Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not." -- Millard Fillmore
Come January America will still have its energetic and inventive people and the products of their hands and minds: its farms, its factories, its universities, its cities, its natural resources, its trading partners, and its constitution. The nation survived Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, civil war, Warren Harding, the Great Depression, the Cold War, and George W. Bush. It will survive the next president also.
Once upon a time the United Hotel Company needed to hire a new president. It narrowed more than a dozen applicants down to two and called them in for a final interview. "What's your experience in the industry?" they asked the finalists, though they had read their resumes.
The first applicant, a woman, replied, "I''ve spent more than 30 years working in hotels and the hospitality industry. I worked my way through college serving tables in a restaurant. When I graduated, I took a job in customer service at a hotel, then was promoted to run the catering department, and later became the sales manager. I was out of the industry for 8 years because my husband ran a hotel chain -- he was the first CEO in 50 years at that company to turn a profit -- and I moved with him to support his career. When he retired, I was selected to be the senior finance manager at another hotel chain, which I did for eight years, and then for four years was the director of communications. Also, so you can know what else I've done, here are 10 years of my income tax returns."
The second applicant, a man, said, "I've never had a job at a hotel, but I know all about them because I stay in hotels and I have my weddings catered in hotels. I've figured out some great ways to avoid paying my hotel bills. I know all about how to stiff a hotel, so you should hire me because I can stop other people from stealing from you. You need an outsider to teach you about fraud. And if the business goes downhill I know all about how to reorganize it, because I've taken six of my own companies into bankruptcy. I'm the best you're ever going to get, and if you don't hire me it means the system is rigged to favor the insiders. By the way, your receptionist's cute. I know people who own hotels in Russia - let's do a merger."
The hiring committee hotly debated which candidate to hire. The committee was almost evenly divided, so it scheduled a final discussion and vote. On the big day, one member was busy with other things, and didn't attend. The members who showed up talked for a while and then voted. The second candidate won by one vote, despite his inexperience, his bankruptcies, and his attitude, because he was a man.
This, of course, is a fable, and would never happen in American business, where decisions are based on merit. Whether it happens in American politics depends on your ballot.
Portland Public Schools, the state's largest school district by enrollment, currently serves 49,000 students. The district proudly states that it's enjoyed seven straight years of enrollment growth, which it has. It's not so forthcoming about its decades of enrollment shrinkage; today's PPS enrollment is lower than it was in 1923 -- the administration of Warren Harding! -- when the district enrolled 50,513 students. The district hit its high point in 1963, with 79,571 students, and its low point in 2008, with 46,046 students. No massive network of private schools has sprung up to siphon students away from PPS, and the city's population continues to grow (in the 1990s mainly by annexation, but since then through new construction), up 65% since 1963. So where are the children?
The answer? They're in Gresham.
After the 2010 census, Multnomah County remapped its four county commission districts to have equal population. "Equal population" does not mean "equal voters," as children count toward population. The four districts vary wildly in demographics: they average 121,000 voters each, but District 1 (the westside and inner southeast, entirely within PPS) has 137,000 voters and District 4 (Gresham, Fairview, and east county, nearly entirely outside PPS) has only 101,000 voters. Turn this statistic around and you see where the children are: District 1 has about 16,000 fewer children and about 12,000 fewer school-age children than the county average. District 4 has 20,000 more children and about 15,000 more school-age children than average. District 2 (north and northeast Portland, north of the Banfield Freeway, mostly in PPS) is also missing its children: it has 130,000 voters, so about 9,000 fewer children than the county average.
One consequence of the 30,000 missing Portland children is that PPS is, on the Oregon scale, a rich district. It receives the benefit of the property tax revenues from the city's growth without having the burden of educating more people. (The PacWest Center, for example, built in 1988, pays about $1 million/year just in school taxes.)
Portland's missing children are in other places besides Gresham, for instance, in the David Douglas School District (roughly I-205 east to 142nd Avenue and from NE Halsey south to the county line), where enrollment increased by 16% from 2003 to 2013. From 1990 to 2010 the share of households with children in David Douglas increased from 34% to 36%; the share in the rest of Multnomah County fell from 30% to 26%.
So that's where Portland's missing children are. Why are they there? That's a subject for another post; the short answer, I believe, is that Portland has priced and gentrified their parents out of the city.
To a survivor of Auschwitz, the rest of life's challenges must seem easy. In September 2008 I wrote about one such survivor, a Portland resident who that day celebrated his 90th birthday, something that must have seemed impossible for him to imagine in September 1944. Last week he moved even further into improbability as he turned 98. I can do no better than to repeat my good wishes from 2008:
In a conversation with a fellow political aficionado about the upcoming presidential election, a thought occurred to me on how, if Donald Trump appears to win a narrow majority of the electors, the Republican party establishment might nevertheless elect a party stalwart such as Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or John Kasich. The event that would kick off the party's search for a constitutional loophole will be if Secretary Clinton wins the popular vote but Mr. Trump wins the electoral vote. Let's suppose that the Trump-Pence ticket wins 275 or so electoral votes in November.
Except that it won't: the electoral vote isn't counted until mid-December when the electors meet in their state capitals to cast their vote. Imagine that the national Republican party persuades six of Mr. Trump's electors to cast their presidential votes for some other Republican, for example, Mitt Romney. The actual electoral tally will then be 269 for Mr. Trump, 264 for Secretary Clinton, and 6 for Mr. Romney. Mr. Trump still wins, doesn't he?
No, he doesn't. A majority of the electoral vote is 270. No candidate having received 270 or more electoral votes, the House of Representatives will then choose among the top three finishers in the electoral race: Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton, and Mr. Romney. Each state gets one vote. The Republicans currently control more state delegations than do the Democrats, and the Republicans in the House must then go on record as to whether, in their opinion, Mr. Trump or Mr. Romney is better suited to be President. Considering how the Republicans in Congress are distancing themselves from the Trump portion of the campaign, they may be reluctant to stand on the House floor and cast their votes for him. In that case, Mr. Romney could become president despite not having been on the ballot in any state.
In fact, the delicious dilemma into which the House Republicans will be placed is so great that if the popular vote does not produce a clear winner, for example, if elections difficulties in one state give us another 1980, it would be tempting for one Democratic elector to vote for Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan so that if the electoral race isn't conclusive, the House has a second Republican available. I can't imagine any Republican delegation casting its state's vote for Mrs. Clinton, but I can see them grasping at a way to avoid their party being under four years of Mr. Trump's leadership.
John T. Molloy came to public attention 40 years ago when he published "Dress For Success," a volume on what men should wear to the office that he based not on his opinions but on 15 years of testing and research, and declared himself "America's first wardrobe engineer." He followed his first book up with "The Women's Dress For Success," "Live for Success," and "Why Men Marry Some Women And Not Others," all, like his first book, based on research and statistical analysis. The titles of his books don't convey the full nature of his half-century of research and testing, which broadly deals with how Americans react to symbols of success and failure in clothing, speech, and manners. He's applied his knowledge to advising political candidates on how to dress and speak.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump haven't hired Mr. Molloy (one of them should), but he has some free advice for them anyway. I recommend reading his entire post, which you can find at this link. He says Mr. Trump has made a mistake in referring to his opponent as "Crooked Hillary," because he is turning off large sections of the country that are turned off by New York City rudeness. Here are two snippets of his advice.
First, his advice for Secretary Clinton:
If I were advising Hillary I would tell her the minute Trump called her “Crooked Hillary” to become indignant and walk off the show. Most people particularly in the Midwest and the South would agree with her reaction. The reason I would give her such advice is Trump needs the debates to win, in fact, I’m sure he and his team are counting on them. If Hillary can avoid debating when she has a substantial lead she wins hands down.
And his advice for Mr. Trump:
If on the other hand I were advising Trump I would have him apologize for using such language before the debates started. I would have him say something to the effect it was all right in the primaries but a debate for the presidency should have and will have dignity and decorum and he will refer to his opponent as Mrs. Clinton, Hillary or candidate Clinton. That would force Hillary to debate and give him a shot at the presidency since I believe he is a better debater than Hillary and has all sorts of information about Bill and Hillary that he can use to his advantage.
In matters of gambling, Oregon has two personalities. The law prohibits casinos and commercial gambling, even as the state itself operates two lotteries and other games of chance. ORS 167.117 permits Oregonians to engage in social games, such as the inoffensive wagering on the roll of the dice or the play of the cards, which I occasionally enjoy in the company of others of the Laquedemimonde. What is a "social game?" The law defines the term to be (i) a game other than a lottery in a private home in which there are no house odds and no house profit, and (ii) a game in a business establishment in a city or county that has authorized social gaming, where there are no house odds, house profit, or house bank. The idea behind this statute was that small towns might allow taverns to host card games in the hope of selling more food and drink, but the taverns weren't allowed to participate in or profit from the gambling itself.
Where the camel's nose goes, the body will soon follow. Prominent Portland attorney Tom Rask, who represents cardrooms in Washington, pointed out yesterday that Portland and Multnomah County are allowing games whose scale belies the benign adjective "social." Pots of tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars are sometimes advertised, far more Hamiltons and Lincolns than the framers of ORS 167.117 envisioned.
What, then, can be done? Mr. Rask called for the city to enforce state law and its own regulations, something the city seems disinclined to do. (The city fathers and mothers prefer to place their wagers on real estate through the Portland Development Commission.) The gambling houses themselves are keeping quiet.
A government that neglects the law for social reasons -- it's hard for a local government that receives money from the state lottery to seize the moral high ground when it complains about private enterprise joining in -- might enforce the law for financial reasons. Here's where Multnomah County is missing a bet. It can make a few dollars the easy way, if it cares to read ORS 91.240 and 91.245, two statutes buried in Oregon's non-residential landlord-tenant law. ORS 91.240 prohibits landlords from renting any building, boat, or booth if they know or have reason to know that the tenant will use the premises for gambling purposes. ORS 91.245 provides an incentive for the county to enforce the law: the penalty for being the landlord of a gambling house is "twice the amount of the rent of such building or other place for six months." So if the district attorney can identify a few gambling houses that lease their space, the D.A. can chase the landlords for the penalty and turn the office into a profit center. Your winnings, sir!
Saying that both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are terrible prospective presidents is like saying that two drivers are both irresponsible because one of them has had a series of hit-and-run accidents, a few DUI convictions, and a reckless driving charge, and the other one regularly gets tickets for overtime parking.