Now, a romp through the rest of the state ballot measures:
Measure 54 allows voters aged 18 to 20 to vote in school board elections. Oregon law allows 18-year-olds to vote in all elections except school board elections, for which the minimum age is 21. The age limit became obsolete when the United States adopted the 25th amendment, which prohibits the state from denying the vote to anyone 18 years or older on account of age. Oregon hasn't enforced this law for the last 30+ years. Vote yes.
Measure 58 prohibits teaching public school students in languages other than English for more than two years, with an exception for courses that teach foreign languages. I have to admit that I voted "yes" for this measure, because I think it's a good idea -- the nation should speak a common language -- before I read the description of current law. Current law, according to the ballot summary, requires classes to be in English (again excepting classes that teach foreign languages) and requires schools to provide English courses for students who can't learn in English. Here's the actual statute, ORS 336.074:
336.074 Teaching in English required; exceptions. Instruction in all subjects in public, private and parochial schools shall be conducted primarily in English, except:
(1) Instruction in foreign languages.
(2) Instruction may be conducted in more than one language in order that pupils whose native language is other than English can develop bilingual skills to make an early and effective transition to English and benefit from increased educational opportunities. [1971 c.326 §2]
As I read it, this statute prohibits schools from having classes that teach a substantive subject in a foreigh language only; each class, except for classes in foreign languages, must be taught at least in part in English. It's not legal to teach a science or math class entirely in Spanish or French.
The current law prohibits what the sponsors of Measure 58 are complaining about, and on reflection I would vote "no."
Measure 59 would allow Oregon taxpayers to take their federal income tax payments as an itemized deduction, without limit, from their Oregon income. At present Oregon taxpayers may deduct all of their Oregon taxes from their federal income, if they itemize, but may deduct no more than $5,500 of their federal income tax payments from their Oregon income. The sponsors argue that the income of Oregonians is unfairly double-taxed to the extent that their federal income taxes exceed $5,500. The measure would reduce state revenues by about $1 billion per year. Much as I would like to see my taxes go down, I don't want to see $1 billion cut from the state budget, an amount that because of its size would have to come from schools and prisons. I recommend rejecting Measure 59.
Measure 60 would require school districts to make teacher pay depend on performance and not on seniority. This is another good idea that fell victim to bad drafting. It makes sense to pay teachers, and anyone else, based in part on merit, but this measure isn't the way to do it. (Any school board that had the courage could insist on merit pay in its next union bargaining session.) One of the worst features about this measure is that it requires local school districts to eliminate seniority as a criterion for raises. This is a bad idea because it takes a fair amount of experience for a novice teacher to grow into a master teacher. Not all make it -- many don't -- but the increased pay that comes from seniority is what keeps teachers in the occupation. Vote no on Measure 60.
Measure 63 would exempt owners of houses and farms from obtaining building permits for improvements under $35,000. They would still have to comply with zoning codes, and electrical work would have to be approved by a licensed electrical contractor. In contrast to Measure 63, this is a bad idea with good drafting. You can do a lot of work -- badly -- for $35,000. Vote no on Measure 63.
Measure 64 prohibits the use of public resources to collect political funds. (I'm simplifying it a bit.) The sponsors want to prohibit public employee unions from collecting PAC money through a checkoff or payroll deduction, and from using rooms in public buildings to raise money for political campaigns. The measure is a lot broader, however; as written it would prohibit presidential candidates from holding rallies in Waterfront Park or Pioneer Square if they charged admission, sold merchandise, or sought donations. Instead of cutting off the incidental use of the payroll system for raising PAC money, the proponents should fight back in the marketplace and raise their own money. I voted no on Measure 64.
At last, Measure 65. This would change Oregon's partisan primaries to be top-two, regardless of party. Every candidate for an office would appear together on the primary ballot. The top two finishers would face each other in the general election. Third parties oppose this measure, saying that it would make it harder to get their candidates on the ballot. Nonsense. It would make it harder to get their candidates on the general election ballot, but they would have a fair shot, along with everyone else, on the primary ballot. I think the minor parties have got this wrong: they get to put their candidates on the primary ballot instead of having to hold nominating conventions. I voted yes on Measure 65 with enthusiasm.
And now, a run through some of the ballot measures:
Measure 55 changes the timing of how legislators are assigned to districts after redistricting. Every 10 years, after the census, the state redraws district lines for state senate and house seats. It sometimes happens that two senators or representatives land in the same new district. One of them is reassigned to some other district, if another district lacks a representative. This happens in between elections. This measure allows the redistricting to take effect as of an election, rather than in between elections. It's the most innocuous measure on the ballot and deserves a "yes" vote.
Measure 56 would change Oregon's double-majority rule. Back in the days when we had actual polling places, local governments -- especially school districts -- developed the unattractive practice of scheduling their tax levies and bond measures for special elections, in the hope that they could rally their supporters to go to the polls while their opponents snoozed. The voters adopted an initiative in response, which says that local tax measures that are on the ballot any time other than at a primary or general election in an even year (that is, at any time other than the two important election dates) fail unless (i) a majority of the registered voters actually vote, and (ii) a majority of those voting vote "yes."
It seems to me that local governments shouldn't have emergencies that require raising taxes or issuing bonds more often than once every two years. I don't see a compelling reason to change the double-majority rule, and I'm voting "no" on Measure 56.
Measures 57 and 61 are the Dostoyevsky measures, dealing with crime and punishment. I easily voted "no" on Measure 61, which requires minimum prison sentences for certain crimes including some drug crimes, none of which carry minimum prison sentences at present. The problem is that we can't afford, or don't want to pay for, the prison space that would be required. Measure 62 tries to patch that hole in Measure 61 by allocating 15% of lottery proceeds toward public safety. Measure 62 is a bad idea (see below), which means that Measure 61 is an unfunded mandate; vote "no" on Measure 61.
I wrestled with Measure 57 much longer before deciding to vote "yes." Measure 57 increases sentences for certain drug crimes but also requires the state to provide drug addiction treatment for certain offenders. A drug addict can commit 50+ property crimes a year to support his or her habit; getting one person off drugs thus prevents 50 crimes a year. That's a lot more cost-effective than locking people up. I'm not perfectly pleased with Measure 57, but it's well thought out and deserves a try. Vote "yes" on Measure 57.
Measure 62, which I think of as the Producers measure, requires the state to spend 15% of lottery proceeds on public safety. It's a great goal. The trouble is that every worthy cause looks on lottery dollars as a honeypot of free cash, because the lottery money doesn't run through the general budget. Originally the lottery profits were to support economic development. Then education and salmon got into the act. At the rate we're allocating slices of the lottery pie to this and that, in about 10 years, we will have allocated more than 100% of the lottery profits to specific causes. It's time to stop making special allocations of the lottery money to anything other than economic development and public education. I voted "no" on Measure 62.
I'll discuss Measures 58 (English in the schools), 59 (tax deductions), 60 (teacher merit pay), 63 (no building permits required for cheap construction), 64 (public money to collect political funds), and 65 (top-two primaries) in my next post.
It's long been said that in the United States, anyone can grow up to be president. This was not actually true for most of our history, but it's more nearly true today than ever before.
I'm beyond such lofty ambitions, but it occurred to me that if almost anyone can grow up to be president, it should be easier to grow up to be vice president, a job much less demanding, requiring only a steady EKG and the ability to eat politely in public. I qualify on both counts, though after the recent action in the stock market, I'm not so sure about the first one.
Being disappointed in the quality of public debate offered by the two leading contenders for the vice presidency, I offer myself as an alternative. This is the first of my campaign mini-speeches, dealing with foreign policy and in particular with our relations with Russia.
The past eight years have shown us the dangers of having an administration innocent of foreign experience. The federal government can impose its will on the states, most of the time, by passing legislation to require the states to do things, or to prohibit them from doing things; and by offering financial assistance with strings attached. Congress is accustomed to ordering the states to do things, or not to do them, and a senator might be excused for believing that he or she, as president, could do the same to other nations.
Foreign policy does not work that way. Although ours is the most powerful country on the world scene, we do not command obedience from other nations through force. Nor should we try to. Today's forced laborer becomes tomorrow's willing rebel.
This fall, the Bush administration reached a treaty with Poland to allow the United States to install missiles and station soldiers in Poland. This followed an agreement to allow the United States to install missile tracking radars in the Czech Republic.
Our nation's stated purpose in securing permission to open military bases in eastern Europe was to protect western Europe from missile attacks from "rogue states," meaning unnamed nations in or near the Middle East. The purpose of Poland, and maybe of the Czech Republic also, was to provide some protection not from the Middle East but from Russia.
Now, Russia is the central part and largest constituent of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Under the Communist regime the USSR oppressed its people and those of the Eastern European nations that were members of the Warsaw Pact, and the rivalry between our allies in NATO and those of the Warsaw Pact was at the heart of the Cold War.
The Cold War ended, symbolically, with the destruction of the Berlin Wall by the citizens of East and West Germany together, and then in fact with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact a short time later. We must never return to the days of the Iron Curtain, yet our foreign policy, in this instance, seems designed to do just that -- to push Russia farther politically from the rest of Europe, rather than closer to it.
Since the end of the Cold War the nations of Eastern Europe, including Russia, have made great strides toward freeing their people. The Russian people now have economic opportunities never before available to them, including things as everyday as the golden arches, and as basic as the ability to travel. Russia still has far to go, but it is on the road to freedom.
If Europe is to be defended from the missile attacks of rogue states, Europeans should set up and maintain the defenses. We should stand ready to provide technical help, but the people protected must be the ones to staff and operate the bases. We should take a lesson from the history of the 20th century, however, and not restart the Cold War.
As your vice president, I will support those nations that increase the economic and political freedom of their citizens. I will oppose efforts to reward nations that don't. Nations that use their military against their own citizens deserve no military support from ours.
This year we select a secretary of state, a state treasurer, and an attorney general. Bill Bradbury leaves the secretary of state's office because of term limits. Democrat Kate Brown, who has served in the legislature since 1991, deserves the nodto succeed him over Republican Rick Dancer and Pacific Green candidate Seth Allen Woolley. The duties of the secretary of state aren't onerous, and could likely be handled by any of the candidates. The main policy difference between Senator Brown and Mr. Dancer is that Mr. Dancer supports an open primary (Measure 65 on the ballot this year) and Senator Brown opposes it. The difference for me lies in one odd fact about the office: although the attorney general is in charge of enforcing the state's laws, the secretary of state administers the election laws. For this reason Senator Brown, who has a law degree, is a better choice than Messrs. Dancer and Woolley, who don't. She gets my vote this year.
The state treasurer's race draws three candidates: Allen Alley, a Republican businessman and investor; Michael Marsh of the Constitution Party, who opposes merging the banks with the federal and state treasuries into one entity, and Ben Westlund, a Democratic business owner who's served in the legislature since 1997. In view of the current economic mess, it's particularly important this year that Oregon elect a treasurer with a sound grasp of money and the national financial system. Allen Alley is clearly that person, and I recommend him.
Four candidates are on the ballot for attorney general: J. Ashlee Albees of the Working Families Party, Walter F. Brown of the Pacific Green Party, John Kroger, who won the Democratic nomination over Greg MacPherson and who won the Republican nomination on write-in votes, and James Leuenberger of the Constitution Party. Mr. Leuenberger boils his philosophy down to "slavery bad - liberty good." (I'm not making this up.) Mr. Brown, who served 12 years in the Oregon senate, offers some good ideas and has put much thought into his candidacy; he would serve competently. Ms. Albees also offers some good ideas, but has been a lawyer for less than four years and it's unlikely she's acquired the experience necessary to handle the demands of this job.
The star of the panel is John Kroger, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at Lewis & Clark Law School. The attorney general wears a lot of hats; he's identified five in his voter's pamphlet statement on which he intends to concentrate: fight meth, hold polluters responsible, go after deadbeat parents for child support, protect consumers and senior citizens from scams, and defend civil rights. Anyone who believes that the attorney general should be chosen for reasons other than his views on abortion (Professor Kroger is pro-choice) should vote enthusiastically for John Kroger as the candidate best suited by temperament and experience to use the office to protect the citizens of Oregon.
For the Senate, two-term senator Gordon Smith faces a strong challenge from Jeff Merkley, speaker of the Oregon house in the last session. Mr. Merkley's resume is much like that of Senator Smith before he went to the senate: a college and a graduate degree, and some time in the Oregon legislature. They do differ in their occupational experience: Senator Smith revived his family's faltering business (a frozen-food-packing plant); Mr. Merkley worked in think tanks and as a congressional staffer. They differ in their politics, but each is fairly representative of his party. The party regulars are going to vote for their party's candidate.
The candidates' statements in the voter's pamphlet do little to help voters in the middle choose between the two. The Republican's statement mentions his support for tax cuts (a traditionally Republican plank) but also his support for expanding government health benefits and protecting wilderness at Mount Hood, positions more likely to be found on the Democratic side. The Democrat's statement mentions his having "cut taxes for working people" and his support for scrapping trade agreements (I think he has NAFTA in mind) and his having produced a balanced budget in Oregon (which is actually a statutory requirement, but sounds much more Republican as expressed in print). Voters in the middle have a difficult choice, which I believe they should make not so much on the merits of the two men -- both are well-qualified and capable -- but on which is more likely to accomplish his goals in Congress, given the next occupant of the White House and the makeup of the next Congress. As I believe the next president will be a Democrat and the next Congress will be Democratic, I think the better choice for Oregonians is Jeff Merkley, and he will get my vote this year.
The candidate of the Constitution Party, Dave Brownlow, shows a candid economic simplicity in his statement, which, however entertaining it may be on talk radio, would not serve Oregon or the nation well in Congress.
Turning to the House, in the first district (west Portland and the northwest corner of the state) five-term incumbent David Wu was to face a Republican challenger named Joel Haugen. He is instead facing an Independent challenger named Joel Haugen -- the same person, who after announcing his support for Barack Obama over John McCain and for Jeff Merkley over Gordon Smith, fell out of favor with the establishment Republicans. Mr. Wu, whose district is notorious for being one of the few truly swing districts in the nation, usually faces a tough challenger, such as Goli Ameri or Molly Bordonaro, who can make a plausible case to replace him. This year's challenger can't. First district voters should reelect Mr. Wu.
In the third district (east Multnomah County, mostly), six-term congressman Earl Blumenauer faces a Republican, Delia Lopez, and a Pacific Green candidate, Michael Meo. Ms. Lopez makes a number of good policy arguments that mostly read like the Democratic platform. Mr. Meo's main point of opposition to Mr. Blumenauer is that the incumbent has voted (he says) for war funding on six separate occasions since 2006, for what I take to mean the Iraq and the Afghan wars. (Note that Mr. Blumenauer's statement says that he's opposed the Iraq war from the start.) Other than the war issue, which I think is more nuanced than Mr. Meo makes it out to be, neither one offers a reason of consequence to replace Mr. Blumenauer. Mr. Blumenauer has become a congressional expert on transportation issues (commonly, "policy wonk") and the third district can return him to Congress with confidence.
In the fifth district (Clackamas County south to Salem and beyond), voters can choose among five candidates. My favorite statement in the voter's pamphlet is that of Douglas Patterson, the Constitution Party's candidate, who under "Experience" says "None. No experience with: corruption; mis-managing a budget; owing people favors." I'm troubled, however, by his goal to "abolish all trade agreements and un-holy alliances that hurt American workers." We have a whole bunch of trade agreements that benefit Oregonians -- that's why the ships come in and out of Portland harbor -- and to throw them all out would be policy madness. The Republican candidate, Mike Erickson, appears to have engaged in personal conduct sufficiently at variance with his expressed views to give voters reason to doubt whether he believes in his platform. Steve Milligan, a Monmouth city councilman, would serve ably in Congress. So would Kurt Schrader, a veterinarian who is the Democratic candidate and likely winner of this race, and who has served in the Oregon legislature with distinction since 1997. My vote this year goes, however, to the candidate of the Pacific Green Party, Alex Polikoff, whose voter's pamphlet statement is uncharacteristically clear and practical (as PGP statements go; compare it to the others in the pamphlet) and who offers not just a clear policy direction but also a coherent one. Nevertheless, I will not be disappointed to see Dr. Schrader win the race, and he will serve the district well.
When I first rode the Boston subway, in 1968, it cost a dime. The price crept up over the years, and I've purchased tokens for 25c, 50c, and $1. (I have a token or two still on hand, just in case I should find myself in Boston unexpectedly.)
In fact I found myself in Boston this month, not exactly unexpectedly, and rode the subway. A ride now costs $2, but there are no more tokens -- passengers buy a smartcard (called "Charlie" after the famous song of the Kingston Trio) and use it to go through automated booths. Several of the Green Line stations (the oldest part of the subway, built as a cut-and-cover near the end of the 19th century) are at last being retrofitted to be handicapped-accessible. (Boston does things slowly: the extension of the Red Line was talked about for 30 years or more before construction started.)
If smartcard technology is working in Boston, it might even work for TriMet on the light rail. Our city's transit system has grown beyond the point of operating on the honor system.
Eighteen months ago, Hillary Clinton was certain to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. She came to the race having been prominent on the national scene since 1992, and although she carried some negative baggage from her husband's administration, she also had accrued a solid if not spectacular seven years' service in the Senate, including in particular on the Foreign Relations Committee.
She lost the nomination, narrowly, to a freshman senator from Illinois with solid academic credentials but a thin record of public service, unknown politically outside his home state until the eve of the campaign. Two things are significant about how Senator Obama claimed the nomination from Senator Clinton. First is that he and his team took the time to learn how delegates are awarded, and had the insight to realize that nearly as many delegates would be selected through caucuses as through primaries. They then set up superior organizations in the caucus states, states that the Clinton campaign mostly ignored. In short, instead of relying on the accepted wisdom that the caucus states, except maybe Iowa, don't really matter, he did his homework. Second is that he generally did not offer the problems of Bill Clinton's administration as reasons for Democrats to oppose Hillary Clinton: he campaigned against her in a way that did not preclude him from naming her as his running mate. (Senator Clinton's chance to be nominated as vice president was likely done in by President Clinton.) Senator Obama was able to keep his team operating on the same lines: what Senator Obama did not say on the campaign trail, his staffers did not murmur anonymously to reporters.
Parallel events took place, for a while, in the Republican race. The presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, failed to catch hold, and though he led the race for some time, he soon lost to Senator McCain. Senator McCain's campaign, which struggled in 2007, apparently received some clear direction in 2008, and recovered to win him the nomination. Through this period, Senator McCain's campaign was very much like Senator Obama's: pointed, but respectful of his opponents, and of the office that they all sought.
And so Senators McCain and Obama came to face each other this fall. The strongest criticism of Senator Obama is that he lacks the experience to be President -- he is, after all, new to national politics. The strongest criticism of Senator McCain, by contrast, is that he lacks the temperament to be President. Close behind that is the observation that, though he has direct and personal experience with the limits of foreign policy, his knowledge of the national economy is weak at best.
Senator Obama accepted, or at any rate dealt with, this criticism by selecting Joseph Biden as his running mate. Senator Biden has been in national politics since 1970 and is fully qualified by experience to serve as President. (The only modern presidents with similar depth of experience were Nixon, Ford, and George Bush the elder.) Experience is not a guarantee of judgment, but it's difficult to acquire judgment without it.
Senator McCain operated on different principles in choosing Governor Palin as his running mate. Neither her temperament nor her experience with economics appear to fill gaps in Senator McCain's record, and he's offered no good explanation for not choosing, say, Governor Romney instead (someone who would fill both gaps).
James Baker, who was chief of staff for Ronald Reagan, was once asked if he had a vision of what he should, or could, accomplish in that post. He replied, "I don't need to have a vision, because the guy down the hall [President Reagan] has one." In two weeks we will hire someone to be "the guy down the hall" for the next four years, and that person should have both a vision of what to accomplish in four years, and the talent to bring people together to achieve that vision. For reasons less eloquent, but no less deep, than those advanced by Colin Powell on Sunday, I believe that person, this year, is Barack Obama.
I'm reprinting without comment my post of October 9, 2006, about something that Richard Nixon said on this day 40 years ago as he was running to succeed Lyndon Johnson.
On this day in 1968, Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate for the presidency who was running against Vice President Hubert Humphrey, said apropos of the Vietnam War, "Those who have had a chance for four years and could not produce peace should not be given another chance." He was criticizing President Johnson's failure to bring the Vietnam War (or at least the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War) to an end, and tagging Vice President Humphrey with the failure of the Johnson administration.
Four years later, Nixon was the president and the country was still in the Vietnam War. His Democratic opponent, George McGovern, who was running on a strong anti-war platform, distributed black campaign buttons that said simply "Remember Oct. 9."
The current Iraq War is still shy of its fourth birthday, a milestone it will pass on March 20, 2007. To the extent that next month's congressional elections are a referendum on the President's war policy, there must be some variant of "Remember Oct. 9" that the war's opponents can use as a reminder of how much, or how little, the country can accomplish in four years of war.