Independent investigator, yes. Reforms, no.

T.A. Barnhart

One of the outcomes of any political turmoil like Oregon’s going through is that legislators like to whip up tons of fixes. Immediately. Right now, come on, no need to wait, let’s pass some bills in the next twenty minutes to make sure this never happens again. Even when “this” has never happened before.

The Speaker and Senate President need to say, whoa, not so fast. We, the political activists who pay attention, need to say, no so fast. Yes, we need action, but not new laws. Not right now. There’s something more important that must come first:

Yes to an independent investigator

One of the key players in bringing Cylvia Hayes’ conduct into the light is Willamette Week. Regardless of my opinion of their motives or professionalism (I don’t trust them as journalists), they did get important information out into the public. But, as Eileen Brady noted on Facebook (which noodged me into writing this post), the Attorney General, whose office is leading the investigation, is married to WW’s publisher.

I believe Ellen Rosenblum is an honest person; I trust her judgment in legal matters under her jurisdiction. However, trust is not sufficient in these matters. Absolute separation of persons and issues is required. One of Kitzhaber’s problems as governor is that he was not given information he needed on important issues; either people hid things to cover their butts, or the Governor was “protected” by well-meaning but misguided staffers.

Rosenblum cannot put herself in the same jeopardy. Those conducting this investigation have to work entirely outside the AG’s authority. We can’t take the risk, or even bear the suspicion, that something might be hidden to protect the boss, or the boss’ husband’s workplace. As Brady put it in her Fb post, “The tangled webs are suffocating.” Here in Oregon, it can be impossible to know where the threads in the web lead. We need this investigation to be conducted by an authority outside the political web, to the degree that is possible.

Appointing an independent investigator who reports to the Leg and not the AG is essential for the legitimacy of the investigation and the authority of the AG. She cannot allow a process that calls her judgment and impartiality into question – and this process will. Because whatever the outcome, there will be those who are not satisfied, especially those who’ve already convicted Gov Kitzhaber. Fairness to him also requires the certainty of impartiality (again, to the extent possible) only an independent investigator can bring.

No to a slew of new laws, especially impeachment.

Let’s make that “oh hell no” to impeachment.

When was the last time an Oregon governor required impeachment? What is the desperate crisis we are facing, that we face over and over, that we have to place impeachment into our already overburdened state constitution? We were perfectly able to drive Gov Kitzhaber from office when there was little evidence of him doing anything in violation of his oath of office. It’s quite likely he’s done nothing that would warrant impeachment, and yet he’s already resigned and a new governor is in office.

Kitzhaber was driven from office with no threat of impeachment. Why does that argue for the need for impeachment?

The last time the Congress impeached a president, it was a political circus designed to stop Clinton from doing his job. Before that, it was a constitutional crisis, and even Richard Nixon, power-mad lunatic that he was, realized he needed to leave before the process culminated. Impeachment keeps being threatened against Obama – by fringers, for the most part, but Boehner & McConnell have never ruled it out – but it’s not for legal or constitutional purposes. It’s a political tool used to play politics and feed the trolls.

Add impeachment to the Oregon constitution, and instead of GOP lawmakers making speeches and using Legislative email to send campaign diatribes, you’ll have them using impeachment to impede the progress of the majority party. The Leg gets little enough time to do its work: six months in odd-numbered years, one month in even-numbered years. Throw in a concerted effort to impeach, and the state is in crisis.

And what’s gained? Protection against – what? Impeachment was not needed to confront with the current crisis. Before that, which Oregon governor committed acts so nefarious, so criminal, that would have required impeachment to save the state and the office?

Rep Jody Hack is grandstanding. Rep Julie Parrish is grandstanding. The correct response to this situation is to let an independent investigator complete a comprehensive investigation and then turn over those results to a special Leg committee – after the session ends – to develop, in a public process, new rules (if any) for the 2016 Leg to consider.

There’s no need to rush through bills that will have little opportunity for discussion and scrutiny. If Courtney or Kotek want to give the sponsors a hearing to indicate support for possible legal changes, fine. But if transparency and open public access to our political and legislative process is behind these bills – which is what Parrish claims is behind much of her work – then conduct the “reform” process in a way that gives the public maximum opportunity to respond.

Don’t rush these through as a pretense to fixing anything. Don’t let the opportunists pressure Leg leadership into giving them relevance when what is needed is attention to our schools, the budget, facing up to the stupidity of the kicker, and a variety of bills that need full attention for the short period the Leg has to use. “Reforms” can wait. Unless the Leg believes that Gov Brown or other office holders are busy doing the corruption thing, reforms can wait. Do them right, after a special investigator has had a chance to identify what the problems really are.

We’ve already had a rush to judgment that drove a governor from office despite any credible evidence that he had done anything wrong. Don’t compound this tragedy by slapping together a bunch of laws that fix nothing other a lack of clout by the minority party in the Leg.

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