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