The Good, The Bad and the Awful

It’s time for Willamette Week’s Biennial The Good, The Bad and the Awful, an end of session review of Portland area legislators. This is a chance for lobbyists and others in Salem to speak anonymously about legislators who they like and especially those they don’t like. The 2005 edition was limited but this year's story by Nigel Jaquiss is much more thorough.

Though some filled out surveys ranking legislators on a rank of 1-10 on integrity, diligence and effectiveness, others were actual interviews or a combination thereof. It appears only a small fraction (30 of 120 sent out) of Salem insiders were willing to fill out a questionnaire.

So, what did they have to say and how do legislators rate? Beware, though, this survey has been ongoing to 32 years it has even been described in the past by WW as “largely gossip and opinion.”

Ranked "outstanding" were State Representative Mary Nolan (D-SW Portland), House Speaker Jeff Merkley, and State Senator Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin). These legislators have fared well in surveys in previous sessions, being toward the top in previous years.

About Rep. Nolan:

In past sessions, Nolan won raves for her brains but low marks for clout. She still gets high marks for smarts this time but also soared on the effectiveness meter as Democrats took the House and Nolan became joint chair of the budget-setting Ways and Means Committee.

Calling Jeff Merkley the "Scoutmaster", WW points out that Merkley has begun to shed his nice-guy image:

For years, people thought Merkley was a brainy, too-nice policy geek who'd rather find housing, counseling and a lifetime supply of blood for a mosquito rather than kill it. ... Insiders similarly speculate that Merkley could use the speaker's chair as a platform to run for governor in 2010 or any number of jobs before that.

Observers say he's kept his caucus in line effectively, considering Democrats have only a two-vote majority. He gets credit for big victories on gay rights and payday lending; the jury is still out on Healthy Kids, tax reform and ethics.

While many outside of Salem don’t know Senator Devlin, he’s apparently a star within the halls of the State Capitol:

"The smartest, hardest-working senator there is," says one lobbyist. "He's a walking spread sheet." Devlin's like that brainy kid in high school whose homework everybody else copied but who doesn't lord it over them.

At the opposite end of the list were Senator Rick Metsger (D-Welches) and former House Speaker Karen Minnis, ranking the lowest among their peers.

As for placement on previous rankings, last session Metsger ranked second to last. Despite his continued low ranking, The accompanying review isn’t half bad:

Metsger, a former television sportscaster, loves the game of politics as much as any legislator. Cigar smoke, backroom deals and creativity are his hallmarks. " He can do business behind closed doors with the big guys," says one admirer. "That might upset Portland liberals, but he gets stuff done."

Earning the lowest possible ranking, WW really shines the light on how far Rep. Minnis’ star has fallen, going from 9.46 two years ago to a solid 4.20 this session. Other than being described as a ghost in the Capitol, there wasn’t insult added to injury in her ranking:

"She's returned to her roots as a very nice person," says one lobbyist "But nobody cares."

Here's the full rundown on the metro-area legislators (Republicans in italics):

Outstanding: Representatives Mary Nolan and Jeff Merkley; Senator Richard Devlin

Good: Representatives Dave Hunt, Diane Rosenbaum, Scott Bruun, Greg Macpherson, Suzanne Bonamici, Chip Shields, Jeff Barker, David Edwards; Senators Kate Brown and Brad Avakian

Bad: Representatives Jackie Dingfelder, Ben Cannon, Tina Kotek, Larry Galizio, Mitch Greenlick, Mike Schaufler, Tobias Read, Patti Smith, Carolyn Tomei; Senators Kurt Schrader, Avel Gordly, Ryan Deckert, Margaret Carter, Rod Monroe, Laurie Monnes Anderson

Awful: Representatives Chuck Riley, Linda Flores, Wayne Scott, Jerry Krummel, Karen Minnis; Senators Ginny Burdick, Bruce Starr, Larry George, Rick Metsger

Read the article at Willamette Week and discuss.

Update: Willamette Week included this closing thought from a legislator.

"I hate the 'Good, Bad, and Awful,'" says one legislator. "Because we don't have a chance to respond."

So, folks, use this space. Respond right here at BlueOregon.

  • (Show?)

    Why no mention of Jeff Merkley, who was just .05 behind Nolan in overall score--and on the hot seat as Speaker? An 8.65 on effectiveness? Fantastic.

  • (Show?)

    Good catch, Jeff. The three legislators who rated "outstanding" were Nolan, Devlin, and Merkley. I've updated the post.

  • (Show?)

    While I think we give these ratings far too much attention, I'll weigh in anyway.

    The rating of "bad" for Jackie Dingfelder is completely preposterous and just tells me that WW spent way too much time talking to pissed off business lobbyists.

    Jackie's pre-session agenda:

    -Bio Fuels - check (as in passed) -computer recycling/e-waste check -expand bottle bill - check -renewable energy requirements - check -pay day loans - check (her and Merkley are the pioneers on this)

    That's right, Dingfelder got her ENTIRE agenda through the Legislature.

    If by "bad" ww means "bad for polluters" then heck ya, Dingfleder was bad. Without question she was great for the future of Oregon and she was at the center of re-estabslishing Oregon as a national leader on sustainabilty and conservation.

  • BB (unverified)

    Did anyone else notice that WW used a photo of Former. Gov. Barbara Roberts underneath Ginny Burdick's name? Quite an oversight.

  • (Show?)

    I think these ratings are worth something, Jon. For the layperson who has no access into the way our leaders legislate, it's often almost impossible to assess how well they're doing. We can judge them in the aggregate, and we might be able to hazard a guess about party leaders, but as to the effectiveness of our own reps? Hard to say. Personally, I find it useful to know how the folks WW talked to rated my leaders. (Brown and Rosenbaum; both "good.")

    We'd be better citizens if we dug around ourselves, but come on--I bet fewer than 10% could even name their elected state legislators. I think this is a pretty good--if limited--public service.

  • Liz Smith Currie (unverified)

    I don't think these adequately represent the work of the legislators. Tina Kotek has been outstanding for her work on health care and that isn't reflected at all. Just a few negative comments by those who filled out the forms seem to make the overall ratings tank.

  • (Show?)

    Perhaps Merkley wasn't mentioned first because the top and bottom legislator in each body were the only ones originally mentioned?

  • WW Sucks (unverified)

    So this whole article was written by drunk monkeys smoking crack right.

    Clearly someone had an agenda while writing this and after the extreme prejudice and bad reporting around the Johnson story it is clear that Willy Week is becoming more irrelevant by the moment.

    To the WW:

    You guys had a good run but I think the only people that are still reading your piece of crap paper are the porn hounds trying to pick up strippers from the advertising in then back of your paper.

  • (Show?)

    Y'know, here's my #1 biggest complaint about WW's rankings (which I love from a fun/snarky standpoint)... they only rank the metro-area folks.

    It sure would be interesting to hear what people think about all the legislators. And, sure, WW's audience is Portland-area - but it'd be nice to be able to put 'em in context with the rest of the Legislature.

    If they're only going to rank 12 Senators and 24 Representatives, it's kind of hard to see the big picture.

  • Anon (unverified)

    Dear People of District 49,

    Wow! Are you ever smart, re-electing the impotent Minnis.

    Maybe she hasn't done all you wanted in pounding down gays, defaming Portland (even though that's where she picked up a whole heap of campaign money) liberals, lying about people, depriving Oregonians of basic needs while giving big handouts to Big Pharma and Big Tobacco, polluting the natural beauty of our state and otherwise generally abusing her power and being a first class corrupt jerk, but - it's the thought that counts, right? She wanted to do all those things for you. She really, really did.

    Better luck next time destroying our government and our state. Don't give up yet! There's so much more damage to do and hatred to sow!

  • (Show?)

    wow, the Metro area sure has a lot of bad reps, far more than good. fortunately the Dems have people like Sara Gelser and Brian Clem to save their butts, i guess. Uncle Phil Barnhart. at least we know who these people are and get rid of them. after all, why wouldn't we trust WW to know exactly what they're talking about? not only are they cooler than us, they're smarter than us.

  • Matt (unverified)

    I think one major misconception is that this is done by Willamette Week's staff. Remember, they just set the criteria, it is the lobbyists/insiders who rate the legislators.

    WW just sets the guard rails to the process, don't blame the messenger.

    The question we need to ask is, what do we need to do with these rankings? If the legislature doesn't pass kids health care, who do we hold accountable? If there is no movement towards ensuring public dollars are used for their stated purpose (see the link on head start's use of funds to bust a union) then whose fault is that?

    WW gives us the "insiders" view but, progressives should give the legislators a chance to answer those questions. If the legilsators who are upset with their rankings want to respond, they can do ahead and do so in this forum or elsewhere. I mean, its not like they don't have the ability to do that.

    Basically, I'm not going ot shed a tear for a legislator who has to defend their record as a representative.

  • littlevoice (unverified)

    I agree that WW is only the messenger, but that still doesn't do it for me. Because we have no idea who the insiders are (although one could guess), and therefore what their agendas are, these rankings are completely useless. Add to that Kari's critique that they only include metro lawmakers, and the WW article fails to adequately portray the trees or the forest.

  • Matt (unverified)

    We probably wouldn't get the same level of snarkiness or candor w/o keeping the "lobby" anonymous. I mean, if we knew who they were would anyone have said Tobias Read is the "front runner for the 'Charlie Ring/Mark Hass/Chris Beck Award' for wasted potential." (note: Tobias seems like a decent person, and that may or may not be fair. either way, it is pretty funny) Probably not but, that is pure gold - I love it.

    However, perhaps an alternative would be a survey of legislators rating the "Good, Bad and Awful" lobbyists? I'm pretty sure that would be equally snarky, and maybe even more entertaining.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Asking 120 lobbyists to rank our representatives? How is that anything but "awful?"

  • Scott Shorr (unverified)

    WW heavily relies on lobbyists to rank legislators and most of the quotes come directly from lobbyists. I usually enjoy WW for its independence and its critical eye, but it delegates way too much authority to the lobbyists in these reveiws. Lobbyists (left or right) are there to represent an agenda. Their views on legislators are very jaded from that viewpoint.

    Quoting a lobbyist who is upset that Ben Cannon didn't trust him on the lobbyist's research is ridiculous. Questioning the research of a lobbyist and not taking it at face value should be a badge of honor and WW makes it look like a fault.

  • LT (unverified)

    Using what criteria were Gordly, Cannon and Schrader labeled "bad"? They didn't kowtow to the folks WW sent surveys to?

    These are members who actually care what ordinary citizens think, answer their questions, do the tough work. One wonders how downstate legislators would rate. If lobbyists and other "insiders" don't like that, tough luck! The beginning of the Oregon Constitution says "We the people..." NOT "they the insiders".

    Perhaps like some other things which have been around to long, the time for this series has passed.

  • John Mulvey (unverified)

    I think one major misconception is that this is done by Willamette Week's staff. Remember, they just set the criteria, it is the lobbyists/insiders who rate the legislators.

    Not buying this at all. The pseudo-scientific numerical ratings are just part of the same old "edgy" satire that passes for reporting at WW these days.

    These ratings are the opinion of the WW editors, notwithstanding the whopping 30 unnamed "insiders" they supposedly spoke to.


  • Matt (unverified)

    Fine, I am sooo wrong I can't even contain my shame.

    Anyhow, my question to BO readers is - if a legislator is not portrayed as we like them (for instance, I really like Ben Cannon - he deserved better) by the press/lobbyists/etc., what do we do about it?

    This won't be the first time, so my suggestion is that we stay involved in permanent campaigns. Attend coffees and give them props for doing right by us. Find out how to volunteer in their district to spread the good word. And, maybe write the WW with a scathing letter to the editor?

  • (Show?)

    Yea, I don't think lobbyists and such are the best people to go to for these rankings. Personally, I think my state senator (Monnes Anderson) is doing a good job.

    Kotek, Cannon, and others are doing great for their first session in Salem.

    A good number of these rankings were completely undeserved. Look at Minnis -- she was listed near the top in previous sessions, even though she practically tore the legislature apart. Now she only gets low rankings because she can't do anything for the lobbyists anymore. She should have always had low rankings for the poor job she's done. But instead she got high rankings because she was doing the work of the lobbyists and only dropped when she couldn't push their agenda anymore.

    And I'd like to point out that HD 50's John Lim was also listed as awful.

  • SalemMeterMaid (unverified)

    I'm all for either legislators doing an anonymous ranking of lobbyists or having the lobbyists rank their own kind.

    Perhaps we can do the good, the bad and the ulgy of what these folks drive. Having seen the cars under the building and the one's driven by lobbyists there's no way leg's could compete. (joking)

    Actually, let's just stick with ranking the lobbyists in the building for what they do - which is shape policy for the entire state based on the agendas of the very few.

  • Matt (unverified)

    By the way - there is a thoughtful response to this issue of WW over at the Oregon League of Conservation Voters blog. Go here to check it out

    I agree that there needs to be a better context for these ratings, so there...

  • (Show?)


    Trying to assess legislator performance based on the opinion of lobbyists is like asking jackals to rate the hunting skills of the lions around the watering hole.

    Most hilarious comment by the people passing out the grades goes to the anonymous commenter on Ben Cannon:

    "Over-thinks way too much," says a lobbyist who met often with Cannon. "Trust us, Ben, we did the research."

    I'll bet Ben (and Kurt Schrader for that matter) can hardly sleep at night worrying about this crap.

    I'll say further, that any legislator in either party in either house who makes decisions based only on information supplied by lobbyists (left or right) should be tarred and feathereed forthwith.

  • Salem WW Reader (unverified)

    I agree that these rankings shouldn't be taken seriously. Some of the people who got good rankings seem to have gotten them because they'd done so little that nobody could find anything to complain about. On the other hand, people who really work hard get lower numbers because sometimes the lobbyists don't (gasp!) get everything they want. I think the written reviews are more trustworthy than the numbers, but lobbyists shouldn't be deciding who is a good legislator and who isn't. If you really want to know what your senator or representative is like, you should call their office or come down and meet them.

  • (Show?)

    However, perhaps an alternative would be a survey of legislators rating the "Good, Bad and Awful" lobbyists? I'm pretty sure that would be equally snarky, and maybe even more entertaining.

    Yee-ha! Now you're talking!

  • LiberalIncarnate (unverified)

    I am THRILLED to see that Karen Minnis's power has signficantly diminished! THRILLED! However, just like she and the anti-christians to kick someone when they are down, I will not stop in hoping that she is similarly treated. Her "improved" attitude does not make up for her crimes.

    To WWsucks... first off, WW does not prentend to be unbiased. That is what the Oregonian is supposed to be, but fails to more often than not. If you wish to read unbiasd news in this country, you are usually out of luck.

    Also, any serious sex fend, yourself included, should realize that most sex is found online now-a-days and not in the newspapers. It is the 21st Century afterall.

  • (Show?)

    Yea, it's so funny that a legislator could get a bad ranking because they choose to do their own research (instead of believing everything the lobbyists tell them), are to focused on an issue (which happens to be the issue of the committee the legislator chairs), etc.

    I was always unhappy with the WWeek rankings before. Now they've just shown how bad they are.

  • Glen Geller (unverified)

    I went back to the beginning of Kari's post and it occured to me that some lobbyists may have given bad marks to those who would not do their bidding. Since much of the old guard has been replaced by newbys and up-and-comers, many of whom are not inclined to knuckle under to "powerful" lobbyists, there may be some disgruntled, newly impotent lobbyists taking advantage of an opportunity to blackball the legislators that won't play ball.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    I love WW's session article , but their ratings are often too harsh. Ditto to the comments by other bloggers that Kotek and Cannon are at least "good" in most people's minds, I still Rick Metsger as a superior legislator. Yes, he might be hopelessly ambitious and look over the shoulders of many of us, but he is smart, hard working, and pragmatic. His active support for the beer tax for state cops (once thought dead and buried) is a recent example of his working with both sides to support a good idea.

  • SpellCheck (unverified)

    Kari and Blue Oregon -

    It's Suzanne Bonamici, not Suzanna.

  • (Show?)

    Well, I bring my own prejudices to this just like everyone else does. Being a lont-time Independent I was interested to see how Avel Gordly was rated.

    How pathetic is it that of the legislators WW bothered to rank, Gordly was ever so slightly edged out for the highest Integrity ranking out of the entire group and yet was only saved by a very small handful of Republicans from having the lowest Effectiveness rating?

    If that ain't a profound commentary on what passes for "values" in the Halls of Power then I don't know what else possibly could.

    I'll heartily second the suggestion that WW do a similar ranking of lobbyists!

  • djk (unverified)

    Why no rating between "good" and "bad"? There aren't any legislators who are just "average?"

  • (Show?)

    Hmmm... yeah. Average. That seems to be missing.

    I also miss the old Lonnie Roberts category: Beyond All Hope.

  • MCR (unverified)

    I would have two main complaints about the article:

    1) The sample size of the people surveyed (and the response rate) were fairly pathetic. It would be nice to know what kind of criteria WW used when choosing which lobbyists to survey.

    2) Like Kari already said, WW only does Metro-area. I'd like to see how these same survey respondents would rate the entire Leg, so we could get a better sense of where they are coming from.

    That said, I don't think surveying lobbyists is a bad way to find out what's really going on down there. Sure, you have to keep in mind the potential problems that go along with it. Still, these folks typically know the dirt (and the good stuff...) better than any other group. Who else would you survey? The media? They get much of their info from lobbyists. Legislative staff? Most of them would be terribly biased toward their caucus. There is no perfect, unbiased group to survey.

  • The Survey is Destructive (unverified)

    The methodology is fundamentally flawed, to the point that it's very destructive.

    For example, someone like Ben Cannon, who didn't take lobbyist/PAC money, and whom the lobby might feel that they don't own, is likely to get lower marks. That sort of independence should get HIGHER marks. Balance between D and R lobbyists doesn't give balance, because they all have an interest in rewarding the people who follow the lobby. And the WWeek shoul be rewarding EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE.

    The Willamette Week survey reinforces the power of the moneyed lobby. The lobby's campaign contributions give them enough power!

    Of course, by having "good bad and awful," when the "bad" category should be "okay" or even "good," the WWeek merely reinforces the anti-government mood of the country started in the Watergate era.

    WWeek should encourage service-based politics, rather than beating down suc politics and rewarding the well-funded lobby.

  • (Show?)

    For example, someone like Ben Cannon, who didn't take lobbyist/PAC money, and whom the lobby might feel that they don't own, is likely to get lower marks.

    My thoughts exactly.

  • 17yearoldwithanopinion (unverified)

    How has tobias been doing? I always thought highly of him and volunteer for his campaign. WW bashes him pretty hard and I dont have a insiders knowledge of whats going on. How is he doing?

  • JTT (unverified)

    While there is always a hint of truth to the WWeek's Good/Bad/Awful story...the methodology is fundamentally flawed. Of course you're going to get responses from people who have an axe to grind with any particular legislator...and the people who don't have anything remarkable to say that's positive are probably less likely to participate than those lobbyists who have their panties in a bunch about X, Y, or Z.

    I'd like to see an anonymous survey of legislators on their colleagues...or better yet, a survey of legislators of these lobbyists. Kinda like a professional job performance review.

  • Thag (unverified)

    Sir Vay :

    Newbies Bad
    (althought they are responsible for the change in leadership)

    Vetrans Good (more experience with the election funding cycle)

    This Poll is kinda like asking the postman to judge familly dogs. ....... but only the blonde mailmen in shorts responded.

    John Issacs and LT and 'survey is distructive '(above) got it about right.


  • Ron Buel (unverified)

    As the person who invented (alongside current WW publisher Richard Meeker) these ratings of legislators way back in the mid-1970s, I would have to agree that the kernel of truth that used to exist in these ratings has been corrupted by narrowing the group to lobbyists alone. We used to interview, in addition to a mixture of private and public sector lobbyists, the following: long-standing staff of the legislature itself; non-metro area legislators themselves; and a few members of the press who actually cover the legislature. We only talked to people in person (not via a distancing e-mail survey), but offered anonymity, as does Willamette Week today. Broadening the group beyond lobbyists gives an important perspective, particularly with the control that the lobby has today on both sides of the aisle. If you don't believe that on the Democratic side of the aisle, the AFL-CIO, OEA, SEIU and the Trial Lawyers have the loudest voice in the building, where have you been lately -- certainly not in Salem. But they don't try to represent voters in general, to whom journalists should be responsive. If you don't believe the business lobby, including in particular Larry Campbell and the Restauraneurs and AOI, make the R's walk the line, you are equally naive. It's all related to campaign finance. You know who has clout by reading the C&Es -- its that simple these days, but no one does it and explains it well or regularly (kudos to The Oregonian for recent pieces on lobbyists). So, when someone like Ben Cannon takes an important stand and refuses to take any PAC money, it seems particularly naive and gauche to let the lobbyists rate him as bad.
    As poorly as the Oregon press covers Salem and state and local government in general, these sorts of attempts by journalists to help voters gain context and perspective seem important. Willamette Week needs to re-think why they are doing this, and make it work better for everyone, especially voters. This should not be the publication's only foray into Salem, less election recommendations, either. Who covers the legislature well? Who tells us how our democracy really works? These are fundamental questions in our society. At least Willamette Week is still at it, still trying -- give them an e for effort, but not a passing grade this time around.
    In the meantime, let's imagine a lobbyist rating, with a ranking of 1-10 for each factor: a) supports public interest, not narrow special interest. b) doesn't rely on campaign contributions, instead relying on righteousness of cause and issue. c) can rely on accuracy and truthfulness of the information presented by this lobbyist. d) doesn't try to find ways to persuade my representative on anything other than information -- no gifts, contribution promises, or below the table stuff.

    <h2>To hell with clout and effectiveness for lobbyists, which is served by the WW survey. Lobbyists need to support a process that works for the public, for justice, for truth. That's what the state legislature should be about. It shouldn't be about buying influence, no matter the cause. We in the Democratic party are too willing to let our labor and trial lawyer friends represent the public, when they no longer consistently do so. AFSME wants to build prisons. The trial lawyers want to enrich their members. The labor unions look first to the narrow pocketbook issues of their members and the unions themselves. The teachers union just wants to set the agenda for everyone in education -- be the 800 lbs gorilla in the room. See campaign finance reform and who supported it and who did not in the last election for the proof whereof I speak. Open your eyes Willamette Week.</h2>
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