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Kitzhaber Calls Lobbying Trip a Success

by Tom Detzel & Jim Barnett, The Oregonian staff
The Oregonian, March 2, 2001

Oregon's governor finds promises of help but no firm pledges in Washington

By TOM DETZEL of The Oregonian staff WASHINGTON -- Gov. John Kitzhaber came to the nation's capital this week with high hopes for two top interests: shaking out more money for salmon recovery and getting control of skyrocketing electricity rates.

He headed home Thursday with promises of help but also a dose of political reality.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., served up a caution to the Democratic governor, warning that Kitzhaber's criticisms of the Bush administration could backfire on efforts to push the state's agenda in Congress.

And administration officials with whom Kitzhaber met listened politely to his request for more than $500 million in additional money for salmon and more flexibility on Medicaid, without making specific commitments.

Still, Kitzhaber called the two-day lobbying trip a success at Thursday's news conference, where he also briefly discussed his political future.

Senate Democrats are hoping Kitzhaber will run against Smith in the 2002 election as his second and final term in office runs out. But Kitzhaber said he had no plans to think about it until the Legislature wraps up this summer.

Kitzhaber talked electricity rates with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, lobbied Interior Secretary Gale Norton on fish and forestry issues and briefed Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on the need for more flexibility in approving waivers for the Oregon Health Plan.

He said Abraham remains opposed to price caps but seemed "very open" to other ideas to stem the skyrocketing wholesale power markets that have led the Bonneville Power Administration to propose huge rate increases to the region's utilities.

Kitzhaber said the four Northwest states are developing a proposal under which BPA would set two rates, one based on low-cost BPA hydropower and another based on higher-priced electricity from the open market.

Friction evident That could lock in low prices for a portion of ratepayers and provide an incentive to conserve higher-priced power as usage increases, he said.

Power prices, and a controversial Kitzhaber speech on the topic last month in Seattle, caused some friction during a meeting Wednesday with Oregon's seven-member congressional delegation.

Although participants called the meeting cordial, Smith at one point suggested Kitzhaber tone down his criticism of the Bush administration, which could halt plans to give Northwest states more control over BPA.

In his speech, Kitzhaber called on the BPA to delay its annual debt payment to the U.S. Treasury to ease pressure on rates and endangered salmon and steelhead that depend on the same water that's used to generate power.

He also blasted wholesale energy companies in Bush's home state of Texas, saying they've earned record profits at the expense of ratepayers.

"It's made it more difficult for us," said Smith, who criticized Kitzhaber for not doing a good job of consulting with the delegation in advance.

Members of both parties urged Kitzhaber to drop the idea of delaying a treasury payment, which they fear could anger Californians who want access to BPA's cheap hydropower or critics who think BPA should charge more.

Smith also seized on Kitzhaber's request to more than double spending on Columbia Basin fish recovery programs, calling it unrealistically high.

Thursday, Kitzhaber refused to back off his comments about power marketing companies, noting that Ken Lay, the chairman of Houston-based Enron, was among Bush's biggest political contributors.

He also dismissed complaints about the cost of his fish budget, casting it as a test of the Bush administration's promise to help endangered salmon and steelhead without removing Northwest dams.

"Somewhere between a $900 billion and $1.6 trillion tax cut," Kitzhaber said, referring to 10-year tax reductions proposed by the Democrats and Bush, "you can find enough money to restore the ecosystem of the Northwest."

Tom Detzel & Jim Barnett, The Oregonian staff
Kitzhaber Calls Lobbying Trip a Success
The Oregonian, March 2, 2001

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