We’ve reached the first weekend in February, a month that usually filled me with dread when I lived in Montana. But here in the Willamette Valley, February (although it still can offer some raw moments) is a different beast entirely. Here’s a column I wrote in 2019 — and while some of it is out of date (our new house is about a quarter-mile from the camellia bush I wrote about), it does summarize that feeling I get when I turn the calendar over to February.
It’s not just the temperature that starts to warm up in February: The Oregon political scene is getting lively as we head into what could be a really interesting year. And, of course, the Legislature began its short session this past week. I still maintain that governing Oregon has become such a complicated business that annual sessions are necessary, but these 35-day sessions, with their lightning pace (well, you know, comparatively) can be difficult to track — and things can change in a hurry.
Speaking of the Legislature, The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Hillary Borrud has an interesting story about the secretive process in which Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis was elected speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. One of the candidates Rayfield bested for the position was Rep. Janelle Bynum of Happy Valley, who is Black; had she won the post, she would have been the first speaker of color in Oregon history. Now, I know Rayfield (who is white), and I have no doubt that he’ll do a fine job as speaker — and, as Borrud’s story points out, he enjoys a reputation as a successful fundraiser, which certainly must have been a plus as Democratic House members chose their speaker. But Borrud’s story nicely illustrates the difficulties that officials of color face when trying to rise into leadership positions. (The story is only available to subscribers, but you can buy an electronic subscription to The Oregonian for less than it costs to buy a subscription to the Gazette-Times.)
One of the bills that got some early attention this week at the Legislature was Senate Bill 1521, which would make it harder for school boards to fire superintendents: It would only allow “no-cause” terminations after a superintendent had received 12 months’ notice. The bill, of course, is a response to high-profile firings of superintendents in places like Albany and Newberg. OPB’s Elizabeth Miller had a detailed story on the bill. Meanwhile, the Greater Albany Public Schools board of trustees this week named the replacement for Melissa Goff, the superintendent it fired under a “no-cause” clause last year: The five-man board selected Andy Gardner, the superintendent of the North Santiam School District, for the job, which pays $220,000 annually.
Meanwhile, in Oregon politics, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, one of the front-runners for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, told members of the East Clackamas County Republican Women’s Club at a meeting last week that he believed the 2020 election was “fraudulent” and that he harbored doubts about Oregon’s vote-by-mail system (which has worked extremely well since voters overwhelmingly approved it in 1998). Among Pulliam’s reasons why he had doubts about Oregon’s voting system: the fact that Republican candidates have typically fared poorly in statewide elections. I wonder if there might be another explanation for this. Julia Shumway of the Oregon Capital Chronicle followed up with Pulliam after his remarks to the Republican women were posted on social media, and Pulliam more or less just doubled down. Click here to read Shumway’s story. Pulliam wasn’t done making news: On Saturday, he confirmed reports that he and his wife were briefly members of a Portland swingers group for swapping sexual partners. And, in a display of restraint that I hope readers will appreciate, that’s all I have to say about that.
Nike co-founder Phil Knight has written his first big check of the 2022 campaign: He’s donated $250,000 to Betsy Johnson, the longtime Democratic legislator who’s running for governor as an unaffiliated candidate. As The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Borrud reports, Knight typically funds Republican candidates, but did donate to John Kitzhaber’s campaign against Dennis Richardson. You do start to wonder how many votes Johnson’s well-funded campaign will be able to siphon away in November from both the Democratic and Republican candidates — especially since both those major-party candidates will have spent big resources just to get out of the primaries.
Turning our attention to national politics: There’s no doubt that Donald Trump is still the alpha dog in the Republican Party. But pollsters and other observers say they’re starting to see some daylight between Trump and his Make America Great Again faithful — which could provide an opening for what a pollster called a “next-generation Trump candidate.” Could that candidate be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis? Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times has the story.
On another topic, the Times reports that efforts to ban books in school libraries and elsewhere are proceeding at a pace experts haven’t seen since the 1980s. This seems like a logical extension of the culture wars that have crept into local school boards, but that doesn’t make this trend any more welcome. One way to fight back would be to read some of the books that often trigger controversy in our schools; The Atlantic has helpfully compiled a list of the 14 books that are most frequently challenged.
Robinson Meyer, the enterprising climate reporter for The Atlantic, has a provocative new piece this week outlining the connection between climate change and inflation. Mayer makes a persuasive case that it’s a stronger link than you might think at first. Here’s an excerpt:
For years, scientists and economists have warned that climate change could cause massive shortages of major commodities, such as wine, chocolate, and cereals. Financial regulators have cautioned against a “disorderly transition,” in which the world commits only haphazardly to leaving fossil fuels, so it does not invest enough in their zero-carbon replacements. In an economy as prosperous and powerful as America’s, those problems are likely to show up—at least at first—not as empty grocery shelves or bankrupt gas stations but as price increases.
That phenomenon, long hypothesized, may be starting to actually arrive. Over the past year, unprecedented weather disasters have caused the price of key commodities to spike, and a volatile oil-and-gas market has allowed Russia and Saudi Arabia to exert geopolitical force.
“This climate-change risk to the supply chain—it’s actually real. It is happening now,” Mohamed Kande, the U.S. and global advisory leader at the accounting firm PwC, told me.
Finally this week, here’s the latest dispatch from the Weekend Reader’s “This is Not Surprising, But It’s Still Sort of Interesting” Desk: New work from the Pew Research Center suggests that women are more likely than men to feel empathy for those suffering. The center reports: “When seeing or hearing about terrible things happening to people, women are much more likely than men (71% vs. 53%) to say they often feel sad for those who are suffering.” So, to put this in a different light: About half of the men polled said they do not feel sad for people who are suffering. Pew did not elaborate as to why this might be the case, but I have a theory: Men are jerks.
That’s it for today. See you next weekend. In the meantime, get out and give encouragement to one of those brave daffodils.