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Slant 4-16-2015

• No surprise that the timber industry in Oregon still has enough lobbying power to stifle the Democratic Legislature when it comes to even minor new rules on aerial spraying of pesticides on private timberlands. The timber industry has a strong ally in Oregonians for Food and Shelter, which represents big chemical manufacturers and distributors. What can we do other than hold our lawmakers’ feet to the fire? Well, when the Legislature fails to make reforms, the people can rise up. How about a ballot initiative that would outright ban aerial spraying on private timberlands? Oregon labor might well get behind this effort since it would create thousands of forestry jobs. 

• We hear the People’s Earth Day in the Park! celebration has a new date of Saturday, April 25, and will run from 2 to 7 pm at Alton Baker Park. The alternative to the canceled Earth Day Celebration at EWEB was originally scheduled for April 18. Details are still being worked out but we hear from Sabrina Siegel, one of the organizers, that Thomas Mapfumo is confirmed to play, along with classical guitarist Ricardo Cárdenas and other local bands and musicians. Speakers so far include Mayor Kitty Piercy and Thomas Wheatley, executive director of Renew Oregon, a new statewide climate coalition. Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life will be a hosting a bike repair station at the event. To get involved, email sabrinasiegel@gmail.com or call 343-1913. To arrange for a booth, visit wkly.ws/1zz.

• At City Club of Eugene on April 10, one question fired at Commissioner Pete Sorenson was why he is supporting a “flat tax,” the Lane County vehicle registration fee on the ballot in May. Pete responded that the proposed fee is $35 per vehicle per year, with some variation for motorcycles, etc., as allowed by state law, so it is not truly a flat tax. After the formal meeting, he said he was convinced to support it by the angry constituent who complained that he had four vehicles, adding up to $140 per year to maintain county and city roads. That’s convincing to us, too.

• A public hearing on bills to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour drew hundreds of people to Salem the night of April 13. The Senate Workforce Committee and House Business and Labor Committee heard from small business owners, farm workers, in-home caretakers, janitors and lots of people calling themselves “the working poor.” In general, small business owners and restaurant owners (including from Old Spaghetti Factory and Outback Steakhouse) testified that raising the minimum wage would put them out of business and workers out of work. The hearing lasted more than an hour longer than scheduled, after Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) said they’d hear testimony “as long as people were still sitting up.” Will we put off raising the minimum wage yet another year? The benefits far outweigh the problems.

• Eugene’s counterculture helps define our community, much to the irritation of some well-starched and proper conservatives. Eugene Celebration downtown is still on hiatus, but the quirky parade and SLUG Queen Coronation will continue, along with Saturday Market, the Whiteaker Block Party, Mushroom Festival, JELL-O Art Show and lots of great alt music, art and enterprise conceived in creative rebellion. And of course Eugene empties for Oregon Country Fair like Burns empties for deer season. One less-known counterculture event is the Shy Persons Talent Show that packed Sam Bond’s Garage the evening of April 11. This showcase of amateur music, dance and storytelling has been going strong for 22 years and might be seeking a bigger venue next year. More than gray old hippies hobbled in; it was good to see kids performing on the stage. The fun and lively event raised money for Occupy Medical and David Oaks.

• Also Saturday night was the Eugene Ballet Company’s Tommy, taking The Who’s iconic pinball wizard and dancing the story, with original choreography by EBC’s Toni Pimble and accompanied by a live band. Pretty impressive that the Eug can put on such original and high-caliber performances. Social media lit up with rave reviews, as did Bob Keefer’s Eugene Art Talk. Our only regret was that there weren’t more performances, something we hear ticket sales can’t sustain. How do we change that? 

• The “re-branding” of Hillary Rodham Clinton into a softer Elizabeth Warren is not fun to watch. If that and more than $1 billion will keep the Republicans out of the presidency and away from Supreme Court nominations, we’ll take it, but we are reminded that November 2016 is about 18 months away. That’s a long time in American presidential politics.

• Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor earlier canceled her planned visit to Eugene this spring but now we hear she may appear in a video message May 1 at City Club of Eugene. The special program that Friday will focus on civic education — and it’s a timely topic. Several bills in the Oregon Legislature deal with boosting civic engagement, particularly with young Oregonians. O’Connor is the founder of iCivics, a national nonprofit that promotes education about local, state and federal government, including our courts system. Such education is critical to a healthy democracy.