Editorials form around Oregon

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Oregonian/OregonLive, Sept. 11, on Oregon Public Records advocate Ginger McCall's resignation:

Even for those familiar with the lack of transparency from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's administration, the circumstances leading up to the sudden resignation by Oregon Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall are dumbfounding.

McCall, a well-regarded attorney with extensive experience in public records and privacy issues, was named to the new position in January 2018. From the start, she poured her passion for transparency and access to public records into practice, holding trainings for government officials, mediating disputes and working with legislators and a public records advisory council for new ways to promote access.

But on Monday, McCall announced her resignation, citing "abuse of authority" by Brown's general counsel, Misha Isaak, as The Oregonian/OregonLive's Hillary Borrud reported. Among other things, McCall alleged Isaak intimidated and pressured her to secretly advance Brown's agenda, even if it conflicted with the mission or objectives of McCall's office. During a Jan. 15 meeting, McCall said Isaak claimed supervisory authority over her, dismissing the independence of her office. He told her she should derail proposals that could put the governor in a politically awkward situation, according to a memo McCall wrote after the meeting.

Isaak then closed the meeting with an ominous statement, telling her he was concerned she would call a reporter and say that the governor's office was censoring her, McCall's memo states. The "expectation of secrecy," she wrote, "felt both unethical and dishonest."

She's right — but it extends beyond the secrecy request. It is both unethical and dishonest for the governor's office to try to gain back-channel control of an independent office meant to promote open government and build the public's trust. It is both unethical and dishonest for the governor's office, while responding to the news of her resignation, to accuse McCall of lying. And it was both unethical and dishonest for Brown to attempt to distance herself from responsibility for the actions of her top advisers when she's the one running the show.

McCall's resignation was a principled stand, but it shouldn't mark the end of this matter. There's much that Brown should do, starting with Isaak. The governor recently nominated him for a seat on the Oregon Court of Appeals. She should rescind the nomination or encourage him to voluntarily withdraw his name. Even before the news of McCall's resignation, the decision to give her inexperienced, but loyal lawyer a seat on the appellate court smacked of cronyism. But McCall's very credible allegations that he pressured her to support the governor's political objectives over the mission of her independent office merit pulling the nomination completely. If true, such scorn for transparency and disrespect for the office's independence show Isaak to be unqualified for the appeals court.

And nothing is stopping Isaak — a 37-year-old attorney with no bench experience — from seeking a seat on the appeals court through the elections process if he so desires. Voters are free to choose him if they think he's trustworthy. But there's no reason he should be gifted a vacant seat. Brown only hurts her own reputation by following through with this nomination, which was problematic from the start.

Brown has already said she wants to hear McCall's ideas for making the office truly independent. She should also meet with members of the Public Records Advisory Committee to hear their concerns following this debacle and ensure that fixes are in front of the Legislature for the short session next year.

Brown also should answer for the actions of those in her office. It's not just Isaak's pressure or his demeaning and insulting advice to McCall that she slow down and not be so ambitious. It's not just that Brown's government accountability attorney, Emily Matasar, apparently followed Isaak's lead in pressuring McCall. It's also the immediate response by her spokesman, Chris Pair, to try to discredit McCall after the news of her resignation broke. In an email to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Pair said her allegations were "untrue," which was largely refuted by Brown herself in a statement at the end of the day. That attack-dog instinct to label McCall a liar reveals much about how the governor's office handles unflattering news.

Brown also seems to cast blame on McCall for not bringing her concerns directly to her previously. But McCall isn't the one who mishandled the situation. Isaak wasn't some low-level employee in the governor's office. He was the governor's lawyer. The more appropriate question is did Brown and her chief of staff know what Isaak was doing, and if they didn't, why not?

In a press release Monday, Brown ended her statement on the resignation by saying, "It appears this is a situation where staff were conflicted between the goals of serving the Governor and promoting the cause of transparency. Let me be clear, there should be no conflict."

How odd that Brown didn't finish that thought by saying declaratively that transparency comes first. She should have. Instead, she's left things a little ambiguous. Brown's next moves should reveal exactly what she means.


The Bend Bulletin, Sept. 10, on funding for forest health:

For years the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have had a problem: While federal budgets have included money for fighting wildfires, it often hasn't been enough to get the job done. The budget shortage could be made up by taking money earmarked for forest health restoration, a practice called fire borrowing, leaving the very work that would reduce the likelihood of catastrophic fire short of money.

That's about to change. Maybe. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 included a provision that would end fire borrowing in the federal 2020 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

That was then. Today, just weeks before the fiscal year begins, the departments of the Interior and Agriculture, which oversee the two land management agencies, have failed to include the money Congress hoped would improve forest health even in the event of catastrophic fires.

The lack hasn't gone unnoticed. Oregon's two senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Portland Democrats, joined six other western Democratic senators in March to write to the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture departments, urging them to include more money for forest health. They note that ending fire borrowing will allow the agencies to save $649 million in fire suppression costs in the 2020 fiscal year, yet none of that money has gone to work on correcting the problems that lead to such fires in the first place.

The two, fire suppression and forest health, are inextricably linked, and funding one half of the pair — fire suppression — without funding the other leaves the country's public lands prone to more, bigger, and more expensive fires in the future. If the proposed federal spending is adopted, there are funds to restore only 3.4 million of the nation's 90 million acres of forest land in need of the work in the coming year.

That's not enough. The administration and Congress must do better.


The Corvallis Gazette-Times, Sept. 9, on government recall campaigns:

There is news, more or less, to report about the various recall campaigns currently being waged against Oregon state Democrats.

For starters, those of you who have been concerned that the existence of two separate efforts to recall Gov. Kate Brown might suck the life out of both have no need to worry: A joint statement last week from the two campaigns urged people to support both recall campaigns and attempted to downplay earlier media reports of friction between the two.

Said Michael Cross, the chief petitioner for the "Flush Down Kate Brown" recall campaign: "We want to make it as easy as possible for voters to support both recall efforts, so I am urging our great grassroots volunteers to carry and offer both recall petitions."

Said Bill Currier, the Adair Village man who is the chairman of the Oregon Republican Party: "Voters will have the final say at the ballot box on Kate Brown's future and that of so many of the state's abused and ignored citizens."

So the advice from both of these campaigns is that voters angry with Brown's actions as governor should sign both petitions. But they should be careful not to sign the same petition twice — that would invalidate both signatures when it comes time for the Secretary of State's Office to verify the two recall petitions.

Both efforts need to collect more than 280,000 valid signatures by Oct. 14 to force a recall election against Brown, and that's a big hurdle for both of them. But it's not completely out of the question: The dramatic end of this year's legislative session, during which rural Oregon communities helped galvanize opposition to a controversial cap-and-trade carbon proposal (and a walkout by 11 GOP state senators brought the Senate to a standstill), may have helped to spark the GOP faithful: Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that state officials noted a surge in July in the number of voters registering as Republican.

Here's the deal, though: Republicans still face a substantial (and slowly growing) gap in terms of the overall number of registered voters in Oregon. As of August, Democrats held an advantage of nearly 267,000 registered voters over Republicans. That's a little bit more than in August 2018, when the gap was about 258,000 voters. (The numbers for last month showed 969,455 registered Democrats in Oregon and 702,757 registered Republicans. It won't be long until the number of nonaffiliated voters surpasses the Democrats; as of August, 932,614 voters were not affiliated with any political party.)

So the math suggests that, even if one (or both) of the recall campaigns manages to get onto the ballot later this year, the odds against an election booting the governor from office are long indeed. As former GOP legislator Julie Parrish noted, "Multnomah County still gets to vote. I think it's a big hurdle."

And if Brown were to be recalled, the next governor likely would not be GOP Secretary of State Bev Clarno — she believes that, as an appointee, the state constitution bars her from taking over for Brown. If that's the case, then Treasurer Tobias Read, a Democrat, would be the next governor.

It's possible, though, that winning a recall election is not the point of the campaigns. It could be that the efforts seek instead to rally the party after a dispiriting performance in the 2018 elections and to generate enthusiasm for the 2020 campaigns.

To that end, though, Republicans might be better off working now to recruit strong candidates for the Legislature and other state offices. If the recall efforts turn out to be distractions from that work, it's hard to see how the state GOP will be strengthened in the long run.

In the meantime, expect more recall efforts: Oregon's new Timber Unity group has filed to recall state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, a freshman Democratic legislator from Astoria.