Saturday, March 31, 2007

Loitering and Pestering in Salem: A Day at the Capitol, Part One

I had planned to take a day and spend it in Salem (and Woodburn returning faulty shoes, to be completist about it) for a number of days, and had the whole idea pretty much cemented by last Tuesday night for the next morning...everything, that is, except a final draft of my pending testimony on fusion voting before a House committee.

I had a strong draft worked out late the previous evening, but some edits definitely remained and I needed to get them done by about 745 to arrive in time to get a good seat and good slot to testify in. And then I recalled that if you provide written testimony, they typically want 15-20 copies. There was no time for Kinko's, but the home copier was painfully slow. I slogged through the 40 pages total, and careened out of the house by 8. Traffic was actually pretty light, and the option for getting to the Capitol provided by the Legislature put me right past the metered parking visitors use, just as 8:30 rolled around.

Give yourself time to park and walk. On a typical day, you've got a good couple blocks to hoof it unless you are lucky by circumstance as you pass a space opening up. And bring three bucks in change if you're going to stay three hours. If you know you'll be there longer and you have time to get it at the start, Room 49 in the basement will sell you an all-day pass to put in the window for $6. It cost me another 10 minutes to get inside, wander all the way around the foyer rotunda and find Hearing Room E.

I slipped inside, put my name at the end of a list of maybe 8 or 9 people, which I figured would give me plenty of time, since HB 3040 was 2nd on the agenda. Then I had to hit the head, which was in retrospect sort of a mistake not to claim a space with my jacket--because when I got back, a short man with an earpiece asked me if I had a seat. I said no, and was pointed to a set of folding chairs around a TV in front of the johns...the overflow "room." I underestimated the support for this rather esoteric bill; several Teamsters in logo jackets were inside, as well as people from the Libertarians to the Greens and good government types like Building Votes in between.

It was also a big deal to the national fusion movement apparently, because three people came from out of state and another called in from Connecticut. The co-author of one of the primary sources I cited in my testimony was there, as were statewide officials elected by fusion. There were only two rather flaccid statements to the contrary; both the county clerk's association and Elections head and general curmudgeon John Lindback headed to the Capitol to moan about the terrible complexity, cost and time pressure involved in making changes. They might have gone better had they not followed people with empirical experience in fusion, who said that it was easy to implement and understand, and had minimal cost.

Then again, maybe nothing could have saved Lindback, who has a fairly sour reputation under the dome with legislators and their staff. He's known as a bit of a wet blanket in committee meetings, not so much giving a straight evaluation of what is an isn't feasible, but rather simply making everything seem like more hassle than it's worth to him. As I listened he raised points that did seem like concerns on how to proceed, but they weren't intractable problems or things that couldn't be addressed without prohibitive cost.

Rep. Kim Thatcher seemingly was trying to poke holes in the idea as others spoke, but she didn't egg Lindback on, and everybody sat back bemusedly while Rep. Vicki Berger gave him a piece of her mind. To my recollection, after he had complained that technology and programming stood in the way of implementation, Berger said "I really resent that you are telling us not to pursue policy because of technology. That idea really rankles me." It was pretty great, and while Lindback did make himself neutral on the testimony list, it was clear his official position was thanks, but no thanks.

Richard Burke, head of the Libertarians in Oregon and the subject of a positively uh, unique series of posts and comments, took a seat on the panel and was by far the most animated, common-sense oriented, entertaining witness I've seen this session, with the possible exception of John Kitzhaber talking health care. Burke, as we noted in the fusion thread, refused to believe the idea that Oregonians would get all confused by fusion voting. He explained why fusion would obviate the biennial rite of spoiler development by major parties, and made his case with the flair of a motivational speaker.

Unfortunately, Lindback to the bad and Burke to the good had swallowed up quite a bit of time, and as Burke closed his remarks the Members got their call for the opening of the House session. I got bumped like Pat Paulsen from Carson, so that was a lesson--getting there early not only gets you seated, it gets you heard. I gave my copies to the committee staffer seated at a PC desk joined to the Members' horseshow, and went off to find a friend in one of the offices for coffee, and to see if I could exploit whatever meager influence capital I had to make sure my little rant got read, for what it was worth. I did like that no one else delved into the historic tradition of fusion and progressive reform that Oregon has; hopefully it added something to the discussion.