House Democrats and the Vision Thing

Editor's Note: The following two comments appeared late last night in the Jeff Merkley item. The response from Representative Peter Buckley (D-Ashland) is good enough to post here.

Lynn Porter: Democrats on the state level have the same problem as Democrats on the national level -- the lack of a compelling vision. It seems that all you're willing to try for are minor adjustments. That doesn't get the public stirred up. What is your vision for the future of this state? If you don't have one, why should we care?

Rep. Peter Buckley: Lynn-- Thanks for your post. Your comment amazes me, though, I have to say. This entire thread is all about the House Republicans' fear of our vision for the state and the lengths they will go to in order to keep us from speaking about it on the House floor. Let me make it simple for you:

--Google "Oregon Business Plan" and find out what the primary need is for economic development in our state is, as articulated by leaders of every major industry. The need is to invest in education. The payoff is huge. Our vision for the state is to invest in education from pre-K all the way through grad school, invest in our kids, invest in our future, and reap the rewards. Every proposal we made this session to actually make this investment was blocked by the House GOP, even to the point of threats against our members who dared to try to debate this on the floor.

--Oregon Democrats believe every Oregonian has the right to decent health care coverage. That is our vision, plain and simple, and we know we can accomplish it if given the chance. It will require transparency in the health care delivery system so costs can be analyzed, it will require that ALL companies (including Wal-Marts, etc.) contribute for health care instead of passing the costs along to the stae, it will require an adjustment on tax revenue (such as a renewal of the 10 cents a pack tobacoo tax), and it wil require practical steps such as the expansion as our perscription drug purchasing pool (which has a proven track record of saving Oregonians up to 40% on drug prices). Again, all of these proposals have been blocked in the House. They are part of our vision for Oregon. If you have questions on them, let me know.

--We also passionately believe that all Oregonians deserve the same civil rights. What do you believe?

--Our vision for economic development, in addition to the investment in pre-K through grad school education, can be seen in proposals such as Connect Oregon, the Governor's proposal we passed yesterday, to insure the effective transportation of goods in our state for domestic and international markets. We build on Oregon's strengths in terms of goods to market, and we fight for living wage jobs because our vision is one that says that if every person who works hard is paid a decent wage, they will fuel our economy with the purchases they need to provide a good life for their families, and they will have a stake in building our communities.

In short, our vision is one of progress for all, for a state we can be proud to leave to our kids. What is the GOP "vision"? I've spent seven months in session now, and I haven't the faintest idea of what it might be besides stifling debate, fighting for tax breaks for those who are already thriving, and moving forward on the slow death of public education and other programs that could and should be a tremendous benefit to the people of our state.

Our vision? That is exactly what Speaker Minnis has worked so hard to try to silence in the House. But we won't be silenced. Our vision and our passion for it is much too strong, and we plan to see our vision become reality over the next several years in our state.

Care to join us?

Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland)


  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)

    This is an excellent vision, but no one knows about it. The House Dems blog is a great step (as well as having Reps post on blogs like this one; thanks Peter!). Is there some way to get past Queen Minnis' bully pulpit and spread the word to everyday Oregonians (not just us political junkies)?

    I know that legislators have been busy in Salem, and there have been some great fighting sound bites from the Dems-- but is there some way to have a major, ongoing PR effort; forums or town halls around the state; maybe something like Dems in a motor home going on the road to spread the word? I would gladly contribute to support this kind of outreach/messaging effort, with reps like Peter Buckley out talking (and listening) to citizens.

  • LT (unverified)

    Yes, we should have Democrats talking about accomplishments (just got an email from a friend who is a swing voter saying Democrats are workers for solutions but sometimes complain too much).

    Also much should be made of returning to the Constitutional provision Article IV Section 14 "Deliberations to be open". Has there ever been a session where more decisions were made outside of public view?

    There was a time when Oregon budgets were hashed out in open Joint Ways and Means committee hearings, not agreements made behind closed doors and then sent to committee. The "written agreement on the amount of money to be spent" was a stupid decision, and I hope those involved have repented. I have seen the agreement, and it says nothing about "the House is allowed to pass any extra tax breaks they choose, without providing the source of the funding for the tax breaks". But House "leaders" saw they were given an inch, and they took a mile.

    What is wrong with "Deliberations out in the open" as a campaign theme?

    In T. White's book "In Search of History", he writes of a small southern town whose election night practices would make Ohio in the 21st century look mild in comparisan. After WWII, some veterans formed a nonpartisan group to run on the "your vote will be counted as cast" slogan. Their aim was to throw out corrupt local officials.

    On election night the "good old boys" tried to take all the ballot boxes down to the basement of the county courthouse as they always had (so if the votes didn't turn out their way, they'd just fix them until they did). The vets went to the local armory and got weapons, and at gunpoint the ballot boxes were brought out the the courthouse lawn. Headlights from a number of vehicles provided the light to count the ballots right out there on that courthouse lawn. And of course, the reformers won a fair count.

    I am not proposing anything that drastic, but open deliberations seems to be a great public statement. Of course that would also mean open public campaigns with locals rather than centralized caucus consultants running House and Senate races.

    The question is: if all deliberations are not open, how are voters going to know or care what the debates are?

  • JTT (unverified)

    LT- your post seems to bear little relation to Rep. Buckley's post. Buckley's post refers to Democrats' vision and plan for Oregon and fighting Minnis' strong-arm dictatorial tactics this session. Your post complains about closed door budget deals. Let's see if you can post something for once that doesn't have anything to do with FuturePAC or complaining about the Democrats' caucus.

    And in response to your question: What is wrong with "Deliberations out in the open" as a campaign theme? Let's put this into perspective: open caucus meetings as a campaign slogan vs. pro-choice/pro-life, pro-civil rights/anti-gay, etc. What grabs your attention? But again, seems like a comment for another thread, not this one.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Over and over I am hearing that one of the biggest budget problems in Salem - and it is highlighted in your post - is that Republicans won't adequately fund the schools. But I never hear anyone addressing the reasons they give for why they won't increase education spending. So can someone give me a good rebuttal to the Republicans' assertion that the cost of schools is sky-high because union contracts require excessive staff (not including teachers) to the point that there isn't enough money to get through to the classrooms?

    I've seen excessive labor requirements in Las Vegas, where I haven't been allowed to carry my seminar materials in to my conference room myself because the hotels had labor contracts that required a union member to haul them in for me. Similarly,the assertion by Repulicans is that the contracts with the school unions require more support staff than necessary and unduly restrict the duties that can be asked of a teacher (the same argument is given about funding for prisons and police, too). They say it gets to the point where it defies logic. I have never heard a good rebuttal to this point. To ask this question is not anti-education. It's not even anti-union. I'm very pro-education and thanks to Thom Hartmann I'm getting a grasp on the importance of labor unions.

    Anyway, you could cop out and tell me that Republicans are trying to get rid of public sector unions because it's a big notch in their overall effort to destroy the power of labor. You could also say they're doing it because they want fiscal responsibility. I think there is truth in both statements, and also a lot missing in both. But it seems to me that it's time for all of us to put everything on the table if we're going to save our education system. We've got to all let go of our sacred cows.

    Honestly, if you look at the amount we spend on education and divide it by the number of kids, or even by the number of classes, it's pretty hard for the average person to imagine what could possibly justify that much money. If I'm having trouble understanding it and debating my conservative friends on the school funding issue, then how can we expect the average Oregonian to understand or care about this issue beyond their own experience or interests? I mean, people with kids in school will support the schools and people without kids in school perhaps won't. But that's a self-interested decision, not an informed decision. Can someone actually comprehensively address these issues in a way that normal people can understand and in a way that isn't biased to protect a pet interest? Unless that happens, we'll be locked in this battle forever.

  • Jeff Bull (unverified)

    Becky's comments get to the heart of this discussion - far more so than Mr. Buckley's vague promises. Really, who doubts Karen Minnis believes herself to be "pro-education?" That statement is label and a throw-away until one gets serious about what our dollars are buying.

    Think about the last couple ballot initiatives on taxes: unless I'm mistaken, they didn't pass. The obvious conclusion, Oregonians believe - correctly or not - they're paying too much in taxes. It's awfully hard to look over Mr Buckley's list and all the talk contained therein on investment when the first assumption in much (though not all) of that assumes more revenues.

    The funny thing is, some of this goes back to the "deliberation in the open" thing LT mentioned (and for which he got ripped). The simple fact that the budget deal went down behind closed doors, where no one could report on how deals went down, ought to arouse suspicions. Transparency covers so much more than the simple act of being open; it's a demonstration of good faith by public officials, a way from them to prove that there's nothing to hide, no political swap they're unable to accept in the public eye.

    Returning to schools and to expand on the subject and meaning of transparency, when's the last time any politician publicly picked through a school budget and took a serious, detailed look at where savings could be found? Call this "transparency plus." It's being proactively transparent, really trying to share with anyone who will listen how these figures are arrived at and why they must be preserved. If the Democrats want to boost their apparently thin credibility on tax-and-spend issues, they need to get seriously wonky about this kind of thing. Show people where the money goes and convince them that it's necessary.

    Or, if you like, stick to the slogans. They make you feel good, but are enough people buying them to make the warm fuzzies worthwhile?

  • LT (unverified)

    open caucus meetings as a campaign slogan vs. pro-choice/pro-life, pro-civil rights/anti-gay, etc

    Did I say open caucus meetings? I thought I said budgets being hashed out in open Joint Ways and Means. How much of this year's budget (and how much of the rest of the agenda) this session was decided in a room large enough for the presiding officers, the top budget people, maybe the Gov. or someone from his staff and no one else? What was really hashed out in groups as large as a caucus, and what was decided by a room with no more than about 10 people in it and then presented to each caucus as pretty much fait accompli?

    Which is the party of having open well advertised Joint Ways and Means Committee hearings, and which is the party of "we get our way or we split off from Joint Ways and Means and form a budget committee for just one chamber"? Did that do anything but prolong the session? Which party actually listened to what the folks in the various communities said on the Joint Ways and Means tour of the state, and which party said "If we didn't like what was said, we will pretend we didn't hear it because we are right about the budget so just get used to our power"?

    Who do you want to attract to vote for Democrats? Just the people who agree on gay rights and abortion? How will that work in rural areas? Should the Rural Caucus have a voice in this discussion?

    The swing voter mentioned above is a friend who was one of those who got disgusted with Sizemore and voted (with many others) against all the 2000 Sizemore measures. This is someone who always votes for Gordon Smith but voted for Kitzhaber for Governor. He voted for Bush, Hooley, and Dalto for state rep.--but is unhappy that Dalto followed orders from his caucus rather than voting as an individual. Given how active my friend is in his church, the church he attends, and a decade of conversations, he most likely voted for Measure 36. He would probably vote for the pro-life and anti-gay rights candidate if those were the issues. He abstained on Measure 30 because he had not been paying enough attention (too busy with work and family) to know that 30 was a referral by petition and not a legislative referral. "This is too complicated. Isn't this what we pay legislators to study and decide?"

    Of Paul Hackett's comments that Bush's "bring it on" remark did nothing to help the troops in Iraq, this friend said:

    "I think the "bring it on " comment was foolish and unnecessary as well. I think that things could be up for grabs very easily."

    My question to anyone who did not like my posted comment is this: A)Buckley's post has some great items to campaign on. But if all the voters hear is that one party is pro-gay marriage and pro-choice, will they listen long enough to hear about the other issues?

    B)How many Oregonians tried to provide public input to this session of the legislature and encountered a brick wall or worse (like Richardson's North Korea remark)? Would they be receptive to electing people who will respect the input of voters? Didn't Ryan Deckert beat Eileen Qutub way back when because voters remembered she was about as polite toward their appeals for school funding as Richardson this session, so they went with the new guy instead of the woman who had been rude to them during the session?

    C)How do Democratic candidates (and it does come down to the candidates and not just party message--esp. among those who don't register with a party)win over those like the friend described above? If there are 850-900 people in that district who voted for Billy last time and are sorry they did for whatever reason, how does a Democratic candidate win their vote? Dalto only won last time by 825 votes.

    I thought that WAS the purpose of this topic. Maybe I was wrong.

  • djk (unverified)

    What is wrong with "Deliberations out in the open" as a campaign theme?

    Too stilted and not enough punch. "Government in the sunshine" might work better.

    Or in respect to legislators who want to do the public's business out of the public eye: "Shine a light on 'em and watch 'em scurry."

  • LT (unverified)

    Or in respect to legislators who want to do the public's business out of the public eye: "Shine a light on 'em and watch 'em scurry."

    Great slogan. It was once used by one of those Greg Clapper ads paid for by Loren Parks or Hemstreet or whoever. Really annoying attack on someone or other with the tag line Paid for by the "Let's turn on the lights and see if they scamper committee".

    Great comment about sunshine. How about "Sunlight is the best disinfectant" for those just totally fed up with this legislative session?

  • JTT (unverified)

    LT- I apologize for ripping you. I thought that I read from your post that your criticism was targeted toward the D's caucus from statements like:

    "Of course that would also mean open public campaigns with locals rather than centralized caucus consultants running House and Senate races."

    In Willy Week today, you might notice the Ds getting ripped for HAVING open caucus meetings. OH COME ON WW!

    What I meant with the pro-gay, pro-choice, etc. comment is that messages about good government and public deliberation and honest politics get drowned out in campaigns by polarizing messages that most voters listen to more than not. Weigh opposing messages for a moment: Candidate A is for shining a bright light on government, fighting to keep our elected officials accountable and keeping deliberations in public VERSUS Candidate A thinks schools should teach our children about the “gay lifestyle”, how to have an abortion, and he believes teachers should pass out condoms like candy. I think you get the idea.

  • (Show?)

    The obvious conclusion, Oregonians believe - correctly or not - they're paying too much in taxes. It's awfully hard to look over Mr Buckley's list and all the talk contained therein on investment when the first assumption in much (though not all) of that assumes more revenues.

    Hi Jeff,

    The positions you describe are only vague if the talking points are not backed with some meatier substance.

    In the case of full funding for education and other programs, my recollection is that Rep. Buckley submitted legislation to address at least some of the state revenue issues by eliminating some of the tax expenditures that Mr. Sheketoff and others have been talking about for years in Oregon.

    I do not know whether the House Republicans gave the bill a hearing or not, but I believe that they killed it in committee.

    I am also mindful of the fact that one of the fastest growing segments of the budget in recent years are tax expenditures for the state's large c-corporations and that Oregon has the lowest tax rate on such corporations in America. I think that it's an open question whether Oregon voters would trade increased taxes on C corps for better funding for K-12 and higher education as well as for other vital services.

    For that matter, I think it's an open question as to whether the corporations themselves would trade such taxes for a better educated workforce in Oregon.

    With regard to the conversation about the unions, I think that Becky's comment overstates the case against the role of public-sector labor unions in Oregon. The right wing talking points have generally focused on the retirement packages of teachers and other public-sector employees, rather than on the overstaffing of administrative positions.

    I tend to disagree with such arguments (though would acknowledge that they are not entirely without merit) on the grounds that I cannot support a race to the bottom for pensioners simply because some people were able to use their collective bargaining power to negotiate a better deal for themselves than others.

  • LT (unverified)

    In the 1990s, this may have been true Weigh opposing messages for a moment: Candidate A is for shining a bright light on government, fighting to keep our elected officials accountable and keeping deliberations in public VERSUS Candidate A thinks schools should teach our children about the “gay lifestyle”, how to have an abortion, and he believes teachers should pass out condoms like candy. I think you get the idea.

    I think Measure 36 was about marriage, not about hating gays (look at how many advocates said " we don't hate gays, we just care about marriage as a religious institution"). If that message is so powerful, why didn't Tootie Smith win the County Comm. seat she ran for? She's a lobbyist to protect Measure 36, which tells me she didn't win her election.

    But the above quote implies people pay attention to messages produced like that, and I am not sure the evidence is there that they do. I have a relative who voted for Bush and against Measure 36. How many other people like that were there? My experience has been in recent years that I would run into a friend somewhere just after seeing a new ad and ask "what did you think of that ad?" and the response was "Been to busy to watch TV this last week".

    I just don't believe that was the only factor working when elections are as close as some House elections have been. Esp. since there are so many House races where the vote margin for the victor is just a small fraction of the number of registered Indep. voters in the district. And I agree with Steve B. that what might work in Portland or Eugene might not work in a district with a large rural component. That is why I applaud the Rural Caucus.

    Plus the fact that the folks who were the direct target of Richardson's North Korea remark (not to mention PTA folks around the state who didn't think they were listened to) might very well look at the example and say "My issue is my kids getting a good education, and the legislature discussing such topics in public. That is more important than yet another rehash of social issues".

    I don't think "the voters" have opinions which can be manipulated. I think individuals make individual voting decisions. Perhaps that puts me at odds with some people, but then I rely on my own experience. My first Democratic campaign was in the mid-1970s. I think grass roots politics is at least as powerful now as it was then.

    And I can remember back to the days when a carload of us drove up the the Portland area to hear Congressman Ron Wyden many years ago. On the way back we were discussing the problem of candidates out in E. Oregon (back when Democrats still held such seats) not wanting to run on the same issues as urban Portland/Will. Valley Democrats. Sounds like that debate has resurfaced with the creation of the Rural Caucus.

  • (Show?)

    Ruth Adkins is right that often an eloquent Democrat like Peter Buckley can articulate a compelling vision, but hardly anyone knows about it, because:

    1) Republicans are better at defining Democrats as tax and spenders than Democrats are at getting their own message out.

    2) Voters want all the things Democrats are for, but they don't want to pay for them in the form of higher taxes. (Maybe the market can provide some of them if we alter the regulatory playing field. Maybe if we can get rid of some of those tax expenditures, we'd have some extra money to invest in some higher priorities.)

    3) The vision and message that works in urban areas isn't necessarily the same one the works in rural or suburban areas.

    4) The Democratic coalition is too much a collection of single interest groups operating in their own silos, instead of a cohesive party. People put their cause first and the party second.

    Republicans just seem to always be better at maneuvering strategically and tacticly to make themselves look good, make Democrats look bad, keep their issues at the forefront and Democrats' issues in the background, and are better at spinning the public's perception of issues from their point of view.

    Once in a while if you can corner an eloquent Democrat he or she will rip off some great lines and a great vision, but it just doesn't happen often enough, in public, on TV, and in the newspapers, to make a big enough difference to change people's perceptions.

  • Gordie (unverified)

    Salvador, a race to the bottom for pensioners? Whatever the reason they've gained the best government pensions in the nation (at least the Tier 1 folks), why use hyperbole to object to their pensions being brought more in line with other government pesions. That would still above average compared to pensions and 401k's in private industry.

    It's really sad to see how many people are afraid of having an open discussion on this topic here at Blue Oregon. People just bring out the right-wing bashing accusations against those who dare not to be group-think Democrats. Talk about a tiny, closed-minded tent.

  • LT (unverified)

    That would still above average compared to pensions and 401k's in private industry.

    Statements like this really bother me. Do you really have evidence that everyone in "Tier One" has a better pension than ANY private pension or 401K in private industry (that would include Phil Knight and other top NIKE executives, any Portland Trail Blazer who has retired, and all sorts of other wealthy people employed in privately held or shareholder owned companies), including all corporate pensions and all pensions from large groups like the Teamsters Union?

    If pensions are so great, why do so many teachers "retire" and then go on the substitute list--either immediately after retiring or after a couple years?

    Or maybe such remarks are made to distract people from the difference between a high school teacher or librarian retiring and going on the substitute list as opposed to a school supt. or top assistant administrator who retires. I have noticed lots of people want to restrict the conversation to unionized public employees because they don't want to discuss administrators on the public payroll.

    There was that wonderful moment in a capitol hallway in the 2003 session. Having just heard the news story about the number of people in the state (incl. the then head of SAIF) making more money than the Gov., I happened to encounter Rep. Gallegos. I asked who set those salaries, and she yelled at me, THE GOVERNOR DEALS WITH PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNIONS

    Perhaps someone could enlighten me on which union agency heads and top administrators belong to. My understanding was that management doesn't belong to unions. But public management positions are still public employees. I know such teachers who retired and become substitutes, so don't tell me that every teacher retires to some posh lifestyle and never works again.

  • Gordie (unverified)

    Lt, I didn't say that the pension for Tier 1 folks is better than every 401k. But we know it's the best state retirement system in the nation, so obviously it's better than the vast majority of all retirement systems. Did I make any attempt to justify the size of a CEO's retirement?

    Are folks going on the substitute list because they're not getting a great retirement, they miss teaching, or they spent too much to fully retire? The point is the percentage of their working salary they're receiving, not whether a librarian in retirement is making less than a superintendent in retirement. Administrators get PERS. I didn't restrict my comment to unionized employees.

    Next time, how about addressing the merit of the comments instead of creating the distraction you supposedly dislike.

  • ronled (unverified)

    Becky pondered the issue of agreement.

    So long as the state treasurer controls public employee pension assets and is allowed to invest in equities there will be no agreement as to budgets and stable school funding. There will always be shifting sands.

    (1) The state treasurer must be prohibited from investing pension assets in equities.

    (2) The public employees, to the extent they wish to invest in equities, must be allowed to direct their pension related payroll deductions to a non-governmental investment trustee of their choice.

    This is a necessary but not sufficient step toward stable revenue for the ongoing costs for education. The perpetuation of the status quo is just too toxic to allow for rational debate and is an open invitation to all manner of back door deals. The size of the pile of money is just too great to withstand the temptation for abuse.

  • (Show?)

    Salvador, a race to the bottom for pensioners? Whatever the reason they've gained the best government pensions in the nation (at least the Tier 1 folks), why use hyperbole to object to their pensions being brought more in line with other government pesions. That would still above average compared to pensions and 401k's in private industry.


    I don't clain to be an expert on this, but I simply cannot begrudge a group of workers who have managed to negotiate a good retirement deal for themselves.

    Call it hyperbole if you must, but the fact of the matter is that there is a race to the bottom for pensioners in this country. Corporations are using mergers to cut retirement benefits for workers; states around the country are reducing benefits packages for public employees; and social security benefits are not keeping up with inflation. All the while, wages are declining relative to corporate profits; medical costs are increasing at 4 times the rate of inflation; and new workers entering the system are getting fewer and fewer benefits while corporate profits in this country are remaining at same high levels that they been at through nearly 6 years of recession.

    I wish I understood at what point it became a bad thing for retirees to continue to live comfortably.

  • Gordie (unverified)

    It became bad timing for retirees to live (very) comfortably when the cost of supporting their retirement system was guaranteed to rise faster than inflation regardless of the performance of the PERS investments. That retirement plan is taking an increasing percentage--repeat percentage--of the state budget every year. Since taxpayers aren't willing to pay the diffence, that means that other parts of government have to be cut to satisfy the rising PERS costs. It's an irresponsible system from a financial perspective...we're cutting state employees and programs so we can afford our increasingly expensive state employees.

    By supporting this system, Democrats are doing what the small-government types want...shrinking government. Democrats are being willingly self-destructive in order to take care of just one constituency of their big tent--the government employees who receive PERS. It's not being a pawn of the right-wing to question that strategy (or lack of understanding).

  • LT (unverified)

    So, what is the vision: public debate on issues and how to solve them? Detailed proposals or general complaints?

    Or is it that lobbyists and others with money and clout decide who to support and old fashioned ideas like issue debates and local citizens having a say in who they want representing them are less important?

    If either or both parties are seen as of the lobby, for the large contributors, and by the political professionals, why should anyone get involved in politics?

    <h2>Let's have more honesty about specific proposals and who really controls campaigns. Or would that take too much power away from unions, lobbyists, caucuses, and big contributors?</h2>
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