Editorials from around Oregon

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Oregonian/OregonLive, Nov. 24, on Portland hotelier Gordon Sondland’s impeachment inquiry testimony:

Perhaps it’s a sign of our strange political times that Portland hotelier Gordon Sondland, a frequent Republican donor and President Donald Trump’s pick to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, could emerge as a hero ­of sorts for Democrats watching the Trump impeachment inquiry.

Sondland, who has been targeted by anti-Trump protesters in recent weeks, delivered to a congressional committee last Wednesday emails, texts and damaging testimony that implicated not only the president but also other top administration officials in an alleged effort to withhold aid and pressure Ukraine into initiating an investigation that would benefit Trump politically. Sondland’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee triggered an avalanche of approval from Democrats, including a “welcome to the resistance” tweet from Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Portland, who just weeks ago had urged a boycott of the ambassador’s hotels.

In reality, Sondland’s testimony might not change anyone’s mind about whether the president should face articles of impeachment. Congressional Democrats and Republicans seem just as committed to their divergent views as ever. But without question, Sondland’s sworn statements should erase any worries by members of the public that this impeachment inquiry is the partisan witch hunt that Trump loyalists have claimed.

In his six-hour appearance last week, Sondland testified that he and other top U.S. officials all understood that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was contingent on the country’s announcing an investigation into a company tied to the son of Trump’s political rival Joe Biden. The ambassador said Trump expressly directed him to work with the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to achieve those objectives, torpedoing some House Republicans’ conjecture that Giuliani was acting on his own. And while the State Department has blocked release of documents to the committee, Sondland brought some of his own emails and text messages to back up his testimony that “everyone was in the loop” about Trump’s expectations – with “everyone” including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney.

Such damning information from one of Trump’s assumed allies helps shred the argument that Democrats manufactured a scandal to bring down Trump. Rather, Sondland’s testimony clarifies once again that Congress not only has the right to investigate whether the president is abusing the authority of his singular office; it has the obligation. The power that Americans entrust to all our elected officials should be used for fulfilling the country’s national interest, not chasing the whims or vendettas of any one individual.

A coronation, however, is not in order for Sondland. While his decision to testify in spite of State Department opposition is laudable, the ambassador provided the committee with incomplete testimony that required a significant revision just a few weeks ago – after other witnesses’ statements about his actions “refreshed” his memory. His own testimony and that of others also paint an unflattering portrait of Sondland as an accidental diplomat at best and a dupe at worst. Sondland was given the plum ambassadorship after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee – a perk that, unfortunately, both major parties use to reward donors – despite clearly lacking the experience, curiosity, historical knowledge and instincts of the career diplomats around him

He claimed that he did not know the connection between Burisma, the energy company Trump wanted investigated, and the Bidens – despite the fact that Hunter Biden’s position as a board member was well reported and easily discovered in a quick Google search. He knew Trump wanted Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation before welcoming the Ukrainian president to the White House and, Sondland gathered, before releasing military aid, but failed to grasp the impropriety of such a demand.

And while Sondland didn’t relish the idea of working with Giuliani, he also didn’t seem to recognize the risks and hazards of using foreign policy to achieve the political goals set by the president’s personal lawyer. As former National Security Council official Fiona Hill said so devastatingly in her testimony last week, she now realizes that her frustration with Sondland for pursuing conflicting objectives was misplaced. “We weren’t doing the same thing,” she said. “He was being involved in a domestic political errand and we were being involved in national security foreign policy.”

For his part, Sondland appeared to bask in the attention of last week’s committee appearance, grinning for cameras and joking occasionally as the day wore on. But he should take his admitted lack of awareness as a hint to reflect on whether he is truly serving the country well as its ambassador to the European Union. He hasn’t appeared to, considering his lawyer indicated to The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Jeff Manning that Sondland was eager to return to Brussels to continue the job he’s been doing.

The public deserves to know more, but so far, top officials in the administration have resisted answering questions or releasing pertinent documents. Instead, Trump’s allies have gone to great lengths throughout the impeachment inquiry to try to shift the focus onto the Bidens, the CIA whistleblower who triggered the inquiry and anything else to deflect attention from the allegations that the president sought to coerce a foreign government into conducting investigations for Trump’s political gain.

The deflection hasn’t worked. Sondland’s testimony, as well as that from the other witnesses, shines the spotlight right back where it belongs.

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Register-Guard, Nov. 27, on jury award of $1.1 billion to Oregon counties in timber lawsuit:

Officials in Lane County and a dozen other counties in Oregon might feel like Christmas came early this year, but they’d be wise not to spend anything just yet from a $1.1 billion jury award they’ve won in a lawsuit over timber harvesting.

After an 18-day trial, jurors in Linn County took only a few hours to deliver a verdict in favor of the counties in the class-action lawsuit against the state of Oregon. The plaintiffs alleged Oregon had failed to live up to a World War II-era agreement to maximize timber harvests in state forests and share the revenues with local governments.

Lane County stands to gain about $73 million from the lawsuit. The remainder will go to 12 other counties and 151 local taxing districts that signed onto the suit.

The state is likely to appeal.

At issue is the Forest Acquisition Act of 1941, established to guide management of about 600,000 acres of land taken on by the state following a spate of foreclosure and forest fires. Under the agreement, the state is required to manage forests for “the greatest permanent value of those lands to the state.”

For the past few decades, Oregon officials have interpreted the value of the forests to lie mostly in the clear air, clean water, natural habitat and recreational potential they provide. But plaintiffs in the case — with financial assistance from the timber industry — argued that the state’s interpretation had unfairly cut rural counties out of revenue they’d receive if more timber were released for harvest. The jury in a county that stood to benefit agreed.

Government leaders in Lane and elsewhere are already thinking about how they’ll spend their share of the money. There are plenty of needs and wants, including — as District 1 Commissioner Jay Bozievich points out — a mental health center, housing programs and a new courthouse. But officials would be wise not to rely on lawsuit funds for any of those projects until the appeals process is exhausted and the money is in the bank.

The Democratic-led Legislature, meanwhile, also should be frugal. There’s no guarantee a state appeal will succeed. At least the state revenue forecast for December for Oregon is up nearly $163 million since the September forecast. If that holds, lawmakers would be wise to restrain themselves from going on a spending spree and instead set aside some money to help pay the jury award.

State officials bear part of the blame for the predicament they’re in, as do leaders in many of the counties clamoring to see more timber harvesting.

As Oregon’s priorities shifted toward forest preservation, the state should have done more to help develop new industries and jobs in those counties. And some of those local officials should have made the hard but necessary choice to raise property tax rates to offset losses in timber revenue.

If there’s one lesson in all this, it’s that the depths of state code and agreements can contain surprises. Before the next one surfaces, officials would do well to search out the surprises lurking in interpretations of state laws guiding forest management and anything else.

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The Bulletin, Nov. 26, on Klamath River dam removal plan:

Plans to remove four dams on the Klamath River in Southern Oregon and Northern California continue to move ahead. Now, only about three years before the first dam is expected to be removed, it’s becoming clear that some early supporters may get less than they bargained for.

Outdoor recreationists, fishing and rafting guides among them, were early and vocal supporters of dam removal. They wanted all the things supporters of the project could be expected to want, most importantly improved survival and spawning grounds for endangered salmon that call the river home.

In exchange, rafting guides will lose a popular seven miles of class IV rapids that were created each summer by daily water releases from one of the dams, though fishing could well improve.

At the same time, the nonprofit agency created to handle the project said it would build or pay others to build new access points to the river as things progress. That changed this summer, however, as the Klamath River Renewal Corporation backed away from that plan.

It had good reasons for doing so, according to KRRC spokesman Matt Cox. Recreation is outside the scope of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, for one thing. Too, it’s not yet clear who will own the PacifiCorp land when all is said and done, and the agency cannot commit unknown future owners to managing recreation sites.

Meanwhile, Cox says, the corporation will focus on its core mission of dam removal and fish habitat restoration. It also will try to persuade private parties and other nonprofits to do the access work recreationists had hoped for. That’s good. We hope its commitment to doing so is both heartfelt and carried out.

KRRC has yet to submit a final recreation plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must grant it the PacifiCorp dam licenses for current dam removal plans to go forward. That gives recreationists and the nonprofit a bit more time to find a solution to their problems.