Editor's note: Here at BlueOregon, we don't cover all the news that's fit to print - especially since this is a labor of love for all involved. But there's never been a "we missed it" story that's generated as many emails as the Betsy Johnson story. So, two days late and scrambling to digest this complex and multi-faceted story, here we go.
On Thursday, the Oregonian revealed an in-depth investigation into Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose).
In late 2004, state Sen. Betsy Johnson bought 36 acres of farmland for $635,000 in her hometown of Scappoose next to the airport. Three months later, she sold the land to a developer for a $119,000 profit.
And within weeks, Johnson introduced a bill in the Legislature to promote special airport access for private landowners -- something the developer needed to turn the land into an industrial park catering to the aviation business. ...
Before the deal closed, Johnson in February 2005 introduced SB680, which would have required the state Department of Aviation to promote "through the fence" access at Scappoose and five other rural airports.
"The bill was bad policy because it gave special access to public airports just because a private landowner happened to sit next door," said Ann Crook, airport director of the Klamath Falls Airport. "It's something that other states are avoiding because of security concerns, and it was just stupid to have the state of Oregon to promote the idea."
Of course, it's not just the self-dealing - it's the failure to disclose. From the AP:
Johnson, D-Scappoose, failed to disclose her ownership and sale of the farmland at the time, as state law requires. "I readily admit I made a mistake," Johnson told The Oregonian in an interview at the Capitol. "I am culpable."
Johnson reported the deal to the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission after being interviewed by the newspaper. The commission likely will review her failure to disclose her interest in the property. If an investigation shows Johnson broke the law, she faces a fine.
But wait, there's more. Willamette Week reports that Johnson has a long record of working on legislation that would directly benefit her family:
One bill that has raised questions is Senate Bill 30, which passed the Senate last week. The bill aims to ban further development near the Metolius River, whose headwaters Johnson's family donated to the state and near which she owns a 160-acre retreat. Johnson has been criticized by the Bend Bulletin and others because by cutting off further development in the area, the bill will increase the value of her property.
The other bill, SB 807, is a measure sponsored solely by Johnson. The bill would create new taxing districts around rural airports. As The Oregonian reported Saturday, the bill could benefit Transwestern Aviation—a business that Johnson co-founded and that her husband now owns. Transwestern sits on six acres adjacent to a rural airport in Scappoose.
Online, WW also provided a Thursday update.
Of course, Senator Johnson is widely rumored to be a candidate for higher office - and WW reports that she's one of the wealthiest members of the Legislature, which makes this stuff even more curious:
But Johnson’s march toward running for governor, Oregon secretary of state or some other statewide higher office may be complicated by revelations in WW and The Oregonian about bills this legislative session that seem to benefit her. Johnson has also been sloppy in reporting her financial dealings, which state law requires of all elected officials. ...
Curiously, Johnson may be the legislator least in need of sponsoring self-serving legislation. She is a daughter of the late Redmond timber baron and seven-term legislator Sam Johnson. In January, the 56-year-old senator and her sister inherited an estate that probate records valued at nearly $22 million.
Meanwhile, the Daily Astorian reports that Senator Johnson is holding a town hall meeting on Sunday, in Clatskanie.