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Community: Open Source in Oregon Fight Reaches Critical Juncture

Aug 18, 2003, 12:00 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Cooper Stevenson)

Editor's Note: The Mid-Willamette Valley User's Group (MWVLUG) released to the public today their CD-ROM entitled, "The Open Source Impact, Keeping Oregon's Money In Oregon." The online version of the CD-ROM was formerly released only to Senators, a few Representatives, and Linux-related email lists.

MWVLUG is releasing the CD to the public to increase awareness of the true nature of this issue, including open-source software's fiscal benefit for Oregon and strong-arm licensing practices by some proprietary vendors. If there were ever a question of what prevents some agencies from procuring open-source software, this should leave no doubt; two of my favorites are fear of losing out on "Enterprise discounts" and 'random' "software assurance" audits.

MWVLUG's coordinator, Cooper Stevenson, has asked Linux Today to post this detailed history of events surrounding the battle to get open source software legislation enacted in the Beaver State in an effort to raise public awareness for the campaign. Stevenson's report follows...

The fight continues...

As some of you recall, the original Open Source Consideration bill for Oregon, HB2892, had a sensational public hearing, prompting Rep. Krummel (R-Wilsonville), chair of the General Government Committee, to have the bill move forward to a work session.

I attended the first such meeting, along with the Bill's author, Ken Barber, representatives from the Oregon Education system, the Department of Administrative services, Representative Barnhart, and lobbyists representing Microsoft, the Business Software Alliance, and the American Electronics Association.

The opposition made clear that they were not happy with the language in the bill that asked for justification if state agencies do not choose open source software. They said it was preferential because agency employees may choose open-source software simply because they would rather not hassle with justifying their choice of proprietary software. I personally thought this was reasonable; it's our goal to give Oregon taxpayers the best value, not to hurt proprietary software vendors. The "justification piece" was dropped.

The lobbyists left shortly thereafter. It seemed clear to me they were not willing to negotiate, or maybe they had legislation in Texas or Australia to fight. Who knows, they left without comment. The rest of us continued to hammer out changes to the bill that seemed to satisfy each of our perspectives. I left the meeting feeling that we had truly met a compromise.

Now that I think about it, it's at least plausible that they showed up for the work session just to show they were good sports and then headed to Karen Minnis's office--shaking their heads--to tell her, "we just can't work with them, the economic impact of this bill is just too much!"

On the afternoon of the second work session (designed to finalize the legal language and for which it was not necessary for me to be present) I called an official who told me that the attendees had shown up for the second meeting only to have Representative Krummel inform them that there would simply be no further work on the bill.

Now, there are at this point basically only two people who could kill this bill outright: Representative Krummel and Karen Minnis, speaker of the House. It likely wasn't Representative Krummel, as he had called for the session in the first place. It was most likely the speaker, Karen Minnis.

From there, things got touchy.

According to the article linked below, Representative Krummel was still hopeful for a second work session:

http://rogueimc.org/2003/04/538.shtml

It says:

"Representative Krummel said he could still hold a work session--the discussion of changes to the bill before a committee vote--if a compromise is reached. But after today, he will need permission from House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village. "

Representative Minnis never gave that permission. Things became heated.

First, Ken Barber wrote a scathing editorial in the Oregonian--the largest newspaper in the state--where he asked of the Speaker here:

http://www.oregonlive.com/commentary/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/editorial/1051876782142831.xml

Shortly thereafter, Rep. Minnis fired back with an editorial of her own here:

http://www.oregonlive.com/letters/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/editorial/1052222246325432.xml

Only one hitch; in her article she used the phrase, "A solution in search of a problem." That's the exact phrase used by the lobbyist opposition during the hearing. If there were any doubt before as to who had killed the Legislation, all doubts had now been removed. You can listen to the hearing here:

http://www.leg.state.or.us/listn/archive/archive.2003s/HGG-200304030813.ram

A few weeks later, Steve Duinn, a reporter for the Oregonian, summed up the action in his article and wrapped up with this: "I'm at a loss to explain why Minnis--the champion of a caucus that wants to cut government and cut costs--is so unmotivated to act on hers." Story here:

http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/steve_duin/index.ssf?/base/news/105377817415280.xml

It is worthy of note that if SB 589 makes it through the Senate, Rep. Minnis will have the opportunity to do the right thing. I hope she does.

What happened next was nothing short of unbelievable. It came a couple of months later in the form of an e-mail from one of Rep. Barnhart's dedicated staff, Sally Nunn:

"There appears to be a movement underfoot to get something going again. I will submit the tons of material I have gathered, Phil will go talk to Sen. Brown, and you-all... KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!"

With a thread of hope, I began to work the phone. I called George Okulitch of Senator Kate Brown's office and asked him what was happening. George told me that there's a letter circulating among the Senators on the Rules Committee calling for a re-drafting of HB 2892 by the Legislative Council.

What was not surprising was the support from this bill from both Republicans and Democrats; the "D's" on the committee had signed the letter immediately. The Republican chair, Senator Bev Clarno, had signed the letter, too, on the condition that a colleague from her party would also sign.

That left Sen. Beyer and Sen. Atkinson to voice their opinions.

Sen. Beyer had previously indicated as I had understood it that he was more or less against the legislation. Still, I knew I had to try.

I spoke with Senator Beyer late one Friday afternoon. He told me that one of the biggest issues he had with this bill was that there really wasn't anything to prevent state agencies to procure open-source software as is.

My reply was three-fold.

First, open-source projects simply do not have the $38-billion marketing war chest that proprietary vendors have. A technician armed with thorough knowledge of the problem and a solid recommendation is no match for the professional sales staffs of the proprietary software vendors. This is especially true when we're talking about so-called "risk-averse CIOs."

Second, that the reality is IT personnel sometimes make decisions based on what they know (read: what keeps them in a job), instead of by "best value" Sour grapes? Maybe, Maybe not. Here's one example:

Oracle© databases -> Windows 2000© running Apache Web Servers

Translation: "We can't get rid of the Oracle databases because there's nothing Microsoft® has that can come even close to meeting our needs. We need to run the Apache Web Server because the web-based application developers won't touch IIE with a stick. No matter, though, we'll sandwich Windows in there somewhere so that we can run into the server room every week to reboot the servers and keep our jobs."

I might accept the argument that they just weren't sure yet of Linux as middleware except for (1) Apache was designed to run on Linux and (2) they hadn't even considered using Linux in their tests.

Third, there's a lot of strong-arm licensing practices by Microsoft that stifles agencies' consideration for open-source software. You can find documentation on the online version of "The Open Source Impact" CD-ROM under the "Single Vendor Issues."

Sen. Beyer wouldn't budge. He was convinced of what the capitol building IT staff had told him: that open-source software would raise TCO, not lower it.

I slumped my way out of his office. I went down the elevator thinking, "I guess that's just the way it is."

The true force of what was at stake only really hit me as I exited the Capitol's revolving doors; this could be the end of the line. Thinking "that's not good enough," I turned and headed back into the Capitol to try just once more time.

As I approached Sen. Beyer's office I called out to him, "Senator Beyer," I said, "would you at least consider this legislation?"

"I'll tell you what I'll do," he said, "if Senator Atkinson says it's okay, then it's okay with me--he's the tech guy."

I thanked him respectfully and headed for the elevator, this time not slumped, but grinning from ear-to-ear.

The key, then, resided with Sen. Atkinson.

Senator Atkinson represents Oregon Senate district 2. District 2 has Grant's Pass, Population 23,003 and Cave Junction, Population 1,363. Both are located in Josephine County, total population 75,726.

My phone bill began to smoke. I spoke with officials with the economic development department, IT Directors, District 2 computer stores, business owners, real estate agents, and folks who had worked with Sen. Atkinson in the past.

You name it.

These folk of Josephine County are fairly down to earth. When I spoke with many of them about TCO, peer review, etc., I quickly learned that most people in that area aren't concerned with that kind of thing. "Well, that's all and good," they would begin, "but you see, there's an antique dealer downtown who would really like to sell his goods online. What can open-source do for him?"

Okay, we're down to Earth. "Bottom line," I said, "is that open-source software lets the shop keeper cost-effectively hire a local consultant to put up a server for him on commodity hardware. Guess what: you've just increased the shopkeeper's revenue and given the consultant a job. The sooner your area gets up to speed with open-source software, the better you can compete."

When I put it this way, most of Senator Atkinson's constituents became suddenly extremely supportive of this bill. My impression is that they really could use a better avenue to sell their products, and having their local government privy to open-source would definitely be helpful as information and expertise seeped from the local agencies to the general public.

For Senator Atkinson's part, it turns out he knows a thing or two about economic development. He co-chaired a very successful Senate Special Committee that looked at ways to stimulate economic growth and job stimulus for Oregon. You may find that report here:

http://www.leg.state.or.us/comm/commsrvs/econ_jobreport.pdf

Surely he would understand how open-source software could stimulate economic growth in Oregon.

It took me three weeks of phone calls and emails to finally meet Sen. Atkinson, but ultimately my persistence payed off: I had 15 minutes to meet with him on my birthday, Tuesday, July 22.

Unfortunately a cycling accident (I like to keep in shape) left me with my arm in a sling just one day before our appointment.

While the pain was intense, I managed to make it to the meeting. It turns out that Atkinson was a cyclist too and seemed concerned and understanding.

Through the Vicodin prescribed to me by my doctor, I gave Senator Atkinson the "Open Source Impact" CD I had created for him and had managed to persuade him to sign the letter that would commission the Legislative Council to re-draft an open-source consideration Bill.

I have since made several visits to the capitol and urged (without being a pest) everyone who would listen to consider the legislation.

Most of the Senators I have spoke with think that this bill is reasonable and worthy of passage. The bill right now waits for the Rules committee to schedule it for a hearing.

Some Senators offered insight into why the Legislation had not gotten past the drafting stage, "this is a classic case of campaign contributions and lobbyists deciding public policy. I think your bill is a great idea, I think open-source is the future, and I'll speak with Jason about this," one Senator told me after I had spoke with him about the bill.

The Senator's remarks are corroborated in an Oregonian article by Sarah Wetherson, Research associate Money and Politics Research Action Project. In her article published by the Oregonian she writes,

"Lobbyists opposing HB2892 represent Microsoft, the American Electronics Association and Initiative for Software Choice. In 2002, Microsoft gave $5,000 to the Ted Kulongoski campaign, and the American Electronics Association gave just shy of $39,000 to legislative candidates and $24,850 to the four leadership political action committees that work to elect candidates for each caucus.

Microsoft first registered as a lobbyist employer in Oregon in 2000 and has spent $39,000 since. The American Electronics Association spent $372,476 from 1997 to 2002 to "influence state legislation."

You may view the full article here:

http://www.oregonlive.com/letters/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/editorial/1055506030260060.xml

In short, this Bill can only really be past with support from you. The only way we can effectively fight for this legislation is to firmly let our legislators know that open-source consideration is really what Oregonians want through thoughtful emails, telephone calls, and visits to the capitol.

Here is a list of the Senators on the Oregon Senate Rules Committee. If you live in Oregon (especially in one of their districts) I urge you to send an email or phone the Senators to let them know that you would really like to see this bill move forward.

Thank you all for your support. I'll keep you posted.

Sen. Kate Brown, Co-Chair
Party: D District: 21
Capitol/Interim Phone: 503-986-1700
Capitol/Interim Address: 900 Court St. NE S-323, Salem OR 97301
Capitol Fax:503-986-1080
Email Address: sen.katebrown@state.or.us
Web page Address: http://www.leg.state.or.us/brown/

Sen. Jason Atkinson, Vice-Chair
Party: R District: 2
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1702
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE S-216, Salem OR 97301
Email Address: sen.jasonatkinson@state.or.us
Web page Address: http://www.leg.state.or.us/atkinson

Sen. Ginny Burdick, Vice-Chair
Party: D District: 18
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1718
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE S-317, Salem OR 97301
Email Address: sen.ginnyburdick@state.or.us
Web page Address: http://www.leg.state.or.us/burdick/

Sen. Roger Beyer
Party: R District: 9
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1950
Interim Phone: 503-829-6910
Interim FAX: 503-986-1011
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE S-223, Salem OR 97301
Interim Address: 39486 S. Cooper Rd., Molalla OR 97038
Email Address: sen.rogerbeyer@state.or.us
Web page Address: http://www.leg.state.or.us/senaterepublican/

Sen. Tony Corcoran
Party: D District: 4
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1704
Interim Phone: 541-942-1213
Interim FAX: 541-942-1448
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE S-319, Salem OR 97301
Interim Address:34475 Kizer Creek Road, Cottage Grove OR 97424
Email Address:sen.tonycorcoran@state.or.us
Interim Email Address:tonycorcoran1@cs.com
Web page Address: http://www.leg.state.or.us/corcoran/

Note: For complete documentation (basically in reverse chronological order) on Oregon's open-source Legislation, please refer to the MWVLUG's Legislation page here:

http://www.mwvlug.org/legislation/index.html

SB 941 itself is online in PDF format here:

http://pub.das.state.or.us/LEG_BILLS/PDFs/SB941.pdf

Online Version of CD

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