Sen. Bonham: Cronyism, kickbacks — Oregon’s own PaneraGate

Carvouts, cronyism, and kickbacks – Oregon’s very own #PaneraGate

By Oregon State Senator Daniel Bonham

National headlines have discussed our neighboring state’s Governor Newsom’s issue with potentially carving out a campaign donor, Panera Bread, from their highly detrimental minimum wage legislation.

Titled #PaneraGate, it is calling into question the age-old practice of special interests in our legislative process. During our end of session, we were riddled with our very own #Paneragates throughout our Capitol halls.

Senate Bill 1578, directs the Oregon Health Authority to hire a nonprofit to singularly operate a new scheduling and billing system for medical translators – creating a lucrative monopoly for the operating non-profit. $500,000 over two years to be exact.

Not only does this bill line the pockets of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (ASCFME) by allowing the union to add more than 1,000 new members – the law seems to nicely set up a contract for Unite Oregon, who was an avid supporter of the bill.

Unite Oregon explains itself as “a membership organization led by people of color, immigrants and refugees, rural communities, and people experiencing poverty. We work across Oregon to build a unified, intercultural movement for justice.”

Which calls into question — why is this activist organization being positioned to take over a massive state IT contract? Further, Unite Oregon is also seemingly getting into the real estate business as it was also just awarded $3 million to purchase property on East Burnside Street in Portland for the development of affordable housing.

Simply put, Unite Oregon is moonlighting as a Democratic party slush fund and is commonly known as a campaign funding arm for the party. It has been using taxpayer money to organize around issues for the majority party such as climate change, radical criminal justice reform, immigration and low-income housing. They also actively campaigned on Measure 110. Need I say more?

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Oregon and California have both been stuck with one-party rule for decades. And the politicians’ actions show it. It is indicative of us, the people, to continue to pay attention and bring accountability to these processes. Our residents deserve nothing less.

Last week of session – did we ACT? 

This week marked the last week of the session for this short year. As we all embarked on this legislative sprint I had a simple request for our state to remain accountable, create solutions, and tackle issues that will make Oregonians lives better. Here are a couple of issues discussed in the last 35 days:

— Measure 110: Major discussions were surrounding the feeble attempt to backpedal on decriminalizing drugs, HB 4002. This bill made drug use a misdemeanor, and while it is a step in the right direction, it still does not allow the criminal justice system to ensure addicts get the help they need. The only solution to this issue is to bring true accountability back into our criminal justice system and give law enforcement the tools they need to be successful.

— Housing: Governor Tina Kotek’s pushed housing bills that allowed the state to check a box and say they were addressing the housing crisis. Both bills did the typical “throw money at the problem” while not going far enough to address the core issues. Until we reduce regulatory fees making building so expensive, incentivize construction trade and work to increase our housing supply through financial investment incentives – this issue will be more of the same.

— Homelessness: SB 1530 is headed to the Governor’s desk that moonlights as both a housing and homelessness bill. If you read the bill you will find $65 million for shelters, $34 million in homelessness prevention and more. Bottom line, until we mandate mental health or addiction treatment – while ensuring people are receiving wrap-around services, we will continue to justify human suffering.

We also had missed opportunities to improve our children’s education, truly address the fentanyl crisis, create a better business climate (we rank 44 out of 50) and support the middle class. To cross reference our 2024 legislative priority agenda – we identified legislation that would help find solutions this short session and most of those bills were held by the majority party. ***We did successfully hold HB 4130, the bill that would overregulate our medical industry.***

Did we ACT? This session felt more like running on a hamster wheel. It is safe to say, I am excited to go back into our district and get back to the real work in our local communities.

Oregon – a social experiment gone wrong

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Louis Brandeis was the first to introduce the phrase that states “are the laboratories of democracy.” Justice Brandeis also stated that: “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

Rest of the country … you are welcome. Oregon’s got you.

Unfortunately, our state is not alone in our struggles. Our neighboring state, California and states across the country are riddled with the same issues of crime, out of control drug addiction, lawlessness, unaffordability and a decreasing quality of life.

It makes us take a step back and ask ourselves, what is truly working and what isn’t? Public policy is meant to be challenged, analyzed and improved. Across the nation, examples of successes and failures are riddled across the headlines and throughout communities.

Data is supporting the theory that policies matter. It was found that conservative states are a better return on investment for taxpayers than progressive states. Red states are doing better economically. And the list goes on.

I will continue to share an intellectually honest assessment of what is going on in our state and nationwide. I am a longtime Oregon resident and I love this state – I want it to be successful. And that success comes from the audacity to identify where we are and establish where we need to be. It is what our residents deserve.