Grinding Out Policy
Sometimes it's better to close the doors.

We only voted on one bill in the Senate on Friday, a memorial to a retired general. We are four weeks away from the longest legislative session in Oregon history and it ain't lookin' good. Senate President Peter Courtney, House Speaker Karen Minnis, and Governor Teddy, are "inching toward each other" in secret negotiations. Salem's Statesman-Journal headlines, July 9: "Progress in budget talks cited;" July 11: "Budget talk going nowhere."

As I left the Capitol on Friday afternoon, Pat Egan — the governor's legislative liaison, one of the few holdovers from the Kitzhaber regime, well trusted by Democrats and Republicans — tells me that negotiations are going well again. But Sunday night, as I write this, my caucus leader Kate Brown just phoned to tell me that negotiations have been suspended.

This highlights a debate we've had in the building about public meetings laws and secret negotiations and open vs. closed caucuses. The state's big newspapers have threatened to sue under Oregon's "open meetings" law to allow the press to cover these previously secret meetings. If you'll remember, the Senate Democrats opened their caucus to the press in the 2001 session; the other three caucuses remained closed. But we were totally disingenuous; when Senate Democrats wanted to caucus without the press in the room, we simply went to the governor's conference room or Kate's office. I had to chuckle when one of our Lane County "open caucus" proponents had to slither under a cubicle divider to avoid the press while leaving Kate's office. I, of course, being vertically challenged, didn't have to duck.

I opposed opening the caucus. There are some discussions that can't go on in front of reporters and TV cameras; like it or not, legislators make public policy in a political context. The two are never separated by more than six degrees. But I also question the value of having three leaders try to come to an agreement in secrecy, away from their own constituency. For example, Karen Minnis told Peter and Ted that she had full authority to bargain on behalf of her caucus. The Senate Democrats told Peter Courtney explicitly that he did not have such authority. (We expect him to bring back proposals to our caucus and get a vote count.) So, in reality, neither the House Democrats nor the Senate Republicans are represented in this bargaining. Teddy, of course, as the executive branch, can bargain for himself.

From a select group of 50 Salem insiders — lobbyists, staffers, reporters, and downstate legislators — to grade lawmakers on brains, integrity, diligence and clout. Senators Kurt Schrader and Kate Brown got excellent scores, which they deserve. In the House, Max Williams got the only "excellent" rating, well deserved. He's honest, bright, hard working — a moderate Republican, if there is such a thing — with a sense of humor. Max wants a tax reform package and he and three of his moderate colleagues — Ben Westlund, Rob Patridge, and Lane Shetterly — have at least started the discussion. Their first tax package involved imposing a statewide sales tax, cutting capital gains taxes, cutting the estate tax, a refundable earned income tax credit, and decreasing the income tax rates. My good friends at the Oregon Center for Public Policy point out that this proposal would raise taxes for the bottom fifth of Oregon households by $227 a year; raise taxes for middle-income Oregonians by $130 a year; and lower taxes for the richest 1 percent of Oregonians by $20,957 a year.

Oops! But at least it's a start. Tim Nesbitt of the AFL-CIO actually believes we can come up with a sales tax package that treats working poor and middle-class folks fairly. But my point is: at least Max and the Usual Suspects, and Tim Nesbitt, deserve credit for trying. As reported in The Oregonian, Max quoted Winston Churchill on this matter: "It is better to fail in a noble effort than to perish by slow paralysis and windy agitation."

And believe me, the wind has been blowing hard lately in Salem. All the conservatives have to offer is Gary George's insulting "Tax Me More" fund.

And you wonder why there are two parties?

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

Going Coastal
Controversies rage in Oregon's coastal communities.

The Board of County Commissioners didn't meet during the second week of July, so our family scheduled our annual vacation for this week. One of my wife's relatives suggested Club Med, but our family opted for Club Mud — the soggy Oregon coast. Our past trips to the coast had always been pleasant and tranquil, if a little wet.

This time, the coast was neither tranquil nor wet. The sun was hot, and we found some coastal communities embroiled in controversy.

In Florence we saw several lawn signs protesting the construction of a new casino on tribal land near the city. The local reception for the casino couldn't be worse if the developers had hired Joe Pesci to handle their PR. Last week, the City Council voted to exclude the tribal land in question from the city's urban growth boundary, so the casino can't hook up with the city's water and sewer systems. One casino opponent told me that Oregon shouldn't become the "Nevada of the Northwest," and I certainly agree with that sentiment, although the issue of tribal sovereignty is a complex one.

At the sand dunes south of Florence, riders of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are mad that alcohol was banned throughout the dunes in May. When the commissioners heard a presentation about the accidents attributable to alcohol at the dunes, I was startled: Who'da thunk that alcohol and ATVs don't mix? It seemed like a winning combination to me, but you learn something every day in this business. My 3-year-old son, who can't pronounce the word "dune," refers to these ATVs as "doom buggies." He's a pretty perceptive kid.

Farther down the road in Coos County, gun control is a contentious issue. I saw bumper stickers proclaiming Charlton Heston is my president and This truck insured by Smith and Wesson. Former Coos County Sheriff Michael E. Cook suggested Coos commissioners should pass an ordinance requiring every household to own a gun. This proposal was rejected, in part because of concerns about how police would enforce the ordinance. How would you like that job?

In Charleston, I visited with a waitress at a seafood restaurant who explained that local fishers are frustrated with fishing quotas. A recent report by the Pew Commission showed that fisheries are depleting rapidly. Groundfish landings off the Oregon Coast have declined by 77 percent since 1990. Experts are discussing the possibility of "dead zones" off the coast in a few decades if present trends continue. Last month, when the National Marine Fisheries Service appointed a panel to study the vitality of coastal fisheries, representatives of the fishing industry filled 25 of the 31 vacancies. In other news, 25 foxes have been appointed to serve on the Henhouse Commission.

At our hotel in Bandon, we saw a sign in our room asking us to take off our shoes so we wouldn't track in tar. The beaches looked clean to me, but I know that the South Coast communities are still angry about the oil spilled by the New Carissa. And wrecked tankers aren't the only source of oil pollution. Every eight months, 11 million gallons of oil — the same amount spilled by the tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 — drains from land pollution into the oceans. At this rate, Spongebob Squarepants will be saturated with oil by the year 2004.

Our family returned home by Friday so we could attend the Oregon Country Fair. I knew I couldn't miss this year's fair when Joe Harwood of the R-G described it as a mecca for "freaks, geeks [and] lawyers" (I qualified in all three categories, but they refused to give me a discount at the gate). Congratulations to the fair's organizers for another great event. I hope that 20 years from now, the only "dead zone" in Oregon will be on the main stage at the County Fair, where the band Wake the Dead covers Scarlet Begonias.

Tom Lininger is the county commissioner for the East Lane District.


Happy Sodomy!
Check off another item on the homo to-do list.

Happy sodomy, everybody! A stunning victory, isn't it? And what a relief— especially for all the lovers in Texas and Georgia and the 11 other Not tonight dear, it's a felony states. Now everybody's right to privacy is protected and the sodomy laws are gone at last. My wife and I are going all out to commemorate the sodomy decision. I hope everybody is. You can bet they're feeling especially festive over in the personal lubricant industry.

On with fulfilling Justice Scalia's prophecy. Time to dig out those dusty old Homosexual Agendas of ours, sharpen our pencils and start checking our progress. We used to deny such an agenda ever existed; we'd say we're busy making a living, cleaning house and doing laundry just like everyone else. But big boy Antonin got it right — we do have an agenda, and it's huge. I, for one, am glad to get the big honking thing out of my closet. Happily, we can begin marking off our Homo To-Do list with the Supremes' ruling in favor of justice and dignity.

Abolish sodomy laws.

The fight's still on, but equal marriage rights appear more imminent every day. So far, same-sex couples can legally marry in Denmark, Belgium, Ontario and most recently, British Columbia. By October, our northern neighbors are expected to rule marriage discrimination unconstitutional throughout Canada. Lesbian and gay committed unions will be legal on this side of the border very soon, fire and brimstone notwithstanding. Granted, a constitutional amendment to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage is afoot in the U.S. House of Representatives—what a bunch of dinosaurs. But I'm not very worried, that amendment will soon be extinct, too. Everybody say "Pursuit of Happiness" (and drop Pete a line at Progress toward coupled queers' right to legally tie the knot..

You think you're sweating bullets now, Justices Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas? Wait till all the laws and policies that were kept afloat by your now-overturned ruling evaporate and your worst fears come true. Yes, we're going after the children and we're bringing them home. The end of discrimination in adoption, foster care, and custody will be checked off our agendas faster than you can say "Daddy's Roommate."

Fight for equality for all parents and families.

While your honors are facing the truth of our lives, check out this challenge to Don't Ask Don't Tell. An ex-general was discharged for being gay under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (where sodomy remains a court-martial offense). He's citing the new law of the land and challenging the constitutionality of the code. The ban on gays in the military is slipping into the backwaters of history. Long live Margarethe Camermeyer!

Attack the ban on serving with honor.

Another hottie on our agenda: the high school Gay-Straight Alliance. Principals and school boards have barred those support groups from meeting on campuses for years. But young queers and their schoolmate allies are fighting back, wielding the Supremes' ruling. Without a constitutional leg to stand on, those policies will soon collapse and students can meet and greet to their hearts' content. I predict we'll be checking that item off our list before Prom Night.

Create a safe, supportive school environment for queer youth.

We're seeing more victories every day. Despite the hate crimes, AIDS, and nasty attitudes that still befall us, we are making incredible progress on The Homosexual Agenda. We're not through, not by a long shot. But thanks to Justice Scalia's reminder, we're hip to the list and we're proud to be checking it twice.

On a more personal note, I am searching the Supremes' ruling for its domestic implications. Now that the robed ones have ruled nobody has any business knowing what I do behind closed doors, maybe I can tackle my own agenda:

Clean the bug carcasses out of the bedroom light fixture, AND

Mate my socks.

Sally Sheklow's Living Out, which began in EW in 1999, recently won a Houston Press 2003 Lone Star Awards trophy.


Moral Bankruptcy
Economic priorities take their toll.

All my life, I have pondered what it must be like to live within a particular society that is undergoing a particular moral bankruptcy. As a child, I contemplated what it was like for southern U.S. people of good will to try to protest their communities' brutality toward African-American residents. I wondered what it had been like to be a German who knew all people deserve kindness and watch one's community cheer the head of state and allow neighbors to be taken away. I have often thought about aware women living in a country that forces them to cloak their bodies and chokes their civil participation.

And in each case, I have been moved to learn of the power and courage of particular people who have refused to cooperate with such bankruptcy. A book I am reading, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, by Philip Hallie, tells of one French village, Chambon, which organized during the Nazi regime to save thousands of Jewish children and adults. Certain Chambonnais, particularly a Protestant minister, Andre Trocmé and his wife, Magda Trocmé, played key roles in encouraging their community to maintain a sea level of decency. These two acted out of different perspectives — Andre moved particularly by his church's teachings, Magda simply believing that something is evil if it hurts people.

I have to recognize that my own society is undergoing an immense moral bankruptcy regarding money. Private ownership, profit, and economic growth rather than collective compassion, community health, or environmental reciprocity, are regarded as the filter through which every public policy, every proposal, must run. Will it garner the support of the "business community"? Will it provide new jobs? Will it avoid new taxes? Will it keep company costs down? Will it allow "private" landowners to do as they wish? Will it insure economic growth? More growth? More growth? If it won't, it is pronounced dead on arrival.

One-third of U.S. meat packing workers are being maimed or killed every year amid horrifying stench and inhumane conditions, but we get good deals on beef at Safeway. The U.S. consumes 30 percent of the world's resources (including oil), but we have the allegedly blessed-by-God freedom to build and run SUVs everywhere we want. Thirty thousand children starve to death every day worldwide, but we till under crops to keep the market price down. Salmon, those ancient residents who once powered throughout the Northwest, hang on by a thread, but by God, no urban developer should be required to provide a buffer for them. Children's school days are being pinched and eliminated, but that just shows private schools can probably do better. Health care, whether preventive or after-illness, is utterly lacking for millions of my country's working poor, but pooling our money for universal health care wouldn't "work." The oceans have been stripped, aquifers drained, and species booted off Earth, but, hey, question economic growth? Not on your life.

The Wildlife Society, a national association of wildlife professionals, recently released a technical review, called "The Relationship of Economic Growth to Wildlife Conservation." Its conclusion? "Our findings are that economic growth and wildlife conservation are conflicting societal goals and that economic growth is a primary goal in the United States." In other words, you can't simultaneously have wildlife in your country and worship economic growth, which depends on either continuous population growth or growth of per-person consumption of products. From a global perspective, the report notes, "if everyone on Earth lived a typical North American lifestyle, three more Earth-like planets would be needed to do so sustainably." Is this a decent way to live?

My country's particular moral bankruptcy is its elevation of money — whether on Iraqi oil fields, in Mexican border factories, or within local politics — far, far above decency to fellow residents (human and other species), others in the world, and future generations.

The villagers of Chambon operated on a different moral plane than their Vichy government and nearby division of the Nazi SS.

We can operate on a different moral plane than economic growth, with policies built around a steady state economy. Three words might be its hallmarks: modesty, sharing, and .... enough. For all.

Mary O'Brien has worked as a public interest scientist for the past 22 years. She can be reached at


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