Do What You Can Do 6/6/19

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Senator Jeff Golden

*  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”                    —Helen Keller

Welcome to the June 6 edition of Do What You Can Do.

Our next town hall is June 8th at SOU starting at 12PM. More details below.

What's Up

Senator Jackie Winters

Senator Jackie Winters (R-10)

A Moment in the Legislature

Last month, I wrote about the memorable morning when Senator Jackie Winters (R-Salem) slowly pushed her walker to the Senate floor in order to introduce SB 1008, a package of juvenile justice reforms aimed at giving youthful offenders the greatest possible chance to straighten out and return to civil society instead of filling a costly state prison bed for the rest of their lives.

A couple of elements made this an unusual day. One was the need for a 2/3 majority, 20 votes of the 30-member Senate, because it changed provisions of Measure 11, the mandatory minimum sentencing initiative that voters passed in 1994. That meant it needed votes from Republicans, who as a general rule aren't interested in reducing criminal penalties. In the end it drew exactly the twenty votes it needed, largely because we all knew that giving deeply troubled kids a fair shot was the core of Senator Winters' life work. 

That was her final day in the Capitol. In late May, after another emotional debate, the bill passed the House, also by the bare minimum needed, 40-18. Senator Winters, watching the vote from her bed in the Salem Hospital, celebrated with her family. From that moment, we're told, her condition declined rapidly. Last Wednesday, May 29, word came that Senator Jackie Winters had died.

I barely knew this remarkable woman, talking with her just a couple of times since I arrived in January. What was clear in the quietly sad days this past week was the deep and genuine affection that so many legislators held for her. Last Thursday in our daily caucus meeting Democratic Senators shared their memories about her. During the uncharacteristically long silences between the stories, I thought I felt my colleagues, unrushed for a change, reflecting on what truly matters. It’s not a common reflection for many of us during the frenzy of the legislative session. I wonder how much would change if it were.

Senator Winter's Desk

Senator Winter's desk on the Senate floor

PERS and High Drama

Last newsletter, I focused on SB 1049, the very controversial bill to chip away at the huge unfunded PERS liability. I told you why I think it unfairly places the debt burden on the shoulders of current public employees (who no one claims are overpaid) instead of admitting that the obligation that belongs to all of us. Because leadership wouldn't add any other source for revenue--e.g. another marginal income tax bracket for Oregon's highest earners--I wouldn't join the 16 votes that passed out of the Senate. 

The ride got wilder when SB 1049 went over to the House. After a lengthy debate, the vote was cast: 31 no, 29 yes. Speaker Kotek called a recess and took a few of the "no" Democrats to her office behind the dais. When she gaveled the House back to order thirty minutes later, two upstate Representatives rose to change their votes to "yes," passing the bill 31-29.

This is not what you call elegant law-making. Nobody I talked to knows just what happened in that back room, but it couldn't have been pretty.


Limiting "Non-Economic" Damage Awards

Another dramatic Senate floor session ended with Tuesday's 14-15 defeat of HB 2014, which would have removed the previously-legislated cap of $500,000 for non-economic damages ("subjective non-monetary losses, including pain, mental suffering, emotional distress") in civil suits. This issue has a long, complicated history. I supported the bill because I think full citizen access to the courts to remediate damages is vital to checking ever-increasing corporate power, because stories of irrational runaway jury awards aren't based in fact, and because juries who hear all the evidence in a particular case are much more able to decide what's fair than legislators making up across-the-board numbers with no reference to a case's unique facts. My floor speech on the importance of fully empowering juries wasn't bad, but the Senator who knocked it out of the park was my podcast partner, Shemia Fagan. Her comments came at the end of the debate.

Senator Fagan Floor Speech on HB 2014

Campaign Finance Reform

On Monday, I advocated for my bill, SJR 18, in the Senate Rules Committee. This would ask the voters on the November 2020 ballot to approve a constitutional amendment (as only the voters can change the Oregon Constitution) to make it 100% clear that, free speech guarantees notwithstanding, the legislature, local governments, and the people through the initiative process have the right to limit and regulate campaigns. That would include dollar limits on contributions, as well as disclosures and "taglines" that clearly identify who's paying for campaign ads.

Legislative leaders first thought it was important to accompany this constitutional referral with a statute (a bill we'd pass rather than send to the ballot) that would spell out the specific dollar limits and other rules that campaigns would have to follow. We've been working all session on just what those would be, and it turns out there are monumental differences of opinion. I wrote a bill based on the principles that I think should guide our work; more than a few people in this discussion don't quite see this the same way.

Senator Jeff Golden

I'll have more to say about all this soon. Trimming the power of big money in politics largely drove me to run for this office, and my opinions on how to do that are strong. Right now, though, with a pile of remaining issues and less than four weeks until adjournment, leadership may decide that we don't have time or bandwidth for a major fight over campaign finance limits. In that case, we'd likely pass SJR 18 so that Oregonians can decide if campaigns should be regulated (I'm guessing that we'll collectively say "yes" by more than a 2-1 margin) and work out the details in the 2020 legislative session. See "What Do You Think?" below.

Bragging Rights

A high point of the week was (to mix sports metaphors) getting to spike the ball in a Senate Floor speech about the recently-crowned women’s softball National Champions, who happen to attend a certain University in our very own District. Go Raiders!

SOU Logo
SOU Softball Champs

Photo courtesy of SOU

What Do You Think?

Last week we asked your ideas on the best ways to pay down the PERS debt. Here are a couple of your thoughtful responses:

  • "I see that the state has its largest tax surplus in history and that means a potentially large so-called kicker for us taxpayers. That's great news, but I strongly support the idea of returning only a portion of that surplus as a way of allowing the state to put away funds for future projects such as infrastructure repair, low income housing, fire control, and so on. Could some of the money even be used to partially assist with the current PERS issue? I also strongly support the idea of capping the kicker, as Governor Brown has suggested so that higher earners would forfeit slightly more than us lower income earners."

  • "I would favor higher top end personal income taxes. Those folks wouldn't miss the money, and yet they all benefit from state services, both directly and indirectly. Personal income taxes are already terribly regressive in this state, starting at a very low income that is well below the poverty level. Raising property taxes is not a good idea because the cost of housing is going up precipitously at present. Taxing beer and wine is not a good idea because these are creating a lot of new economic growth in Oregon at all levels, from production to consumption in bars and restaurants."

This week: Give me your thoughts on the campaign finance reform puzzle I described. If we send to the ballot the question, "Should Oregon be able to limit and regulate campaign finances?" how important is it to know exactly what those limits would be? If we can't come to agreement on that this session, should we sent the voters the constitutional referral just the same?

What do you think? Send your thoughts to

The Last Word

SOU Town Hall Promo 6/8 12-2 PM

Join us for our last town hall this session at SOU, hosted by the Associated Students of SOU this Saturday, June 8 at 12 PM. 

If you find this newsletter interesting or useful, I hope you’ll forward it to friends and invite them to subscribe.  Anyone can sign up for it at

We will not share contact information with anyone else for any reason.

Have you checked out Capitolizing? It's the weekly podcast where Senator Shemia Fagan and I answer two questions every week: What do we do here in the Capitol, and Why the hell should you care?

Find Capitolizing on iTunes and other podcast networks.

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Our best to you for now. Please remember to do what you can do.


Senator Jeff Golden
Chair, Campaign Finance Committee 
Senate District 3 (Rogue Valley)

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-421, Salem, OR, 97301
Podcast: Capitolizing