . . Huss and his followers simply beat the politicians at their own game.'"