Counting an OPB political analyst and commentator among townies can be especially helpful when so much is afoot in Salem, case in point, Bill Lunch, an Oregon State University Professor Emeritus of Political Science. Put another way, Lunch is so experienced that he is the go-to anytime City Club of Corvallis feels a hankering for authoritative political prognostication, and unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you know our just reelected governor resigned, turning over the reins to Kate Brown last week.
And yes, this interview will cover quite a bit more than the transfer of power in Salem.
Advocate: In what ways might the administration of just sworn Governor Kate Brown compare and contrast with the outgoing governor Kitzhaber’s?
Bill Lunch: There is likely to be more similarities than differences. Both are Democrats with an environmentally conscious record. Initially, Brown’s disagreeing with or approving legislation will look a lot like Kitzhaber’s.
There are two high profile bills currently in the house, both of which Brown will likely sign. The first, a bill which would grant more citizens voter registration rights, is a bill Brown authored, and now that Democrats have gained a majority in the house, she will likely see it come across her desk. (Sometimes called the Motor Voter bill, applicants to DMV would be automatically registered to vote.)
The controversial Low Carbon Fuel Standard bill that has Republicans crying out about raised gas prices also stands a good chance to receive Brown’s approval, if it makes it through the house.
State legislators will have to work together to move forward on a bill addressing highway congestion and the reconstruction of the I-5 bridge that connects Portland to Vancouver. Republicans have stated they will not agree to work with Democrats until they drop the Low Carbon Fuel Standards bill.
In the past, Brown hasn’t shown the willingness to address political adversaries and negotiate in the way Kitzhaber would, but now that she holds a more publicly seen office, this could stand to change. She also doesn’t have a history of good relations with more rural citizens, and has been more of a representative of urban dwellers.
For the most part, the differences between the two will be symbolic. If Brown does indeed make the effort to reach out to her rural constituents, we may expect to see her riding a horse in the Pendleton Round-Up. If not, they may stick her on a horse prone to buck.
Advocate: Will another GMO measure make the statewide ballot in 2016, and if so, what are its chances?
Bill Lunch: The sponsors of the legislature came very close to winning in 2014 and have already said they’re going to try to do something very similar if not identical in the 2016 ballot. The 2016 ballot is likely to stand a better chance of winning because in presidential election years the electorate expands. It’s a very regular pattern. So more than a typical midterm, in presidential years, we’ll get about 80% turnout rates in voters instead of 50-55% of eligible voters who turn out during midterm years.
In a presidential year, the overall age of the electorate goes down, with more people between ages 18 and 30 voting during presidential election years. Minority voter numbers also rise.
In a measure like the GMO legislation, the shift towards having a larger number of young and minority voters will be an advantage for sponsors of GMO labeling.
Advocate: Who comprises the opposing parties in the GMO debate?
Bill Lunch: The sponsors are mainly made up of a coalition of environmental groups, and groups on the left who are unhappy about large agriculture are generally opposed to governance of established agriculture, and have concerns with pesticide use.
There was a lot of money spent in opposition of Measure 92, one of the highest amounts on record for the state of Oregon. Most of the money came from grocery chains. These stores, such as Safeway, Fred Meyer, etc., don’t want the GMO legislation to pass because they’re afraid if that happens, a much larger fraction of the population won’t buy foods that are genetically modified, and they’ll see a large drop in sales.
Advocate: Common Core has been a hot topic. What are the misunderstandings and misconceptions, as well as politics involved?
Bill Lunch: Common Core is national in scope. Opposition began to emerge among primarily conservatives, but this is really more of an urban/rural issue. The kinds of knowledge Common Core is focused to impart is important for someone who’s going to live a life in a more or less urban or suburban setting. If you take Albany for example, there a lot of people who work in industrial settings who recognize their children won’t be able to do the same types of jobs they do. So if that’s the case, the kids need an education which will give them skills that will apply in a wider world. On the other hand, if you live on a farm or in a rural setting, the kind of education intended to be emphasized by Common Core looks threatening. Families involved in agriculture or natural resource extraction fear their children will leave them and the family business in search of better job opportunities. So for people in communities like that, elections are dominated by people who live in cities, but there’s plenty of rural communities where people are threatened by the changes that may make sense for people who live in urban settings. The debate over Common Core is a subspecies among a larger debate that the world is moving in a direction that rural citizens don’t favor.
Advocate: Can we get a quick opinion on single-payer health care?
Bill Lunch: Canadians adopted single-payer decades ago and it worked well for them, but at the time President Truman proposed it in the late 40s, it was defeated by lobbying led by the American Medical Association. Doctors didn’t like it because it had the implications of turning them into employees instead of small business owners. Since that time, it has been a very complicated story, but the short version is that because most Americans have mended jobs with health care coverage that is an adjunct in their compensation to work, health insurance companies and health insurance profit cooperatives have become the way in which most Americans are covered.
We have another 10 or maybe 15% covered by the government in Medicaid or something of the sort. Between the two, you have about 25% of working poor people that don’t make enough money to buy health insurance. It’s available, it just costs too much. They also don’t receive it through their job, but because they have a job, they make too much to qualify for other health insurance. Those people are the ones at the greatest disadvantage. Most of them will be covered by the Affordable Care Act assuming it survives, but we won’t really know how that’s going to turn out until after the 2016 elections.