Do What You Can Do 10/11/19

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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 mid-Interim edition of Do What You Can Do. This week we reach the halfway point between the long 2019 and the short 2020 sessions.  The months since we adjourned June 30 in the wake of the Republican walkout have flown by so fast that I feel urgency to getting as ready at possible for the big issues that will hit us when the opening gavel comes down on February 3.

  • Special Note: Time for a Town Hall Meeting, in a corner of the District I haven't visited enough this year. Join us for an informal conversation about politics and policy this Wednesday, October 16, from 6-8pm, at Applegate River Lodge, 15100 Highway 238 in Applegate. Refreshments will include awesome homemade cookies (or so the good folks at the Applegater promised when they invited me out.).

What's Up

Campaign Finance Reform

Senator Golden at his desk on the Floor of the Senate


The new Senate Wildfire Prevention and Recovery Committee I’ve been asked to chair held its first meeting in Salem on September 16. To build a good foundation for the work to come, we brought together some of the smartest and most knowledgeable wildfire experts anywhere in the world. You can watch all or any part of the three-hour meeting here. One of the really memorable segments was, “Why Wildfires Have Gotten Worse—and What We Can Do About It,” a fine 13-minute Ted Talk from Paul Hessburg of the US Forest Service.

Right now we’re waiting for publication of the Governor’s Wildfire Council report, expected in the next few weeks. Even before we see those findings, it’s pretty clear what the toughest political and economic questions will be.

  • Where will the money come from? The very rough figure of $4 Billion has been floated as the price tag for restoring Oregon forests to resilient, fire-resistant conditions. Sources for that money under discussion are levying higher fees/taxes (currently the lowest in the Northwest) on private timberland owners whose forests are protected by the state Department of Forestry, investment from private industry (particularly insurance companies and utilities that have lost so much in California fires), receipts from commercial timber sales, and more broad-based taxes on Oregonians generally. The raw material for major political battles is easy to identify in this list.
  • How much merchantable timber should be harvested from public lands? This subset of the preceding question deserves its own bullet. The argument that drove the Timber Wars, 30 years ago, over best forest practices never fully ended. Some from the timber industry directly blame reduced logging levels through the intervening years for the recent mega-fires; folks on the other side often say the overcutting of the “Good Old Days,” eliminated canopies shading the forest floor and fostered brushy undergrowth that provides much of the tinder for the big fires. That and other arguments are hard, maybe impossible, to resolve. The task moving forward is to craft forest management on public lands that keeps top priority on forest health and resilience. That will take pushing back against those who would increase commercial logging to levels that would pay the entire bill for forest restoration (so as to ask nothing at all of the industry or taxpayers), as well as those who say we should leave the forests alone altogether. There’s a viable balance point between those two poles. I hope we can find it.
  • How completely should wildfires be suppressed? Scientists pretty much agree that the Smokey the Bear legacy—put out all fires on all lands as quickly and completely as possible—led to the mega-fires by interrupting an age-old cycle of natural fires that kept huge fuel loads from accumulating. Some believe the pendulum swung too far the other way, with federal agencies letting some wildfires grow from very local to massive. The Jackson County Commissioners recently asked me to support a “full suppression” policy of deploying all available resources to extinguish every fire as quickly as possible, no matter where it’s located. I think that’s well-intended, and agree with their assessment that Valley residents have become adamant that smoky days should be reduced as close to zero as possible. But the dilemma here is real: putting out every fire as quickly as we can is the recipe for rebuilding unburned fuel loads yet again, and teeing up more mega-fires down the road. Forest scientists agree that on some back-country landscapes, these fires have been good for long-term forest health. Still, though, they generate smoke that has a way of settling and lingering in the Rogue Valley.

While there’s a lot we don’t know here, one plain fact is that we have to learn to live with smoke as a permanent recurring reality in our region. Our job is to manage it in ways that minimize its impact on our physical and economic health, and on the quality of Southern Oregon life generally. To do that, we'll have to overcome the old mudfights with a deeper realization that the state we love is in serious peril and deserves our best, most broad-minded commitment.

Milepost 97 Fire

Milepost 97 fire from the mountaintop July 29, 2019


Campaign Finance Reform

Thanks to all of you who came to one of the Campaign Finance “Road Show” Town Halls last month, whether in Medford, Eugene or further upstate. They were full of Oregonians who are fiercely ready for a fairer, more transparent system for funding campaigns, one that doesn’t tilt the playing field so steeply towards powerful interests.

We asked participants to fill out a short survey to get a rough sense of where Oregon citizens would set campaign limits, and how much provision they’d make for different kinds of committees to aggregate individual donations into larger checks to candidates. Once that information is compiled I’ll be drafting a bill with the limits and restrictions that I’d like to see in Oregon. I’ll introduce that bill as Chair of a new Senate Campaign Finance Committee, which has just two other members. Senator Fred Girod (R-Stayton) made it clear in our first committee meeting last month that he won’t support any proposal that allows any kinds of committees that aggregate donations. That puts us at odds, as I think it will stimulate more small-donor participation if people are free to pool their small individual donations with that of their neighbors, co-workers, service club colleagues, etc., on behalf of a particular candidate. I’ll look for support for that position from our third committee member, Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick (D-Portland), to send a strong bill in 2020 to the floor of the Senate. If that bill succeeds, it will take effect only if Oregonians vote in November 2020 to amend the state constitution to make clear our authority to regulate campaign financing at all. I’ll be campaigning hard for passage of that measure.

If we in the legislature can’t agree on campaign finance limits this session, it’s a safe bet that campaign finance activists—and because this problem is so obvious, there are more of them all the time—will mount an initiative campaign to set campaign limits that they think would shift political power towards the people at large. 

Medford CFR

Senator Golden and Representative Rayfield at the Medford Campaign Finance Reform Disucssion Session


Climate Action

Climate action has revved up internationally since I last wrote to you, with demonstrations and student walk-outs in most countries and the emergence of a stunningly straight-talking Swedish teenager as the world’s foremost activist (those who believe that no crisis is beyond laughter might want to know about the Greta Thunberg Helpline).

There’s a strong intention to bring a slightly updated version of HB2020—the bill that triggered the final Republican walkout—to the short session in February. We’re trying to map out a better outcome. You’re likely to see more detail on how the proceeds from selling greenhouse gas emissions permits will boost Oregon’s rural economies.

And another path is opening up that could bypass the legislature altogether. This week Renew, the statewide coalition for climate action, launched a campaign to put two or three measures on the Oregon ballot if we in the Legislature don’t get the job done. They aim to prove that a majority of Oregonians support bold steps to slash our emissions dramatically and soon. I hope and think they’re right about that—and I know that an initiative movement will help focus the legislature’s attention on the matter at hand when we reconvene in Salem.

Climate Action

Senator Golden speaking at a climate rally in support of HB2020



You may have recently noticed a hemp plant or two sprouting up around our valley. Or perhaps one or two million.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an agricultural crop take hold in our valley with the scale and suddenness of industrial hemp. That’s a predictable outcome of decades of pent-up demand for a valuable commodity that suddenly becomes available.

We plainly weren’t ready for this explosion. I’m one of many legislators receiving a steady flow of concern about problems ranging from oppressive and perhaps health-challenging smells, the build-up of massive quantities of non-degradable plastic, impact on water tables and organic farming and a vertical spike in rural land prices. With the 2018 Federal Farm Act opening the gates to industrial hemp, there were no real efforts to implement state regulation with the kind of attention applied to recreational cannabis.

I believe that will change. The statewide discussion on managing symptoms of the hemp explosion will intensify as the session approaches. I hope you’ll let me know anything you’d like to add to it (see “What Do You Think?” below).


Hemp plant - Photo courtesy of Oregon State University


Death Penalty

I might have called this section, “the special session that wasn’t.” I include it here because some people were understandably puzzled by what they were reading in the media.

During the session we passed, and Governor Brown signed, SB 1013, which shortened the list of crimes that could be designated “aggravated murder,” the only category of crime in Oregon eligible for the death penalty.

For practical purposes, this has nearly become a non-issue in Oregon. With the exception of two people who requested to die, nobody’s been executed here since 1962, and there’s no indication that anyone will be in the foreseeable future. 

Things got complicated after the session when a judge ruled that any of the 31 inmates currently on Oregon’s Death Row who succeeded in getting a re-sentencing hearing—apparently not a rare event—would come under the provisions of SB1013; if their crime wasn’t among the four specifically called out as “aggravated murder” in the bill, they couldn’t be re-sentenced to death. That ran directly counter to the assurances some legislators think they received before the bill passed that it would not be retroactive. There’s disagreement about what was and wasn’t said at that time, but the confusion was serious enough that both the Governor and the bill’s chief sponsor supported a special session for a clarifying “tweak” before the law took effect.

It turns out there wasn’t enough interest in the legislature, and probably not enough favorable votes, to do that. A major reason is that those of us who have always opposed the death penalty—because of statistical proof of its dramatic racial and class bias, because of revelations of the truly shocking number of times that innocent people have received the sentence, because no evidence shows that it reduces the murder rate, because of its extraordinary expense to taxpayers, and because “killing people to show that killing people is wrong” doesn’t make sense to us—would have had trouble voting for any “technical fix” that could have made more people eligible for execution. It wouldn’t have been an easy vote, because the integrity of key information presented during legislative deliberation—the ability to rely on the facts presented before we vote—is vital. So vital that I would have listened hard and had a tough decision to make if we had we been called into special session.  

What do you think?

This month, let’s go with the multiple challenges of the industrial hemp. What aspect(s) of this burgeoning issue deserve particularly careful attention?

What do you think? Send thoughts to:

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My 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