Do What You Can Do

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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

SB 85 Sign

Governor Kotek signing SB 85, the bill we passed last session to curb the growth of factory farms. Most of the folks around her are farmers…I’m the furry-faced guy towards the back right.

I’ve been in Salem this week for the first of the three sets of Leg (as in “ledge”) Days that take place between sessions. We hold committee meetings to get updates on programs launched in past sessions and information on potential upcoming bills. The only floor session (actually held in a committee hearing room today, because construction has now closed down the Senate Chambers) is a brief convening of the Senate solely to confirm the Governor’s appointments to state boards and commissions.

What's Stirring

The pot’s boiling on Measure 110

One issue’s getting more attention than any other these days, both in our district and in Salem: Measure 110, the Drug Treatment and Recovery Act, a ballot initiative Oregonians approved in 2020 by a 17-point margin. Increased public drug use and overdoses since then has many people convinced that 110’s decriminalization of most drug possession was a big mistake, and a push for the Legislature to either repeal or overhaul it is growing. 

Both Jackson County and the City of Medford, which adopted this resolution, are part of that push. I’m finding other legislators are getting a similar message in their districts, which means that legislative action in the coming short session is almost certain—not repeal, but revision. One practical reason for that is pressure from a well-financed campaign of influential Oregonians to put a reform measure on the ballot. You can read its details here.

There’s little disagreement on some key points. Almost everyone supports a ban on public use of most drugs, and the need for stronger incentives to get addicted people into effective treatment. In practice, that gets complicated; the reform coalition’s proposal to “replace voluntary with required addiction treatment” sounds straightforward enough, but my lay person’s understanding of recovery is that it rarely happens with people who don’t want to be in treatment. And the notion that we need to jail people who won’t voluntarily go into treatment is hard to grasp when so many jurisdictions are releasing offenders early for lack of jail space.


Given conditions across Oregon communities, it’s not hard to understand the pushback to Measure 110. I’ll strive to listen to its critics with an open mind in next year’s legislative session. In the process we’d do well to remember three things:

    • the successes of the treatment strategy—the potential benefits of M110—don’t materialize as quickly as all of us would like. Recovery can take a long time. And the treatment funds, for bureaucratic reasons that need repair, were painfully slow getting to programs, and it’s too early for a final score on how this approach works.
    • M110 was a landmark shift away from the historic treatment of drug abuse as a criminal rather than public health matter. No honest assessment of the War on Drugs can call it a success; we’re paying, and will continue to pay, steep costs for seriously criminalizing millions of people for personal drug use. That needs to be part of the calculation amid cries for recriminalization. The answer to changing a new system that some see as a failure is not to return to a certain failure of the past.
    • Drug addiction is more a symptom than a root cause of society’s problems. However skillfully we can improve our response to substance abuse and its side effects, we’re not about to dramatically reduce it without addressing the wealth and opportunity disparities and family dysfunction that give rise to desperation and hopelessness. It’s not in the cards for us to solve drug addiction and mental illness, much as we’d like to, as stand-alone problems.

This article, which includes testimony from the Jackson County sheriff, reflects how fluid the conversation is in Salem right now. It will keep unfolding right up to and through the 2024 session, beginning February 5.


A widely disliked Southern Oregon dam

Of the four issues before my Natural Resources Committee this week, a longstanding fight over a Douglas County dam drew the most attention.

Winchester Dam

The Winchester Dam lies just east of I-5 just north of Roseburg; you can easily see its 16-foot tall span the entire width of the North Umpqua river on your way to Eugene or Portland. In its 133-year history it’s provided water supply and hydropower to the Roseburg area, but for decades its only purpose has been to provide scenic waterfront and recreation to the 100-plus lakeside property owners who collectively own the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD), which operates and maintains the dam.

The dam has stirred unhappy criticism for a long time, especially among conservationists and fishing enthusiasts. The world-class steelhead fishery in upstream stretches of the North Umpqua, they say, is seriously compromised by the dam’s failing fish ladder. They add that leakage has been undermining the dam at an accelerating rate, and efforts to repair it have been half-hearted and out of compliance with requirements to protect fish and water quality. In recent weeks, the latest repair project pushed complaints to the boiling point and stirred new calls to remove the dam altogether.

There’s strong evidence for claims that the dam hasn’t been held to the standards applied to similar facilities around the state follow to protect water quality and the integrity of important fish runs. We’re trying to get to the bottom of why that is. In this week’s hearing, the key agencies—the Departments of Environmental Quality, Fish and Wildlife, and Water Resources—told us they weren’t far enough into their inquiry to say very much, but we could expect to receive a more complete report down the road.

I formally asked them to do that at either our next interim committee meeting on November 6 or the one to follow on January 10—plenty of time, it seems to me, to wrap up their process. If they deliver, a brighter light than ever before will shine on the Winchester Dam’s condition and operations. With a world-class resource like the North Umpqua River on the line, we owe that much to the people of Oregon.


What do you think?

One hot topic last session the was the exceptionally large percentage of Oregon’s public investment portfolio (for PERS and local government accounts) that has been placed in private equity funds. The reason that’s important is that those funds (unlike directly-purchased stocks, bonds or mutual funds) generally carry confidentiality agreements that ban public disclosure of what companies are in the portfolio. Another way of saying this is that Oregonians know less about what their public funds are supporting than people in just about any other state.


Is that a problem? Some don’t think so. Making policy or laws is one thing, they would say, and equity investment is another. The only thing we should care about is getting the very highest return on investment we possibly can. 

That’s been frustrating for some of us pushing for change. For one thing, return on Oregon’s investments has started to dip down below what some states with less private equity investment (and more public transparency) are earning. What may be more frustrating is the way our policy work in the legislature and investment decisions by the state treasury can run directly at cross purposes.

The example that’s drawn the most attention is investment in fossil fuel companies. I’m one of a group of legislators who’ve been pushing for divestment of our public funds from those stocks, which would add Oregon to a rapidly growing global movement that has withdrawn trillions of dollars from fossil fuel companies. It doesn’t make much sense to be fighting as hard as we have been to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions at the same time that we’re providing capital for industry to drill for more fossil fuels, build more refineries and lay more gas pipelines. All that does is increase industry’s sunk costs and assets that will have to be stranded if we succeed in making the transition to cleaner fuels. We’re working against ourselves.

The same applies with private equity investments in real estate speculation. While we’re doing everything we possibly can to rein skyrocketing housing costs, some of our public dollars have gone to large firms companies that swoop in to buy as many homes as they can during real estate downturns and then jack rents up as high as the market will bear when the upswing begins. That’s exactly what happened after the 2008 crash, and is one reason so many people are unhoused today. And our public dollars have helped it happen.

All of which gave rise to bills in past sessions to begin divestment from fossil fuels and to require more public disclosure of which companies receive our public investment dollars. Those bills haven’t gone very far. There just hasn’t been a critical mass of public opinion to overcome a passive sense that all these decisions should be left to trained investors, with zero meddling from anyone who wants to align Oregon values with Oregon investments.

fox logo

A recent news story has me wondering if that could be changing. It’s here.  It caused some people to write in, upset that Oregon invests public employee pension and local government funds in Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation. A couple of them thought they must be misinterpreting what the article says. They weren’t. 

But once somebody crosses the line to start believing that some investments are just plain wrong, there’s a whole lot more to think about. I believe Oregonians have a right to know where we’re investing public dollars so that they can judge for themselves. 

What do you think?


Getting the word out

I remember what a rural property owner told me over coffee about a year ago when we met to talk about his unhappiness with the prospect that SB 762 could someday require some folks in high-hazard zones to take steps to reduce wildfire risk. “I’m retired,” he said, “and have the time and ability to find information about this program online. But I can’t find what I need to know about requirements, about where and how I can have my say on proposed rules, on what incentives there could be to do the work on my land. There are too many programs and agencies to keep track of!”


That was a helpful complaint. We can’t expect much collaboration from landowners if we make it hard for them to find out what’s needed on their property. So I tucked into one of last session’s wildfire bill a directive to the State Fire Marshall’s Office to create a one-stop website that makes life easier for interested landowners who don’t have a lot of time for searching the web. They’ve made good progress in that direction. Here’s the latest version of their work. Let me know if it’s helpful for accessing the information you need. Suggestions for improvement are always welcome.

That’s it for now. Let me hear from you about priorities you’d like addressed in the 2024 session, or whatever else is on your mind.

Jeff (Signature)

Senator Jeff Golden, Oregon Senate District 3


  • Jackson County Emergency Management: Citizen Alert
  • Jackson County: Current Fire Danger Level
  • OSFM: Wildfire Grants
  • Access provides over 30 food pantries across Jackson County. Click here to locate one near you.
  • You can find information about grants through the Oregon Department of Forestry here.
  • Access hosts informative events throughout the year. You can see their upcoming events here.

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