Since 1977, WW has surveyed Salem lobbyists, state Capitol staffers and political journalists to get their views about the performance of Portland-area lawmakers.
Our goal is to get an assessment of the men and women who make Oregon's laws and write the state budget. And what emerges is a broad—and sometimes piercing—picture of how our legislators do their jobs in Salem.
We sent surveys to Capitol insiders to rate lawmakers on a scale of 1 to 10 on three criteria: integrity, brains and effectiveness. This year, we heard from nearly 70 people from across the political spectrum. Some included comments about every lawmaker. Others just gave us their scores.
We crunched the numbers and came up with average ratings for each lawmaker. The overall score determines how we rank the legislator: excellent, good, bad or awful.
With the House evenly divided at 30-30 for the first time in history, and Senate Democrats holding a slender 16-14 advantage, gridlock and triage defined this session. Don't look for many earth-shattering accomplishments.
There were some surprises and some dramatic shifts from our 2009 survey.
House Majority Leader Dave Hunt (D-Gladstone), for instance, plunged from the top ranking he earned during his stint as House speaker. Meanwhile, Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-Portland) climbed in the survey.
Critics may find fault with our approach.
For one thing, we keep the identities of the respondents confidential. It would be nice if people talked on the record, but we doubt that would provide readers with an honest take. We use anonymous sources here for one simple reason: Lobbyists, staffers and reporters risk losing access—or even their jobs—if they speak candidly and on the record about legislators.
Of course, nobody likes to be ranked unless they rank first. Liberals may say conservative lobbyists were unfair to them, and vice versa. But the responses show a surprising degree of consistency regardless of the political views of the respondents and the party of the legislator.
But that hasn't stopped some from trying to tip our survey in their favor. One lawmaker, who shall remain nameless until we name him later in this story, even went so far as to launch a face-to-face and email lobbying effort for higher scores in this year's edition.
Please judge for yourself. What follows is our 2011 edition of the Good, the Bad and the Awful.
Bonamici, a genial 56-year-old former consumer lawyer, is that kid in the class who did all her reading and helped the slackers with their homework. "The best of the best," says one lobbyist. She tackled the thorny task of redrawing legislative boundaries this term. Lawmakers redraw district lines every 10 years, an exercise that can have enormous consequences. The general assessment is that Democrats will benefit from her work, although she may not. The political sensitivity of redrawing legislative boundaries complicated the choice she's been wrestling with for months: whether to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. David Wu in the 1st Congressional District primary. "Oregon's most responsible and alert legislator. Should run for Congress," says one lobbyist. Yet for somebody who's considering a bigger stage, Bonamici still exhibits a curious reticence. "She's a good legislator, but she's a little icy," says another lobbyist. "Maybe someone can write her good material. She needs to relax a little."
Devlin, 58, a shy, slow-moving bear of a lawmaker, was placed in charge of the Legislature's honey pot this term. The former legal investigator moved from Senate majority leader to co-chairing the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee. "More of a legislative mechanic than leader," observes one veteran lobbyist. The shift fit the eight-session vet because he's better at juggling numbers and policy than he is at politics. "One of the least arrogant people in Salem. Extremely good with details," says a lobbyist. And the Good, the Bad and the Awful issue would not be complete without at least one reference to Devlin's facial hair. "The Amish called," quipped one insider. "They want their beard back."
If you tipped a carton of Super Balls onto a concrete floor, you'd have some idea of the cohesiveness of Senate Democrats—and the challenge Rosenbaum faced this session. Rosenbaum, a 61-year-old former communication workers' union official, replaced Sen. Richard Devlin as majority leader, the person expected to enforce caucus discipline and get everybody rolling in the same direction. Rosenbaum spearheaded two bills that extended unemployment coverage. In doing so, she retained the qualities that have endeared her to many. "One of Oregon's best advocates on many issues involving workers and women," says one respondent. But she also struggled with her new assignment. "She seems really exhausted and distracted," says a longtime observer. "Wonder if she's spending more time trying to figure out how to become the next Labor Commissioner?" (Current commish Brad Avakian is running for Congress.)
Hass, 54, retains the looks of the television newsman he once was, but he's no empty suit. His plastic-bag ban died, but a bill giving higher ed more independence sailed through. The chairman of the Senate Education Committee's relationship with the Oregon Education Association was frosty as he pushed for big changes, including an Education Service District opt-out, full-day kindergarten, and a package of other reforms the union doesn't like. (That package still hung in the balance as WW went to press.) "His actions this term did nothing to diminish his image as [a] pol with one eye on higher office," says one observer. Says another, "He swings for the fences, which means a lot of strikeouts (bag ban, full-day kindergarten) but the occasional home run (SB 242—Higher Ed reform)."
Shields, 43, a ringer for David Letterman sidekick Chris Elliott, used to be a Johnny One Note, beating his drum for the liberalization of the criminal justice system. But in his first session in the Senate, after replacing Sen. Margaret Carter, he focused on health insurers, introducing a slew of legislation that would add transparency to rate setting. The insurers foiled him, but his efforts will make their gouging of consumers tougher. "Tireless advocate for social change. Is always well-prepared and even-tempered," says one admirer. Others wondered about his ability to win on his issues. "The PT Barnum of the 2011 Assembly," says a business lobbyist. "No member barked more about bills that were going nowhere. Couldn't cut a deal with a Ginsu 2."
Dingfelder, 50, is an environmental consultant who always runs full tilt and sports the Senate's best helmet of hair. Her professional expertise made her a natural to chair the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee for the second session. Dingfelder's highest visibility bill would have banned the chemical BPA in baby products. The measure passed the Senate, but House Republicans bottled it up. Dingfelder's zeal has made her a lightning rod in the closely divided Senate. "She's a knee jerk liberal. She knows her position before she knows her argument," says one observer. "As a result, she's not effective."
Starr, 42, is a second-generation lawmaker who runs a Vancouver nonprofit and works as a political consultant. He toyed with a challenge to U.S. Rep. David Wu this session. Known as one of Salem's leading voices on transportation issues, Starr appears to be spinning his wheels these days. He co-sponsored House Joint Memorial 22, a feel-good measure urging federal funding for the Columbia River Crossing project. That measure floundered. He did pass a bill terminating the parental rights of a rapist if a child is conceived as a result of the rape. "What happened here? From Transportation package king to ex-vice chair to Siberia. How many votes did he miss this session?" says one lobbyist. "He thinks more highly of himself than people in the building do," says another.
George, 43, a ruddy-faced hazelnut processor, is one of Salem's sharpest political minds. But he's never been in the majority since coming to Salem in 2007. Long active in the property-rights movement, George is nonetheless tough to pigeonhole. He proved that with an eloquent speech in favor of a top civil-rights bill backed by Democrats: a measure to give tuition equity to undocumented immigrants. "Definitely the brains of his caucus," says one admirer. "An isolationist who wants the adoration and fan base of someone who works out in the open,â says another. âNo humility.â
Burdick, a 63-year-old public relations exec serving in her eighth session, chairs the Senate Revenue Committee. In that role, she ratcheted back tax breaks, including the controversial business energy tax credit. She also spent a great deal of energy trying to reform the "kicker," a quixotic effort that ended in failure. "A rock in the Senate—honest, kind, open-minded," says one fan. But others say Burdick is a mediocre lawmaker who ought to be more productive given her long political experience. "The cap gains/kicker tax package was good copy but policy which could never, ever pass at the ballot box," says a lobbyist.
Monroe, 68, was first elected to the Legislature in 1976, the same year Jimmy Carter was elected president. Unlike Carter, he won't go away. Monroe's commitment to public service—which also included stints on the Metro Council and two college boards—is commendable. But it's also fair to say he has not set Oregon's political world on fire. One insider called Monroe "quietly ineffective." Says another longtime observer: "Would be better if he was awake more often. Is he still in the Legislature?"
Thomsen, 54, now occupies the Senate seat formerly held by longtime incumbent Sen. Rick Metsger. To get it, Thomsen bested Democratic boy-wonder Rep. Brent Barton in the 2010 election. Thomsen—a taciturn pear grower and former Hood River County commissioner—has built a reputation as a thoughtful moderate. He passed a bill that allows the expansion of tourist attractions on farmland and another that frees up some excess cash at the Department of Justice. "His non-ideological approach is refreshing," says one veteran lobbyist. "Supported the tuition equity bill. Said it wasn't a hard vote despite all the angry phone calls."
This 65-year-old retired nurse has the political heft of a hummingbird. She has consistently underwhelmed onlookers since entering the Legislature in 2001 and landed near the bottom of our rankings. Although Monnes Anderson chairs the Senate Health Care committee and co-chaired the Health Care Transformation Committee, she gets little respect from those who watch those panels. "Repeatedly disappointing. Totally vanilla and unimpressive," says one. "This nurse needs a doctor," adds a longtime lobbyist. "She's in over her head on healthcare reform."
A rookie at 63, Olsen, who defeated incumbent Sen. Martha Schrader (D-Canby) in 2010, is a building contractor who likes to cite Wikipedia in his frequent but rarely illuminating questions on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Olsen did pass a bill that eases licensing requirements for contractors working on their own property and federal lands. "Martha Schrader was no gem, but man…Clackamas County got the short end of the stick," says one observer. "Noted for asking a lot of questions, only occasionally constructive," adds a critic.
House of Representatives
When he decided to run for the Legislature in 2006, Cannon, 35, a lanky middle-school teacher and Rhodes Scholar, decided not to accept special-interest money. That saved him from pandering to lobbyists but also limited his leadership prospects: The House Democratic caucus likes to reward members based on how much cash they raise for the team. Although he's a teacher, the Oregon Education Association declined to endorse him in 2010, which attests to his independence. This session, Cannon oversaw the biggest expansion of Oregon's bottle bill in nearly 40 years. "Makes things happen," says one veteran lobbyist. "Did a fantastic job with the bottle bill overhaul," says another. "Gets a lot done for a Portland liberal," says a grudging admirer.
In her three terms, Kotek, a 44-year-old nonprofit consultant and the Legislature's only openly gay member, has climbed the ladder rapidly in her caucus, combining laser-focused discipline and strong political instincts. She's speaker pro tem—which means she wields the gavel when the House speaker is off the floor—and a member of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee. More than one respondent raised the possibility of her becoming the third woman in state history to preside over the House. "Madam Speaker 2013?" wrote a lobbyist. Her straight-ahead approach can also be a weakness. "Can be Spock-like in her focus and lack of humor,â says another.
Garrett, a 37-year-old corporate lawyer at the Perkins Coie firm, exudes calm and competence. Those qualities landed him on the House Rules and Judiciary committees, and earned him the challenging job of co-chairing the Redistricting Committee. That task deprived him of the time needed to push much legislation, but his success in helping hammer out Democrat-friendly maps means he'll probably never have to buy a drink again. "Smart, moderate, respected by all," says one lobbyist. "Redistricting will prove to be the biggest Democratic win of the decade, once approved and signed into law," says another.
The 37-year-old co-founder of the Oregon Bus Project settled down a little in his second term. The 6-foot-4 chatterbox successfully pushed a voting rights expansion, worked with Republicans to pass bills promoting the growth of small business, and pushed back against a bill promoting the Columbia River Crossing project. Buttoning his lip (and lobbying the lobbyists for higher scores in our survey!) helped give Smith, 37, one of the biggest increases in this year's ratings. "Seemed more focused this session. Not the showboater that some people seemed to think he would be," says a business lobbyist. "Pretty independent for a leadership member," says another observer.
Barker, a flinty, 68-year-old retired Portland cop, ran for the Legislature as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After a decade making laws rather than enforcing them, he retires as one of the building's most respected members. The Judiciary Committee he chaired for the past two sessions met more often and handled more legislation than any other panel. "He does not grandstand or jerk people around," says one insider. "This is one guy who follows through," says a fan. "He will be missed."
Bailey, a cerebral, 31-year-old management consultant, saw his overall rating drop slightly after being the highest-scoring member of the bumper crop of 2009 rookies. He gets praise this session for helping conceive, and then pass, Gov. John Kitzhaber's program to retrofit schools for better energy conservation. He co-chaired a panel on tax credits as it cut giveaways by $300 million—although some watchers think he still harbors a fondness for tax breaks. "Quiet, brainy, effective, knows how to build bridges to the other side." One criticism of Bailey is that he likes to fly solo. "Too willing to think he can come up with silver-bullet policy solutions on his own," says one insider.
A wiry, longtime Portland Community College English teacher and faculty union leader, Dembrow, 59, sometimes forgets he's not lecturing inattentive students. But Dembrow moved up the ratings substantially in his second session. He put his experience to work co-chairing the Education Subcommittee on Higher Ed. He earned bipartisan respect for his crusade for a tuition equity bill that passed the Senate but stalled on the House floor. Another bill that would bring together community colleges, schools and the Bureau of Labor and Industries (which oversees apprenticeship programs) to beef up technical education at the high-school level won broad bipartisan support and was still under negotiation at press time. Some people still want to consign Dembrow to the list of lawmakers who reflexively did organized labor's bidding. "Shill for the unions," complains a critic. But others complimented his integrity. "Means what he says, and says what he meansâa rare combo in the Capitol,â says one lobbyist.
Nolan, 56, a sharp—and sharp-tongued—small business owner, tried to kill the king and nearly killed herself in the process. Last fall, she challenged her longtime rival, then-House Speaker Dave Hunt, for caucus leadership—and lost. The former co-chair of Joint Ways and Means and 2009 House majority leader saw her clout diminished in the wake of that defeat. Nolan soldiered on and regained her enthusiasm as the session progressed. She chaired the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety and labored much of the session to find budget savings in the Corrections Department budget; a deal fell apart late. She's rumored to be considering other offices and to be a candidate to head the Oregon Department of Revenue. Views of her future are mixed. "She needs to find another office to run for. She's been sidelined, and she's not getting off the bench," says one lobbyist. "Those who count her out do so at their peril," says another. "She keeps track and badly wants back."
Johnson, 54, a home builder and chairman of the Hood River County School Board, topped all House rookies in this year's survey. Although not a member of the Education Committee, he emerged as a major player in a session-ending power play that saw House Republicans, Kitzhaber and a group of House Democrats face off against the Oregon Education Association. Johnson earlier championed a bill that would have limited school-district spending increases to the amount of money actually available—but OEA sideswiped that one. "Definitely the freshman with the biggest impact," says one admirer. "Finally, a Republican who's a natural-born lawmaker and can talk public education," says a business lobbyist.
Greenlick, 76, a sometimes-cantankerous former professor at Oregon Health and Science University, has survived knee replacement, advanced cancer, and frustrating years when the Democrats were in the minority. All that gives him carte blanche to do and say exactly what he wants. And Greenlick, razor-sharp and acerbic, takes full advantage. Whether he's pushing through ambitious and complex healthcare reforms—such as this session's health-exchange bill, which will aid uninsured Oregonians—or holding the building hostage to get Jory soil designated as the state's official dirt, he is refreshingly blunt. "Pretty much single-handedly brought healthcare reform to the state," says one lobbyist. "Doesn't get much credit, mostly due to his strong personality."
Eyre Brewer, a 45-year-old CPA and senior tax manager at the Schnitzer family's Harsch Investment Properties, enjoyed a strong rookie session. She co-sponsored a successful bill to elevate strangulation to a felony—notable because the change is one of the few examples of lawmakers passing a bill that requires new spending. She also brought her financial skills to bear in criticism of an emerging sacred cow, the Columbia River Crossing project. "Impressively independent," says one lobbyist. "Needs to slow down a little," says another. "Talks more than she listens."
Harker, 57, a whippet-thin former OHSU researcher, now runs a company that produces software for academics seeking federal grants. Harker's bill expanding greenhouse gas regulation passed; he joined Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) in a gutsy (for a Democrat) effort to change the way school districts budget, and he played a role in a bill that should bring about higher-ed reform. But many observers say he has yet to harness his potential. "Thinks he knows more than he does. Needs to be more patient," says one lobbyist. Another is more harsh. "It's time for Rep. Moonbeam to take the next transporter back to his home galaxy, far, far away," says one Democratic lobbyist.
Doherty, a diminutive, 60-year-old former teachers' union official, was appointed to replace former Rep. Larry Galizio and won her seat in 2010. As a rookie, Doherty helped pass a bill that will make it easier to reintegrate returning veterans, and she proved to be one of her caucus's loudest voices for education funding. "Doherty is a populist. Her bills protect people who shop online and school kids. A really solid voice for education," says one observer. Says one skeptic: "Talks a good game but a union goon at heart."
Read, 35, a rawboned Nike footwear developer in his third session , is one of relatively few Democratic House members who earns a private-sector paycheck. That distinction makes him a go-to guy for his caucus on business issues: Read co-chairs Transportation and Economic Development and sits on the Revenue and Tax Credit committees. Despite—or perhaps because of—those high-profile assignments (he also served as vice-chair of redistricting), he's earning a reputation as an underachiever. "Losing potential at an alarming pace," says a business lobbyist. "One wonders if he read the bills he scheduled or understood their significance," says an environmental lobbyist.
Hunt, 43, who works for a port association, topped the Good, the Bad and the Awful's House charts in 2009, when he was speaker. But after presiding over a 2010 election in which his caucus gave up six seats (some in clumsy fashion), he lost out for the co-speaker's position to Rep. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay). His scores plummeted this session, particularly his marks for integrity. "Hunt would sell out his own mother," says one lobbyist, repeating a sentiment now shared even by some House D's. He successfully fought to add more than $100 million to the K-12 budget and passed a bill that allowed increased sea-lion hazing. "He seems not to have noticed he led his caucus to a wipeout last session," says one observer. But even his detractors recognize Hunt's intellect and drive are a powerful combination. "Never count Dave Hunt out," says another. "Weakened but not done yet."
Frederick, 59, a former television newsman and Portland Public Schools spokesman, is the only African-American man in the Legislature. Known for his stirring floor speeches on equity issues, he also played a key role in passing a bill that will make it easier to redevelop the brownfields that dot his Northeast Portland district. "An unremarkable record so far, though his heart's in the right place," says one insider. "Marginalized by his knee-jerk ideology," says a business lobbyist.
Matthews, a 46-year-old Gresham firefighter, is one of the leaders of the Democratic caucus's conservative wing. The former Army paratrooper and Gresham cop pushed a campaign-finance reform bill that earned headlines but went nowhere. He fought hard for bills that would have augmented and protected 9-1-1 funding, but lost out on those as well. "Definitely an independent thinker," says one observer. "Mark Nelson's favorite Democrat," sniffs another, referring to one of Salem's leading business lobbyists.
A former state senator and Clackamas County commissioner, Kennemer, 64, made an impassioned push for campaign-finance reform this term, but his effort went nowhere. Kennemer, who co-chaired the House Business and Labor Committee, is a psychologist and sometimes appeared to be engaging in therapeutic catharsis during his floor speeches. Three times he bemoaned the vicious tactics he claims Democrats used against him in 2008. Opinions varied widely on Kennemer. "A breed that's almost vanished—a centrist," says an admirer. "He very selectively picks priorities and moves them forward, working both sides of the aisle." Says another lobbyist, "He's a whiner, a loser and a totally ineffective legislator."
Tomei, 75, went after hookah lounges this session, gaining a ban on expansion of a business popular with impressionable teens. She also passed a sex-trafficking bill that creates new criminal penalties for johns who patronize child prostitutes. There's always widespread disagreement about Tomei in our rankings. Social services advocates think she is Mother Teresa; others think she's well-meaning but little more. "An advocate for the vulnerable. My most admired." As another puts it, "Sweet lady, but not impressive for her passion or skill."
Lindsay, a clean-cut, 38-year-old intellectual property lawyer at the Lane Powell firm, took on a huge assignment for a rookie: defending his party in the redistricting process. It occupied much of his time, and opinions are mixed on how he did. "Got the best deal he could for Republicans in redistricting," says one observer. "You might think he deserves higher marks, but the redistricting plan clearly favors Democrats," says another. "So while he got it done, he likely assured Democratic control of the House next session."
A methodical construction lawyer, Wand, 35, overcame a massive registration disadvantage in his East County district to unseat incumbent Democrat Nick Kahl. Baby-faced and unassuming, Wand kept a low profile that was more a reflection of his first-year status than any lack of ability. He passed a bill to ensure Lottery dollars earmarked for economic development are spent on that, rather than sliding into counties' general funds as has sometimes happened. "Tough, articulate and wily," says one lobbyist. Some people found him a little parochial. "Thinks the world revolves around Troutdale," says a detractor.
Schaufler, 51, is a raging bull in a Capitol that skews toward quiet and polite. As WW reported, the former contractor now lives off his legislative pay and campaign funds. He excels at spending contributors' money on bar tabs, cable bills and numerous other expenses as allowed by Oregon's lax campaign-finance laws. Schaufler co-chaired the House Business and Labor Committee with an iron gavel. He won a big victory over the enviros he despises by ramming through legislation that would make siting gas pipelines easier. "A bully on his committee. Not OK to intimidate the public with diatribes and stifle testimony," says a lobbyist. "Get a job please…leave," says another. "Your schtick is tired, old, used up and we are sick of it. We all know: 'keep the beer cold and you are happy'—ridiculous."
Many Democrats would rather hold a Taser to their tongues than say anything positive about Wingard, 38, who co-chaired the House Education Committee in his second session. Disagreements with his Democratic co-chair, Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), brought the Ed Committee to an early halt. But Wingard, a PR consultant who represents charter schools, skillfully maneuvered a package of charter school-friendly bills into an end-of-session poker game. In effect, Gov. John Kitzhaber and some Democrats ended up supporting them in order to get the school reforms they wanted. "Say what you want, he's outwitted his Democratic co-chair every step of the way," says a Democratic lobbyist. "Smartest guy in the room," says a Republican. "Just ask him."
Sheehan, a 37-year-old Conan O'Brien lookalike who runs a small advertising firm, struggled to find his footing in his first term. He pushed a bill to keep traveling Westboro Baptist Church loonies from Kansas well away from funerals, but the bill died in committee. "Bright and eager, but a little too calculating," says one lobbyist. "Has a large portrait of Keith Richards in his office," noted another.
Parrish, 37, a coupon-company owner, came out of nowhere to claim this seat when Rep. Scott Bruun left it to run for Congress. She wore flip-flops on the floor, co-led an insurrection in the House Education Committee when Democrats would not move Republican bills, and went on a late-session sippy-cup shopping spree to protest a bill to ban the chemical BPA from children's products. She also passed a bill allowing a much-needed road to be built near Tualatin and pushed a charter-school bill that looked likely to pass as WW went to press.
What's unclear is whether she can channel her energy into effectiveness—or whether she'll get that chance. "A tea-partier disliked by both [major] parties," says an observer. "Admire her lack of filter," says another. And, as one lobbyist sums Parrish up, "Flip-flops as a shoe choice is classy—really, have some respect for the process.â
News intern Evan Sernoffsky contributed to this report.