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Oregon editorial roundup

By Victoria Advocate
Oct. 5, 2010 at 5:05 a.m.


The Oregonian on how each gubernatorial candidate has yet to show how to help Oregon's public schools:

Oct. 3

Oregonians cannot pick their next governor on the basis of which candidate is most committed to public education. On that score, there's not a dime's worth of difference between Chris Dudley and John Kitzhaber.

They both have parents and other family members who spent their lives as teachers. They both understand that the economic hopes and dreams of Oregonians ride on more available early childhood education, more effective schools and more accessible colleges and universities. They both are "education candidates," in the best sense of that political label.

In lengthy interviews with members of The Oregonian's editorial board, Dudley and Kitzhaber echoed many of the same ideas about necessary school reforms in Oregon. But if you watch the videotaped interviews at oregonlive.com/thestump you will see differences in emphasis and philosophy.

Kitzhaber zeroes in on the way various segments of Oregon's education system are pitted against one another for funding. "We have an utterly siloed system," he said, with universities, community colleges, K-12 schools and pre-kindergarten programs battling it out for money. "It's a morass." Kitzhaber proposes that the state merge all those pots of funding into one unified, transparent education budget and create a new Oregon Education Investment Board to oversee it.

Kitzhaber would seek to make the now-elected superintendent of public instruction appointed by the governor, abolish the Department of Education and move those functions into the Executive Department. All this would give a clear line of authority to the governor on education reforms.

Dudley, too, sees a lack of overall vision and direction from the top of Oregon's education system. He also advocates making the superintendent an appointed position in the governor's office. But rather than a wholesale reorganization of education funding, he says reform begins with better leadership, "more drive at the top."

Dudley offers a range of ideas to improve K-12 schools, including stronger teacher mentoring programs, a teacher certification system more open to people changing careers and a new rating system for schools. "I think schools need to be ranked A through F rather than the terms they are using now that nobody understands," he said.

Both candidates tread lightly around the issue of linking teacher pay with student performance but agree that Oregon should find ways to reward teachers whose students show strong improvement. "I don't support merit pay," Kitzhaber said. "I do support a formative model, where you are measuring progress."

Many Oregonians are looking for a governor who will go to bat for taxpayers - and for students facing larger class sizes, shorter school years and fewer school programs - and seek concessions from teacher unions on retirement and health care benefits. Dudley said he favors statewide, or at least regional, teacher negotiations, rather than the current district-by-district model. "If the state is paying 70 percent of the bill, it makes sense that the state negotiate," he said. Kitzhaber said he is skeptical of statewide negotiations and warns that it might lead to higher, not lower, costs.

On postsecondary education, both express support for proposals to give individual universities more flexibility and financial freedom. Dudley makes a pitch for a highly appealing college scholarship program but offers no plan to pay for it. Kitzhaber says that if education money is pooled as he proposes, postsecondary schools will be better able to compete for their share.

It is, of course, one thing to talk about what's wrong with education and another to fix it. Both candidates are asking voters to take largely on faith their promises to improve schools. Kitzhaber pursued none of these reforms during his eight years as governor. Dudley has no public-service record that voters could use to weigh his ability to deliver on his proposed education reforms.

By now, most Oregonians can tell you what's wrong with their schools. They know the state has neglected its postsecondary education system. They know there is a connection between this neglect and Oregon's stubborn double-digit unemployment and sagging rate of personal income.

They are looking for a governor who not only cares about schools, but has the talent, courage and persistence to make them better. Kitzhaber and Dudley still have to make that case.

The Mail Tribune on why people should vote yes on Measure 71, calling for lawmakers to meet in Salem every year:

Oct. 3

Oregon lawmakers are asking voters to send them to Salem every year, rather than every other year as they have done since statehood. We have some reservations about the concept, but Ballot Measure 71 contains strict safeguards against marathon sessions, and we think it will improve the Legislature's performance.

Oregon is one of just five states that still meet once every two years. In the early 1960s, 31 states held biennial regular sessions.

Today, lawmakers are responsible for a two-year budget of roughly $12 billion dollars. Enacting that budget takes a great deal of time in each biennial session, leaving less time for other issues.

Meeting every year would allow the Legislature to fine-tune the budget in the even-year session and spend time on other issues that crop up between sessions.

Oregon's tax structure is volatile because it relies primarily on the personal income tax, which can fluctuate wildly. Revenue projections frequently throw the budget out of balance in off years.

This leaves a great deal of power in the hands of the Legislative Emergency Board, a small group of lawmakers who can allocate reserve funds to cover shortfalls when the Legislature is not in session.

Another consequence of biennial sessions is that government agencies continue to operate while lawmakers are not around, making it more difficult for the legislative branch to keep tabs on the executive branch.

One of the frequent arguments raised against annual sessions is Oregon's tradition of "citizen legislators" - people with private careers who also serve in office. Annual sessions would lead to a professional Legislature, the argument goes, further removed from the lives of ordinary Oregonians.

That argument ignores the fact that the "citizen legislator" is largely a myth in this day and age.

The National Conference of State Legislatures groups the states into three main categories based on the time demands they place on their lawmakers, how much they pay them and the size of their staffs. At one end - the NCSL calls them "red" legislatures - are the big states with full-time professional staffs. At the other end are "blue" states, sparsely populated and rural, in which lawmakers spend an average of 54 percent of a full-time job on legislative work.

Oregon is grouped in the middle, the "white" states, in which legislators work an average of 70 percent of full time.

The reality is, being a legislator already is demanding enough that many working Oregonians cannot realistically do that job and their other career at the same time.

Ballot Measure 71 would amend the Constitution to require annual sessions. It would also limit the length of those sessions to 160 days in odd-numbered years - when the budget is adopted - and 35 days in even-numbered years.

The part of Measure 71 we especially like would require a two-thirds vote of both houses to exceed those limits by five days. To extend another five days would require another vote.

That would prevent the very real possibility that legislators would simply ignore the time limits whenever they felt like it. In Washington state, which moved to annual sessions in 1981, lawmakers routinely ignored the time limits until voter anger finally forced them to adopt strict deadlines and stick to them.

Given the size and scope of state government in the 21st century, it's time to give the Legislature a 21st-century structure to match. We recommend a yes vote on Measure 71.

Albany Democrat-Herald on political attack ads occurring in the Senate race between Sen. Ron Wyden and Jim Huffman:

Oct. 5

Sen. Ron Wyden has been running television ads attacking Jim Huffman. Is that really necessary and, more important for the country, is it wise?

Wyden has been in politics practically all his adult life. Now he wants to be re-elected to the Senate. Can't he run by reminding people what he has done for the country?

Huffman teaches constitutional and natural-resources law. He is new to politics. He trails badly in the polls. So why would the incumbent go after him with negative ads?

One Wyden ad blames Huffman for supporting Wall Street. Well, if he does, so what?

The retirement of thousands of Oregon PERS members depends on rising markets and on the skill of people who manage their funds. So does the fate of millions of people across the country with 401(k) accounts.

All these people hope the markets will not stagnate or even collapse. So what's wrong with supporting Wall Street? Is Wyden against Wall Street in some way that would warrant his slam against Huffman in the ads?

Reasonable voters hate negative ads, but there are enough impressionable and clueless voters out there that attack ads have an effect. And if you have a candidate with no record trying to unseat one with a long and honorable one, then attack ads may be the only way to go. At least that's the conventional wisdom among the pros who run campaigns.

But Peggy Noonan, the commentator and former presidential speech writer, says in the Wall Street Journal that attack ads may no longer work, at least not this time. She says people are frightened and discouraged about the fate of the country. The last thing they need is more unfounded claims that all the people in office or running for office are stupid or crooked or both.

A wise candidate, one who cares more for the country, the state and the public than trying to keep or gain public office, would refuse to approve those ads.

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