Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Earl the pearl

I think Congress sucks. Its generally an overblown group of bloviating gasbags who do little more than pass extremist and stupid legislation. And that's just to pass the time while waiting to listen to themselves talk.

I count my own congressman among them.

However I've been consistently impressed with Congressman Earl Blumenauer. He's smart and effective. And he's an unabashed liberal. I also believe that Earl has a passion and love for Oregon that many of our elected officials fail to match, let alone articulate.

Blumenauer's job in Congress is usually focused on national issues. But he's listed Ideas for a better future for Oregon and I was fortunate to get a few minutes to talk with the Congressman about them.

"Everybody has an excuse for not being able to deliver," Blumenauer told me. Being a Congressman in DC is no reason to not come up with solutions that are Oregon centric. "I'm an Oregonian. I've spent my career working with things that impact Oregonians."

We discussed some of the specific things Earl has in mind for our state.

First, protecting our schools. Earl says we need to "transform the kicker". Turn it into a real voter controlled Rainy Day Fund (as opposed to Lying Asshole McIntire's spending trap). Blumenauer also believes a citizen commission is needed to manage boundaries and deal with the distribution formula for funding schools. Finally, Earl wants to "hold key legislators accountable".

The accountability point was one on which he expanded at length. "Make it clear now that legislators will be held accountable for education", he said. "Those who take on big jobs such as Speaker or Chair of Ways and Means take on more responsibility." One way to hold them to that account is through the recall process, according to Blumenauer. He says that Oregonians shouldn't be afraid to use the tools of recall and referendums to force these legislators into keeping their promises when it comes to education.

Blumenauer also has specific solutions for government reform in Oregon. Most noteably, we discussed the broken initiative system.

In a perfect world, Earl thinks that banning payment for signature gathering would be a solution. The initiative system is supposed to be volunteer oriented with perhaps a few paid staff to facilitate and organize. Unfortunately, it would likely be found unconstitutional in this state to ban the payments. So in lieu of banning, Earl offers other solutions.

Force petition sponsors and backers to be open about their funding sources. If they can't tell you who is funding them, they shouldn't be able to get on the ballot. In addition, Earl wants to see, "people with positive agendas for Oregon" using the initiative process. It seems progressives are consistently playing defense to the likes of Bill Sizemore, Don McIntire and Jason Williams. Its time for liberals to develop their own initatives and push them hard.

The idea I found most intriguing was Earl's notion of initiative "impact studies". "Other states have mechanisms that vet initatives", Earl said. "We should have legislative hearings on what these things mean. Bring in petition sponsors to explain how their plan would work." In my view, this is key. It forces petition sponsors to talk to the legislature and the voters about their specific plans--and voters would have a well rounded idea of how the initative would impact the state. Legislators could ask questions of petition sponsors and the whole process could be open to public comment (that's my addition--not Earl's).

As we were wrapping up the discussion of initiatives, I could hear someone in the background letting him know it was time to head back to the Capitol to cast a vote. I had a lot more questions and wished we had time to discuss them--but time wasn't in our favor.

I hope to do a follow up with the Congressman when he's home for the summer recess in August. Perhaps I'll hear more of his ideas for helping make Oregon a better place.