70 Ain’t Old (If You Are a Tree)

Is age-ism woke, less woke or un-woke?

I finally made it up to the state Capitol in mid-May for the first time this session. I even found Magoo’s Sports Bar, my favorite top-secret unofficial senate caucus office in Salem. I had a 70th birthday beer with two old contract lobbyist friends, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, and I tried to get a sense of the legislative pulse this session. They both groaned simultaneously. “It’s as bad as it’s been since you left the building, Tony.” I reminded them that was 16 years ago. They asked me if I missed the PERS debate. Some things never change. 

Turning 70 was a sweet birthday for me. As the Irish say: It’s better to be seen than viewed! I only bring up my age to address today’s prevailing question: Who do you like in the Democratic presidential primary? And who won’t you vote for? And why?

We have 23 announced Democratic candidates, similar to the circular firing squad that arose amidst Republicans who were defeated ultimately by Trump in their 2016 primary. According to the National Review the ages of the various official candidates in 2020 will be: Bernie Sanders, 79; Joe Biden, 77; Elizabeth Warren, 71; Jay Inslee, 69; John Hickenlooper, 68; Sherrod Brown, 67; Amy Klobuchar, 60.

RUFKM? Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker will be in their 50s. Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro will be in their 40s and Pete Buttigieg will be in his 30s. Trump will be 74. 

To get a sense of the generational difference when Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate, Buttigieg, Gabbard and Castro had not been born yet and O’Rourke was two months old. 

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were 46 and 47 when elected. Polling today shows that 37 percent of all Democrats, Republicans and non-affiliated voters won’t vote for a 70- year-old. 

But I wasn’t in Salem to see if anyone up there had a clue who might get elected in 2020. I was there to attend an annual training conference hosted by the Oregon Judicial Department. 

For the past 13 years I have served as a volunteer on an Oregon Citizen Review Board (CRB) in Lane County. This CRB is a program within Oregon’s state court system that reviews the cases of children in foster care and reports our findings to the juvenile court judges. Currently, there are 62 boards in Oregon’s 36 counties. Lane County has nine boards.

There’s been a big controversy over recent out-of-state placements of foster children and “hotel” placements as a substitute for traditional foster family “homes.” A renewed $24 million class-action lawsuit filed against the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and a report on the conditions of foster facilities in Utah are the latest in a growing set of serious allegations against the agency. And there’s a bill before the Legislature to deal with “congregate care” facilities — group homes or institutions providing 24-hour care. 

I’ve watched Oregon’s foster care system for 30 years. I started life in an Irish orphanage, described as a “work farm for unwed mothers,” for three years. I’m interested in other states’ best practices and how we do business. I represented child protective service workers for 20 years as an SEIU union representative; prior to that I was a rank and file member, a state worker doing welfare fraud investigation. I served 10 years in the Legislature and 13 years with the CRB. Which proves nothing more than that I am very old and apparently can’t hold a job.

Here’s what I learned at the CRB conference:  7,500 kids are currently in the system, 76 of them are being held out-of-state, some of them in congregate care. These 76 kids are housed out of state because we do not have enough beds for seriously mentally ill children or children who pose serious physical or sexual risk to other children, adults and animals. 

If the governor’s budget were adopted tomorrow with an additional 100+ case workers right now, we would still only be at a 67 percent staffing level, according to Child Welfare’s Program Administrator Marilyn Jones. That’s the point I always make: This is a 30-year underfunding problem in the making.

 Putting kids in hotels was inevitable. Sending kids out of state was inevitable. Lack of resources is not a new issue in the foster world. Understaffing and caseload size have been a problem for a long time. The governor’s oversight commission is a good first start. I hope they listen to frontline workers and supervisors.

Stay tuned.

Former state Sen. Tony Corcoran of Cottage Grove is former legislator and a retired state employee.