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June 23, 2007

AFL-CIO nixes Sen. Betsy Johnson's bill

Legislation that would have halted the development of two destination resorts near Central Oregon's Metolius River was pronounced dead Friday. The fate of the bill was sealed by Acting Gov. Randy Leonard in a letter condemning the proposal, saying it would be improper for lawmakers to trump a Jefferson County zoning decision. County commissioners, citing a desire to collect additional property tax revenue, mapped the two forestland parcels for resorts in December.

That decision has been appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which is the proper forum for a zoning challenge, the governor wrote to Rep. Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, the ex-president of the Oregon AFL-CIO and chairwoman of the House Elections, Ethics and Rules Committee, where Senate Bill 30 has languished since it cleared the Senate a month ago.

"I support following the established processes for resolving those challenges as they relate to land use decisions," Leonard wrote. "For this reason, I do not support Senate Bill 30." The letter amounts to a promise of a veto, and supporters of the legislation said Friday there was no reason to pursue Senate Bill 30 any further.

Yet the debate over the future of the river and the potential impact of the resorts is far from over.

"I am disappointed but not dissuaded," said Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo, who sponsored the bill and saw it grow into a statewide issue. "This closes one chapter in a book that I think will have a better ending for one of Oregon’s special and unique places."

Westlund has supported resorts in the past, but said such developments don’t belong in or near the Metolius River Basin.

The governor signaled in his letter that he shares some of that discomfort, and is directing state water, wildlife and environmental quality agencies to carefully evaluate the potential of degradation to the river. That will help decide the scope of the resorts, he wrote.

"I believe the Metolius basin is a special place that deserves special protection," he said.

The Metolius splashes to life from famed springs near the community of Camp Sherman and then heads north, winding through pine forests and swirling in trout-laden pools, and attracting visitors and anglers to fishing lodges and campgrounds.

The river forms the southern border of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation before it ends at Lake Billy Chinook.

Because of legal appeals and additional planning hurdles, it will be years before bulldozers could arrive at either of the sites.

Planning resumes

Now, with the uncertainty resolved at the Capitol, developers can restart their planning.

One of the sites, a 640-acre parcel near Suttle Lake, is envisioned as the home of an eco-resort that would have houses but no golf courses. The other is a 30,000-acre site, of which 10,000 acres have been identified as resort-eligible, which would have 2,500 houses and two golf courses.

"The cards were stacked against us, because you had the momentum in the Senate side with a couple of powerful senators who made it a top priority for them," said Rick Allen, a former Madras mayor who is the lobbyist for the Ponderosa Land and Cattle Co., which owns the larger resort site.

He said the resort would be built in a way that preserves the quality of the area, and most of the property will be undeveloped.

"After everything that’s happened, it’s obvious this proposal will be under a higher level of scrutiny, which we’re fine with,” Allen said. “All of the things the governor is talking about are required when asking for a resort in the next step."

The governor singled out the envisioned Ponderosa development in his letter, saying a request for well water rights of 2.5 million gallons of water a day to serve a population of 9,000 "may not be compatible with preservation of the Metolius as we know it today."

Allen said the ultimate water use at the resort will be much less than that application.

Hasina Squires, the lobbyist for Dutch Pacific Resources, which proposes the eco-resort, said she'd communicated with Kulongoski's staff about how it would be inconsistent for the governor to allow a bill that would stomp a local process, when he has opposed such bills in the past.

Supporters of the legislation argued that the Metolius is a special case, however, because of fears that wells drilled in the area could reduce the water that flows into the river.

Critics weigh in

In addition to criticism that the Senate Bill 30 would nullify a Jefferson County land use decision, it also raised eyebrows because of its loudest supporters: Residents of Camp Sherman and Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, whose family owns a 160-acre retreat near the headwaters of the river.

In a hearing about the legislation, Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, suggested those residents have a drawbridge mentality: They have a place near the river, but want to stop others from doing the same.

Camp Sherman, with a population of roughly 350, is a small enclave that would be dwarfed by the resorts.

Johnson, in particular, bristles at that criticism. She spent her childhood summers on the river and loves the place, she has said repeatedly.

Her parents, the late Samuel and Becky Johnson, donated the headwaters of the river to the state.

She is among the appellants who are challenging the Jefferson County mapping decision.

"It is not the end," Johnson said Friday of the death of Senate Bill 30. "I am disappointed, but this in no way diminishes my enthusiasm for protecting the Metolius from developers."


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Ethics Commission to probe Sen. Betsy Johnson

Members of the Government Standards and Practices Commission voted Friday to authorize a preliminary investigation into allegations that State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, failed to report her profits from a property sale that has been linked to legislation that she sponsored.

Johnson did not attend the meeting. But afterward, she told The Associated Press that she had been expecting commission members to authorize the preliminary review of her case. "I have sent them a letter saying I will provide any information that they need," Johnson said.

Broadly, commissioners sketched out several issues for ethics investigators to focus on:

• Johnson's failure to report both that she purchased the parcel of land in question on her 2004 statement of economic interest, and that she had sold it in 2005 on that year's report. She reported the sale of the property, which is next to the Scappoose airport, in April of this year, and has said she and her husband made about $45,000 in profits, after expenses.

• Whether Johnson had a conflict of interest because of the land sale that she failed to disclose when she sponsored legislation to promote special access to rural airports for private landowners. The form of access, though, was already in place in Scappoose. Johnson, the former owner of a helicopter company, has said she was trying to promote rural economic development.

If the investigation reveals that Johnson broke the law, she will likely face a fine.

Several members of the ethics commission have ties to Johnson, a timber heiress who comes from a politically well-connected Central Oregon family.

Chair Sue Hildick recused herself from the vote because she heads the nonprofit Chalkboard Foundation, which does educational research; Johnson has been a key legislative adviser to the group.

Commission member Judy Stiegler said she considered Johnson a political mentor, and that Johnson had contributed to her campaign when she ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature from Bend in 2004.

And Commissioner Delna Jones said she had known both Johnson and her family for years, stretching back to when Johnson was a registered Republican.

Also Friday, commission members voted to order a hearing for Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, after six alleged violations of financial reporting laws.

Richardson recently filed amended statements with the ethics commission, detailing expense-paid trips to six national conferences, stretching back to 2003.

He told the Medford Mail-Tribune that he filed the amended statements after reviewing his own files in the wake of news coverage of other legislators taking trips for which lobbyists footed the bill, which were never reported. Richardson said he had received no benefits from any lobbyists or organizations with an interest in current legislation.


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No big deal: SEIU rolls over state negotiators

Public employee unions and state negotiators are moving closer to a deal in labor talks, after the state upped its offers on pay and health benefits. Since Oregon is #1 in the nation for government unions, state workers will get whatever they want. And Oregon will remain one of only 3 states in the nation giving first-dollar health coverage.

Progress has been "extremely positive and encouraging," said Cory McIntosh, a computer support worker for the state Driver and Motor Vehicles Division. McIntosh is chairman of the bargaining team for Service Employees International Union Local 503, which is negotiating basic terms for 18,400 state workers plus 3,600 Oregon University System employees.

The SEIU contract also could set the pace for other labor contracts, including one for 6,400 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75.

The state now is offering SEIU a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment to begin July 1, when the current two-year contract expires, and to continue full coverage of workers' health insurance premiums in 2008, said Sue Wilson, state

For the second year of the deal, the state is offering another 2 percent COLA to take effect Oct. 1, 2008, and to cover health insurance premiums as long as costs don't rise more than 11 percent in 2009.

The state also agreed to readjust pay scales for 32 job classifications so those workers qualify for higher pay, Wilson said.

SEIU on Tuesday made some concessions in its contract demands, but the union still is seeking COLAs of 4 percent a year.

With inflation running more than 3 percent, the union doesn't have much room to lower its offer, McIntosh said.

SEIU also wants to assure health insurance premiums are fully funded in 2009 and is concerned about projections that state costs could rise 13 percent that year, more than the state is willing to pay, he said.

Veteran state workers depend on the COLAs to keep their purchasing power even with inflation. But many workers also qualify for annual step raises equaling 4.75 percent of salary. Wilson estimated that 60 percent to 70 percent of workers are eligible for those step raises.

Although the collective bargaining agreements expire June 30, SEIU has asked for the state to extend terms of the current contract before a new deal is reached. The state is amenable to that request.


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MSM ethics: Journalists in campaign cash fix

A CNN reporter gave $500 to John Kerry's campaign the same month he was embedded with the U.S. Army in Iraq. An assistant managing editor at Forbes magazine not only sent $2,000 to Republicans, but also volunteers as a director of an ExxonMobil-funded group that questions global warming. A junior editor at Dow Jones Newswires gave $1,036 to the liberal group MoveOn.org and keeps a blog listing "people I don't like," starting with George Bush, Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition, the NRA and corporate America ("these are the people who are really in charge").

Whether you sample your news feed from ABC or CBS (or, yes, even NBC and MSNBC), whether you prefer Fox News Channel or National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker, some of the journalists feeding you are also feeding cash to politicians, parties or political action committees.

MSNBC.com identified 144 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 17 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.

[to read the entire article, click on the link, below, for the source]


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June 22, 2007

Oregon trails nation in health coverage reform

No bronze plaque on State House grounds will commemorate the unknown day later this month when a New Hampshire landmark almost as tough to dislodge as granite, fell, but the change will be historic. Barring last-minute surprises, the state and the union representing its 10,000 employees are likely to sign a contract that ends the longstanding practice of providing first-dollar health insurance coverage to state workers.

The change is welcome and overdue. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only four states still provide first-dollar family health insurance coverage, New Hampshire, Oregon, New Jersey and North Dakota. Meanwhile, the percentage of employers who provide any health insurance all to employees fell from 66 percent to 61 percent between 2000 and 2004 alone.

Several things made the deal possible. One was Gov. John Lynch, who agreed to offer state workers handsome raises in the next two years in exchange for giving up the benefit. The other was a union that decided to adopt the approach championed by Andrew Stern, the president of the Services Employees International Union, the fastest-growing labor organization in the nation.

Stern, who visited the Monitor earlier this year with state union officials, believes that whenever possible, employers and employees should work together for the mutual benefit of each party rather than do battle. In this case, state employees hope to win greater control over the choice of their insurance package, higher future salaries and improved health.

People who contribute a reasonable share of the cost are less likely to run to the emergency room when they get a cold. It's also possible, though hardly a sure thing, that employees who lose money when they get sick will do a better job of trying to stay well. If they can, state workers expect to see the savings in their paychecks.

The union has traditionally fought any attempt to give up its old-fashioned coverage, accepting smaller salary increases instead, and benefits now add about 50 percent to the cost of paying each state employee, according to the union. But that can create problems too. Some entry-level state workers start at $21,000 or $22,000 per year, the union says. The salary is low enough that some Health and Human Services employees, for example, stand on one side of the counter to hand out benefits and move to the other side to receive them.

The contract would give state workers a 10 percent raise in the form of a 51-cents-per-hour increase in pay, so low-wage employees would better share in the increase, followed by a 3.5 percent raise in January and a 5 percent raise the next year. In exchange, workers would pay $50 per month toward their coverage this year and $60 next year plus an increase in some co-payments.

Now that the barrier is down, state workers run the risk that future governors and legislatures will follow the lead of private employers and require workers to pay an ever-bigger share of health-care costs. Ask too much, however, and the state won't be able to hire the qualified people it needs. The benefit package New Hampshire offers is attractive but its salaries aren't. That's already making it hard to recruit workers who can make so much more working for municipalities, let alone the private sector.

It was time for the old wall guarding all attempts to reduce benefits to fall and there's no going back.

The amazing thing is that both sides worked together to take it down.


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Legislature begins rollback of '03 PERS reforms

Government workers won't lose their pension seniority rights if they take a break from their jobs, under a bill passed by the Senate Thursday. Senators voted 20-7 for House Bill 2285-B, which rescinds the Public Employees Retirement System "break-in-service" provision of a 2003 pension reform. Under that provision, if someone takes a break of six months or more from a PERS-covered job, he or she returns under the slimmed-down pension plan created for those hired after September 2003. Veteran workers returned to jobs granting different PERS benefits and a later retirement age.

According to the government union advocate Our Oregon, the law adversely affected pregnant women who left work for a while to raise babies, laid-off school custodians from Portland and others. The reform led to widespread complaints from workers and employers, but, confounding predictions, it didn't save employers any money.

The House earlier approved scrapping the break-in-service provision by a 57-1 margin.

The Senate added an amendment to correct an inconsistency in how school employees accrue credit for years worked in PERS. A glitch in the 2003 law wound up giving teachers and other school employees less than a full year's credit if they had a workday that's technically 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., or otherwise fewer than 8 hours.

The Oregon School Boards Association requested the change so that teachers and others are treated the same as their peers hired before September 2003 and their peers in other public-sector jobs.

"It's a question of fairness," said Jim Green, association lobbyist.

The bill now goes to the House for concurrence with Senate amendments.


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State Legislature wants more local tax hikes

Oregon voters likely will be asked to end the "tax-increase quorum" requirement, making it easier for school districts and other local governments to enact property tax measures by placing them on the ballot at odd times.

The quorum provision requires tax increases to meet a 50% turnout during non-general elections. It was instituted as part of a 1996 initiative by Bill Sizemore that cut and capped property taxes.

The Senate voted 20-9 Wednesday to put an alternate version before voters. House Joint Resolution 15 would allow property tax measures to avoid the 50 percent turnout requirement when placed on May or November ballots in any year. The House must concur to put HJR 15 before voters, but that chamber earlier approved an identical proposal 46-11.

Sizemore wanted to prevent school districts and other local governments from slipping tax increases through on low-turnout elections. The results have been just as he intended.

Some tax measures went down because voter turnout didn't reach 50 percent. Others failed when multiple tax measures were packed onto November ballots in even-numbered years, and voters got "sticker shock" when facing multiple tax increases.

Voters declined to go for an outright repeal of the double majority requirement when the Legislature put it on the ballot in 1998.

Critics hope to keep coming back to voters until they get the answer they want, said Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day. "This is just another effort to overturn the will of the people and to disregard their vote," he said.

Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, argued the double majority provision is outdated because Oregon has since adopted vote by mail. Now, every voter gets notice in the mail of the tax votes.

"It tries to address a problem that no longer exists," Devlin said.


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June 21, 2007

Big Lobbyists expand, collectivize

Three of the West's largest public policy and governmental relations firms, including The Gallatin Group, have partnered to put their collective power into federal lobbying efforts on behalf of the West Coast. The trio, dubbed the WestNet Alliance, has opened a new joint office in Washington, D.C., located just steps from the U.S. Capitol.

Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based Phase Line Strategies and Las Vegas-based R&R Partners are the other two companies in the alliance. WestNet offers a single-stop public affairs solution for 10 Western states. The Gallatin Group is headquarted in Seattle, but has an office in Portland.


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Sen. Betsy Johnson's political career in danger

On May 31, I opened my morning Oregonian and read with disbelief a story intimating that I have been swindling old ladies out of their land in order to make a fast buck and sponsoring legislation designed to benefit developers, as well as my husband's business. ("Ethics panel reviews Sen. Johnson's actions," News-Times, June 13, 2007). On top of that, it suggested that I tried to cover it all up by failing to file the proper reports.

That Oregonian article and subsequent stories so grossly distorted the facts that, I have to admit, if I didn't know the truth, I'd wonder about me, too.

In the days that have followed, as I have been knee-deep in the legislative session and working on committees hammering out details of the state budget, I have been contemplating how best to respond to the ongoing barrage without sounding like the craven weasel portrayed in the media.

There is, after all, nothing more suspicious than a politician proclaiming her innocence.

Nonetheless, I believe the best thing is always to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. So here goes.

Most people know that I'm a pilot and that my husband, John Helm, operates Transwestern Aviation at Scappoose Industrial Airpark.

We founded Transwestern 30 years ago. The business services aircraft, sells fuel to pilots who use the field, provides aircraft parking, courtesy vehicles for pilots and such. It's a small business and that's fine with us.

I have always believed that rural airports can be powerful economic engines in their communities, attracting high-quality companies with high-paying jobs. For years - long before I entered the legislature - I worked to encourage that kind of commercial development at Scappoose Airpark.

So several years ago, when a developer came along who expressed interest in doing a multi-million dollar project there, I jumped at the chance to help. Deals like that don't come along very often, as any rural economic development person will tell you.

We learned that an older couple we had known for years was interested in selling some of their farmland adjacent to the field. They wanted to sell to someone who would ensure it was used for a quality project, so they only wanted to work with us.

I purchased the property in order to move things along. Then a few months - and a lot of transaction expenses - later, I in turn sold it to the developer. And, yes, we made a profit, though, after expenses, less than half of what was reported in the media.

To be clear, there is nothing either illegal or unethical in my buying and selling a piece of property. However, legislators must always report such transactions as part of the full disclosure process.

I did that, but I screwed up. I reported it in the wrong year because, in my mind, that one transaction was part of a long, on-going process surrounding the developer's larger plan.

I have no excuses. I made a mistake. I filed the report this past April instead of for the years I should have.

So, yes, it is true that I failed to file a timely report on that land deal. It is not true that I delayed reporting it until after news reporters started working on the story in May. I filed my report a month before the first Oregonian story.

The recent news stories have also suggested that bills I have sponsored to encourage commercial development around rural airports statewide were designed to benefit developers or my husband's business or to make our property more valuable.

That suggestion would be laughable if it weren't so hurtful. John and I live for what we do, not for what we own.

Our livelihood does not depend solely on the fortunes of Transwestern Aviation or on any land deals.

I have been blessed in my life. The investments in Oregon that my family began making more than a century ago have allowed me to pursue my one true passion in life: working on behalf of the thousands of people in this state who have so honored me with their trust. That's what I think about every day, not our bank account.

At the risk of sounding corny, public service is my joy, my reason for getting up every morning. Working with constituents, solving problems and helping communities in our district become economically strong and healthy for our kids, our families and the less fortunate is my passion.

I can't think of a better way to spend the life God gave me. It's challenging, it's stimulating, it's fun and I think I do it well. Why would I jeopardize all of that for a couple of bucks?

As for my reporting error, I will gladly bear the consequences and accept any action taken by the Commission on Government Standards and Practices.

In the meantime, I intend to keep working for you every single day.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, represents Senate District 16, which includes Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook and parts of Washington counties, including Banks.


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It's Oregon Leftists fight night - BO v. LO

In the garage of the gym behind the In-N-Out Burger on West Sahara Avenue, Kari "BlueOregon" Chisolm's trainer, Billy Graham, was warming to his theme. He had spoken about how he expected Saturday night's megafight against Loaded Orygun's Carla and Torrid to be the most punishing of Chisolm's career. "If this goes the distance," he said, "they will be 12 brutal rounds. It could be his most brutal fight but I keep seeing Kari taking them out.

"We're covering all the bases. The way they fight I'll be amazed if they all don't get hurt or cut somehow. I just hope the referee isn't squeamish."

He had talked, too, about how Carla and Torrid had taken too much criticism for their two off-colour performances in their most recent contests against The Oregonian and Willamette Week. And he had said even though he was worried Chisolm would be reckless in the opening rounds to try to prove a point, his fighter had promised him he would box as well as brawl.

But then Graham, who is nicknamed the Preacher, started talking about snakes in the desert.

Not the cobras that Chisolm will face in the ring at the Thomas and Mack Center. And not the low-lifes who inhabit some of the Vegas suburbs.

Graham meant real snakes in the desert. The kind he wanted to go out and catch, he said. The kind that were hiding. Too hot even for them this summer.

Turns out, you see, that Chisolm's trainer is a snake-hunter with rather an eccentric taste in wildlife. He's Salford's answer to the late Steve Irwin.

And even though he has precious little spare time as Chisolm's big night approaches, he's still hoping to track down a Mojave rattlesnake before he leaves town.

"I've never been snake-hunting in Vegas," Graham said. "Wherever I am I mooch around. Not just for snakes. Frogs, lizards, whatever. But I love snakes. I've caught them all over Europe but I've bought a house in Georgia in the American south, mainly because the garden's full of snakes.

"It's out in the woods where there are lots of rattlesnakes and there's a pond with snapper turtles and stuff like that.

"I've got all my catching gear down there but mostly I catch the snakes with my hands. If they're poisonous, I've got a pair of tongs.

"I've been doing it since I was seven. I've been bitten by all sorts. By lizards, frogs, snakes. The worst thing, though, was when I used to have a monkey and it bit right through my ear.

"I caught a virus once when I was cutting up a cow's heart for my dog and some of the blood got in a cut in my hand. It has affected a part of my brain so that I am deaf in my left ear."

Until recently, Graham even kept an iguana called Liston at the Betta Bodies gym in Hyde on the outskirts of Manchester, where Chisolm trains.

He had to get rid of it when it became sexually frustrated and started hurling itself at the glass front of its cage.

"This town's full of snakes," he said, before he went back into the gym, "but I'm not scared of them. They're scared of me."

Graham even has reptiles for opponents. His fighter faces Loaded Orygun.


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Oregonions recalled

The onions were sold to consumers in 10-ounce bags labeled with the Trader Joe's brand name in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. The onions were also sold to food service companies in 20-pound cartons labeled as Gills Onions Brand and Sysco Natural Brand. All the packages are printed with a best-if-used-by date of "06/16/07" and a lot number "2017-R." Details: by phone at 800-348-2255 or 209-669-9625.


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Court rules for PERS, against taxpayers

Retired Oregon government employees won't have to pay money back to the state pension fund or see their pensions reduced under a court ruling issued Wednesday. Multnomah County Circuit Judge Henry Kantor barred the Public Employees Retirement System from further efforts to seek payments from 38,000 people who retired from April 2000 through March 2004. The judge also ordered PERS to return those payments already extracted from retirees.

"I'm delighted," said retired Portland Water Bureau employee Michael Arken, one of the workers who filed the suit. "It's justice for our side."

If the decision survives an appeal, it means the retired public employees get to keep or recoup up to $800 million in lifetime retirement benefits.

"I believe that this is in fact a substantial victory for public employees who worked hard for many years for the citizens of Oregon, and then retired with the expectation that the state would pay the retirement benefits promised to them," said Gene Mechanic, an attorney for retirees.

PERS disagrees with the decision and is reviewing its options, said pension fund spokesman David Crosley.

The case stems from a 2002 ruling by Marion Circuit Judge Paul Lipscomb, who found that PERS granted public employees excessive returns from 1999 investment earnings. Lipscomb ruled that PERS should have put more money into reserves and less into workers' accounts. The higher payments to workers meant their future pension checks were larger.

After a series of 2003 legislative reforms, court decisions and an out-of-court lawsuit settlement, the PERS Board agreed early last year to demand that the retirees pay back those "overpayments." The board agreed to retroactively adjust those workers' pensions.

Retirees got letters from PERS notifying them of the amount owed. Most retiree pensions would drop 2 percent to 10 percent, under initial estimates.

PERS said retirees could cover the overpayment with a lump sum payment to PERS or have their future pension checks reduced.

Until the legal dust settles, it's unclear if or when PERS will re-adjust pensioners' retirement checks or return the lump-sum payments it has collected.

Some retirees who didn't make the payments can breathe easier, Mechanic said.

"People who have gotten those threatening letters that their account is going to a collection agency don't have to pay attention to those threatening letters," he said.

At least for now.

Attorneys for workers and employers are certain the decision will be appealed.

Kantor recommended the case bypass the Oregon Court of Appeals and go directly to the Oregon Supreme Court.

One unresolved question is how PERS will procure the $800 million. The Kantor decision appears to side with Bill Gary, an attorney representing local governments, who said the money must be treated as an "administrative expense." That would mean the money would come directly from PERS investment earnings before it puts money into worker accounts, Gary said.

In that case, the gain by retirees might be a loss to workers who joined PERS before September 2003.

Greg Hartman, an attorney representing public employee unions, said the money could come from employer reserves. That would mean taxpayers foot the bill, not workers.

"This opinion probably raises many, many more questions than it answers," Gary said.


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June 20, 2007

Democrat-Herald: Labor wins a ban on voting

Voters might want to ask Democrats in the Oregon legislature what they have against elections.

Over the objections of most Republican members, both houses of the assembly have completed action on a bill that would allow unions to organize public employees by having a majority of them sign cards rather than holding an election on the question of representation.

The cards would be presented to the employees by union representatives, and anyone can guess how much persuasion is used - in case it is necessary - to get the cards signed.

Thirty percent of the employees in a proposed bargaining unit could petition for an election, and if they do, one will still have to be held within 45 days.

Unless such a petition is filed after the cards are filed, however, the Employee Relations Board "may not conduct an election but shall certify the labor organization."

Proponents argued that the requirement for an election in existing law exposed workers to potential coercion. But how could it, considering that elections are by secret ballot? Unless the outcome was unanimous one way or another, nobody would know how anyone voted.

This bill had been sought by organized labor to strengthen its hand against public employers and, by implication, against the public.

You can't blame unions for wanting to improve their position, but you have to wonder just how democratic it is to keep citizens from voting on something as important as this. What happened to the "choice"? How can elected office holders - especially Democrats - ever justify enacting a law that under certain circumstances prohibits elections from being held?


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Acting Gov. Leonard taps Firefighters for '10

Vacant top fire chief positions and budget strains drove the discussion during a summit Tuesday night in Salem that proposed creating a fire authority that would tap into shared resources for rural fire districts. Nearly 60 representatives from area fire districts surrounding the Marion County Fire District No. 1 attended the meeting at Anderson Readiness Center.

Marion County and Turner fire district officials said their two agencies are close to reaching an agreement to create a fire authority. A fire authority would allow two or more districts to have an appointed board of directors, along with individual elected district boards.

Several other Mid-Valley agencies have chief vacancies or are expecting others.

In mid-May, Marion County Fire Chief Roy Hari announced his retirement. That same week, Keizer Fire Chief Greg Frank also announced his retirement. Silverton Fire District Fire Chief Vince Herman announced his retirement June 12.

Marion County board of directors pitched the idea for a summit in mid-May, after realizing a fire authority could help save costs if a position such as a fire chief could be shared among districts, said board of director Orville Downer.

Turner Fire Chief Kevin Henson said the idea falls short of a merger, which would change each district's tax base.

Henson and outgoing Marion County Chief Roy Hari described the agreement as "dating before getting married." Resources such as training, personnel, equipment or technology support could be shared under the agreement. Hari estimated it would be another year before a fire authority would be established.

Henson said the cost of maintaining an ambulance service in the district has forced fire administrators and the board to consider all options.

"We're a small fire district and we're operating on a thin line," Henson said.

Attorney Ken Jones, who represents several Mid-Valley fire districts, was present to give information during the summit. Jones said Oregon law allows governing bodies to create a new entity, and all guidelines or policies would be determined by the individual districts.

Fire consultant Rob Carnaham helped facilitate the discussion.

Issues such as wage disparities and labor contracts still need to be ironed out, Henson said.

Marion County Fire District No. 1 covers about 88 square miles and serves a population of about 52,000 residents. Turner Fire District covers about 41 square miles and serves a population of about 19,000 residents.

Henson said a fire authority tentatively would be named Willamette Fire and Rescue, although each district would retain logos, staff, volunteers and cultural identities.

Chief Frank of Keizer Fire District said Keizer and Marion County fire officials informally meet on a regular basis. Frank said he believed it was beneficial for area fire officials to seek ways to collaborate.

Nora Schliske, a board of director with Aumsville Rural Fire District, said she didn't think her district would approach the idea because mutual aid opportunities and training between districts already take place.

"It's just another layer of business," Schliske said.


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Shortfall causes retroactive tax hike

With little debate, the Oregon Senate's tax-writing committee agreed Monday on key elements of a $25 million package of tax breaks for developers of wind farms and biodiesel plants, parents saving for college, filmmakers, builders of energy-efficient homes and a host of others.

They also unveiled a plan to offset most of those tax breaks by retroactively raising taxes on rich folks - couples earning more than $234,600 or singles earning more than $156,400.

Collectively, high-income Oregonians would pay about $9 million a year more in state income taxes because their personal tax credits would shrink by as much as $107 for each person claimed on their tax returns.

The Senate Revenue Committee, headed by Ryan Deckert, D-Beaverton, unanimously decided that Oregon should have new or bigger tax breaks to:

Reimburse businesses for half the costs, up to $20 million, to build a wind farm, biofuel plant, co-generation plant or other renewable-energy facility and give home builders a $12,000-per-home credit to build energy-efficient homes with solar power.

Expanding the tax credit for businesses to take energy-saving steps, a credit that already costs $10 million a year, is projected to raise the annual tax break above $18 million a year by 2010.

Subsidize moviemaking in Oregon. The state would offer filmmakers bigger cash rebates -- nearly 20 percent of what they spend in Oregon -- to lure them from other states that covet the industry. The cost to taxpayers, now $1 million a year, would rise to $5 million a year.

Reward truckers or trucking companies that retrofit their diesel engines to spew less pollution. They would get breaks worth about $2 million a year.

Allow parents saving for college to deduct their contributions, up to $4,000 a year. Doubling the allowed deduction will mean $1.6 million less for state tax collections each year.

Let the children and grandchildren of people who own forestland, farms, farmhouses, fishing boats, fish processing plants and nurseries worth up to $7.5 million inherit the property tax-free. Under current state law, heirs must pay an estate tax to inherit property worth more than $1 million. Only small numbers of farm, forest or fish-based estates worth more than $1 million are passed to heirs in Oregon each year, so the projected cost to the state would be $500,000 a year.

The tax credit bill, which has been amended to grant those and five other tax breaks, will see more added by the committee today before it is sent to the full Senate, then to the House. The bill is expected to bring in $25 million less in taxes collected for the 2007-09 budget. The tax breaks would cost at least an additional $10 million a year in later years.

The change in the estate tax law would be permanent. All of the other tax breaks would expire, typically in 2012, if future Legislatures don't renew them.

Deckert said he is confident the most expensive of the new tax breaks -- to reimburse businesses for half the cost of wind farms, biofuel plants and other renewable energy plants or equipment -- "will generate the kinds of projects that will make Oregon a more prosperous place."

He said raising taxes on high-income Oregonians to pay for tax breaks, primarily for businesses, is "good tax policy."

Some sought-after breaks aren't in the bill but could be added, including bigger tax credits for working-poor families, a corporate tax break for software firms that create at least five jobs, and tax breaks for doctors who agree to treat military personnel and their families.

A separate bill designed to deliver $4.4 million worth of tax breaks to those who help produce or use biofuels, already passed by the House, will be considered separately by the Senate panel.


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Lords back 2-term limit for London Mayor

The Lords tonight voted to limit the Mayor of London to two terms of office - a move which would bar Ken Livingstone from seeking re-election next year. Voting was 177 to 159, a majority of 18, during the Greater London Authority Bill's report stage.

But it is expected that the Government will seek to reverse this move in the Commons. Opposition peers warned there was a risk that without the curb the office could become too powerful.

For Tories, Baroness Hanham, saying she was not referring to Mr Livingstone, told peers: "The office of Mayor now in this country is the nearest thing we have to a dictator. There is very little that can stop the Mayor doing what he wants to do."

Mr Livingstone has twice been elected London Mayor - in 2000 and 2004. The next mayoral poll is due next May.

Lady Hanham said: "This was not and has never been tied up with present Mayor.

"This has always been on the constitutional implications for the GLA ... because this a unique position still within this country," she added.

But junior communities and local government minister Baroness Andrews opposed the move.

She said: "To remove the right of Londoners to vote out the Mayor is a fundamental change. It should not be contemplated lightly. It is what gives the Mayor his political legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate.

"If he is a dictator the best way to remove him is to remove him by a democratic process."

She warned against overriding "this fundamental democratic principle which is a cornerstone of political life in this country".

The Bill gives Mr Livingstone more powers over strategic issues such as planning and waste and came up against fierce opposition in the Commons.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Hamwee, a London Assembly member, said: "The point has been made to me time and time again by individual voters, individual Londoners, that surely as this is such an unusual position there must be this unusual constraint upon it.

"The amendments extend to Assembly Members, not so much because we feel the same arguments apply to them, but to pre-empt accusations that you are protecting your own positions and you are just having a go at the Mayor."

Labour's Lord Graham of Edmonton said: "Franklin Roosevelt was elected for four terms, in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. Sadly of course he died, he wasn't removed. But I have the view that, if he had wished to, he could have gone on because he was that kind of man.

"Now whatever happens to Ken Livingstone is in the lap of the Gods but I don't believe that our system should take away from the people the right to remove an incumbent leader.

"I believe these amendments, well intentioned as they are, ought to be rejected because the people of London are very well capable of deciding that enough is enough."

Lord Graham challenged whether the motives of those who were Assembly Members who backed the amendments were more to do with the fact that they did not have sufficient powers and therefore the best thing to do was to take the Mayor out of office.

"I don't think that is the right way to do it. I think the good sense of the people of London ought to prevail." he said.

Liberal Democrat Lord Tope, an Assembly Member, backed "the concept of term limits to an office which is, within its legislative limits, all powerful, where the executive power is held in the hands of one person with relatively little check and balance."

The Government suffered a second defeat later when peers voted, 115 to 108, majority seven, to give the London Assembly more power to amend the Mayor's final draft budget.

At present amendments must be passed by a two-thirds majority. But Assembly member Lord Tope (Lib Dem) called for this to be changed to a simple majority.


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June 19, 2007

Register-Guard: Union elections key to labor fairness

Thanks to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Oregon has become less democratic. His payback to a private special interest that got him re-elected is making the state a leader in the worst possible way: taking away workers' rights.

Kulongoski's recent decision to allow powerful public-sector unions to gain members (and their dues) through an undemocratic process mirrors a national fight over how all working Americans can choose to join a union. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is trying to bring the same bad idea, already rushed through the U.S. House of Representatives, to the Senate floor for a vote this week.

Right now, our laws allow employees a secret-ballot election and choice when deciding to unionize or not. But the Employee Free Choice Act - successfully pushed through the House by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. - would effectively ban elections and replace them with a method called ``card check,'' in which union organizers collect signatures on cards in public - like a petition, except not all on one sheet of paper.

When you remove the protections of the secret ballot, though, workers become subject to intimidation, coercion and confusion. Sadly, Oregon's labor movement provides real-world warnings of the practical problems workers face under the preferred method of labor chiefs.

Like its national counterpart, a major Oregon chapter of the Service Employees International Union relies on "card check" organizing to build its ranks. But after being accused of grossly misleading employees about the process in Portland in a unionizing drive, Local 49 recently was forced to organize only with secret ballots for six months. According to a government official, this was the second time in two years that such an incident occurred.

Then there's Kulongoski's decision allowing adult foster care providers, who contract with the state, to unionize through card check. The decree offers a windfall in new dues money to SEIU Local 503 officials - but there are already claims that again, many people were misled about the real impact on their lives resulting from signing the cards.

The problems associated with trading traditional democratic elections for a petitionlike process shouldn't be a surprise to Kulongoski or to Congress. In fact, the benefits of a secret ballot election should be clear to Miller himself. He has explicitly supported such private votes in unionization elections - when they happen in Mexico.

Writing to Mexican labor authorities in 2001, Miller and 15 of his colleagues said, ``We feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.''

No one has explained better than the House sponsor of the act himself why his bill is such a bad idea. Employer intimidation is the excuse cited by Miller as to why America needs to dismiss voting. Take away the voting booth, however, and you've taken away the individual employee's strongest defense against intimidation, from managers and union organizers alike.

The act wouldn't eliminate voting completely, however. Miller and Kennedy still want to keep secret-ballot elections when it comes to voting unions out. The act makes no changes to removing unions, a process that now mirrors the way that unions get voted in. If it's really true that secret ballots don't protect against intimidation, then the principled thing to do is to get rid of them everywhere, and let people sign a card to get out. The unions will hear none of that. How they do all of this with a straight face is both amusing and alarming.

The final word ought to be that of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has written, "Freedom of choice is a matter at the very center of our national labor relations policy, and a secret election is the preferred method of gauging choice."

Union lobbyists appear to have won in Salem, and they could very well succeed in Washington, D.C., by getting the Employee Free Choice Act passed. By giving union organizers a front-row seat to monitor each employees' "free choice," the act may yet reverse organized labor's continual membership decline.

But it won't be because anyone voted for a union.

Bret Jacobson of Beaverton, a University of Oregon graduate, works as a senior research analyst at the Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit, anti-union organization.


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Anti-democracy rally today in Salem

1:15 p.m. today - Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner, Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamerlain and legislators talk about the federal card-check "no-election" unionization law. They will explain why it is wrong for workers to use a secret ballot election to decide on unionization, and why worker intimidation by labor organizers is a better method. The rally will probably be held on the front steps of the Capitol.


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Sen. Schrader hurting Portland

Dear Editor: Citizens need to know about Sen. Kurt Schrader's misguided priorities. While he is starving the new SEIU Political Activism program at U. of O., he's busy reviving the castration of Oregon prisoners.

"Schrader jammed up bills [including] a tiny $188,000 allocation to the U. of O.'s Labor education and Research Center," reported Willamette Week. And Schrader is "leading the push" to revive the legal, but barbaric and discredited practice of castration of sex offenders, according to The Salem Statesman Journal, May 27.

The Senator has been a good friend, there for us when we needed him in the past. But now the good Senator needs to get his priorities in order fast or his political future is history. We do not need castrations, no matter what AFSCME Council 75 says. And we do need to fund the new SEIU Labor Education and Research Center in time to help our trainers and kids make a difference in '08. Every minute lost is an organizing opportunity down the drain.

Leslie Frane, Executive Director, SEIU Local 503


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OEA politicking leads to free speech curb

Oregonians who sign up for the federal do-not-call list can now shed canned political calls along with those unwanted telemarketing pitches.

On Monday, the Oregon Senate gave final approval to a bill reining in prerecorded automated political phone messages - also called robo calls - that flourish during campaign season. Gov. Ted Kulongoski is expected to approve the bill, despite grumblings by political groups that the new restrictions could dampen get-out-the-vote efforts.

Nationally, voter outrage over the calls has grown since last year's election, when people complained of prerecorded pitches that interrupted their sleep, gave fuzzy information or straight-up lied.

At least 15 states took up the issue this year, introducing legislation to outlaw the machines that punch the calls through or to expand the National Do Not Call Registry to include automated political calls. Oregon would join a handful of states that already regulate or ban the calls.

"It puts the individual back in control of whether they want to receive political calls or not," said Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley.

Senate Bill 863 does not apply to live political phone pitches, only automated ones, and even those are OK if the person consents to hearing them. The proposal limits the calls to the hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and prohibits callers from misrepresenting the purpose of the call and where they're calling from.

Roughly 1.6 million Oregonians have registered with the federal do-not-call list, which Oregon's attorney general is now able to enforce thanks to separate legislation signed by the governor Monday.

A bit of luck, and a lot of political maneuvering, helped the bill in its quest to become law. Voting on an earlier version of the bill last month, senators would have killed the bill but for a badly timed robo calling campaign by the Oregon Education Association on another issue that tied up senators' phone lines and ticked them off.

The bill moved to the House, where caucus leaders were lukewarm, wary of denying their candidates a cheap campaign tool. Several House members also reported receiving robo calls before last week's vote, urging Oregonians to tell their legislators to say no.

"Do you support greedy incumbents who are trying to stop democracy?" said Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, paraphrasing one automated message he received at home.

Barker laughed it off. He loathes robo calls but recalled getting into a car crash last year. His car was totaled, the tow company would come get it. Ten minutes later, the phone rang again. In an automated call, he learned that Dick's Country Dodge had taken over a nearby dealership and wanted to sell him a car.

"I ended up getting a car," Barker said. "So, it works."

Gabriel Joseph III, president of FreeEats.com, a Virginia-based company that makes robo calls, said the restriction infringes on free speech, similar to a newspaper being told it couldn't print a story.

"We are disappointed with what Oregon did, what it's going to do," he said.

And, not all voters are happy with the new restrictions. Brightwood resident Bob Fletcher, 60, said he relies on automated calls to alert him to upcoming votes on issues such as gay rights legislation.

"I can hang up on calls I don't necessarily agree with, but my voice isn't heard if I don't know what's going on behind our backs," he said.

"It's an informative type of call."


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June 18, 2007

Local print media in sales mixup or crime?

Portland's leading blogger, Jack Bogdanski is preparing two letters as described in his post today titled "Dear Fred Stickel."

I've drafted up the letters I plan to send to folks at The Oregonian and the City of Portland regarding those illegally placed newsracks at the corner of NE 24th and Fremont. The letter to the O (a .doc file) is here; the similar letter to the city is here.

Let me know what you'd add, subtract, or change. I'll be mailing (and e-mailing, where possible) these babies in the morning.


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SEIU in WA initiative smackdown

The Service Employees Local 775 have filed suit to knock Tim Eyman's Initiative 960 from the November ballot. The measure would make it more difficult for the Legislature to raise taxes and would compel public disclosure of their long-term costs, all of which these groups oppose.

That is their right. The Seattle Times may join them, but we believe their lawsuit should fail because it would undermine the rights of the people to petition their government. There is a contrary idea that initiatives are junk that somebody wrote on the back of a napkin. They may start that way, but all of them go to the Code Reviser's office, where they are put into legal language. The ballot title comes from the Attorney General's office, and is subject to challenge in court.

In addition, a few initiatives have been tossed off the ballot. In Seattle, the "Save the Creeks" initiative was thrown off the ballot in 2003 because it was a measure for the city to exempt itself from a state law. The only statewide example was an initiative years ago that tried to change the U.S. Constitution.

Courts said it was "beyond the scope" of the initiative power for a lower level of government to change a higher one. It was a neat phrase, and we thought it was correct. Now comes this case. It argues that Initiative 960 is "beyond the scope" of the initiative power because it violates the Constitution in other ways. Thus "beyond the scope" expands from a narrow set of voter initiatives - nutty ones, mainly - to potentially any one.

And that is an attempt to change our political system, in which courts don't decide whether a measure is constitutional until after the people approve it. It's a slow way, but it's our way, and it has the advantage of allowing the people to say what they want. That is how car tabs were lowered: the people voted to lower them, the court threw the measure out, and the Legislature lowered them anyway. The political message got through.

The Seattle Times did not support that initiative, and over the years we have expressed our dislike of many others. But we defend the right of initiative. The Futurewise-SEIU lawsuit would expand the power of political groups to shrink the people's choices before an election. We are against it.


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Gov't corruption or "just politics"?

Former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, his chief budget aide Joe Guerra, and a garbage company have been on trial in California for their part in a huge Teamsters kickback, for "negotiating a deal with Norcal Waste Systems Inc. for San Jose's trash-hauling contract. They were accused of secretly agreeing to give Norcal an additional $11.25 million in public money in exchange for the company having its recycling subcontractor, California Waste Solutions, switch to the Teamsters union and pay employees more."

The case originated in the 2000 contract negotiations between Gonzales and Norcal for garbage pickup and recycling services. Prosecutors accused Gonzales of promising to use city money to cover pay raises for the firm’s workers without informing the City Council of the arrangement if Norcal allowed the Teamsters union to represent workers at its recycling subcontractor.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, even though the basic facts appear to be correct, Superior Court Judge John Herlihy decided that prosecutors have "mistaken ordinary political back-scratching for bribery."

In dismissing the corruption charges against Gonzalez, Judge Herlihy wrote, "This is not bribery. This is politics."

There is only one way to read this decision. In California, selling out workers and taxpayers isn't corruption, just politics.


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Ex-lawmakers back on state payroll after election losses

Four legislators who lost reelection bids after the pay-raise debacle have found jobs in state government, while at least three ex-leaders have become lobbyists, a newspaper reported. Sen. Pres. Pro Tem. Robert Jubelirer, Sen. Maj. Leader David "Chip" Brightbill and House Dem. Whip Michael Veon now represent groups from trial attorneys to organized labor.

One former legislator, Republican Peter Zug of Lebanon County, started a $55,000-a-year job last week as a licensing analyst with the state Gaming Control Board, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday.

And former Scranton-area Rep. Fred Belardi now makes $116,000 annually , about 36 percent more than he did as a lawmaker , managing parking spaces and other personnel matters for his former House colleagues, the paper said.

Turning to Harrisburg as a job-placement service is a time-honored tradition for lawmakers suddenly out of work. But critics deride the practice as a sanctioned revolving-door policy.

"It demonstrates how out of whack public service has become in Pennsylvania," said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative Harrisburg think tank. "It isn't a place to serve the public. It has become an opportunity for legislators to serve themselves."

Montgomery County Republican Sue Cornell was one of several legislators who lost her seat in 2006 after lawmakers voted themselves a pay raise, later repealed.

Cornell is now the in-house lobbyist for the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a quasi-state agency. Though ethics rules prevent her from lobbying the House until December, Cornell said working as manager of government relations "makes sense from a practical point of view."

"If you spend years in the legislature, that's what you know," she said. "You have the contacts, and you understand how legislation moves."

Ex-Rep. Frank LaGrotta, D-Lawrence, was put on the House payroll as a legislative consultant making $73,613 annually , the same as when he was in office. Former Rep. Kenneth Ruffing, D-Allegheny, filled a similar advisory role for three months after his term ended. Both lost in last year's spring primary.


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Lawmakers used campaign funds to pay relatives

Seventy-two members of the House of Representatives spent $5.1 million in campaign funds to pay relatives or their relatives' companies or employers during the past six years, a liberal watchdog group says in a report to be released Monday.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) found nearly $3.5 million in campaign payments to relatives during the past three election cycles, from 2001 to 2006. Campaigns paid about $1.6 million to firms owned by or employing the lawmakers or their relatives, the group found.

It is not illegal for federal candidates to pay family members for political work, as long as they are paid fair market value, the Federal Election Commission has ruled. Some would like to change the law because of recent investigations.

Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Mike Castle, R-Del., introduced a bill this month that would prohibit congressional candidates from paying their spouses with campaign funds and require campaigns to disclose family relationships with close relatives on the payroll.

"I think the ban on spouses drawing campaign checks is needed because there's simply been too much abuse of the practice," Schiff says.

The House member cited in the CREW report as spending the most campaign funds on a spouse says she supports that proposal.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., paid her husband's firm, Collins and Day, $285,481 over the past six years, the report says.

Lofgren says her husband, John Marshall Collins, has dissolved the firm, which provided accounting, fundraising and regulatory compliance services.

In addition, Lofgren's campaign paid John Marshall Collins PC, a second company controlled by her husband, $62,705 for rent and office services, the report found.

Campaign records show that neither company received any payments this year.

"It was good, because the work was done right," Lofgren says of her campaign's relationship with Collins and Day. "But people didn't feel comfortable with it. … If you have to use more than two sentences to explain it, that doesn't work."

CREW analyzed campaign-finance reports from 337 House members: Democratic and Republican leaders, as well as chairpersons and ranking members of all committees and subcommittees. Fifty-three paid one or more relatives with campaign funds; eight paid firms owned by or employing relatives; and 11 did both, the report found.

Of those 72 House members, 41 are Republicans and 31 are Democrats.

Under House rules, lawmakers cannot put relatives on their office payroll. Exemptions have been granted when staff members become relatives after they have already been employed by a House member.

Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who heads the watchdog group, says paying relatives with campaign money gives the impression that Congress members use their "position as a profit center for the family."

"A member of Congress would not be allowed to put that family member on their office payroll," Sloan says. "The logic should be the same. If they can't put them on the official payroll, why should they put them on the campaign payroll?"

Sloan says her group started the study last year amid criticism of some members of Congress for their family ties to campaign fundraising. For example, the campaign and political action committee for Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., paid a 15% commission to his wife's fundraising business, which also did work for lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was sentenced to prison last year for fraud. Doolittle stepped down from his committees in April after FBI agents raided his wife's offices in their suburban Washington home. Doolittle is not in the CREW study because he was not a committee or subcommittee leader.

Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas, the top Republican on the House Science and Technology Committee, says he hired his daughter-in-law because he trusts her. "I'm not sure that it's a good thing to do, but it's a safe thing to do," Hall says.

Sloan says she was particularly concerned by campaigns that paid several of the candidate's college- or school-age children.

One such campaign was that of Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, which has paid six of his eight children, in the range of $1,000 to $33,000, over the six-year period.

"It's cheap labor," says Fred Piccola, Cannon's spokesman. "Like any other staff member, they put in a lot of work, and he doesn't really have a problem with them collecting a paycheck for it."

The report also lists eight Democrats and 12 Republicans with relatives registered to lobby Congress during the past four years.


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June 17, 2007

Oregonians mired in all-natural progression

Thomas Jefferson once said, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." His statement is profound and clearly characterizes our slide toward socialism as a natural progression in the cycle of a maturing country. Why? As people increasingly raise their standard of living, they want others to takeover much of that which earlier generations routinely accepted as individual responsibilities. And make no mistake about it; there are always those who will jump at the opportunity to provide services for you-at a price.

People always want others to handle things for them they don't want to bother with. Since governments and political systems are made up of people and reflect human attitudes and behavior, examples at the individual level are applicable and often more easily understood-the principles of this progression toward wanting others to handle things therefore apply both to individuals and government. When applied to individuals, it leads to laziness. When applied to government, it leads to socialism.

As people accumulate more disposable income, they want to hire others to do things for them leaving additional free time to pursue "more important things." They don't want to be bothered with the mundane. In my own case, I used to cut our grass every Saturday. I now have someone cut the grass and take care of my lawn because I don't want to be bothered with it. I would rather pay someone so I can do other things that are of more interest and importance to me.

I also have someone take my trash away, repair my house and truck when something breaks, maintain the road in front of my house, and service my well water system. All services that in the 1700's were the responsibility of the homeowner-but these services come with a price. In this case, the cost is not only money but the service provider determines the schedule. I must adjust my life to fit their schedule if I want them to perform the services. I surrender some small bit of self-determination in my life in trade for others taking care of that with which I don't want to bother.

Same view toward government-let the government handle more and more of our needs so we won't have to worry about it-from constitutionally directed national defense, to the unconstitutional education of your children, to being the dictator of how you are to handle your retirement funds, to establishing rules governing the amount of water in your new toilet. But this too comes with a price and the cost when government gets involved is not only money, but freedom as well.

The difference between hiring others to provide services for me and asking the government to provide services is that I could fire all those personal service providers and perform the functions myself if I chose, but there is no firing the government. What I give up for every government service is yet another small piece of freedom-and those freedoms are surrendered not bartered. "I will provide for you but here are the conditions imposed" is the gist of government's deal with you. You must abide by their multitude of government rules and regulations all designed to enhance government's power and control over the people.

How does government sell this to Americans? One method we've all seen that government uses to impose itself in our life is to fabricate a crisis designed to scare the daylights out of folks; propose a solution only government can provide; sell it hard and vilify those in opposition until a short-sighted public finally screams for government to "do something" then the politicians magnanimously step up to the plate and abide by the will of the American people-attaching strings in the process of course. Example: America's education crisis. Nowhere in our Constitution does it outline a role for the federal government to do anything about education, yet Washington offers itself up as the messiah of our education system with tax dollars in hand. Americans bought the story and are now screaming for and expecting Washington to handle it-regardless of the strings attached pertaining to a curriculum dictated by Washington or the historically demonstrated waste, fraud and ineptitude at the federal level.

Government schools are now indoctrinating children in this socialistic view of life and imposing their distorted version of normalcy, morality and history on our young and impressionable children. In a generation or two, we will have citizens convinced that big government is wonderful; the founders were corrupt and demented white oppressors, sex with anyone and anything is OK, submission is preferred to resistance even in the face of life threatening enemies (foreign or domestic), the warrior spirit is to be avoided at all costs even within our military and that guns have no use or redeeming qualities at all-for the general public.

Federal control of our health care and personal firearms, both of which are "national crises" according to many politicians, are also long standing targets of socialism.

Government attracts people unto itself that are all too eager to take over given half a chance. Power is addictive and the more a politician gets, the more he wants. A corollary to this is that the more politicians offer to do for people, the more most people are willing to let them do and the more they are willing to let them do, the more government is expected to do and will do. It is a cycle that consumes personal freedom and liberty as the fuel required to keep its engine of progressive socialism running. After a few generations this system creates an environment of ever increasing dependency and the expectation that government control of life is normal and is naturally the only way to get things done.

History is a cycle of phases-from oppression, to rebellion, to struggling young nation, to strong independent country, to growing and strong central government and back to oppression once again. America is no different. We are now and have been for years at the strong central government phase of the cycle and rapidly heading for serious and increasing oppression. It will be a while before we see the wheel return to the rebellion phase giving birth to a new and struggling young nation again whose people really understand and cherish true freedom.

Just the view from my saddle…

The Colonel


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WWeekly Rogue: Acting Gov. Randy Leonard

Welcome to WW's first-ever Rogue Desk Grudge Match: the People vs. the People.

To the loser goes the heavyweight title in the Great Parade Duct Tape Debate of 2007, the utterly Roguish kerfuffle that Commissar Randy Leonard sparked last week with his proposal to ban the use of paint, tape or other marks to reserve parade spots in advance.

In one corner stands the countless Rose Festival enthusiasts who longed to get a good glimpse - without having to wake up early - of the 100th annual Grand Floral Parade on Saturday, June 9. In an annual practice that's annoying, unfair and unsightly, they used duct tape, chalk and lawn chairs to reserve seats for friends and family along the parade route.

In the other corner? THE people, as represented by the public sidewalk-loving, litter-hating, point-making troupe of trustafarians, pre-hipsters and, oh yeah, our beloved colleagues at the Portland Mercury. Armed with Leonard's proposed ban on sidewalk taping, they set out last Friday on parade eve to remove as much tape as possible from the sidewalks along the parade's route - and draw as much attention to their shenanigans as possible.

The Rogue Desk happens to agree with the Mercury's stance. The taping is ridiculous. What's next? Putting blankets down on the beach in April to reserve spots in June? That said, many paradegoers were probably disappointed to find their tape had been ripped up.

So who wins this epic battle of Rogue-on-Rogue action?

Why, Randy Leonard, of course.

Instead of staging this worthy debate at any other time - like, say, not the week before the parade - the ex-firefighter fanned the flames like a politician who proposes to ban flag-burning right before the Fourth of July. Leonard's proposal comes up before council Wednesday, June 13, and he defends his timing: "I'm not sure what other time it could have come out and gotten as much publicity as it did."

Sorry to rain on his parade.


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