Salem’s Silly Season

The presidential campaign was hitting a fever pitch, but there was very little news that was new. Media stories reached into minutia, and Obama bemoaned what he called “silly season.” Stories focused on who was seated where on a campaign plane, or who wore what to an event. Silly season.

There’s a silly season in Salem every other year and we’re in the middle of it. There’s important work to do, courageous work, Herculean work. And it’s probably being done, but behind closed doors and without any announced outcomes. I certainly hope so.

Without any stated solutions to Oregon’s growing problems, news outlets still need something to report. Legislators are only too happy to oblige. Lawmakers were sent to Salem to make laws and so they will. “Give a toddler a hammer and all the world looks like a nail.”

Should bicyclists be allowed to slow-but-not-stop at some residential stop signs? It’s worked well in Idaho; why not here? I didn’t know there were any two things in Idaho close enough to bicycle between, but apparently there are. I’m glad for them, and for their bicyclists . But if we can’t afford enough police to curb rising crime rates, are bicyclists being targeted for traffic violations in residential neighborhoods? I doubt it.

I like puppies. You probably do too. But a puppy mill sounds like a bad idea. Somebody thinks there should be a law that says so. I haven’t thought about it much, but I have a hunch that puppy proliferators often violate other rules that have to do with zoning, animal cruelty, falsifying pedigree papers, etcetera. If local authorities aren’t paying attention, does it help the problem to say that the state is also going to weigh in?

Should a retiree be allowed to run a miniature train on his property as a hobby? I don’t know. Should lawmakers in Salem worry themselves about it? Definitely not.

I’m afraid we’re doing nothing but giving our state government an ever-lengthening list of responsibilities it can’t afford to fulfill.

A pint of beer should be sixteen ounces, and customers should demand it. Why allow state inspectors to get involved? An honest pint has its advocates, but doesn’t honesty in all instances have even more advocates? Does the imprimatur of government further or hinder the cause?

Before you know it, an entrepreneur will launch a Website to mete out justice on the matter. Too late, it’s already been done — www.honestpintproject.org is certifying and promoting pubs that don’t swell on their swill. If that doesn’t work, a beer-loving attorney might gather pub patrons and begin a class-action lawsuit, seeking a 15 percent refund on their accumulated bar tab from purloined purveyors, recouping the change they were shorted. If that sounds like too much work, there’s always a sidewalk protest, informing potential patrons that 14 ounces passes for 16 inside.

All these can be done without government involvement. Governmental attempts at marketing cannot be distinguished from propaganda. Better that it focus on the basics. Guns and taxes should be enough to occupy our state’s legislators, especially this year.

The state of Oregon is staring down a double-barrel shotgun of distress. Unemployment is third highest in the nation and state revenues are “falling off a cliff,” sinking faster than anybody has seen in a generation. And both trends appear to be accelerating.

Schools are scrambling to cut their budgets fast enough, but it’s hard to keep up. Roads and bridges continue to crumble. Crime is on the rise. Cities need money for social services now. Fire season will soon threaten the rest of the state.

No wonder Salem would prefer to protect puppies.

Soon it will be more than the economy that’s becoming depressed. So far, the best our government can offer is to certify that the suds in which we drown our sorrow is doled out a full 16 ounces at a time.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) welcomes puppy-loving readers’ comments at www.dksez.com, where he blogs daily. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/dksez. He writes for The Register-Guard each Friday.