Oregonians long have prided themselves on a state government that was largely free of the kind of cynical wheeling and dealing that has plagued other parts of the country. Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement that she will veto funding for three projects that would benefit Southern Oregon appears to be just the kind of petty partisan retaliation that isn’t supposed to happen here.
The funding includes $1 million toward the renovation of the Holly Theatre in Medford; $750,000 toward roofing over stadium seats at Harry & David Field, where youth baseball teams play; and $1.8 million for a piping project to help the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District conserve water.
State Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, who provided a key vote in the House to advance a health care tax designed to keep the Oregon Health Plan funded for two more years, later signed on to a referendum campaign to offer voters the chance to overturn the tax at the polls. Esquivel says he was promised the local funding measures in exchange for his vote, but that he did not agree to any further support.
Esquivel is hardly blameless. He had to know his reversal on the tax measure would anger Brown and other supporters. But Brown’s reaction was to lower herself to the level of petty political game-playing unbecoming of Oregon’s chief executive.
If her objective was to punish Esquivel, she completely missed the target. Esquivel already has announced he’s retiring from the Legislature at the end of his term, so he suffers nothing. The people of Southern Oregon, on the other hand, stand to lose three projects with clear public benefits.
The Holly project will be a boon to the community’s cultural fabric, generating jobs and boosting the local economy. The stadium project would improve a public facility that benefits youth baseball programs and other community events. The irrigation piping project would be a major step toward conserving a vital agricultural resource and benefiting the environment at the same time. All three had bipartisan support.
If Brown’s objective was to set an example, that’s likely to backfire, too. Lawmakers are less likely to agree to future deals of this nature if they fear retaliation for stepping out of line.
Perhaps most unfortunate was Brown’s statement that the three projects should be brought back before the 2018 Legislature “to be evaluated on their merits.”
Is the governor suggesting the obvious merits of these projects played no role in their approval, that they were bargaining chips and nothing more? If so, that calls into question the justification for any number of state funding measures and the sincerity of any lawmaker who claims to vote based on principle.
We don’t know exactly what Brown meant by her terse statement, because her communications director declared she would make no further comment on the three projects. So much for the openness she claims to champion.
The Oregon Constitution requires the governor to give five days’ notice before vetoing legislation, so there is still time for her to reconsider. She should do so — and weigh the impact of those vetoes on the state’s image.