When Gov. Kate Brown was asked if she planned to use her veto power for retribution, she told a Politico reporter that “revenge is a dish best served cold and slowly.”
On Sunday, the governor offered up the first course, announcing that she is considering using her veto power to kill proposals championed by rural lawmakers of both parties.
Although her staff said the veto threat was not political revenge but over sincere concerns about legislation passed in the 2019 Legislature, Brown is considering axing policies to make it easier to remove and fill ground from wetlands, move forward on the retrofit of two dams in Newport and provide money to help eastern Oregon counties plan larger urban growth boundaries.
Some of the proposed action goes against Democrats who opposed her cornerstone environmental policy that would have created a carbon pricing system.
Brown’s deadline to veto came Friday, Aug. 9, and she had to give five days notice before making the decision. The veto deadline passed after this edition of The Dalles Chronicle went to press.
Two of the bills targeted would impact eastern Oregon:
House Bill 2437 is aimed to ease the regulatory burden of farmers. A lot of farmland is classified as wetland, and to clear an agricultural ditch under current regulation, a farmer needs a permit, which can be expensive and complex, explained Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of the Oregon Farm Bureau. Cooper said she believes the decision to veto the bill is based on misinformation. The bill passed easily, with two-thirds support in the Senate and House.
Also at risk is $500,000 appropriated to the Association of Oregon Counties for urban growth boundary planning grants for eastern Oregon counties. The funding was tied to Senate Bill 2, which allowed for new adjustments of urban growth boundaries. The money would fund the planning of such efforts.
“We’re very, very disappointed,” said Mike Eliason, interim executive director of the association. He said the real issue is that the move takes money that was supposed to go directly to eastern Oregon counties and instead filters that funding through a Portland bureaucracy that “can’t pick them out on a map.”
In Brown’s announcement, she said the Department of Land Conservation and Development already oversees the grant process, and the current system gives the state more oversight than the association of counties would.
Yet the most egregious threat to veto will impact the residents of Newport. Brown may cut $4 million designated for the city of Newport to plan for the replacement of two dams on Big Creek. “I intend to line-item veto this project because we need to study all of Oregon’s dams, prioritize them for repair, and develop funding mechanisms before dedicating funds and planning work on any specific dam,” Brown said in her statement, an idea she proposed in her budget last fall that was rejected by the legislature.
Newport Public Works Director Timothy Gross said the two dams are tiered, and hold back up to 381 million gallons of water. If the top dam fails, the bottom one goes with it. He said seepage is already a problem and it’s now a race against the clock.
“If they fail before we fix them, our community is gone,” Gross said. He also said the state funds were going to be used to leverage federal matching dollars.
Perhaps the governor doesn’t recognize that seepage through a dam is unlike a leaky faucet at the governor’s mansion: Such seepage is both a sign of and a contributing factor to dam failure.
Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, who represents Newport in the Senate, said he was disappointed by the governor’s announcement and is seeking a meeting with her. Roblan was one of three Senate Democrats who publicly opposed Brown’s cap and trade program.
In my view, putting the lives and well being of Oregonians at risk for political revenge is simply unacceptable: The culmination of over six years of work solving a dangerous problem should not be thrown out for “Brown’s Revenge.”
It’s not the first time Brown has taken her revenge on Oregonians. In 2017, she vetoed about $4 million in funding for projects in former Republican Rep. Sal Esquivel’s southern Oregon district after he broke a political deal with her. Brown at the time acknowledged her act was political revenge, and despite suggestions by her staff that her current concerns are in regards to policy, not politics, she is again using rural Oregonians as her punching bag.
Of course, Brown may well change course with the political winds, and these threats could be moot by the time you read this.
But as the old adage says, “it’s the thought that counts.” Revenge may be “a dish best served cold and slowly,” as the governor suggested, but dishing it up is bad for all of us.
Original reporting by Aubrey Wieber and Claire Withycombe of the Oregon Capital Bureau.
Opinion by Mark Gibson, editor of The Dalles Chronicle.