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Gov. Kate Brown To Veto Funding For Medford Projects As Political Payback

Oregon governor's office
Oregon Governor Kate Brown in Medford on July 16, making a statement after meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke regarding the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown says she'll veto more than $3.6 million dollars in state funding for three projects in the Medford area in what seems to be an act of political payback aimed at Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, who championed the projects.

The governor's office issued a release late Tuesday afternoon announcing her intention to veto funding approved by the legislature. Three of the four vetoed projects are in Esquivel's district. The vetoes include nearly $1.9 million for a canal project for the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District, $1 million for the Holly Theatre restoration and $750,000 for improvements at the Harry and David Baseball Park.

In the release, the governor is quoted as saying, "The cornerstone of all negotiations whether they occur in a public or private arena, is the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing."

The governor's office didn't immediately return calls for clarification, but the comment seems to be a jab at Esquivel. He provided the key vote to pass a bill that would tax hospitals, insurers and other health care providers to raise $550 million to prevent cuts to health care for low-income Oregonians.

What apparently earned the governor's wrath is that, after voting to approve the bill, Esquivel joined two other Republican lawmakers in backing a referendum to put that Medicaid funding tax to a public vote. Democrats oppose putting the tax on the ballot, saying it delays -- and, if successful, slashes -- badly-needed health care funding for vulnerable people.

Reached by phone, Esquivel told JPR that he agreed to vote for the bill in exchange for funding for the projects in his district. 

"What the deaI was," he explained, "is I was told I could pick out four projects if I gave them a yes vote on the House floor." Esquivel said he never agreed to not join an effort to overturn the bill via a ballot measure. 

"If someone tells you that I didn't follow through on my end of that bargain," he said, "they're a liar."

Esquivel says he turned against the bill because it would spend tax money on abortions and would pay for health care for children in the U.S. illegally.

In Oregon, a governor's veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature. But since the legislature is recessed until next year, the line-item veto is the end of the line for the Medford projects' funding, at least till the next legislative session.


Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.