As Spring arrives, the 77th Hot Air Society is devolving into Salem’s version of our national political gridlock. Republicans are showboating with an unacceptable PERS reform proposal and refusing to negotiate over new taxes. Meanwhile, Democrats are hiding the ball on specific PERS reforms, quite understandably, until the Ways and Means picture is clearer. Anyone who thinks Oregon can adequately fund education, adequately fund public safety, adequately fund programs for seniors, the disabled and the poor, without new revenue, simply by PERS reform, should go back to their little girl fantasy tea party. The negotiated settlement for this session has left PERS reform and budget bottom lines tightly intertwined. I’m not sure that is such a good idea, but maybe it’s inevitable given the cards each caucus has to play. My preference would be to see a special joint committee dealing solely with PERS reform as opposed to a silly dog-and-pony show that will only lead to a lot of empty saber rattling. I can mix my metaphors if I want.
Luckily for us here in Lane County, with one notable exception, this is arguably one of the most talented delegations we’ve sent to Salem since I began following Oregon politics in the ’70s. I’ve already talked about Floyd Prozanski and his work on public safety as chair of Senate Judiciary. Springfield’s Lee Beyer, a seasoned veteran leader formerly in the House and now in the Senate, a close confidant of Senate President Peter Courtney, is chair of Business and Transportation. Chris Edwards, another rising star, continues his strong work on two Ways and Means subcommittees, chairing the Subcommittee on Natural Resources.
In the House we have Lane County’s newest star, Majority Leader Val Hoyle. As mentioned before, in only her second election cycle, Val has assumed a higher leadership position than any Lane County Democrat since Grattan Kerans was speaker of the House and Ed Fadeley was Senate president in the late 1980s. Remember last column, when I asked you who chaired the all-important House Revenue Committee, the guy who could tax anything that moved? Phil Barnhart is the man; no revenue measure reaches the floor without his help. Everything will be up for negotiation: repeal tax loopholes, lottery retailers, sin taxes on cigarettes and beer and wine, sales tax, corporate and personal income tax. Maybe even a small tax on those leashes the lobbyists use on legislators — couldn’t hurt. Phil’s been through the revenue battles each session; he is both passionate and pragmatic.
Paul Holvey, the man who brought you clean air through his field burning wars, is back again as chair of the House Consumer Protection and Government Efficiency Committee — otherwise know as the Oxymoron Committee. He’ll have his hands full this cycle with genetically modified everything, from canola to fish. Nancy Nathanson continues her hard work in the Ways and Means process: She’s co-vice chair and a member of three subcommittees, including being co-chair of the critical Ways and Means Subcommittee On Human Services. Nancy is well respected on both sides of the aisle for her diligence and fairness. And John Lively is a great addition. His longtime experience as a local government leader and economic development guru will serve us well.
The only disappointment is my own South Lane House member, Pope Hanna the 16th. He has abdicated his throne. Two sessions ago he was speaker of the house, last session he was co-speaker, with Arnie Roblan. This year he resigned altogether from Republican leadership in the House. He’s taken off the white robe and the little red slippers, put on some slimy Mucks and hopped on a floatplane to his retirement home on Waldo Lake. Biology, schmiology. Got a problem with invasive species? Buy some bug spray. Bruce is just exercising the well-established civil right of he and his rich float plane buddies to lay waste to one of the cleanest lakes in the world! This from a guy who’s been rumored to be looking at Peter DeFazio’s seat or even the governorship? Really?
Finally, our local Hot Air Society recently left the safely circled wagon train at Eugene’s Cornucopia and ventured out into the new microbrew pub land beyond Glenwood’s scary frontier. We met at Springfield’s newest watering hole, called Plinktown. It’s the perfect existential fit for downtown Springtucky. You bring in your own firearms to plink at empty beer bottles — thus the name. And it’s located right downtown conveniently next door to a few titty bars and the jail. Now that’s culture!