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The governors of Oregon and Washington both say that science has guided their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a Seattle Times columnist thinks that Oregon “went more with its gut” when Gov. Kate Brown moved K-12 educators to the front of the line for coronavirus vaccines.

By doing so, columnist Danny Westneat wrote this week, Oregon got it right:

“What happened is, Oregon ignored all the barbs and went ahead and got the shots for its teachers. When that didn’t lead to immediate school re-openings as hoped, the governor last week brought down the hammer.

“‘Whether or not public schools should return kids to the classroom this spring is no longer up for discussion,’ she said.

“How’s that for some clarity?”

Hmm. “Clarity” is not how some Oregonians would define Brown’s whiplash approach to coronavirus leadership. Perhaps clarity is in the eye of the beholder. Or maybe it takes an outsider’s perspective to awaken us.

A year ago Brown closed Oregon school classrooms because of the pandemic. Her administration followed that up with some of the nation’s toughest state requirements for allowing schools to reopen. Later she switched, saying those requirements weren’t mandates after all – only advice – and so it was up to local school districts and communities to determine when to resume in-person classes.

On Friday, Brown was back with a statewide mandate. She declared that all schools must reopen this spring for some form of in-person learning. As of late Thursday, Brown had yet to issue the formal executive order, but her spokesman told me it would be forthcoming.

In his column, Westneat chided Washington Gov. Jay Inslee for failing to prioritize educators for vaccinations until President Joe Biden had told states to do so.

“Inslee went along, but it means that Washington is weeks behind in getting its teachers the shots,” Westneat wrote. “Meanwhile Oregon went from mocked to national policy model in the span of six weeks.”

His column concluded by calling on the Inslee administration to accelerate vaccinations for educators:

“(Brown’s) argument from the start was that it would take so long to vaccinate all the seniors that by then the school year would be lost, so why not pause the seniors for a couple of weeks? She got accused of selling out the state’s old people, and maybe she got a little lucky, but she turned out to be right.

“There’s still time, barely, for us to swallow our pride and copy little-brother Oregon.”

Not speaking of California …: Throughout the late 20th century, Oregonians were obsessed with California, contending bad ideas flowed north from California like an infectious political disease.

For example, our infamous income tax “kicker,” which might flow again to taxpayers next spring, was created by the 1979 Oregon Legislature to stop California’s tax rebellion from taking root here. (The kicker has worked to deprive the Legislature of spending unexpected state revenue. But it didn’t quell the tax rebellion, which produced the infamous Measure 5 and other property tax limits.)

Perhaps, we gazed south so much that we neglected to look north.

Little-brother state? That stings. It’s bad enough that Washington this week was named the best state in the nation for the second year in the row by U.S. News and World Report, whereas Oregon is No. 22.

For perspective, we’re also behind such western colleagues as Utah, No. 3; Idaho, No. 5; and Colorado, No. 16. But we’re ahead of California, No. 24; Hawaii, No. 25; Montana, No. 33; Wyoming, No. 35; Nevada, No. 36; and Arizona, No. 39.

Louisiana is No. 50.

As for Tennessee, a state that some Oregon lawmakers are rumored to be talking of moving to, it’s No. 29.

Fighting over political lines: The Oregon Legislature is deeply engaged in what might be for naught – redrawing the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts using the new population numbers from the 2020 Census. These districts are supposed to be roughly equal in population, though not area.

The catch – at least one of them – is that the Census numbers aren’t expected until long after the 2021 Legislature adjourns. If the Legislature doesn’t redraw legislative districts, or the governor vetoes the plan, that job falls to Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. Either way, Democrats win because they control the Legislature and Fagan is a Democrat. Gerrymandering lives, whether by Democrats in Oregon or Republicans in Texas.

The courts handle congressional redistricting if the Oregon Legislature also fails there.

So rare is agreement among legislators and with the governor, that their redistricting plans have been enacted only three times in the past 110 years. 2011 brought bipartisan agreement because the Legislature was almost evenly divided between the parties.

This week, House Republicans and allies put forth an alternative: Follow the lead of two dozen or so other states and create an independent, nonpartisan citizen commission to oversee redistricting. Creation of such a commission would require voter approval of a ballot measure, which the 2021 Legislature could write. A similar initiative from People Not Politicians failed to reach the ballot last year.

Most Democrats, who are in control, don’t like the idea. After all, Democrats make up only 35.4% of the electorate, yet are 61.% of legislators. For them, the system works.

As former Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, said, “The party in power wants to keep the power,” regardless of which party it is.

He was among those speaking a press videoconference in favor of turning redistricting over to a new, independent commission. Also backing the idea were House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby; Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, vice chair of the House Redistricting Committee; and Andrew Kaza, co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon.

Full disclosure: I was born in Washington state. I’ve only lived in Oregon for 50 years.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at,, or @DickHughes.

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