"The good news is, she'll be gone by the 15th"

T.A. Barnhart

Thus spake Gov Ted Kulongski regarding the news of soon-to-be-former Rep Kelley Wirth granting big raises to her staff just days after being busted for possession of meth.  House Dem leader Jeff Merkley called upon Wirth to return the money, a big chunk of which went to her mother, listed as an assistant.  Here in Corvallis, while we are learning we actually could be shocked even more, we're breathing a sigh of relief to see a copy of an official letter resignation -- scribbled by hand but nonetheless received by the Secretary of State's office -- and we are almost delirious to know that at 5:00 p.m. next Monday, her resignation will actually take effect.

Download WirthResign.pdf

And let's make this part absolutely clear:  There is no good news.  No one in Corvallis is happy about these events.  No one.  There is not one good thing about all this.  Nothing.  Any of the nasty sort of political pleasure that might come from malfeasance and misappropriation of funds -- the kind of fun we had when Dan Doyle went down in flames, stupidly trying to get away with public theft -- is completely absent here.  This is so ugly and sad, all we want is for it to end.  No one is gleeful that Wirth has at last submitted a resignation; we're just relieved.  She needs to take care of her life and take care of her kids.  She needs to fix whatever it was that let her life get out of control.  She needs healing, and her kids need to be protected from any further harm.  Resigning simply helps her create the private space her family needs.

I hope she returns the funds, but I doubt she will.  She has not shown any of the accountability and responsibility that would require.  She got busted for meth and her next act was to raid the public treasury?  This is not a good sign.  It's frustrating, but frankly, if it's the price we have to pay to move forward, I'll pay it.  (By the way, the 2007 Legislature better reform all the rules on these matters, from the ability of legislators to double-dip to this kind of thievery.  Wirth is not the first to take advantage of the current laws, and she'll not be the last if Merkely et al do not act on the issue.)  Those of us active in Benton County Democrats and who will help select a successor want nothing more than a representative who will tend to the people's business.  It's an old cliche, but it's apt: it's exactly what we've not had for the past two sessions.  We want this behind us.  We have things far important to deal with than a representative with a broken life.  We have a community that deserves and needs responsible representation.  At 5 p.m. next Monday, we can finally begin to get that.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Some truly good news would be if Kulongski would step aside and let a true Democrat run instead, particularly in view of his failure to defend the Oregon Health Care plan --- one of the most important Democratic accomplishments in the last 20 years.

    Other good news would be if "Democratic leaders" like Melerky would learn that "No Comment" to a cheap shot tabloid story would demonstrate a certain amount of class.

    Fortunately, there is genuine good news in recent days: The Oregonian experienced a 2% circulation decline last year. Whether it is because they have pretty much sunk to the kind of cheap-shot tabloid reporting that has caused politically aware people to have such low regard for the mainstream press in general, or because they just have no true news to report, is anybody's guess. But cheap shot stories like this --- there is no legal violation nor ethical violation alleged, so if O really has the goods in this regard they should say it in fewer and less lurid column inches --- certainly are convincing decent people and true Democrats to look elsewhere for their news.

    And by the way, Wirth pled "Not Guilty" in a possession case that will be difficult at best to prove in an honest legal proceeding since she didn't have possession of the car for at least 6 days. And the restraining order story is at least factually inconsistent because as the O finally pointed out, getting an RO requires no demonstration that the events alleged actually occurred, and apparently she can't drive a truck at this point because of her injured legs. She may be guilty. But there is nothing on the public record right now to say that with any certainty, much less justify the tawdry behavior by the press (whose excuse for not doing real investigative work is that Wirth apparently won't do their work for them by handing them a juicy rebuttal), and Democratic politicians and activists who can't seem to say that "since the public has not been provided with any substantive facts, I have no comment".

  • R.U. Nuts (unverified)

    So let me get this straight. When the media is going after Doyle they are doing the people's business but when they are going after Wirth it is "tabloid journalism?" She got caught, don't blame the Oregonian, blame her.

    By the way, your bias is showing again...

  • theanalyst (unverified)

    "She needs healing . . . "

    No, this isn't about healing. Even the great detective Sherlock Holmes had to resort to cocaine use to keep his mind occupied when he was between cases, and I suspect something like that is happening with Ms. Wirth and meth.

    The real problem for Ms. Wirth is not drugs, but the fact that there are so few opportunities here for corruption and misappropriation. Here in Oregon she's given only minor opportunities such as nepotism and looting her administrative fund on the way out the door. With such small pickings here, who wouldn't resort to meth?

    No, the problem is that here in Oregon Ms. Wirth cannot adequately pursue her true calling -- corruption. The solution is for her to relocate to Washington DC. I hear there was a job open in the Vice President's office, but unfortunately that's been filled already. Ted Stevens would be a worthy mentor, but I don't know if he has any jobs open. But I'm sure that Jack Abramoff can always use a hand. If all else fails, Ms. Wirth can always get a job as a civilian prisoner interrogator at Abu Ghraib, although I hear you have to supply your own digital camera.

    No, you just wait and see. Get Ms. Wirth involved in some serious corruption, and that drug thing will just naturally go away. I wish her all the best.

  • Dan (unverified)

    There's nothing to be gleeful over in either the Doyle case or the Wirth case. They both have the same affect in the long term, which is to inadequately serve the interests of Oregonians. This goes above partisanship. Our legislature, quite frankly, sucks, and there's plenty of dimbulbs on either side of the aisle.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    To R.U. Nuts:

    Doyle pled guilty to facts on the record demonstrating illegal behavior. So far Wirth has pled "Not Guilty" and the facts on the public record, which are allegations that are inconsistent at best and probably unprovable at worst, do not add up to evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Can you understand the difference now?

    To theanalyst:

    At this point do you have a single unambiguous fact proving the predicate to your "analysis" of an addicted personality (read above why you don't in case you are delusional and believe you do.) And to jump to bizarre suppositions about a corrupt personality from the lack of facts on the public record at least suggests you have seriously disordered thinking patterns.

    Even the O had to admit there was nothing illegal or unethical (hence "looting her administrative fund" is not supported by the facts at this time) in the expenditures. And although they couldn't put up factually supported allegations in this regard, but appparently didn't care or were incapable of doing a serious investigation, they demonstrated they couldn't shut up when they could spin the story sleazy.

    To most of you who have commented so far on this case on this list:

    If you ever do end up before a court, like a lot of the Republican folks we see in the news today, it is comically ironic that the very worst one could wish for you is that you get a jury of your peers: People who either like to jump to lurid conclusions, or who like to be out there talking but lack the courage to say the facts on the record in the case at the time are insufficient.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Only Wirth's purported drug use is illegal. And that, although serious, is a personal problem, not one involving malfescence. In any case, we should not stress the personal failings of elected officials, whatever their party. what is important is what they do for and to the people. In the large scheme of things, making it difficult for thousands of folks to get medical care is much more significant than having an affair with a custodian or taking campaign money for private use.

  • theanalyst (unverified)

    Askquestions writes: "Even the O had to admit there was nothing illegal or unethical (hence "looting her administrative fund" is not supported by the facts at this time) in the expenditures."

    The Brige to Nowhere isn't illegal. Torture isn't illegal any more, so it seems. Nepotism in the State legislature isn't illegal, nor is raiding your administrative fund. If not doing anything illegal is the ultimate standard to which we hold our elected officials, then I guess everything is going pretty good. Too bad Wirth didn't have a couple of other relatives on the payroll. Why not? It's not illegal after all. Maybe we can follow the example of the legislature and implement nepotism in state government as well.

  • (Show?)

    tom, kelley had the worst attendance record by far for the past 2 (of her 3) sessions. she was consistently late to meetings and appointments, she did not answer constituent calls, she was not doing the job she was elected to do -- and that she received pay for. it takes a lot to convince a district to abandon an incumbent representative who votes the right way on the issues. kelley managed that feat by failing to do her job, spectacularly.

  • (Show?)

    Here's a link to the letter that Merkley sent to Wirth regarding the huge increase in salary for her staff:


    According to the letter, her proposed payroll for November is $12,500-- more than three times the normal monthly payroll. That amount is over a third of the total amount allocated to legislators for staff and supplies.

    Not only that, but her staff has been unresponsive to phone calls and e-mails from constituents. This makes her assertion that the raises were deserved questionable.

    Also, because she has done this, the public treasury will have to cover the shortfall in funds for her successor.

    It's completely understandable why Merkley and others are calling for Wirth to rescind the raises-- no service has been provided to the public (it's hard to see how they even earned what they've already received) and it'll cause a shortfall in her successor's funds.

  • Tito (unverified)

    TAB & fellow Blues,

    You are not acting like a good liberals. Wirth is a victim. She was able to claw her way up to a position of power in Oregon's government. Being a white woman from a little podunk town at the foot of the Cascades, she had to overcome many obstacles to make it where she is today. She felt like she needed performance-enhancing drugs to compete. We should not judge her or the life circumstances that put her in the position she is in today. We should give her two years paid leave, pain-and-suffering damages, and a full-ride scholarship to Betty Ford University. When she comes home rehabilitated she should be given the Secretary of State position as a reward for turning a new leaf. Where is your compassion? People are only products of their environment, you can't blame her for being who she is.

  • (Show?)

    Nepotism in the State legislature isn't illegal...

    You don't pay much attention to how our state government is run, do you? Nepotism is not only not illegal, it's the only way many of our few remaining state reps who aren't independently wealthy or owned by some corporation or other manage to survive while serving their constituents. We pay people squat to serve in our legislature yet it's more than a full-time job while they are in session and, if you want to do a good job, time consuming even when they aren't. Putting some family member or other on staff is one piece of a strategy to piece together a moderately livable income for a legislator's household that doesn't involve lying, cheating or stealing. Some of them even turn out to be excellent staffers.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    I'm not defending Wirth. She has been a poor legislator. Much of that can explained by her disintegrating private life, although that does not excuse her failing. What concerns me is not so much the attention to scandals like Wirth's and Doyle's, but the inattention to much more important issues. For example, Nixon was brought down by Watergate, a political scandal, not by the much more serious illegal bombing of Cambodia. The Shrubbery is in trouble, not for lying to Congress and the people to start a war, but for outing a CIA agent in the process of lying.

    That said, Jeff Merkley acted properly by distancing the caucus from Wirth.

  • activist kaza (unverified)

    T.A.: As you know, Wirth had a legit primary opponent in 2004 in Sara Gelser, who raised the issue of her spotty attendance record etc. but as is so often the case, many party activists ignored the alternative. In other words, the voters in Corvallis failed the system as much as Kelley Wirth did...and methinks the Benton County Dems should ponder their culpability. Here's hoping Gelser's name is top of the list next week, when they begin the search for a replacement - for she was sounding the alarm bells a long time ago!

  • David English (unverified)

    I happened to print some article off some articles from Oregonlive yesterday as I try to keep up with the news while I'm here in Korea.

    The article about Wirth increasing the pay of her staff to drain her legislative account before she resigns really shocked me. She needs to return the money. There is no justification for the pay increases.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    To activist kaza:

    Maybe Gesler lost to Wirth because Corvallis voters felt her deficiencies outweighed those of Wirth? Which, if true hardly makes her the best potential candidate.

    Insulting voters who probably made a concious decision based on values you may not be mature enough or wise enough to understand is hardly a good strategy, don't you think? If this is one of the strategies of Gesler's campaign, it is fair to say she's not mature enough for the job.

    Thank you though for publicly demonstrating the arrogance of Gesler's base that was an issue in the last election. You just moved a couple of primary voters who will never vote Republican firmly back into the "skeptical about Gesler" category, meaning she will have to work twice as hard for those votes in the primary than she might have, and into the "probably won't vote at all" if she doesn't change that perception.

    Great activist strategy for mobilizing voters to the progressive/Democratic side don't you think! Right up there with Kulongski's failure to defend Democratic accomplishments and the loose lips of Merlerky and Rosenbaum who also insulted the district more than once. Let's take that winning strategy into Minnis' district. Once again, with friends like these, we don't need any enemies.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    To theanalyst:

    Torture is a crime against humanity and a violation of the Geneva convention. Equating that with legal expenditures from a legislative fund to try to teach what I'm sure you believe is a lesson in morality is not only a logical fallacy, it once again demonstrates seriously disordered thought patterns.

    To Tito:

    You have to be good at sarcasm for it to work. You aren't.

  • Andy (unverified)

    Two things:

    1. As stated above, it is standard practice for a lot of practically rural legislators (mostly R's) to have their one staffer be their wife, or child, etc. This makes sense as it does allow people to live some sort of lifestyle during session.

    2. I am also shocked by the pay for Wirth's mom though. As one friend of mine who worked in another office told me, "We had two full time staffers and together they we were making only about $200 more than her initial salary ($1850.00 a month)." She should return the money but frankly at this point lets just hope the 15th comes quick and nothing else too bad happens.

  • (Show?)

    To askquestions1st:

    Let me get this straight: you are a self-described Democratic partisan who is so quick to take offense you would consider writing off a potentially good Democratic candidate or even not voting in the primary because one supporter of that candidate posted something you felt was arrogant? Don't you think that might be a bigger problem for the party than people who are possibly a little too enthusiastic in their support of their favorite candidate?

    You think party apparatchiks always show perfect judgment when they choose their candidates? You assume that if a supporter of a candidate makes a comment on a blog that the candidate is probably planning campaign strategy around that? You think the voters always make good decisions based on sound reasoning and should be beyond criticism? (If the answer to that last question is "yes" I can't wait to hear you explain the election and re-election of George W. Bush.)

  • activist kaza (unverified)

    For the record, I am no supporter of Sara Gelser's. I don't live in the district; it just so happens that the 5th CD, in which I was running in 2004, partially overlaps with Rep. Wirth's district. I was aware of their skirmish as I campaigned in/around Corvallis and what disappointed me was dismissal of Gelser's campaign by some who thought an incumbent D shouldn't be challenged. I was merely pointing out that if Wirth's constituents are disgusted with what's happened, perhaps they weren't paying close enough attention themselves during 2004.

    And if "askquestions" thinks that Gelser was such a flawed candidate, why didn't he/she and others in the Benton Dems find a more acceptable challenger to Wirth last time around??

    The answer is simple: CW in politics 101 these days says, short of a major scandal (already apparent...not one about to happen!), the incumbent should be backed by the party - no questions asked. Hopefully, that wisdom will be put to the test in the Gubernatorial race in 2006, perhaps in a spirited Commission race or two in Portland (and elsewhere).

    We need more voices and choices, not fewer.

  • (Show?)

    kaza, in 2004 it was exactly as you suggested: support of Sara Gelser because Kelley Wirth had failed to do the job she had been elected to. but Wirth rounded up every organizational & party endorsement for the simple reason that she was an incumbent (and voted properly). locally, Gelser garnered endorsements and grassroots support not merely because people wanted better than Wirth's part-time representation. people here knew Gelser was a hard-working, responsible, articulate and skillful person. the campaign was so close because Sara was a great candidate and not merely a challenger.

    for 2006, no matter who the opposition may be, Gelser's campaign (for which i do the website) is about one thing only: Sara Gelser. people in Benton County want to talk about the issues -- education, the environment, civil rights, M37 -- and they want solutions to problems. they don't want diversions, and now we'll be able to run that kind of campaign fully. by Monday evening, we'll be back to a campaign that is about the issues, and that will be a huge relief. we won't fix the problems facing Oregon by talking about people's behaviors; we'll fix them by talking about the issues and having broad-based conversations that lead to creative solutions.

  • Marvinlee (unverified)

    The Wirth-Gelser contest was marked by a lack of information for the voters. If leaders then knew of Ms. Wirth's drug problems, we the voters largely did not. Nor did the local newspaper delve deeply into Ms. Wirth's performance, diligence, and recent attendance record.

    Legislative service is demanding and I suspect that Ms. Gelser will become the next local representative. My personal skepticism aside, much of her viewpoint seems aligned with local attitudes and values.

  • Benton County Dem (unverified)

    TAB et al, Let's try again to replay the last few HD 16 primaries. One or two self-styled power brokers tried to put up their own candidates (Kelley then Sarah - both very inexperienced)) and force out any challengers. This has already happened this year, and yes, TAB, you helped with that. Now what is happening with the BC Dems' plan to put candidates forward to the County Commissioners for interim appointment? First of all, two of the BOC endorsed Sarah long before they knew if there were any better potential candidates out there. Their endorsed candidate is one of the three to be nominated, also two people who promised that they don't really want the position and won't accept it if appointed. Is anyone really trying to get strong, quality individuals to put up their names? Not a chance. Of course, this is a tired version of the same old power move we see every primary cycle.

    District 16 needs to get back to real primaries with real candidates, whether or not an incumbent runs. The power-brokers need to back off and let the Democratic values of openness and honesty, as well as a basic desire to get the very best representatives, lead our actions.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    activist kaza, doretta and t.a. barnhart are being less than candid about the last race. Wirth's absenteeism was largely because of family responsibilities. Because there were not major differences between her and Wirth on the issues, Gelser didn't run on issues but instead ran a negative campaign about attendance that obviously the majority of voters didn't like. As is all to common in the clautrophobia of small towns, Gelser is the chosen candidate of a local political faction that has a misplaced belief in their entitlement. The election was more about that power struggle than anything else.

    The case against Wirth is dubious at best. The debate here is solely about supporting Democratic and progressive principles that the Wirth case has brought to light. (I don't know Wirth and don't know whether I would have voted for her in the next election or not because I like some votes she cast and I didn't like others.) It is nothing short of disgusting how irresponsible "activists" on this and other boards and the press have shown themselves to be in this regard. To reiterate, this isn't about Wirth who if she is guilty, only deserves due process. This is about a systematic failure to demand all of the facts first before all parties started luridly spinning the story for their own advantage. And this includes assertions about the office funds.

    Which gets to Doretta's truly dumb questions that started with after a completely inaccurate summary of what I wrote so far. Being right on the issues is necessary to get a hearing, but for the most part people vote for candidates who they believe share their values (whatever they are) and respect them. As recent events in the Wirth case and the last few elections demonstrate, people make decisions about candidates in the almost total absence of any valid factual information from the press, the powerbrokers, or activists on which to base such a decision. For that reason, choosing a candidate to vote for is among the most irrational acts most people will ever do.

    That doesn't make most voters dumb or irrational as you imply however. It simply demonstrates that too many "activists" really are clueless about what moves people to vote for someone, and frequently are in the game more for selfish reasons than anything else. If nothing else, you forget that you want the voter to give them something of value to you, their vote, even as you are not really offering anything of value back to them unless you demonstrate you share their values. That, and a worthless press who hasn't done it's job, because quite frankly they are just plain lazy and the lot of them have egos that far exceed their abilities, explains the last elections. And that is why it is not yet even probable that we will retake the House, Senate, or White House.

    So here's what I am guessing is a bitter truth for you about how people vote. Right now I don't care what Gelser says her positions are. I don't trust her because of her actions. She and her supporters didn't stand up for true progressive and Democratic values by even discretely speaking out that the current case against Wirth has some serious inconsistencies, and that the press, the Democratic leadership, and the police and prosecutors are willfully failing the public by not clearing up them rather than spinning the case for their own purposes. So she has a lot of work ahead to get my vote. For now I'm hoping a much better candidate comes along in the primary. If she is the nominee I will decide in the general election whether the party and my values as a partisan Democrat are actually better served by not voting at all.

  • actvist kaza (unverified)


    I agree with just about everything in your last comment, only don't go lumping me in with T.A. and Doretta. My point is entirely different than theirs and I won't repeat it, but perhaps you ought to re-read it? NO incumbent should get a free pass (and Gelser, if she is appointed, shouldn't in 2006 either).

  • Another Benton Dem (unverified)

    District 16 Democrats (including me) need to accept their fair share of the blame for the current situation, and then learn from it in order to make the district what it has the potential to be. Let's face it, we're nowhere near the example of Democratic values in action we might fancy ourselves.

    Wirth's performance issues long predate the fiasco under discussion--but reach to her very first campaign, or as some of us can remember, her non-campaign. The State party was extremely frustrated with her lack of performance, inexperience, and unwillingness to campaign, and the rest of us might have read the writing on the wall. But she had been "anointed" by none other than Barbara Ross, and no one in Democratic circles had the ingenuousness to ask, "Is this the best we can do?"

    Once Wirth was elected, maintaining the status quo became the highest priority for Benton Dems, especially those who considered themselves "insiders"--the power brokers whose sage admonitions on "the power of the incumbency" urged us to be satisfied with mediocracy. The very individuals who should know better allowed themselves to "lead" away from demanding better for our district. Astonishingly, this continued throughout the time her performance deteriorated to the point that (in retrospect) charges of substance abuse actually made sense.

    It's happening again--aside from being very green (experience-wise, not environmentally), there's nothing really wrong with Gesler, but does that make her the best District 16 can do? I don't think we've even asked the question. We simply have another candidate who was "anointed" as the alternative to Wirth. With the track record of the kingmakers in this district, that's not exactly a resounding endorsement.

    <h2>It seems that a little faith in the process and in our district, resulting in a true primary with multiple viable candidates, will serve the district well. It certainly would have last time around.</h2>

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