Oregon Primary Highlights

Oregon held its primary election on May 19th. Results can be found here. Oregon’s U.S. Senate and Congressional incumbents all won their primary and will continue on to the general election. COVID-19 and social distancing definitely changed how candidates ran their campaigns. The traditional candidate forums and debates moved to web-based platforms, door-to-door canvasing became direct phones calls and digital ads, and opportunities to mingle with voters at community events were canceled.

However, COVID did not impact Oregon voter turnout as was seen in other states. Oregon’s commitment to vote-by-mail paid off with one of the highest state voter turnouts in the national 2020 primary election. This was also Oregon’s first election with prepaid envelopes, making voting so easy that 46% turnout almost seems too low.

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Over the past three months, all of our lives have been impacted in unimaginable ways. The OSU Government Relations team hopes this update finds you and your family healthy and safe.

Since mid-March, OSU has been operating under the Governor’s Higher Education and Stay Home Executive Orders. Our spring term courses moved to remote delivery. This took extraordinary efforts by OSU’s faculty, graduate teaching assistants, advisors and staff to make this switch in just a two-week span. Over 4,000 courses have moved to remote delivery.

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COVID-19 Response

On Sunday, March 8th, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency in Oregon due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Since the declaration, the Legislature’s Emergency Board has allocated $5 million towards the crisis and a special joint legislative committee on Coronavirus Response has been assembled by legislative leadership.

On Wednesday, March 11th, Oregon State University announced guidelines to protect students and employees from COVID-19 community spread. To facilitate the ongoing sharing of information about the virus, Oregon State University has added a link on the OSU homepage to a new page that provides detailed and up-to-date COVID-19 information; links to OSU, local, state and federal resources; updates on the latest federal travel restrictions; and previous university communications about the virus and other information. The web site includes a memo released this week about plans for remote final exams and remote teaching.

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This month marks the end of my 20-year career as Director of Government Relations at OSU. I was drawn to OSU by President Paul Risser in 1999 after working with him while I served on a temporary federal appointment in Governor John Kitzhaber’s office. The Governor asked Risser to chair a citizen commission charged with resolving intractable water quality problems in the Willamette River Basin, and I was serving as the Governor’s liaison to the commission. At its first meeting, Risser, an ecologist, asked the members to briefly address the issues of interest to them. After listening to an hour-long free-ranging collection of concerns which fully described Oregon’s urban-rural divide, Risser briefly synthesized the discussion into a cogent summary that eventually became the commission’s work plan. I thought he was the smartest person I’d ever met.

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Looking to the 2020 legislative session

Universities will be focused on two major priorities as they approach the 2020 legislative session. First, because the legislature postponed decisions about capital facilities on individual campuses during the 2019 session, the universities seeking commitments of state-financed bonds for capital renewal and/or new buildings on their campuses. During the 2019 session the legislature did approve $65 million in bonding for capital renewal projects. These funds will be distributed among the campuses according to a mutually agreed-upon formula developed by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC). But, in synch with the Governor’s recommendation upon entering the 2019 session, the legislature deferred making decisions about individual campus projects, pending the results of what turned out to be a 280-page 10-year strategic capital development plan commissioned by the HECC. The study assessed the long-term campus trends and needs, and in October the HECC approved the plan. Now, HECC staff have incorporated the findings in recommendations to be considered this week. (These issues will be addressed in Capital Construction below.)

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With the June 30th deadline for adjournment just over a month and a half away, the Oregon Legislature is nearing a final vote on a $2 billion revenue package, is considering over 90 amendments to a comprehensive joint “carbon action plan,” and is considering various proposals for addressing housing costs and efforts to control cost increases in the state’s public employee retirement system (PERS).

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