As we have done near the end of every legislative session since 1977, WW surveyed Salem lobbyists, legislative staffers and journalists to get their views on metro-area lawmakers.
Our goal is to get a candid assessment of the men and women who make Oregon's laws and write the budget.
Normally, WW uses anonymous sources sparingly. But this story is entirely based on the anonymous comments of respondents who risk losing access or even their jobs if they were to speak openly about lawmakers.
We sent our survey to capitol insiders, asking them to rate lawmakers on a scale of 1 to 10 on three different criteria: integrity, brains and effectiveness. A lawmaker's overall score is the average of those categories.
We got 56 surveys back from a variety of respondents across the political spectrum. And while this is hardly a scientific poll, the range of those surveyed, from union members to business lobbyists, from environmentalists to those who make their money in the resource extraction business, is a pretty fair representation of this state.
Some context: This year, Democrats snatched back control of the House by a 34-to-26 margin, and in the Senate retained a 16-14 advantage. That's good news for Portland-area legislators, most of whom are Democrats. The other news is that, because of an improved economy, the Legislature had an additional $1.25 billion to spend.
While that might suggest a session filled with accomplishment, with less than a month to go before lawmakers go home, it appears this will not be a landmark year in the history of the Oregon Legislature.
Instead, the session will be best remembered for fruitless wrangling over gun regulation, a largely failed attempt to bring public-employee retirement benefits into line with reality, and the naive passage of funding for the Columbia River Crossing bridge project.
So how did legislators from the metro area fare? Among veterans, some lawmakers age like big-ticket pinot noir. Others rot like old grapes.
As for rookies? We learned that an injection of new blood has enlivened the House, and addition by subtraction has made it a more pleasant place to work.
Here's the scorecard for the class of 2013:
Every office has an IT geek without whom nobody's computer would work. In Salem, Devlin, 60, plays that role, and in this survey scored the highest of any Portland-area lawmaker. The owlish, retired legal investigator has served in Salem since 1997 and now co-chairs the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee. Every session, he gets kudos for his fiendish grasp of arcane detail. "Brilliant, hardworking and very strategic," says an admirer. Devlin crafted Senate Bill 822, which achieved a first round of PERS reductions totaling about $800 million (that bill left many members wanting deeper cuts, a situation unresolved at press time). Lobbyists praise Devlin for that rarest of political traits, getting results without calling attention to himself. As one lobbyist put it, "Kind of the nerdy kid who goes unnoticed by most but is smart and crafty at positioning [Democrats] in the budget process, so [he's] almost unnoticed until after it's done."
Steiner Hayward, 50, a sunny family-practice physician, wowed observers in her first full session. "Outstanding!" says a GOP lobbyist. She served on two Ways and Means subcommittees, plum assignments for a newcomer. She passed a bill providing incentives for doctors to serve in rural areas, and added valuable health-care knowledge to the upper chamber. One observer thinks she could tone it down. "Super smart and super chatty. Obnoxiously so." "Needs to let her seniority catch up with her mouth," says a lobbyist. But insiders like her nerve. "She's got balls to take on her own employer [Oregon Health & Science University] in legislative hearings,â says another.
When rural Oregonians stereotype Portlanders as tree-hugging Subaru pilots, they are talking about Dingfelder. "What you see is what you get: which ain't much unless you are capable of photosynthesis," says a business lobbyist. A diminutive Energizer Bunny whose day job is as an environmental consultant, she chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Dingfelder, 52, a lawmaker since 2001, is rising in the estimation of our respondents. This session, she pressed for a ban on the practice of suction-dredging, a mining technique environmentalists hate. That bill is stuck in committee. Another initiative, relaxing the requirements for people who braid hair, passed both chambers. "Progressive, reliable," says an admirer. Adds a lobbyist, "She's learning to work with her committee members and others.â
Senate Majority Leader Rosenbaum is second banana to Salem's senior lawmaker, six-term Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem). That title should confer power, but her effectiveness score is low, a recognition, many insiders say, that she doesn't play a meaningful role. "Seems totally irrelevant on key negotiations," says one respondent. "Lets Courtney run the place." Rosenbaum, 63, who also chairs the Senate Rules Committee, served five terms in the House before entering the Senate in 2009. Her biggest accomplishment this session was passage of a foreclosure mediation bill, which proponents hope will fix the flawed process that currently exists. "Majority leader?" asks a Democratic lobbyist. "Has anyone told the majority?"
When you are a smart, handsome and peevish Democrat, you are either the governor or Hass, 56, a former television reporter. Because he has many of the skills politicians require—looks, speaking ability and an eye for big issues—people often suspect he's got his eye on higher office. Pushing ambitious tax reforms does little to dispel such talk. "Running for governor is hard," says one lobbyist cynically of Hass, who entered the Legislature in 2001. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Hass refined initiatives from the 2011 session, pushing through independent boards for Portland State University and the University of Oregon. His bill expanding dual-credit opportunities for high-school students is still alive. "Last of the dying breed of true moderates," says a business lobbyist.
Starr, 44, an ambitious second-generation lawmaker, serves as the president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures. A lawmaker since 1999, he ran a curiously uninspired campaign for the state labor commissioner's job last year and lost to incumbent Commissoner Brad Avakian, who even Democrats thought was vulnerable. "Seems to have dimmed his enthusiasm for public life," says a lobbyist of Starr's loss. Marooned in the minority, the longtime transportation specialist played a major role in passing the Columbia River Crossing bill early in the session but looks to be biding his time for another stab at higher office. "Should exert himself more in his caucus," says one observer. "Senate [Republicans] need lots of help, and Starr is a smart guy."
A wily tactician and skillful orator who's been in the minority since first being elected in 2007, George, 45, is like a guy who knows 100 ways to make love but doesn't know any women, respondents say. "Seems totally willing to accept the caucus's inability to get anything done and blame it on numbers," says one disappointed observer. "Should stop trying to fool people with words or hair dye," says another. George spent most of the session holed up with his caucus-mate, Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas), working on potential new taxes. The idea was to convince Democrats to agree to deeper PERS cuts in exchange for more revenue. "The most effective [Republican]," says one lobbyist. âSuper smart,â says another.
Thomsen, 56, who exhibits the calm that befits somebody who grows pears for a living, may be the quietest man in the Senate. Some people are OK with that. "Probably the nicest guy in the Oregon Legislature," says one lobbyist. "There's some smarts under the 'I'm just a pear farmer' schtick," says another. Thomsen's strong support for tuition equity and driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants is in sync with the agricultural lobby but still courageous for a Republican. Many say Thomsen, serving in his second full session, needs to elevate his game. "Has the potential to be a voice of reason and a real leader in his caucus, but he has to be willing to step up to the plate," an observer says.
It's a myth that Monroe knew Lewis and Clark personally, but it's true that he was first elected to the Legislature in 1976, before four current House members were born. Monroe, 70, a retired teacher who served on the Metro Council for a dozen years, says on his website that he still runs five miles a day. But observers say he's run out of energy as a lawmaker. Monroe tried and failed to pass same-day voter registration, an idea popular elsewhere, and at press time he was still pushing doomed legislation that would allow counties to levy their own alcohol and tobacco taxes. Many observers say Monroe is ready for a gold watch. "One of the most talked-about legislators—mainly about when he is going to retire," says one lobbyist. Should he depart, that would tee up the candidacy of a constituent, former Rep. Jefferson Smith.
Burdick makes more headlines than laws. "Two words on effectiveness," writes one respondent, "gun bills." If Salem's top arms-control expert can't pass anti-gun measures after the Newtown, Conn., and Clackamas Town Center shootings, maybe it's time to turn to something more achievable, like cold fusion. Burdick, 65, a reporter-turned-PR consultant serving in her eighth session, also chairs the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee. That puts her in the middle of Salem's long-running pipe dream: tax reform. Like gun control, tax reform ain't happening. Burdick did help pass a bill preventing employers from gaining access to employees' social-media accounts. Lobbyists acknowledge Burdick tackles big issues, but her initiatives often fall short. "Way past her expiration date," says a critic.
Shields, 45, who chairs the General Government, Consumer and Small Business Protection Committee, is like a photoshopped magazine cover that promises more than its content delivers. "He never comes in with a plan beyond kicking insurance companies in the nuts," says a lobbyist. "Has rolling hearings over broad issues, and nothing happens." Since graduating to the Senate in 2009 after three House sessions, Shields has focused on ever-increasing health-insurance premiums. This session, the clinic administrator worked on bills that would bring insurers under the jurisdiction of Oregon's unfair trade practices act and force them to pay environmental cleanup claims more rapidly—a measure wanted by companies on the hook for paying for the cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund site. Both bills are still alive.
Some lawmakers approach their work with the precision of Swiss watchmakers. But to hear insiders talk, Monnes Anderson, a 67-year-old retired nurse, is lucky just to find her way to the capitol each day. "Given her seniority, she should know by now how to get things done," says an observer. But Monnes Anderson, who has served in Salem since 2001 and chairs the Senate Health Care and Human Services Committee, often seems confused, observers say. Her scores showed the biggest gap between integrity and brains of any lawmaker in this survey. She did find some success in two of the bills she worked on this session: pay parity for nurse practitioners, which is still alive, and permission for certified nurse anesthetists to write prescriptions, which passed both chambers. One observer referred to a gaffe during her re-election race last year: "Let her nursing license lapse last year," the observer says. "Good thing you don't need a license to legislate."
Olsen, 65, a building contractor in his second session, came to politics late in life. Some wonder why he bothered. He often appears lost amid a group far more experienced than he is. No lawmaker showed such a big divergence between integrity—Olsen's got plenty—and effectiveness, where he falls short. "He has spent four years in Salem without leaving a trace," says an industry lobbyist. "If he loses, international jewel thief might be a good second career."
House of Representatives
Unflappable and good-natured, Garrett, 39, is a third-termer who gets better each session. In a field populated with self-promoters, this buttoned-down corporate lawyer lets his work speak for itself. "Level-headed in a caucus that kept straying," says one observer. Garrett serves as speaker pro tem and chairs the House Rules Committee. After co-leading legislative redistricting in 2011, Garrett spent this session trying to trim Oregon's prison spending, although he failed to roll back Measure 11, Oregon's mandatory sentencing law, in an effort to shrink the state's prison population. "All star," says a veteran lobbyist. "Smart, cares, works hard. Should be governor or speaker someday."
In just three terms, Kotek has risen to the third-most powerful position in the capitol. The first out lesbian to lead any House in the U.S., Kotek, 46, deftly steered the controversial $450 million Columbia River Crossing bill to passage early in the session. She kept union supporters happy by holding off deeper PERS cuts. But she embarrassed herself by claiming she had enough votes to increase business taxes and income taxes on the rich—and then failed to deliver. She also struggled with focus. "We did a rough count in the lobby, and we think she's up to having 411 priority bills," writes an observer. "Every constituent who knocks at your door isn't a crisis." Still, Kotek generally held together a fractious group. "Solid management of the House—painted herself in a few corners, but she has performed well," says an observer.
Bailey, 33, is known for elegant solutions and fashionable clothes. As an economist, he brings an effective mixture of idealism and pragmatism to Salem's sausage factory. He chairs the House Energy and Environment Committee. He passed a bill extending solar-energy pilot programs. "Improving by leaps and bounds," says one respondent. "Still often thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, but he's at least willing to listen to the rest of us."
Williamson, 39, a smiley first-termer, has ably replaced Mary Nolan, who resigned her seat for an unsuccessful run for Portland City Council. A former First Amendment lawyer, Williamson spent a couple of sessions in Salem lobbying before running for office. That familiarity with the capitol is worth a lot in a culture proud of its traditions. As a rookie, Williamson chaired the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety. "You've usually got to be here for 10 years to get that kind of assignment," says an observer. "Freshman of the year," says one of many admirers.
Monkish and dour, this longtime Portland Community College English teacher and faculty union leader is predictably labor friendly. As chairman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, Dembrow, 61, pushed through a tuition-equity bill allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Oregon colleges and universities. Although one lobbyist calls Dembrow a "partisan hack," several others share this assessment: "Works hard behind the scenes, solid lawmaker."
Think of Randy Leonard with more hair and less attitude, and you have Matthews, 48, a Gresham firefighter and the chairman of the House Veterans' Services and Emergency Preparedness Committee. His top bill this session would grant tuition equity to veterans. It has not yet passed but is still alive. Matthews is a staunch union vote but moderate on other issues, which explains his bipartisan appeal. A Matthews bill that would reclassify public-safety supervisors as rank-and-file union members was still alive at press time. People value his honesty. "You always know where you stand with Matthews, even when you don't agree," says a typical response.
Barker, a no-nonsense 70-year-old former Portland Police Bureau detective, is like an old cowhand who breaks in new horses. In his case, the horses are the ambitious, mostly young lawyers who populate the House Judiciary Committee that Barker chairs. Along with Matthews, Barker stands in the political middle of the House and is known as a straight shooter. A rare law-and-order voice among House Democrats, Barker also pushed through a bill this session providing better passenger rail coordination in the Northwest. Says a frequent visitor to his committee, "Consistently moderate and helpful to those of us in the middle."
Two bum hips and cancer have not slowed this tart-tongued former medical researcher. Greenlick is 78, but no lawmaker's mind is quicker. "Has announced he will be running for re-election in 2030 as cryogenically enhanced legislator," says one commenter. After a frenzied session of health-care reform in 2011, the House Health Care Committee chairman this session tried to end the practice of unqualified teachers bumping less senior but more qualified teachers during layoffs, a big problem in Beaverton. Despite opposition from the teachers' union, that bill is still alive. Never wildly popular because he's impatient and blunt, Greenlick is widely respected. "Thoughtful, consistent, and—for better or worse—independently minded," says a lobbyist.
Vega Pederson, 38, one of two Hispanic lawmakers elected in 2012 (Hillsboro's Joe Gallegos was the other), replaced former Rep. Jefferson Smith, who gave up his seat last year to run unsuccessfully for Portland mayor. Vega Pederson helped pass the bill granting undocumented immigrants driver's licenses, and also worked on a kindergarten-readiness bill that was still alive at press time. "Surprisingly strong," says a Democratic lobbyist. "Is going to be very good." Others think she needs more steel. "Wishy-washy, flip-floppy, pliable, bendable, malleable," says another lobbyist.
Rookies and Republicans do not always fare well in this survey, but Davis, 30, a business lawyer who looks barely old enough to vote, impressed observers with his thoughtful, low-key approach. Davis replaced Matt Wingard, who did not seek re-election. "A star is born—too bad this exceptional Republican exists in Oregon's deep blue constellation," says a business lobbyist. Says a Democrat, "If the Republican Party behaved like Rep. Davis, they might win a statewide election."
Tomei, 77, who could be a stunt double for former Portland Mayor Vera Katz, inspires wildly different responses from lobbyists who've worked with her in her seven terms in the House. "Best values in the capitol; staying untarnished after a decade in office is amazing," says an observer. Others think she's exceeded her shelf life. "Why is she even here?" says a lobbyist. Tomei passed a bill that will make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on pimps. Part of what people admire about Tomei, who chairs the Human Services and Housing Committee, is that she's above the petty feuds and vote trading that besmirch some lawmakers' reputations. "She is the most respectful and caring member of the House," says an observer.
Doherty, 62, a former teacher and teachers' union official, took on a big task in her second term: Kotek picked her to replace fire-breathing former Rep. Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley) as chair of the House Business and Labor Committee. That panel hears a torrential volume and variety of bills. Many lobbyists applauded the kinder, gentler chair. "The nice auntie I never had," says one. "Too much time on irrelevant bills," gripes another. Doherty passed a bill that prevents employers from forcing workers to hand over their social-media passwords. Several people note her labor-friendly approach. "Never met a union proposal she didn't love," says an observer. "Her committee became known as the House Labor and Labor Committee."
Keny-Guyer, 54, holds an enviable position: She's wealthy, sits in a safe House seat and is not chasing higher office. The Mount Tabor earth mother showed her independence in December as one of the few Democrats to criticize the special session devoted to preserving a favorable tax code for Nike. A few lobbyists think she's too laid back. "I wish she'd stop thinking she was new and take on more," says one. Keny-Guyer was the sole sponsor of a successful measure that will allow mothers to bring home their placentas from the hospital after giving birth. Her bill calling for cultural competency training for medical providers also passed. Critics say she's a nanny-stater. Says one, "Floor speech she dreams about: 'The people sent me to Salem to get Snickers out of state vending machines, and I won't rest until every Ding Dong is gone.'"
Unger resembles a walking coat rack, towering over nearly everyone in the House in both height—he's 6 feet 6 inches tall—and energy. The rookie lawmaker also brought a distinctive sartorial style to Salem. "The worst-dressed person this session. He must dress himself in the dark," says a critic of Unger's hipster attire. A political consultant, Unger, 37, passed a bill that allows farmers to accept food stamps. But during session, he still found time to work as a paid consultant on Portland's ill-fated fluoride campaign. "Needs to focus on governance and stop campaigning," says one respondent.
As a reporter for KGW and later spokesman for Portland Public Schools, Frederick, 61, covered a lot of territory. He still does as a member of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. He's a generalist as a lawmaker too, having served three terms without carving out an expertise all his own. The Legislature's only African-American male, he is a strong voice on equity issues. He pushed legislation that will require the criminal justice commission to study racial profiling, and he passed a bill that requires the owners of foreclosed properties to maintain them. Some observers think he's overlooked. "Smartest legislator nobody listens to," says a lobbyist.
One of the youngest members of the legislature, Fagan, a 31-year-old rookie, is also one of the busiest. A member of the David Douglas School Board and a lawyer at the Ater Wynne firm, she had her first child shortly before defeating incumbent Rep. Patrick Sheehan last year. Her affection for social media, including Facebook brawls with Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), caught observers' eyes. "Hey, we all can see you twittering when you should be paying attention in committee," says a lobbyist. Fagan pushed Mayor Charlie Hales to spend money on sidewalks after a young constituent was hit by a car and killed. "A little too sure of herself at times, but an up and comer," writes a fan. "Thin-skinned and easily baited," says a critic.
Johnson, 56, a flinty home builder and Hood River school board member, has the jeans, boots and mustachioed look of Gov. Kitzhaber. He has built as strong a relationship with the governor as any Republican, based on a shared view of education and PERS reform. Sometimes mentioned as a possible statewide candidate, Johnson is a man without a country in a caucus characterized by disorganization and ineffectiveness. Labor lobbyists hate the second-termer. "Has he ever met a public worker he has not wanted to tip upside down and empty their pockets?" writes one. But the consensus view is more positive: "Knows what he wants to accomplish and works hard at it.â
Gallegos, 71, a retired University of Portland professor known for his quick smile and soft voice, struggled for visibility in a strong class of freshman lawmakers. "No wonder they hid him during the campaign," says one critic. A bill Gallegos pushed that would require greater transparency of the costs of higher education was still alive at press time. "Stated on the House floor that 'cultural competence is job creation,'" says another critic. "That ought to stop the exodus of businesses from the state."
With great ambitions come great expectations. Before the session, Read, 37, chair of the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee, suffered a disappointing loss to Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Eugene) for House majority leader. "You didn't get to be majority leader as Kotek promised you," says one lobbyist. "Get over it. It was months ago, and you had a committee to run." The lanky, raw-boned former Nike footwear developer's business-friendly approach is out of style in his caucus. "Whines about his party's leadership (which he is a part of), then follows their orders blindly," says one. A strong fundraiser with Silicon Valley and D.C. connections, Read played a central role in pushing through the Columbia River Crossing funding bill, but otherwise it was a disappointing session for the fourth-termer, who, one critic sniffs, is ânot as smart as he thinks he is.â
When your pals live in Portland, moving to Clackamas and then Oregon City shows a fearsome desire to be a lawmaker. After winning a Clackamas House seat in 2008, Barton, 33, a lawyer, served a term and then lost a race for the Senate in 2010. Sidelined for the 2011 session, he carpetbagged to Oregon City and won the seat vacated by former House Speaker Dave Hunt (D-Gladstone). Without a committee chairmanship, the Harvard Law grad seemed underemployed—witness the big gap between his scores for brains and effectiveness. "No gavel and very sad about it," says an observer. Barton did pass a bill increasing funding for workforce training but failed at his highest-profile bill, one that would penalize college coaches who commit NCAA violations and then flee, a la Chip Kelly. "Why did Barton run again?" asks an insider.
A former Portland cop who now teaches criminal justice and geography at Mt. Hood Community College, Gorsek, 55, scored at the low end of his rookie class. "Does not do his homework," says a critic. "I thought 'State Legislative Process 101' or 'How a Bill Becomes a Law' were required for all freshman," says another. After defeating incumbent Rep. Matt Wand (R-Troutdale), Gorsek seemed not to know what to do next. He spent a lot of time trying to make the TriMet board, currently appointed by the governor, larger and appointed by local governments. That went nowhere.
Kennemer, 66, a spiky-haired psychologist, is one of the most experienced politicians in the House. "Brings lots of wisdom to the process," says a respondent. Problem is, that wisdom doesn't lead to much. The former state senator and Clackamas County commissioner passed a bill that allows fishermen to throw fish guts back into the water from whence they came. He also passed "Boring and Dull Day," which twins his constituent city, Boring, with an equally uninteresting burg: Dull, Scotland. "A breed that's almost vanished—a centrist," says one lobbyist.
Harker, 59, a tweedy former OHSU researcher, now runs a small software company. The third-termer's unwillingness to play the game—raise big money and kowtow to labor interests—has left him outside the mainstream of his caucus. That showed when party leaders snubbed him in his quest to replace former state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Beaverton), whose district Harker is in. "What happened here?" asks a respondent. "Potential that fizzled." This session, Harker sponsored one of the earliest bills Gov. Kitzhaber signed into law—the new policy allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver's licenses. Harker is no dummy, but many observers question his focus. "Strange cat," writes a lobbyist. "He doesn't seem to have figured out what he wants to be when he grows up."
Last year, business and labor supporters united behind the controversial incumbent in this district, then-Rep. Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley), and he looked hard to beat. But the Oregon League of Conservation Voters recruited a political unknown, Reardon, a genial former shop teacher and Tektronix manager. Against all odds and without displaying much in the way of political chops, Reardon won. And insiders say the best thing that can be said about Reardon, 66, is he's not Schaufler. "Total lack of impact on process or people," says an observer.
This rating proves that while populism makes headlines, it does not play well with political insiders in either party. Parrish, 38, a dynamo who recently sold her business, Coupon Girls, rocketed to the No. 2 spot in her caucus in only her second term. Blunt and outspoken, she is a leader of the club of legislators who insist on making laws based on anecdote and personal experience. "The mouth that bored," says an observer. "May I get you a cup of shut the fuck up?" She pushed for laws that would have regulated poker parlors, set aside 5 percent of Oregon Lottery proceeds for veterans and try to force midwives to be licensed (many are not). Those bills failed. But betting against a battler who has twice defeated better-funded Democrats and vaulted over more-experienced caucus-mates would be a mistake. "The darling of the press," concludes an observer, "the nightmare of everyone else.â
News intern Alex Blum contributed to this report.