Talkin' to Me?
Oregon has a "citizen" Legislature, we're not professional politicians; we meet six months (or so) out of every two years and go back to our "day jobs" when the session is over. Last Friday, we chose to freeze our wages at $1,283 a month; it seemed only right since we proposed freezing the salaries and step increases for teachers and state workers. Oregon also has a tradition of legislators employing family — whether it's a spouse, a child, nieces or nephews, grandkids — as part of that citizen legislature. I had the rare pleasure of having my son, Simon, work with me this session for the first 5-1/2 months as my legislative assistant; he's now at the UO. When he asked me for the job last December, I had misgivings; my experience with the last four legislative assistants I've had and the personal grief they took because they worked for such an obstreperous blankety-blank. It was not always a pretty picture.
Think about it, having to react to the hits I take for taking on the corporations, the radical right no-tax-know-nothings, the Right-to-Lifers, and the folks who are trying to create an evangelical church-state. LA's tend to be defensive of their boss, and I've had to instruct each of them: That's not your job. Staff are to act as a conduit, a wall, a sieve — an office manager — making sure my schedule is updated and my bills are pulled for each of my four committees and the Senate floor. Their job is to arrange meetings, take notes in policy meetings when I'm not available, and keep me aware of what they're hearing in the halls of the Capitol. Above all, they are there to take care of constituent questions and concerns.
I've been blessed with incredible staff and interns. My in-district assistant Diana Chambers has been with me since the beginning — I inherited her from my predecessor in the House, Sam Dominy. I hesitate to call her an antique, but she's been around the process for the past 20 years. She could write a book on constituent services; she knows every nook and cranny of the state bureaucracy. From Sean Smith, to Wayne Clark, to Tamara Brickman and Maija Gunderson, my Salem staff for the past four sessions were stars and they've all gone on to bigger and better things.
Simon handled his job well. Unlike his father, Simon is low-keyed, organized (sorta), quick on the uptake with a quiet sense of humor. He handled the PERS attacks against me pretty well, but I could tell he took it personally and he hated that part. His funniest, most frustrated moment came when a freshman Republican member of the House called me a Big Fat P**** in front of a bunch of lobbyists in the hallway one day. Hint: "prince" is six letters, not five. The word got back to Simon, and he confronted me with what had happened:
"What are you gonna do about this stupid jerk? He can't get away with this." I thought for a second and said, "Make me an appointment with the young rookie, I'll go tell him it's not dignified to call people names like that in this building. That should only be done at Magoo's." Simon was outraged: "Make an appointment! Are you nuts? Why don't you hold a press conference and call him a p***k?" Hint: "punkinhead" doesn't end with a k. Needless to say, having grown up in the same household, Simon was not used to seeing a lot of maturity in the old man, so this one took him a few days to compute.
But what I really liked was steeping Simon in Salem's stew; he got exposed to all the issues out there in a short time period, and I think it was a huge eye-opener to him. He went from having opinions about issues to engaging the 600 registered lobbyists who could argue any side of those issues. Up close and personal, he got to see these lobbyists, these special interest groups, the other legislators — the good guys and the bad guys. Simon had an uncanny knack for distinguishing between them early on. I think the experience made him understand how Oregon's political process works. Bowling pins and all. That's an invaluable lesson.
Sen. Tony Corcoran of Cottage Grove represents portions of Lane and Douglas counties in Senate District 4, which includes the UO area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I loved the headline in The Oregonian editorial April 28: "Beer is the Answer." Hear, hear! Now what was the question?
The Oregonian was considering various means for raising revenue in Oregon, and the newspaper endorsed a proposal to increase the beer tax (among other options). By raising this tax a few cents, the state could generate about $100 million in new revenue, along with $28 million in federal matching funds. This money would be used for alcohol and drug treatment, mental health treatment and law enforcement. Oregon's beer tax is now the third lowest in the nation, and it hasn't been increased since 1977.
Last week Commissioner Bobby Green and I attended a press conference in Salem to promote the proposed increase in the beer tax. Every speaker began by answering the question, "Where were you in 1977?" Bobby said that at this time in 1977, he had just graduated from UO and was about to marry: "Beer and wine never tasted so good." Bobby eloquently explained why Lane County needs the revenue that a higher beer tax would generate. He pointed out that hundreds of county residents have been denied treatment for alcohol dependency, drug addiction and mental illness over the last year. (I'm glad that I wasn't on the speaker list, because in 1977, I was an 11-year-old kid who wore bell-bottom jeans, worshipped Farah Fawcett Majors, and loitered at the disco-skating rink.)
The press conference ended with a speech by Sen. Bill Morrisette, who co-authored the proposal to increase the beer tax. Bill is a masterful legislator. He's tried to increase the beer tax in prior sessions, and this time he improved the odds by assembling a group of moderate legislators — a "mod squad," in Salem parlance — to endorse the proposal. No one should be surprised by Bill's poise in front of the TV cameras: This is the guy who upstaged Charlton Heston with his cameo in Michael Moore's latest movie, Bowling for Columbine, which won an Academy Award.
The beer lobby strenuously opposes the tax increase. To hear the lobbyists talk, you'd think that we're treating Joe Six-Pack like Joe Camel. But this tax doesn't aim to punish beer drinkers or change behavior. The tax just seeks to recover some of the costs that alcohol abuse imposes on the rest of society. I'm sure there are a few zealots chanting "Give me cheap beer or give me death," but a poll in Oregon showed that 80 percent of the respondents would support this tax increase. The major newspapers, including The Register-Guard, are also backing the proposal.
The beer lobbyists say that the new tax would force the closure of some small breweries in Oregon. I'm not sure why Oregon's small breweries require the third-lowest tax rate in the nation to survive. In any event, proponents of the new beer tax are considering the possibility of reducing the tax for small producers. And when I hear the suggestion that Budweiser needs a lower tax in Oregon than in 46 other states, I can't help but say, "WASSSSUP?!!!" (That's a reference to a Budweiser ad that appeared virtually every 10 minutes on sports broadcasts last year. The advertising budgets for big breweries make me confident that they're not on the verge of closing if Oregon imposes the same beer tax that other states have imposed.)
I'll do my best to hold local breweries harmless by increasing my consumption of Oregon microbrews once the new beer tax takes effect. And if the missus complains, I'll say I'm just doing my part for mental health.
Tom Lininger is the county commissioner for the East Lane District.