Wednesday, June 01, 2005

PERS - What Ted Worry?

There's a story in today's Oregonian about a Republican dustup over PERS.

It seems that Republican governor candidate Ron Saxton got caught saying something interesting in BrainstormNW Magazine about how to fix the looming PERS disaster.

Kevin Mannix, never one to let pass an opportunity to score political points, tried to make Saxton look bad by attacking his suggestion as radical and scary. (Kevin didn't do it himself - he's the party chair. He wouldn't think of criticizing a candidate for governor - he's supposed to help Repubican candidates, not criticise their proposals. Jack Roberts delivered the broadside on Kevin's behalf, in a joint letter signed by him and a couple of former Republican politicians.)

In the Brainstorm piece, Saxton criticised the Oregon Supreme Court decision that threw out much of the PERS reforms passed in 2003, and suggested that the only way to fix the looming crisis might be to terminate all public employees, then hire them back under a new benefits package.

Roberts et al pointed out that this wouldn't exactly be legal, and said Saxton should be more responsible in his rhetoric.

Mannix, for his part, revealed his new collaborative side. His strategy to win the governorship? Oppose reform! His strategy to deal with PERS: "sit down in a positive way (with the unions) and talk about the long-term public good."

Yeah, that oughtta work. Public employee unions are famous for their unyielding commitment to the long term public good.

At least Saxton is facing the issue head on, and taking the heat.

This is exactly what is supposed to happen in a political campaign. Get in the ring and start swinging. Hash it out and see who has the best ideas. It's even OK to float some half baked ones - and let the voters decide.

One thing possibly taking shape from this early clash is that Saxton will run as the reformer, and Mannix as the defender of the status quo. It's a pretty odd situation.

But the Alfred E. Neumann prize has to go to Teddy Kulongoski. His spokesman, Peter Bragdon, said that there is no PERS problem and even if there is a problem that nothing can be done about it anyway, so nobody should talk about it anymore.

Well, OK that is my interpretation. Here's what the Oregonian wrote:

Peter Bragdon, Kulongoski's former chief of staff and now one of his top campaign advisers, said that he believes the 2003 reforms accomplished as much as can be done and that it would not be a big issue in the 2006 race.

Oh, really? The 2003 reforms - most of which were thrown out by the Supreme Court - is the best you can do? So we are supposed to sit by and watch while PERS costs skyrocket to 30% of payroll, and Teddy doesn't think this is going to be an issue when he runs for re-election?

They call this leadership?


Anonymous said...

Saxton is looking more and more like the only real Republican choice.

Jack Roberts said...

I'm sorry, but proposing unlawful and unworkable solutions isn't reform. The last thing we need is another round of litigation with the state ending up losing and taxpayers footing the bill.

I also resent the implication that somehow Kevin Mannix was behind Gene Derfler, Brady Adams and me raising this issue. I'm the one who first saw the Brainstorm article and I called Brady and Gene to see if they had the same take on it as I did (i.e., that it's a crazy idea). They did. We decided to raise the issue because we're tired of Republicans being characterized as the Know-Nothing Party.

Rob, I'm particularly disappointed in your take on this. I've always respected you as an intelligent, responsible education reform advocate. You don't need to play the role of political spin doctor.

panchopdx said...

we're tired of Republicans being characterized as the Know-Nothing Party.

And the rest of us have grown tired of your opportunistic forays into union political issues between your various candidacies.

Hopefully, not everyone has forgotten your collaboration with Kitzhaber to defeat the tax limitation and spending limit measures in 2000 on the unions' dime.

I'm sure you haven't.

It is the primary reason you aren't the Governor right now.

Jack Roberts said...

panchopdx, I don't know why you assume that positions your don't agree with are opportunistic. My opposition to simplistic ballot measures has been consistent over the last 15 years. You have every right to disagree with me, but I don't see how you can justify calling my position opportunistic.

I assume you know that Ron Saxton opposed those particular ballot measures, too. Was he less opportunistic because his opposition was less visible?

Rob Kremer said...

Pancho -
I have to agree with Jack here - as ill-advised as I think his opposition to the ballot measures in the 2000 election were, I can't see how it was "opportunistic."

On the contrary, I think he paid a big political price for the stand. I agree with you that but for that stand, he would be governor right now. Doesn't sound very opportunistic to me.

Jack -
On the issue of whether you, Brady and Gene sent the letter on your own or were doing it at Mannix's request, I'll take your word for it. But you did say in the press that you consulted with Mannix prior to doing it, right?

But on the more important point, whether Saxton's suggestion on what to do about PERS was irresponsible, I'll have to still disagree with you.

First, it wasn't exactly a "proposal." He said in BrainstormNW:

"...the radical idea is to reconstitute..."

Well, it IS a radical idea. Is it legal? You could interpret it in a way as to get a "no," or, you could charitibly interpret it to get a "yes."

But my point is: We NEED a leader to take on the professional unions. Mannix apparently isn't going to go there. He apparently is not going to run a reform candidacy.

Saxton deserves props for making a bold statement that is sure to bring the wrath of the unions against him. Frankly, I was surprised, because I haven't seen that willingness from him before.

And I was especially critical of Kulongoski who apparently thinks PERS now is the best of all possible worlds.

We can't afford another four years of Pangloss, but I am very afraid that is precisely what we have in store for us unless a real reformer sits in the center office.

I don't think I'm spinning here.

panchopdx said...

Of course hindsight is 20/20.

I meant that Jack's opposition was opportunistic at the time. He got statewide TV exposure through union dollars and the opportunity to woo Oregon independents as the the "thoughtful moderate Republican on the rise".

Just because the gambit didn't pay off, doesn't mean that it wasn't opportunistic.

He just didn't anticipate Saxton emerging with some serious money and neo-libertarian positions.
Saxton confounded Roberts by going to the left of both candidates on social issues while (arguably) staying to the right of both on fiscal matters.

Why Jack continues to take shots at Saxton three years later is an interesting question. At first I thought it was simply sour grapes against Saxton, but savvy politicians rarely nurse grudges for too long. So I suspect Jack wants Mannix to get the nomination for other reasons.

Maybe a Supreme Ct appointment if Mannix pulls it off or (more likely) another run at Gov in 2010 when Mannix loses (again).

But I'm not buying the objective political observer routine.

Jack Roberts said...

Rob, I'm not convinced it takes political courage for a Republican to attack public employee unions. They are already lined up to oppose any Republican candidate--as I can attest from first hand experience. And an ineffectual attack on the unions strengthens them, it doesn't weaken them.

The problem with Ron's "radical idea" is that it perpetuates the myth that there is a simple solution to the PERS problem that the governor and the legislature simply don't have the will or the wisdom to enact. It reinforces the worst form of cynicism about government, which I for one don't think is helpful.

Since the unions are 3-0 in their lawsuits over PERS reforms, I'm not sure having the guts to stand up to the unions is what is lacking. Maybe the brains and the judgment to effectively reform the PERS system might be more helpful.

Finally, I never talked to Kevin about this before we did it. I did let his campaign consultant know what we were thinking of doing so that Kevin wouldn't get blindsided. As for why I'm supporting Kevin, the answer is simple: I think he has the best chance to win and I think he'd make a good governor. It really is that simple.