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The world according to Mark Nelson

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Linda Baker
Friday, December 14, 2012


One of the people I interviewed for my recent story on the 2013 business agenda was Mark Nelson, the influential Salem business lobbyist whose long and eclectic client list includes the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company, beer maker Anheuser-Busch, Koch Industries, and Oregon Head Start.

Unfortunately, most of our conversation ended up on the cutting room floor.  So I’m sharing a few excerpts from our interview here, in which Nelson weighed in on Gov. John Kitzhaber’s health care and early childhood learning agenda, the future of Oregon Head Start and the inner workings of that mysterious entity, the Oregon Committee.

Health Care:

"If you watch the governor’s plans, they all fit a pattern: consolidation of money, all under control of governor.  In 1989, Kitzhaber came up with the Oregon Health Plan. The original plan was to insure everybody, but he couldn’t make it happen.   The Coordinating Care Organization (CCO) is the same program, just regurgitated but it’s got a lot more oomph because of Obama care. The end game is the same: consolidate everyone’s health care in one place.

The next session you’re going to see CCOs created for Medicaid expand to all public employees and teachers and from there to the private sector, because you have the health care exchanges coming in on the other end.

So it depends on your view of the world whether this is a good idea or bad idea."

Early Childhood Education and Oregon Head Start:

"It’s unclear what the governor wants to do with Oregon Head Start. They cannot answer the question: Are you going to budget Head Start? What I believe he wants to do is set up a system in which you have multiple providers providing services to low-income children expanded to 200 percent of poverty level.  So he’s going to create ‘regional hubs.' Remember the CCOs. There’s very little difference. Someday, you’re going to see the early child learning hubs and CCOs come together. Mark my words.

What we believe he should have done and we asked him to do is this. Whatever early learning programs they put together the base should be the poorest of poor and people with disabilities.  Those two populations have to be protected and they’re not."


"What Kitzhaber wants is to eventually increase the renewable portfolio standard. He would like to see it go up.

The wild cards are PGE and Pacific Corp.  Right now, industry and those two are working together. But when Kitzhaber went to them on the RPS and said 'what do you want?'  they abandoned industry and joined the environmentalists.  That’s how the RPS was passed.  So far, especially PGE, there have been entreaties to both of them. 

I think he would like to remake the Deparmtent of Energy.  You now have the Department of Energy and Public Utility Commission and DEQ and Fish and Ag and Wildlife. I think he would rename it but again consolidate it."

The Oregon Committee:

"It’s not so mysterious. Basically, it’s made up of most business organizations and people who represent businesses and it was born out of two the tax Measures 66 and 67, which business lost. That’s when we got organized and went to the political side.

The whole purpose was we didn’t have enough money to lay it out like peanut butter. Rather, we’ve come in and picked those seats we thought we could win. It wasn’t Republican vs. Democrat, although by definition business-friendly legislatures are primarily Republican.

Everyone spends their money individually. We have an enormous amount of research we do to see what races we can win. We have a whole bunch of criteria, including voter registration, quality of the candidate, quality of staff, and the nature of district. Then we pick our races and say, ok, Nelson how much money do you have, I say 'X," and we go around the room. They’re about 40 different people and we meet once a week.  

The issue is if organization can translate into more clout to change things."

Mark Nelson’s varied client list:

"I don’t have any criteria for clients. I won’t take on any pro-life position as client. Philosophically, I’m not there.  I fire clients periodically."

Linda Baker is managing editor, Oregon Business.


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