SALEM — The Capitol was locked up on Monday — no visitors allowed. It’s part of a long-planned summer overhaul of state government’s marble-clad home. Lawmakers and their staffs were out of the building, while Gov. Kate Brown went to Portland to sign a criminal justice reform bill. Nobody is in a rush to get back — the weather forecast is for temperatures pushing 90 degrees in Salem this week, and the Capitol air-conditioning switch remains in the off position until the end of the month.
The Oregon Republican Party is working on a long-shot plan to cut short Brown’s remaining time in Salem — a recall petition drive. The governor plans on being around until her term ends in January 2023. No matter what, term limits will ensure someone else gets the keys to the governor’s mansion, Mahonia Hall, after the November 2022 election.
The conservative political group Redmond Patriots was scheduled to hold its meeting Monday, with an agenda including updates on the 2019 session of the Legislature from Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, and Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles. But the meeting announcement sent out ahead of time also encouraged activists to come out to sign the 2019 Brown recall petition launched July 15 by the Oregon Republican Party.
Supporters face a big task with a huge time crunch: 280,050 valid signatures by the Oct. 14 deadline. Getting groups together to collect signatures in bunches is one tactic to accelerate the uphill drive.
Recalls are a popular tactic in Western states where the GOP has recently lost at the ballot box, according to a report this week by The Associated Press. Recalls have been launched or held in Oregon, California and Nevada, and discussed in New Mexico. All are “trifecta” states where Democrats control the governorship and both chambers of the Legislature. Such political polarization is rampant throughout the United States — both left and right. According to the political website Ballotpedia, Democrats have trifectas in 14 states — Washington is on that list along with the other states already mentioned. But Republicans have trifectas in 22 states — the closest to Oregon is Idaho.
Getting out to get in
Overshadowed by the Brown recall was the news that Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, stepped down as House majority leader at the end of the 2019 session last month. She will retain her seat in the House. The move reinforced the political buzz that Williamson could run for statewide office in 2020. For now, Williamson isn’t commenting on any campaign.
Williamson has been mentioned in the past as a possible future candidate for attorney general. But a bid for the law enforcement job is complicated in 2020 by a quirk in the constitution. Unlike the offices of treasurer and secretary of state, there are no term limits on the attorney general.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, has also not made any announcement about whether she will seek a third term. But as first reported in The Oregonian, she spent $35,000 in May and June on campaign polling. If Williamson is intent on running for attorney general, she will have to weigh the costs and benefits of a possible primary challenge to the incumbent.
The secretary of state’s job will be open in 2020. The current officeholder, Bev Clarno, was appointed by Brown on March 31 to fill out the term of Dennis Richardson, who died in February. Richardson won election in 2016, becoming the only Republican statewide officeholder in Oregon. Under state statute, Brown was required to appoint someone from the same party to fill out the rest of Richardson’s term. Clarno a former Republican House speaker, got the nod. By then, a short list of Democrats were rumored to be interested in running for the office in 2020. Brown said she wanted an appointee who would not vie for the job, ensuring there would be no incumbent. Clarno implicitly agreed.
Though other Democrats have been mentioned as interested in being secretary of state, Williamson would have far fewer toes to step on if she shifted her intentions in that direction.
Portland vs. Grants Pass
The House Democratic caucus chose Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland as the new majority leader, replacing Williamson. The vote ensured the job stayed with a resident of Oregon’s largest city. House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick are also Portland residents. The geographical center of Republican power is Grants Pass, home to House Minority Leader Carl Wilson and Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. The other top legislative position is held by Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat.
The elevation of Smith Warner led to an odd geographical quirk: Three of the Legislature’s top five positions are held by Pennsylvania natives. Smith Warner is from Erie, Courtney was born in Philadelphia and Kotek grew up in York (she keeps a large bowl of York Peppermint Patties for visitors on a desk in the Capitol). Wilson is from Oklahoma, and Baertschiger was born in California. Williamson’s departure from leadership leaves Burdick as the only native Oregonian.
Giving due credit
Politics can sometimes be a “name game.” The USS Oregon will join the U.S. Navy fleet later this year. It’s one of 20 Virginia-class nuclear fast attack submarines either serving or being built. The new submarines are named after states, and the competition in Congress for one of the names has been fierce. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was one of the Oregon lawmakers who asked the Navy to put USS Oregon on the list. Prior to 2004, attack submarines were named after cities — 62 in all. Before 1971, most attack submarines were named after sea creatures — more than 450 boats since 1931. The change to city names was advocated by Hyman G. Rickover, the politically savvy Navy submarine admiral legendary for winning fierce budget battles in Congress.
Asked in 1971 why the Navy was switching submarine names from sea creatures to cities, Rickover had a ready answer: “Fish don’t vote.
There can be rare exceptions to the naming protocol. One of the city-named class of submarines was named for a military leader. One of the new state-named class of submarines will be too. The past and future boats’ name: USS Hyman G. Rickover. The Navy’s message on these multibillion-dollar weapons programs: Give credit where credit’s due.
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