SALEM — Sunday is the Super Bowl, a big day for Oregon football fans. But Monday is another big day in Oregon, an “opening day” of sorts. The Legislature brings its own version of hardball back to Salem on Feb. 5 with the start of the jam-packed “short session.”
Sixty House members, 30 senators and a full gallery of spectators will gather for the State of the State speech by Gov. Kate Brown. Then comes a cascade of legislation, hearings and floor debate jaw-boning, topped off by the final day for candidates to file on March 6. No later than March 11, the constitution says lawmakers must say bye-bye until next winter.
Hold tight, Planet Salem: It’s going to be a fast and bumpy ride. Here’s a few particulars of interest to Central Oregon on this week’s political menu:
OSU-Cascades gets a bonding boost
Brown said Monday that a recent increase in the state’s bonding authority means there will likely be enough money for her supplemental spending request to the Legislature, which includes $39 million for Oregon State University-Cascades.
Earlier Monday, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said they support OSU-Cascades and would vote for the funding increase requested by Brown as long as the money to cover the bonds was in place.
Brown later confirmed that the state bonding ceiling had been raised last week, so there will be room enough to fund not only OSU-Cascades, but projects for the University of Oregon and Eastern Oregon University.
Political term of the week: Closed primary
Oregon uses a closed primary system, in which only voters who have registered as members of a party can vote to choose the party’s candidate for the general election. Only Republicans choose Republican candidates; only Democrats choose Democrats. Oregon has a large number of nonaffiliated voters who cannot vote in the primaries. In Deschutes County, nonaffiliated voters account for roughly one-third of all registered voters.
In two other kinds of primaries, they could cast votes in the May 8 primary. An open primary allows voters to cast votes in the primary of their choice, regardless of affiliation. Top-two primaries, which are used in California and Washington, put all candidates for an office on the same ballot and the top two finishers go to the general election. The result can mean two candidates of the same party running against each other in the general election.
Hat in the ring
Cheri Helt says she plans to run in the Republican primary for the 54th House District seat in Bend.
A Bend-La Pine School Board member and co-owner of the Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails restaurant, Helt is the first Republican to announce for the seat now held by Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend. Buehler has opted to give up the seat to run for governor. Bend City Councilor Nathan Boddie, a Democrat, is the only other candidate in the race so far.
Official statistics show Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 54th District by more than 5,000 registered voters: 18,495 to 12,959. The Independent Party has 3,221 registered voters. No other party has more than 500 registered voters. But the district also has 15,890 nonaffiliated voters, one of the reasons Republicans cite why they’ve won the seat in the last four general elections.
Helt said she would start fundraising; Boddie has raised just under $24,000.
In her campaign announcement, Helt said among her top issues will be the quality of public education, the high school drop-out rate and affordable housing.
“We all know that Bend is changing — and with growth comes both opportunities and challenges,” Helt said in a statement. “Simply put, the cost of living in our community is growing out of reach for too many of our neighbors. The rising cost of housing — whether renting or owning — is a major problem for many.”
Candidates have until March 6 to file for state offices.
Oregon Wild is taking the lead on the effort to pass a bill banning a bridge proposed by the Bend Park & Recreation District over the Deschutes River near the south end of the Bend city limits. The 2,000-member environmental organization, founded in 1974, requested the new version of the legislation, HB 4029. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, submitted the ban as a committee bill — there are no listed sponsors.
Opponents of a similar bill during the 2017 legislative session said homeowners in the area near the proposed site were trying to get the Legislature to settle a local issue. The bill died when the Senate adjourned without taking action.
The bill would have the effect of barring local officials from following through on long-range plans to tie together trails on both sides of the river.
Oregon Wild’s Bend-based spokesman, Erik Fernandez, released a statement saying the group’s involvement will ensure environmental considerations are at the forefront of the effort, instead of what he said were “Not-In-My-Back-Yard” arguments last year that were “a distraction from the core issue of what is actually best for the river.”
While having the effect of barring the bridge, Fernandez said the new legislation leaves open finding a compromise plan that would have similar results.
“The current legislation would direct state parks to find the best route to connect Bend to Sunriver while minimizing wildlife impacts,” Fernandez said.
Oregon Wild hopes to work with the Bend Park & Recreation District, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the best route for trails.
“We think there are viable, low-impact alternative routes,” Fernandez said.
Oregon Wild said the proposed site would be “bad news” for wildlife and would undercut federal and state environmental protections.
“The concerns of landowners, on either side of the river, aren’t irrelevant, but the reason we’re involved is to ensure wildlife and river protections have a voice at the table,” Fernandez said.
The next step for the bill is to be assigned to a committee next week when the Legislature officially convenes. The Legislative Policy Research Office will do an analysis for lawmakers prior to a vote.
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