Illustrations by Jessica Hirsche
Reader beware: What follows is largely gossip and opinion.
To get an independent assessment of metro-area lawmakers, WW has conducted an anonymous survey of Salem lobbyists, Capitol staffers and journalists toward the end of every legislative session since we began publication in 1974.
The idea? To get beyond campaign propaganda and lawmakers’ self-serving communications, which could leave voters thinking that the Legislature and the fictional town of Lake Wobegon have a lot in common—everybody is above average.
The people we survey know the Legislature better than anyone, because they work with—and observe—lawmakers daily. But those observers have a lot to lose from talking on the record about elected officials who decide whether bills live or die.
That’s why we’re willing to abandon our normal aversion to quoting anonymous sources’ opinions—good and bad—about others.
We sent hundreds of surveys to lobbyists, the Capitol press corps, legislative staffers, and lawmakers from outside the metro area. We asked these experts to rate local legislators on brains, integrity and perhaps the characteristic that matters most—effectiveness—on a scale of 1 to 10.
Unlike any other cover story in WW, the final product in this issue represents others’ points of view, rather than ours. In some cases, the ratings provided by the responses—we got about 70—surprised us. In most cases, respondents’ assessments mirrored our own.
One of the difficulties (and no, we have no idea why the average score in the House is substantially higher than in the Senate) in past surveys has been trying to decide where the break points between “good,” “bad” and “awful” should be. This year, we sought advice from Yung-Pin Chen, an associate professor of statistics at Lewis Clark College. He says there is no single correct approach to dividing the labels. “I don’t think there is a unique way to do it,” he says. “It’s pretty subjective.”
Because of this subjectivity, we expect the results will be unpopular with some readers of the grades as lawmakers head home from the session that ended Monday night. And yet…
“Everybody claims they hate this issue,” says one lobbyist. “But everybody reads it.”
Sen. Richard Devlin
Overall rating: 7.95
Devlin, 56, a bulky, bespectacled legal investigator who became Senate majority leader this session, is not what central casting would have ordered up for a telegenic leader. “He looks like an Ewok with a beard,” says one respondent. An ego-free, unflappable encyclopedia of legislative procedure, Devlin spent most of his time herding cats—even with Democrats enjoying a six-vote majority—but the Rules Committee chairman did pass a bill fixing many unintended consequences of a botched 2007 ethics bill. “It’s easy to underestimate him because he looks like a gnome,” says one fan. “We’ve all learned not to bet against him,” says another.
Sen. Suzanne Bonamici
Overall rating: 7.61 Integrity: 7.94
Brains: 8.02 Effectiveness: 6.88
Many observers praise Bonamici, a smiley, 54-year-old ex-consumer lawyer for her smarts and exhaustive work on consumer protection. She gets kudos for passing bills toughening Oregon’s weak vehicle lemon law and reforming debt collection practices. Her consumer-friendly bill requiring lenders to at least offer to meet with borrowers passed in the session’s final days. “May be the only legislator that reads every bill,” says one observer.
Sen. Diane Rosenbaum
Overall rating: 7.09
Integrity: 7.58 Brains: 7.11 Effectiveness: 6.58
If Rosenbaum were an article of clothing, she’d be a fanny pack—unglamorous but useful. The soft-spoken 58-year-old former communications union worker earned a reputation during five House terms as a relentless labor supporter. Her priority bill this session—a paid family leave bill—stalled in the Senate, but she did pass a key labor bill protecting workers’ rights to refuse to attend meetings. Says one admirer: “She works hard and is unflaggingly trustworthy.”
Sen. Mark Hass
Overall rating: 6.72
This laconic former TV newsman served three terms in the House, then quit in frustration at life in the minority after the 2005 session. Hass, 52, was appointed to the Senate last year and has expressed gubernatorial ambitions. He passed bills consolidating educational bureaucracies and piloting year-round school, making defibrillators more widely available, and even regulating exotic pets. The Senate Education Committee chairman’s term really ignited in June, however, when he broke with all his fellow Senate Dems to vote against a permanent corporate tax hike. That incensed many progressive D’s but pleased the Oregon Business Association (headed by Ryan Deckert, the Democrat whom Hass replaced in the Senate). Hass’ compromise vote the next day for the tax hike—dedicating the excess funds to a “rainy day” fund starting in 2011—left observers wondering whether Hass had fatally crossed public employee unions or boosted his longshot gubernatorial ambitions. “SEIU [a powerful public employee union] is going to want his nuts in a jar after his tax vote,” says a lobbyist.
Sen. Margaret Carter
Overall rating: 6.60
A 73-year-old retired Portland Community College official and currently Portland’s only African-American lawmaker, Carter entered the Legislature in 1985. This session, she became co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee. Colleagues love Carter, a stylish dresser who recently serenaded colleagues on the Senate floor and sang the national anthem at a Blazers game last season. Lobbyists are less enamored. She spent most of the session fighting budget fires, but also successfully pushed a bill that will examine disproportionate minority representation in the foster care system. Long considered the most elusive legislator, Carter became even more Oz-like as her power increased. “Absolutely inaccessible. No one gets in to see the wizard. No one!” says a veteran lobbyist. But her ratings increased for the first time in years, thanks to her jump in juice when she took over shared responsibility for the state budget.
Sen. Bruce Starr
Overall rating: 6.59 Integrity: 6.67 Brains: 6.46
As a rookie 10 years ago, Starr appeared destined for higher office. But as Republicans lost power, his luminosity dimmed. What’s left of his dark hair has gone silver, and he runs like a computer in “energy save” mode much of the time. Starr, 40, who runs a Vancouver nonprofit and does political consulting, has stuck to his primary issue—transportation, where he is a reliable vote, even crossing Republicans to support new spending. “Tends to piss off his base,” says one observer. “Knows how to compromise,” says another. Starr did appease the red-meat R’s by proposing a law that would classify killing unborn children murder—something that might have been done by his father, Charles, a more conservative, less intelligent senator who lost his seat in 2005.
Sen. Jackie Dingfelder
Overall rating: 6.47
Dingfelder, 48, is an environmental consultant who emits nearly as much energy as the wind farms she tirelessly supports. She vaulted into the Senate this session after four terms in the House. Virtually guaranteed her seat for life in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, Dingfelder chaired the Senate Environment Committee with passion that verged on stridence. She passed bills raising Department of Environmental Quality fines for the first time in decades and paved the way for possible removal of the Klamath River dams. But the session’s marquee environmental bill—a cap-and-trade regime aimed at reducing greenhouse gases—failed. “Couldn’t move climate [cap and trade],” notes one lobbyist. Several also commented on her inflexibility, with one saying, “It’s not that she doesn’t know how to collaborate, she just doesn’t want to.” Maybe that’s why her gap between “brains” and “effectiveness” was wider than any other Democratic senator’s.
Sen. Rick Metsger
Overall rating: 6.44
Many voters still recognize Metsger from his 16-year stint as a KOIN newscaster, and he retains the charm and glibness that made him effective in that role. Now 57, he covets higher office, but a 2008 run for secretary of state fizzled. “Seems tired of the Legislature,” says one survey respondent. While bigger names will probably keep him out of the 2010 governor’s race, observers credit him as one of the wiliest, most independent members of his caucus. A cigar-chomping dealmaker who enjoys a post-hearing drink, he won plaudits as Senate transportation chairman for ushering through the first gas tax hike since 1993, then showed his independence by voting against a Metolius River protection bill dear to two senior colleagues. He also ticked off the unions who bankroll Democrats by sponsoring a bill that reopened the ballot to third-party candidates. “Refreshing to have a committee run on time with crisp, clear leadership and no bullying,” says a lobbyist.
Sen. Larry George
Overall rating: 6.28
George’s ruddy complexion and his ready-for-YouTube speeches hint at his two jobs outside the Capitol: He spends a lot of time outdoors as a hazelnut merchant, and he’s a top Republican political strategist. The son of former Sen. Gary George, Larry is a leader of the GOP’s anti-tax and land-use squads. And at 41 and still in his first term, he positioned himself perfectly to take home massive pork to his district with $192 million for a Newberg-Dundee bypass. Talk in the lobby says he and his pal, GOP vice chairman Russ Walker, agreed not to refer a $960 million transportation bill (including a 6-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase) to the voters in exchange for that big hunk of bacon. “To the degree there are brains in the Senate Republican caucus, they are mostly housed here,” says one lobbyist. (That observation is borne out by George enjoying the widest spread of “brains” over “effectiveness” in his chamber.) “Smart but ruthlessly political,” says another.
Sen. Rod Monroe
Overall rating: 6.18
Looking more like a wax rendering of himself each day, Monroe, 66, soldiers onward for his outer-Southeast Portland constituents, although observers increasingly wonder why he bothers. Monroe first entered the Legislature in 1976, then served on the Metro Council for 12 years before returning to Salem in 2007. “[He’s] the best argument for term limits,” says a critic. “For someone who has been around public policy since before dirt was invented, [I’m] surprised at his lack of knowledge or interest in particulars,” says another. Monroe’s scores bear that out—although he’s in the majority party, he’s tied for lowest effectiveness ranking in the Senate. The Legislature’s only foreign-born member (Canada), Monroe did help resolve a snafu that threatened full-day kindergarten but largely served in obscurity.
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson
Overall rating: 6.03
Slow-moving, slow-talking and seemingly bleached of all color, the 63-year-old nurse from East Multnomah County reliably holds down the bottom of the GBA rankings. This year, she picked up the lowest ranking for brains. An eight-year legislative veteran, she chaired the Health Care and Veterans’ Affairs Committee and gets some credit for shepherding a voluminous cost-containment bill for health care through the Capitol. “She made a very positive contribution to the session by hearing bills and having conversations that Rep. [Mitch] Greenlick just wouldn’t deal with,” says another. This response is more typical: “Slow thinker. Naive.”
Sen. Martha Schrader
Overall rating: 6.01
When former Sen. Kurt Schrader won election to Congress last year, his wife, Martha, traded her Clackamas County Commission seat for Kurt’s spot in the Legislature. Kurt was a notoriously prickly but effective co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee (his score for effectiveness in 2007 was 2.51 points higher than his wife’s). Martha, 55, proved herself to be less competent in her first term, but she’s at least pleasant about it. She worked diligently on veterans’ issues, but was noteworthy for little else beyond bringing rural Clackamas County-style bling to the Senate chamber, sporting outsized bracelets and necklaces. (Her husband rocked Western-style shirts and cowboy boots.) “No Kurt—but nicer,” says one lobbyist.
Sen. Ginny Burdick
Overall rating: 5.96
The thrill seems to be gone for Burdick, 61, a onetime Associated Press reporter turned PR maven. Frankly, it’s surprising to see just how far Burdick’s star has fallen—from fourth overall in 2001 among senators to the basement this year. Although the sometime cyclist chaired the powerful Senate Revenue Committee, Burdick pedaled around the edges doing wheelies rather than be at the center of the action. She slashed the rapidly growing Business Energy Tax Credit program but was a bit player in the income tax dramas. Her highest-profile effort came on a bill in which she had a personal interest: Burdick helped colleague Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) muscle through a measure protecting the Metolius River, where both own property. “Where has she been this session?” asks one business lobbyist. “Constantly misses floor session, late to her committees, lets her staff take most meetings.”
House Of Representatives
Rep. Dave Hunt
Overall rating: 7.99
In his first term as House speaker, Hunt, 41, exhibited the lobbying and managerial skills he picked up representing Oregon ports and serving as president of Baptist Churches USA. Despite the challenge of corralling 36 fractious members, the business-friendly Democrat ran his caucus more smoothly than his predecessor, never bringing a bill to the floor without the votes to pass. “Very nice first term as a speaker—far more effective than [now-U.S. Sen. Jeff] Merkley ever was,” says a veteran lobbyist. “He has a photographic memory and understands human motivation,” says another. A workaholic given to texting staff in the wee hours, Hunt angered enviros by casting a no vote against Metolius River protections and slighting them in the $960 million transportation bill. In a late-session gaffe that may have dented his chances at higher office, he assured passage of an income tax hike with written promises to the Eastern Oregon district of Republican Rep. Greg Smith (Heppner) in exchange for Smith’s vote. Many considered putting the offer on paper maladroit. “What a rookie!” said one longtime lobbyist.
Rep. David Edwards
Overall rating: 7.91
Although he gets little press and may be the member of his caucus most likely to own a pocket protector, Edwards is clearly one of the House’s all-stars, even though he did not pass the high-profile legislation his lofty scores might suggest. That led a couple of lobbyists to ask whether he’d faded after a strong freshman session in 2007. “What happened to this guy?” questions one lobbyist. But Edwards, 42, who owns a market research firm, served on both the full Ways and Means Committee and two Ways and Means subcommittees. Those assignments mean he spent much of his time on largely invisible—but vital—work of determining where scarce dollars go. He did pass a touted green workforce training bill and was a liaison to the governor’s office on economic development. “Raw brain power and good political instincts make Edwards a serious player in most major discussions in the Capitol,” says a business lobbyist.
Rep. Tina Kotek
Overall rating: 7.55
In her second term, Kotek continued to impress many with her preparation and no-nonsense approach. The Legislature’s only openly gay member, Kotek chaired the Ways and Means subcommittee on human services. And she did the serious work on the Health Care Committee, working closely with Rep. Mitch Greenlick to pass a massive healthcare bill that leverages $1 billion in additional federal money to give 135,000 uninsured Oregonians coverage. Kotek, a 42-year-old consultant, won praise for her organizing and vote-counting roles as majority whip. Some find her humorless—one of the high-profile bills she passed required menus to disclose calorie content—but more echo one supporter’s assessment: “She is the smartest House member.”
Rep. Mary Nolan
Overall rating: 7.38
Nobody’s ever doubted that Nolan, 54, is cerebral and tough. In her first term as House majority leader, the austere, sometimes acerbic aviation company owner swallowed (most of the time) her disappointment about not being elected speaker. She gets credit for turning the wonky “Big Look” task force report into land-use legislation and fixing stalled Measure 49 reforms. Many fans groaned, however, at her vote against the speaker’s transportation bill. After persuading caucus mates—particularly those in swing districts where tax hikes are politically perilous—to vote yes on the measure, she confused observers and her own caucus by voting no. Although she took the vote to appease unhappy enviros, the maneuver blotted an otherwise stellar term. “It was incredibly selfish,” says one observer. “It made her look like a real hypocrite.” Another lobbyist disagrees: “Great listener. Clear and direct. You know where you stand, always.”
Rep. Jules Bailey
Overall rating: 7.36
A diminutive but decidedly non-dismal economic consultant from the inner-Southeast Portland district that is among the state’s most liberal, Bailey earned the top scores in a celebrated freshman class. Although he got ink for a lightweight proposal to require publicans to pour “honest pints,” he earned far more respect for his ability to bring an analytical framework to issues. An energy-efficiency bill he passed will allow homeowners to finance retrofits from the savings earned, creating jobs and saving fuel. Bailey, 29, also treated the aisle between the two caucuses more like a bridge than a moat. “Stands out among Democrats as someone who will work with unusual allies to get things done,” says one lobbyist.
Rep. Jeff Barker
Overall rating: 7.33
Barker, a taciturn 65-year-old retired Portland police lieutenant, looks like he could still bust heads if needed. He does not grandstand or jerk people around. “Still waters run deep,” says one observer. He’s a former editor of the Portland police union’s newsletter, The Rap Sheet, and one of his caucus’s most conservative members. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he played scoutmaster to a voluble crew of high-profile freshmen lawyer-lawmakers over hot-button issues such as how to delay implementation of Measure 57, the 2008 public-safety initiative that threatened to expand an already gaping budget deficit. “Manages a complex committee with grace and ease,” says one observer.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick
Overall rating: 7.32
Greenlick, 74, a vinegary former Oregon Health Science University professor who is battling a rare form of cancer, scored an enormous policy victory in this otherwise money-starved session. He pushed through a $400 million hospital and insurance-provider tax that provided health insurance to 135,000 low-income Oregonians, as well as a hefty health-care cost containment bill. As in his previous three terms, lobbyists respected the cantankerous Greenlick more than they liked him. “A needed visionary for healthcare reform,” says one. “Not interested in listening to anybody who doesn’t agree with him,” says another, echoing a common refrain. “He can be so atrociously rude that people don’t even take it personally anymore.”
Rep. Ben Cannon
Overall rating: 7.31 Integrity: 7.38
Cannon, 33, possesses the raw material that makes political consultants salivate: The tall, handsome Rhodes scholar chose to be a private schoolteacher rather than cashing in on his brains. “No one in the Legislature has a better combination of smarts and sense,” says one admirer. Cannon refuses special-interest campaign contributions and is courageous enough to have challenged Oregon’s powerful brew lobby this session with an aggressive tax hike proposal. He also passed the session’s biggest environmental win, an emissions reduction measure. Cannon’s scores jumped from his first term, but like other Portland legislators, he may sometimes suffer from living in an echo chamber. Despite Dems’ sizable majority, the beer lobby threw Cannon’s tax out like a drunk at closing time. “A bit naive about how conservative many Democrats are,” says one environmental lobbyist.
Rep. Michael Dembrow
Overall rating: 7.24
Of all the scores in this survey, Dembrow’s surprised us the most. Not because we thought the Portland Community College English instructor is a dunce or suffers from halitosis, but because the 57-year-old freshman is a latecomer to electoral politics. His reserved manner could allow him to be easily overlooked in a class and caucus full of healthy egos. “More of a workhorse than a showhorse,” says one lobbyist. He helped to pass a labor-friendly bill that prevents employers from forcing workers to attend meetings.
Rep. Chip Shields
Overall rating: 7.20
Integrity: 7.69 Brains: 7.31
Perhaps no Portland lawmaker is more closely associated with a single issue than Chip Shields, whose bullet-shaped head makes him look like a cop or nightclub bouncer rather than the House’s liberal conscience. The former head of a nonprofit that helps inmates re-enter society, Shields, 41, is the go-to guy for lefties on criminal justice—and, in his turn-’em-loose approach, the anti-Kevin Mannix. “Won’t be satisfied until every criminal is free,” says a business lobbyist. Shields spent much of the session working with Rep. Jeff Barker to plug gaping holes in the public-safety budget. As he’s matured as a lawmaker, Shields has tried to move beyond Johnny One Note status, with mixed results. “Effective legislator because he picks his battles,” says one Portland lobbyist. “Spends too much time tilting at windmills,” says another.
Rep. Chris Garrett
Overall rating: 7.19
This district, formerly represented by Greg Macpherson, sends effective, low-key lawyers to Salem. Garrett, 35, a corporate lawyer at the Perkins Coie firm, got a jump on other rookies by working an earlier term for Senate President Peter Courtney. Maybe that experience is why he came in a close second to Jules Bailey in rookie-of-the-year voting. He’s less loquacious than fellow rookie lawyers such as Jefferson Smith and Brent Barto, but many respondents found that self-effacement refreshing. He earned praise for pushing a bill synthesizing the work of the “Big Look” land-use task force. “Very straightforward and exceptionally bright,” says one respondent.
Rep. Carolyn Tomei
Overall rating: 7.02
Tomei, 73, a former social worker, seemed to get re-energized by chairing a committee for the first time in five terms. Her scores showed the second-largest increase of any lawmaker. As chairwoman of the Human Services Committee, she passed bills on foreign adoption, fake cigarettes, requiring insurers to cover cervical-cancer vaccine, and outlawing gabbing on handheld cellphones while driving. A little bit like Mother Superior in the old TV series The Flying Nun, Tomei “is out to save us from ourselves, whether we want to be saved or not,” says one staffer. Others give her high marks for challenging lobbyists who work her committee. “Knows how to cross-examine a witness while being respectful.”
Rep. Greg Matthews
Overall rating: 6.89
A hard-charging Gresham firefighter, Matthews can get overshadowed in an expansive freshman class dominated by politically connected lawyers and activists. Matthews, 44, represents conservative East Multnomah County, and as a result certainly is not a feather in the party’s left wing. But the former Army paratrooper and Gresham cop passed bills prohibiting employer discrimination against veterans and granting first responders broad coverage for work-related cancers. “Listens to all sides and usually comes to his own conclusions,” says one lobbyist. “The ideologues in his caucus hate him,” says another, citing Matthews’ reluctance to toe the party line—until he succumbed—on income tax hikes.
Rep. Scott Bruun
Overall rating: 6.87
It’s hard to feel sorry for Bruun: He swam against the Obama tide in 2008 to beat a better-financed Democratic opponent. He’s a successful 43-year-old construction industry exec, and he’s got infomercial-pitchman good looks. But Bruun’s stuck in the minority. And because he diverges from his caucus in calling for higher K-12 funding and is not a reliable knee-jerk vote, he’s a man without a country, best known this term for passing a bill that made the Dungeness crab the state crustacean. “Seems to be leveraging his moderate Republican status very effectively,” says one lobbyist. “The kinder, gentler face of the GOP,” says an observer.
Rep. Tobias Read
Overall rating: 6.80
Read, 33, a Nike footwear developer, got a workout this term. Anti-LNG protestors picketed his home after Read, who chairs the House Sustainability and Economic Development Committee, did not satisfy their demands to kill pipeline projects. He also oversaw a bitter battle over the future of Oregon’s nascent solar industry, leading more than one lobbyist to call him Speaker Hunt’s “garbage man.” That role explains observations such as this one: “A thoughtful, well-meaning legislator who enjoys finding his own solutions to problems, but at the same time commonly upsets both constituents and interest groups.” After Sen. Mark Hass’ no vote on a corporate tax increase threw Democrats into a tizzy, Read proposed an elegant compromise for his carpool buddy—redirecting the increase into a rainy-day fund after four years. That initiative satisfied lawmakers, if not tax critics.
Rep. Brent Barton
Overall rating: 6.50
Despite looking barely old enough to attend his senior prom, Barton, 29, holds degrees from Stanford, Cambridge and Harvard Law. He’s not shy about sharing those credentials. “Scary smart, and too often reminds people of it,” says one lobbyist. An associate in the Perkins Coie law firm, Barton represents constituents who are more likely to own chainsaws than champagne collections. Perhaps that’s why the Bus Project member and son of noted trial lawyer Bill Barton split with party liberals by opposing protections on the Metolius River. His signature bill cracked down on metal theft, a favorite pastime for rural tweakers. Barton’s yes vote on income tax hikes will be cushioned in his swing district by earmarks for two transportation projects—one in the Sunrise Corridor, the other in Estacada.
Rep. Larry Galizio
Overall rating: 6.35
A peppery Portland Community College instructor who at 45 has the build of a long-distance runner, Galizio slipped in the rankings this year. Perhaps he’s been distracted by a new wife and baby and by the completion of his Ph.D. dissertation. Galizio spent much of his time in Salem helping pass the Go Oregon stimulus package and working to restart Oregon’s economy with a capital construction bill. “Bright guy but totally in the pocket of labor, now that he’s married to an AFSCME lobbyist,” says a critic.
Rep. Chris Harker
Overall rating: 6.34 Integrity: 7.03
An easily overlooked player in this year’s freshman class, Harker came to politics late, getting appointed to replace Suzanne Bonamici a year ago when Bonamici went to the Senate. “Who?” says a lobbyist active in Harker’s district. “Barely registered a blip during the session.” A 55-year-old former medical researcher who founded a company that produces software for grant-seekers, Harker is one of the few male lawmakers who sports an earring in the Capitol. More importantly, he put his medical and tech experience to work as lead negotiator in passing a healthcare cost-containment bill. “He asks great questions and was independent enough to go against leadership on the transportation bill,” says one lobbyist.
Rep. Suzanne VanOrman
Overall rating: 6.22
After beating mixed-marital arts fighter Matt “The Law” Lindland in a close race, this retired Head Start administrator, 69, seemed to get overshadowed in her caucus. Known for starting sentences with “as a former Head Start director,” her priority bill mandated giving a parental health awareness manual to Head Start families. Of all the lawmakers rated, VanOrman probably drew the fewest comments, either on surveys or in follow-up interviews. “She listens and is measured,” says one lobbyist. “A good addition to her caucus.” Says another, “My gut says if the Republicans field a credible candidate, she will be a one-termer.”
Rep. Jefferson Smith
D-Outer Southeast Portland
Overall rating: 5.93
Politically active since he left the crib and a founder of the Oregon Bus Project at age 27, the voluble, hyperkinetic Harvard Law grad, now 35, looked ready to hit the ground running in his first term. But he earned a reputation for being long-winded, unfocused and tardy. “Truly scattered,” says one lobbyist. Smith reached across the aisle to work with Rep. Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton) on water storage, although no new law resulted. And he teamed with his ideological opposite, Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer), to push a government transparency bill that was close to passage as this issue went to press. One observer predicts, “Once he figures out what to focus on, he will be a force.” Others are less sanguine. “Much better campaigner than legislator,” says a lobbyist. “His motormouth was a turnoff in the legislative context.”
Rep. Mike Schaufler
Overall rating: 5.85
A former contractor who no longer gets his hands dirty—nor has a job outside the Legislature—Schaufler, 49, resembles an extra from The Sopranos. The keg-shaped lawmaker favors shiny suits and suspenders and loads product into his steely hair. He chaired the House Business and Labor Committee with an iron gavel, unapologetically silencing anybody he perceived as disloyal to trade unions. As a conservative Democrat, he continued to be a swing vote on tax and environmental issues. Not surprisingly, lobbyists were widely mixed on his skills and ranked him far higher for effectiveness than brains. “Dumb as a stump and relevant as hell,” says one lobbyist. “Runs on emotion and don’t bother him with the facts.” Says another: “A refreshingly honest and sincere voice in a building full of truth-stretchers. Doesn’t try to be anything more than he is.”
Rep. Nick Kahl
Overall rating: 5.52
An ebullient, wise-cracking Lewis Clark law student, Kahl, 32, looks like he still does some couch surfing. Never timid, Kahl tugged on the City of Portland’s cape by passing legislation curtailing the city’s aggressive use of urban renewal money, and passed a bill that allows local governments to pass tobacco taxes. Kahl’s frenetic approach caused some to wince and others to say, “Wow!” “Great addition to the Legislature,” says one. Says another, “He’s the short, chubby, bald version of [former Republican Rep.] Derrick Kitts: won’t shut up and thinks he’s a genius.”
Rep. Bill Kennemer
Overall rating: 5.46
A former state senator and Clackamas County commissioner, Kennemer won a big-bucks race to replace former House Majority Leader Wayne Scott for the GOP. Some reruns are hard to watch, however. For a guy who’s on his second legislative career at 62, the well-groomed psychologist seemed worn out from his brutal 2008 victory, aside from passing a bill that would allow psychologists to prescribe drugs. “Brighter than he usually lets on, he’s mellowed ideologically since he last served,” says a veteran lobbyist. Another lobbyist who worked with him in his last legislative tour is less kind. “Still a putz,” the lobbyist says.
Rep. Chuck Riley
Overall rating: 5.12
In his third term from a swing district in Washington County, Riley, 70, a retired techie whose white hair and beard make him look like an economy-sized Santa, continued to earn low marks. The priority bill for Riley, who inhabits an RV in Salem during session? Cracking down on predatory towing companies—a real, if not earth-shattering, state issue…unless Riley’s rig is double-parked. Even Democratic lobbyists who throw “10s” around like dimes shave points when rating Riley. “Might just be operating in a parallel universe,” says one. “The D’s’ crazy uncle in the basement,” says another skeptic. “How’d he get elected?”
Rep. Matt Wingard
Overall rating: 4.23
A boyish, pencil-thin former TV reporter who does communications work for the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute and an online charter school, Wingard, 36, is unquestionably bright. He also faces a steep hurdle—trying to get people to forget 2008 revelations that he hit his then-7-year-old son eight years ago with a screwdriver and deprived him of food, among other unusual parenting strategies. He’s not only an archconservative in a House dominated by Dems but out of touch with many GOP’ers. “I can’t believe he holds a seat in the Oregon Legislature,” says one longtime lobbyist. “A self-marginalizing ideologue,” says another.
News intern Katie Litvin contributed to this report.