Why I support Vicki Walker for Secretary of State

By Pete Forsyth of Portland, Oregon. Pete is a technical and political consultant in Portland. He is active in the development of Oregon-related Wikipedia content.

Vicki Walker, a state senator from Eugene and candidate for Secretary of State, is a uniquely dedicated and qualified public servant. Oregon is fortunate to have someone of her caliber seeking a greater leadership role in the state, and will benefit in many ways if she is elected. She is a hard worker who knows our state's history and makeup better than most, and whose attention to detail is unmatched; but above all, she doesn't blink when she sees questionable behavior in public agencies, even when shining a light on it could endanger her own career or professional relationships.

This trait is most visible in her attention to the dealings of lobbyist and former Governor Neil Goldschmidt.

In 2000, I was fairly new to Oregon politics, and was working for the Portland Business Journal doing page layout. One day I noticed a story about a proposed plan to extend the Park Blocks through downtown Portland, by demolishing several large buildings. It struck me as an extraordinarily ambitious plan – possibly even capricious, compared to much of the news we covered. I wondered aloud how a plan like this wound up on our front page. A passing reporter offered an answer:

"Well, it's Neil Goldschmidt's plan."

Which obviously explained everything.

In that brief statement was a big lesson for me about Oregon politics. Although Governor Goldschmidt had been out of office for 10 years, his influence remained curiously strong. Despite his client list, which would come under increasing scrutiny for its inclusion of out-of-state interests like Weyerhaeuser and the Texas Pacific Group, Goldschmidt was assumed by many to have Oregon's best interest at heart in every twitch of his pinkie.

But in a democratic society, trust and assumptions should not go unquestioned. Our society is founded on the principle that we don't blindly follow the whims of our elected -- or unelected -- leaders.

Among Oregon's leaders, Vicki Walker seems to be the only one who evaded Goldschmidt's spell. She paid close attention to the workings of the State Accident Insurance Fund (SAIF), an insurance company with which Goldschmidt had a close relationship both as Governor and, later, as a consultant. SAIF, an odd hybrid of state agency and public corporation that is not required to pay state taxes, was engaged in many questionable practices, which Walker's work exposed.

Goldschmidt made a number of reforms to SAIF while he was Governor. Though the reforms were hailed for their cost savings at the time, a later investigation found the savings came largely as a result of denying legitimate workers' comp claims.

Later, it was revealed that Goldschmidt was earning as much as $40,000 a month from SAIF, but the services he was providing were never revealed; the contract was ended abruptly in 2003 when Sen. Walker filed an ethics complaint.

News coverage of Walker's work digging into SAIF's practices was peppered with a constant refrain from other leaders, both Democrat and Republican, saying, "It's no big deal; leave it alone, Vicki." But history has proven them wrong, and Walker right.

Subsequent reviews of SAIF's practices, following a leadership change, have found improved oversight and record-keeping; SAIF has also hired an internal auditor for the first time in 13 years. Such changes don't result from "leaving something alone."

As Oregon heads into an election cycle where Democrats are expected to strengthen their leadership in both houses of the Legislature, we need a Secretary of State with a proven ability and willingness to hold our public agencies and servants accountable. One who will do so without fear of upsetting the powers that be in her own party. The public has a right to know how its money is spent, and deserves elected officials who will investigate questionable practices.

In this race, we have a choice among three excellent Democrats. Two have distinguished themselves as "team players" -- one was a longtime Senate majority leader. Senator Walker, by contrast, has distinguished herself by relentlessly placing the public good in its proper place: ahead of party loyalty. She is a team player too -- but her version clearly includes holding her team to a high standard.

Relentlessly questioning the status quo might be considered reckless in some, but Senator Walker has done it at the right times and in the right ways, proving herself to be one of Oregon's greatest assets.

On May 20th, let's elect Senator Vicki Walker as our next Secretary of State. (web site: VickiWalker.com

Comments

  • Taylor M (unverified)
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    Thanks Pete. That's why I'm supporting her as well- she has a great record of protecting government's integrity as a legislator, and since the SoS's main role is to oversee elections and the public land trust, she's uniquely qualified for the job.

    The Eugene Register-Guard, which endorsed her today, apparently agrees.

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    Thanks for posting that, Taylor. Pleased to see the same themes echoed in their endorsement.

  • My Take (unverified)
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    Much like Steve Duin noted in today's edition of The Oregonian, I see it this way:

    Establishment Democrats -Clinton -Merkley -Brown -McPherson

    Reform Democrats -Obama -Novick -Walker -Kroger

    Metsger is just a Republican that the OEA talked into running his first time as a Democrat.

    My bet is that the reforms win this May.

  • Go Vicki! (unverified)
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    Kate Brown is running her campaign just like Hillary: Assuming that paying the party piper is all it takes to win over the voters.

    Very early on I was going to vote for Kate Brown (I just kinda figured she had "earned it") but the more I hear about her record, she seems to just follow the breeze of public opinion.

    Vicki Walker has taken the hard stances, admits when she's made a mistake, and isn't afraid to go to bat for real progressive issues. That's the type of Secretary of State I want.

  • ben rivers (unverified)
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    How soon we forget the accomplishments the Dems made in the 2007 session after years of Repub. control. And really, an Oregon Democratic "establishment'? I am still laughing about that. In the long run, I agree that Democrats have an embarrassment of riches on their hands and all of these candidates will bring a new face and energy to the office they are seeking. That being said, Steve Duin's comparison is plain wrong.

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    Ben, who's forgotten? Kate definitely got some good stuff done, but a statewide office is not a cookie. We need to seek the individual who would do the best job as Secretary of State -- 40% of which is the Audits division. Not reward the legislator (VERY different job) we think is most "deserving."

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    I'm also, likely, going to be voting for Walker for many of the same reasons voice above. I like her sense of independence and willingness to take on Goldschmidt's network.

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    Wow. Right on, people. But wait 'til Kari and the good old boys get back from the Senate debate. The Vicki supporters will get shouted down in these comments all night.

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    Wow. Right on, people. But wait 'til Kari and the good old boys get back from the Senate debate. The Vicki supporters will get shouted down in these comments all night.

    Who do you think reads over the guest columns that are sent here?

  • LT (unverified)
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    Quite the conspiracy theory, Jack!

    Looks like I'm supporting 2 "establishment" candidates and 2 reformers, so what does that make me? A person who makes decisions about individuals?

    Vicki Walker was perhaps my first decision for many of the reasons mentioned. "Relentlessly questioning the status quo might be considered reckless in some, but Senator Walker has done it at the right times and in the right ways, proving herself to be one of Oregon's greatest assets."

    Having nothing to do with Goldschmidt, she started an investigation of an abusive teacher in Salem. That finally spurred the district management to act, AND had a lot to do with a turnover in school board membership and a new Supt.

    It is time we turn over every stone looking for wasteful and questionable practices. I believe Vicki will do very well with that.

  • teddly (unverified)
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    As a former Lane County and Oregon resident I am a little hesitant to weigh in on the subject but feel I must. I have seen both Senators Walker & Brown at 'work' and have to say that I am more impressed with Senator Brown. I met her in 2004 when my parnter and I were married in Portland. She was taking her time to talk with all the people in line at the auditorium. When working on SB1000 I was informed by a friend/volunteer of Senator Walker to keep any correspondance to the very minimum because the whole letter wouldn't be read. I disregarded this advice, told my story in its entirety, sent it to every elected official that represented the Eugene/Springfield area and received responses from everyone with exception to Senator Walker. Some were standard thank you responses but some responded with direct reference to points in my long letter. That always left a lasting impression on me. Upon reading that she laughed and said "are you serious?" when told that Rick Dancer was entering the SOS race demonstrated a lack of decency and respect. Not exactly the type of response that you want from an elected official. If I still lived in Oregon I have to say that she would be the last SOS candidate to receive my consideration.

  • Allison de la Torre (unverified)
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    I respect many of the leaders mentioned in previous comments. I know Senator Walker well and I completely agree with Pete Forsyth. Senator Walker is a committed public servant, an ardent researcher, and relentless when pursuing the truth. Walker is the right choice for Secretary of State.

    Teddly, Senator Walker fought tooth and nail for SB 1000 and, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, fought against the awful, disrespectful rhetoric of those who voiced hate during committe hearings. If you didn't receive a letter back from her, it may have been because you did not reside in her district. When elected officials receive thousands of letters, they don't always have time to answer every piece of correspondence (especially when they have made their position on the subject clear on the record and in the Media.) Elected officials prioritize mail sent in by their consituents. Please don't take it personally. Senator Walker's record demonstrates her commitment to equal rights for all Oregonians.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
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    Vicki is a tough lady and she got my support some time ago. For the record my blog's endorsement of Vicki got partially quoted and linked from BO and Kari was already doing Brown's work. I've had a lot of dealings with Kari over the years, some out here and some not so and he's consistently been principled in his behavior.

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    I'll echo Chuck: Kari personally responded to my submission within about five minutes, suggesting it be posted within two days. That turned into four days -- entirely within the bounds one might expect of a new dad running a blog in his "spare time." Totally fair, respectful, helpful.

  • Mike (unverified)
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    I saw Vicki at a candidate forum in Clackamas recently and, while I was impressed with the other two candidates, I thought Vicki had the strongest presentation.

    In her presentation, she pointed out that Oregon is owed land from the federal government dating back to the 1800's and that she'll fight the feds to get the rest of it.

  • Fair and Balanced (unverified)
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    I just want to point out some inaccuracies in the post having to do with SAIF Corporation, starting with the Wikipedia entry Pete links to. That entry seems to have been written by somebody sympathetic with the Libarty Northwest attack on SAIF in 2004, emphasizing the mostly bogus criticisms and omitting the positives.

    It's just flat wrong of Pete to allege that "a later investigation found the savings came largely as a result of denying legitimate workers' comp claims." The workers comp reforms in 1989 made many changes to the system itself resulting in cost savings. All carriers had to adhere to the new rules as a matter of law and fairness, and there has never been any finding that SAIF (or any other carrier) has systematically denied claims they should not have. In fact, Oregon has an extensive set of protections (and lawyers eager to pursue them) available to injured workers to prevent any such result.

    What SAIF does is to accept or deny claims based on what the law says. No "investigation" has ever found a pattern of unfair denials.

    None of this is to deny Vicki Walker's fearlessness in pursuing evil where she perceives it to be. In recognizing that, however, let's not give credence to the profit-motivated attack points ginned up by Liberty Northwest that were discredited long ago.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    It is obvious after being involved in Oregon politics and public affairs for many years that there is a powerful political establishment centered around Goldschmidt that is more Democratic than not, probably because of the near hegemony of the Democratic Party in Portland. It's main competition in the last decade has been the even less desirable "drown government in a bathtub" Republicans.

    Vicki Walker is one of the few Democrats righteous enough to do what is right even if it steps on the godfather's toes. That is one of the reasons I support her for Secretary of State. At a time when Democrats can lead state government, we need Democratic officeholders who put the interests of the people first, not the interests of the old political-business establishment.

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    Fair and balanced, I checked my sources, and you got me. The investigation did not find that specific claims were wrongly denied. But what it did find appears more damning to the reforms than I had thought.

    If the decrease in claims was compliant with the law, than the change in the law (i.e., Goldschmidt's 1990 reform package) must be the cause of the decrease, yes?

    See this 1992 Oregonian article: McCarthy, Nancy. Commissioner accuses SAIF Corp. of unjustly denying benefits. The Oregonian, February 14, 1992.

    "The report also noted that 'successful denial resolution' is one of SAIF's performance goals. The evaluation of individual employee performance and the payment of annual bonuses is directly connected to the degree to which each examiner meets the company's goals, the report added."

    The investigation was conducted by the Department of Insurance and Finance. It studied SAIF and Liberty Northwest (i.e., as far as I can see, it was not "ginned up" by Liberty Mutual).

    Anyway -- if systems were set up that threw up procedural hurdles, those systems could be legal, but still wrong. The extensive changes to the reforms, which largely result from Vicki Walker's work, strongly suggest that there were significant problems.

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    And to finish that thought, my basis for stating that SAIF is significantly improved comes from Brenda Rocklin's 2006 report to the Governor:

    Walsh, Edward. SAIF getting better, agency chief tells governor. The Oregonian, April 26, 2006.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Both SAIF and Liberty were able to offer lower premiums because of the Goldschmidt unemployment compensation changes. It's easy to save money by denying the valid claims of injured workers.

  • Ernie Delmazzo (unverified)
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    I've worked with Vicki Walker for several years on consumer and worker advocacy efforts. She has always found the time and energy to fight for those without political power. I believe she'll be the best Secretary of State we have every had.

    As far as the comments of "Fair and Balanced ;-)" SAIF has been shown time and again that it denies or closes legitimate injury claims.

    Ernie Co-founder, Injured Workers' Alliance www.InjuredWorker.org

  • Fair and Balanced (unverified)
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    Pete, you are citing several unrelated ideas related to claim denials.

    First, let's concede that people like Ernie Belmazzo have an axe to grind on behalf of injured workers. That's fine and proper, given that injured workers would otherwise face the bureaucracy alone. But also concede that not all claims filed are legitimate. Some are just plain fraud; the worker isn't really injured, or was injured at home. Others may have been injured on a previous job or in another state, in which case the claim is properly denied on behalf of the current employer (the worker may have to file a different claim to collect benefits). The system has been set up to catch these claims and deny them. I suppose you could call the review process a "procedural hurdle," but it is a necessary deterrent to fraud and abuse. I defy anyone to cite a government program of benefits that doesn't involve a "procedural hurdle" of this type. It just boils down to whether the claim is valid or not.

    I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that SAIF accepts all claims that it believes are lawful and legitimate, and does so 45,000 times a year. Are Tom and Ernie trying to claim that some people at SAIF are arbitrarily picking out certain claims and denying them because - why?? Some of the accepted claims run into millions of dollars; why weren't they denied?

    By the way, SAIF is exempt from Federal income taxes, NOT state taxes (another inaccuracy in Pete's post). SAIF pays millions of dollars in premium assessments, just like all other workers' compensation carriers.

    We're getting some distance from the reasons to support Vicki Walker, which I'm not disputing. I just hate for inaccurate statements to go unchallenged.

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    I just hate for inaccurate statements to go unchallenged.

    And I appreciate that. I'll admit, my understanding of this stuff was a bit off, and I'd like to understand it better. (Feel free to contact me via email, you can do so here even without giving me your own email address if you prefer to remain anonymous.)

    But these facts remain: a state investigation in 1992 led to scaling back the Goldschmidt "reforms;" and Kulongoski (who was appointed insurance commissioner by Goldschmidt in 1987) fired the head of SAIF; and the new CEO recommended all kinds of changes in her 2006 report.

    So the received wisdom that the SAIF "reforms" accomplished by Goldschmidt in 1990 were an unqualified good appears pretty tainted. My summary was inaccurate, and I apologize for that; but it doesn't change the fact that something looks really bad.

    And yes, we are getting pretty far afield from Vicki; fact is, she understands all this stuff a lot better than me, and she used that understanding to get things fixed.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Fair and Balanced wrote:

    "I suppose you could call the review process a 'procedural hurdle,' but it is a necessary deterrent to fraud and abuse."

    From Injure Workers' Alliance: "In a unanimous decision on May 10, 2001, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Oregon Workers' Compensation laws violated an injured worker's constitutional rights by not providing a remedy for his injuries. The case is Smothers v. Gresham Transfer Inc."

    The Oregon Supreme Court did not agree with your contention that our workers comp system is fair to injured workers.

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