Why have we done this for 32 years?
Because there's no better way to assess the region's 38 legislators as good, bad or awful than to ask the lobbyists who know them best—and because nobody has less incentive than lobbyists to speak candidly.
We recently sent more than 120 surveys to lobbyists for business and unions, advocates for single causes and contract lobbyists who represent all comers. These are the people who mingle with legislators each day, buy them meals, drinks and Hawaiian junkets, and finance their election campaigns. And we also checked in with legislative staffers and members of the legislative press corps.
We asked respondents to rate lawmakers on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest) in three areas: integrity, diligence and effectiveness. Then, we averaged those three numbers to calculate an overall score: Above 8 is "Outstanding"; from 7 to 8 is "Good"; from 6 to 7 is "Bad. Below 6, think about becoming a lobbyist.
But we didn't stop there. We asked survey respondents to elaborate. We got plenty of comments in the more than 30 surveys we got back and more from dozens of supplemental interviews.
But how best to capture the avalanche of commentary about semi-famous figures in a profession many call "show business for ugly people"? By magnifying average citizens' core qualities through a comic-book lens. And voilà: You get super—and not-so-super—heroes like Bud-Man, Dr. Cranio and The Power of Brown.
This session has been the first since 1989 that the Democrats have controlled the House, Senate and governor's chair. That homogeneity allowed Oregon's legion of comic-book characters to join forces to pass some landmark legislation. They created a "rainy day fund" by diverting the corporate tax refund known as the "kicker," enacted civil-rights protections for gays, and capped interest rates on short-term loans.
But our heroes also dodged real ethics reform, left untouched the personal income-tax kicker, and at press time appeared to be punting priority issues like a Measure 37 fix, a higher tobacco tax and an increase in the corporate minimum tax to the November ballot.
Inside the Capitol, the supes' powers may be absolute. But for some, the scrutiny our survey brings is like Kryptonite.
"I hate the 'Good, Bad, and Awful,'" says one legislator. "Because we don't have a chance to respond." Exactly.
Sen. Richard Devlin as: Doctor Cranio
Devlin, a legal investigator, may be one of the least known members of the Oregon Senate. But there's little doubt he's among the very best.
"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.
When both the House and Senate committees that deal with higher ed were at an impasse with the co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, Devlin brokered a deal. "He's done a lot of shuttle diplomacy," says one insider. "He understands every line in the budget, the policy implications, and people want to work with him."
Unlike many pols, the gnomish Devlin shuns the spotlight. "He's got no ego and really doesn't care about credit," says another lobbyist.
His biggest weakness as he ponders a run for state treasurer? "He's got no charisma," says an admirer.
Sen. Kate Brown as: Power of Brown
The pixieish lawyer, who has served in the Legislature since 1991, is a Portland liberal icon and the Senate majority leader. "Smart and savvy," is the assessment of one left-leaning lobbyist.
Several insiders noted there have been fewer examples of Democratic chaos than in 2005 when Brown routinely failed as majority leader to count votes or maintain discipline am
ong her colleagues—such as when former U.S. Rep. Les AuCoin's nomination to the Forestry Board had to be withdrawn amid her crappy vote-counting.
Brown's done better this term, such as on Senate Bill 2, the gay-rights bill barring discrimination. But many say she still struggles to keep her colleagues in line. Dems grumble, for instance, that she's given Sen. Kurt Schrader far too much rope on budget issues and let senators' pet causes—such as Sen. Ryan Deckert's open primary bill—come to the floor without enough votes to pass. Many members regard such votes as a huge waste of time.
"A weak leader who can't or won't enforce discipline on her caucus," says one skeptic. "Time to move on."
But where? With U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) staying put as the congressman from Brown's east Portland district, her next move is up in the air.
Sen. Brad Avakian as: Shape-shifter
Most people agree that Avakian, a rookie senator after two terms in the House, has shaken the image of a marginally effective hothead and become a player.
The swarthy, intense lawyer gets high marks for successfully championing the governor's green energy bill that requires 25 percent of Oregon's electricity come from renewable sources by 2025, and for chairing his Environment and Natural Resources Committee like an old pro. "As a committee chair, he's well-prepared and flexible," says one fan.
He also won points for being open to issues that clearly don't fit him or his base, such as entertaining a bill in his committee that would re-legalize the use of hounds for cougar-hunting.
The praise is not universal, however.
"Avakian likes to sponsor big-picture legislation—like on 'No Child Left Behind'—[that is] showy but unlikely to have much effect," says another lobbyist.
Sen. Kurt Schrader as: Marlboro Man
Few legislators provoke a wider range of responses than the co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which controls the state purse strings.
A veterinarian by trade, Schrader has an unmatched grasp of budget details, and nobody questions his brains.
"He's really smart," says a veteran lobbyist.
But perhaps doctoring four-legged patients who cannot talk has deprived him of the people skills to match.
"Thinks he's God (or a personal representative)," says one lobbyist.
Schrader, whose rugged features and western wear echo another misanthropic Capitol cowboy, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, has a reputation for holding bills hostage, hoarding information and not communicating. Lobbyists say Schrader jammed up bills ranging from a tiny $188,000 allocation to the University of Oregon's Labor education and Research Center to the multi-billion Department of Human Services budget.
"He had hundreds of bills sitting on his desk, and the lack of information left a lot of the service providers pitted against each other in a vacuum," says one healthcare lobbyist.
Sen. Avel Gordly as: Lone Wolf
Gordly quit the Democratic Party after the 2005 session when her colleagues decided to close their caucus meetings to the press.
In becoming the Legislature's only Independent, Gordly undercut her own relevance this session and scored so low on effectiveness that it plunged her into the Bad category. With an 18-11 Senate majority, Democrats rarely needed her on votes, and an African-American woman from Northeast Portland had little in common with Republicans.
She stuck to her core issue: mental health.
"She holds caucuses on the issue that are focused and effective," says one observer.
Of particular interest to Portlanders, Gordly, 60, the first African-American woman elected to the Oregon Senate, also pushed through Senate Bill 116, which aims to rein in predatory tow-truck operators.
Sen. Ryan Deckert as: Robin
Overall : 6.66
An aging wunderkind first elected to the Legislature at the age of 24, Deckert, now 36, has never quite reached his potential.
Small, smiley and smart, he's chairman of the powerful Senate Finance and Revenue Committee. His top accomplishment this term was forcing his colleagues to jam the corporate kicker into a rainy-day fund.
Otherwise, Deckert seemed unfocused, spending considerable energy on a bill permitting state ownership of utilities (after Portland General Electric was no longer in play for public ownership) and inserting an exemption for the narrow interest of cigar bars in a bill banning workplace smoking.
"It's hard to tell what his priorities are, because he's involved in so many things," says one left-leaning lobbyist.
Part of why Deckert had time on his hands is that all new revenue bills must first pass the House. And two of Democrats' highest priorities, a tobacco tax and an increase in the $10 corporate minimum tax, never arrived in Deckert's Senate committee.
Deckert will not seek re-election and is pondering a run for state treasurer in 2008, when he's likely to face questions again for failing to report trips paid for by lobbyists (he was fined $150 by the state ethics commission). While many praise his understanding of Oregon's economy, they question his steel: "His need to be liked is both a blessing and a curse," says an observer.
Sen. Margaret Carter as: The Vanisher
First elected to the Legislature in 1984 as a House member, Carter—Oregon's first female African-American lawmaker—has few enemies in the lobby but also ever fewer fans.
"Margaret's had a disastrous session," says a lobbyist who's been an admirer for years.
A passionate speaker when engaged, the spry 71-year-old sponsored a controversial bill that would lift a ban on former prostitutes becoming teachers and also rallied colleagues around a bill aimed at blocking predatory lending late in the session. Otherwise, she kept what could be charitably called a low profile.
That's a problem, given her role as chair of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Human Services, which is key to virtually every state-funded social services program.
"She's absolutely inaccessible," says one lobbyist who's known Carter for 20 years. "She hides out, and her staff is too strange for words."
Sen. Rod Monroe as: Retread Man
Boomeranging back to the Legislature after 12 years as a Metro councilor, Monroe, who's best known for successfully sponsoring an anti-smoking bill 26 years ago, has failed to set the Senate afire on his return.
He besmirched his anti-smoking cred by championing an exemption for Portland Meadows from an anti-smoking measure this session because his daughter-in-law works there (see "Up in Smoke," WW, May 16, 2007).
Monroe, a pious 64-year-old fitness buff whose pinched expression suggests his suit is a size too small, was first elected to the Legislature in 1976. Some say his experience is an asset in a building of comparative novices.
"Has enjoyed playing the voice of history and brings substantial knowledge—as well as a remarkable memory to his work, particularly in the Senate Finance Committee," says one lobbyist.
Others disagree. "Rod Monroe has spent a lifetime in politics being completely ineffective," says one Capitol veteran.
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson as: Nurse Wretched
In a term when healthcare advocates hoped their issue would finally be a priority, Monnes Anderson, a nurse and chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, has found big victories elusive.
She is part of the crew that will take credit for referring the Healthy Kids Initiative, a.k.a. an 85-cent-per-pack increase in the tobacco tax, to the November ballot.
One industry lobbyist, however, says Monnes Anderson, often tentative if not outright befuddled in the past, has grown more confident.
For example, she argued forcefully for Senate Bill 948, which would tighten the requirements for hospitals to acquire "certificates of need" necessary for hospital expansions. "She really stood up to the Hospital Association on the certificate-of-need issue," the lobbyist says.
Others are less complimentary. "I don't think she understands the agenda she's working on," says a lobbyist who follows health care closely. "I don't think she works hard, and she's not very smart."
Sen. Ginny Burdick as: The Survivor
A third-term senator whose rankings are sliding, Burdick appeared to a number of observers to be faxing in her performance this session.
Best known for successful gun-control efforts in the past, Burdick gets credit for pushing through a smoking ban for bars this session. But the cycling enthusiast made headlines for a goofy bill proposing a new hand signal for pedestrians wanting to cross streets.
"She's a one-trick pony," says one lobbyist. "She picks one issue per session and beats it to death."
Even that minor bill dealing with pedestrians died in committee, and some of Burdick's former supporters wonder if her political career is over. Several say she has failed to move beyond her unsuccessful challenge of Erik Sten for Portland City Council last year. "Clearly embittered by the City Council loss," says one former insider.
Sen. Bruce Starr as: The Climber
Bruce Starr is a changed man. When he entered the Legislature in 1999, Starr, 38, was a plain-talking roofer who said locking the "kicker" in the Oregon Constitution was a great day for Republicans.
Now he's a nattily dressed sometime lobbyist who gels his hair and won't disclose his clients. And he's drifting leftward, as evidenced by his recent vote with Democrats on a bill that would prevent grocers and others from engaging in wholesale lockouts of union workers.
That vote is part of a plan to run for secretary of state in 2008, when, among other questions, voters may ask about the $300 fine he paid for failing to report a trip to Hawaii and Israel on lobbyist Paul Romain's dime.
Two sessions ago, when the Senate was split 15-15, Starr was a powerful force (unlike his father, former Sen. Charles Starr, who regularly ranked at the bottom of our survey and was defeated in the 2006 GOP primary by Larry George) who earned accolades for passing a giant bridge-funding package.
He's quieter this term.
"Starr has disappeared," says a business lobbyist. "He was such a leader on transportation before, and now he just looks depressed. Having your dad [Starr Sr., now a lobbyist] camped out in front of your office can't help."
Sen. Larry George as: Braveheart
George, also the son of a state senator (albeit one who's still in office—Sen. Gary George, R-McMinnville) figured out a long time ago that smiling a lot is a pretty effective strategy.
As a top Republican political consultant and one of the architects of the state's property-rights movement, the 39-year-old rookie faced considerable hostility this session from his Democratic colleagues, who were steamed about his role in getting Measure 37 approved by Oregon voters in 2004. D's say the measure threatens Oregon's vaunted land-use planning system.
And the stocky part-time hazelnut farmer's florid complexion reddened further as he tried to stave off a M37 rollback this session. But between interminable hearings on that issue, he converted some skeptics. "A major surprise," says one lobbyist. "Was more open to issues [than expected]."
Others praise George's intelligence, although they worry that he's still more of a property-rights advocate than a legislator. "He'll always give you an answer," says one lobbyist. "Just not to the question you asked him."
Sen. Rick Metsger as: The Dealer
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."
When beer tax and gift-card regulation bills stalled, he goosed them with amendments. He also successfully pushed headline-friendly bills limiting annoying computer-generated robo-calls and going-out-of-business sales.
Yet his style rubs even some admirers the wrong way. "Too often wants headlines and to be a 'player' more than thoughtful policy," says one business lobbyist.
Like about half of his colleagues, Metsger has his eye on higher office, probably secretary of state in 2008.
Rep. Mary Nolan as: the Flying Wonkette
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.
The owner of a small avionics company, Nolan gets credit among lobbyists for delivering a whopping 18 percent increase in K-12 funding.
"She was absolutely fabulous on K-12," says one lobbyist. "We owe her a huge debt of gratitude."
Although she's always been considered prickly, the no-nonsense Nolan came off as the good budget cop in comparison with her Senate co-chair, Schrader.
"Nolan's not the warmest personality, but she's a hell of a lot easier to interact with than Kurt," says one insider.
Rep. Jeff Merkley as: Scoutmaster
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.
Maybe Merkley changed last October when, as House minority leader, he OK'd a vicious hit piece on the Minnis family, or maybe the Ds just got lucky and he's the same Boy Scout he always was.
Regardless, Democrats taking control of the House meant his elevation to speaker, the same post that propelled Vera Katz into the Portland mayor's office.
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. The knock: still too nice. "A little too willing to respect the chaos instead of using the occasional hammer," says one observer.
Rep. Dave Hunt as: The Fixer
Here's why Dave Hunt is House majority leader: He's not from Portland, has been known to use the Bible for something other than a doorstop and plays the bad cop well to Merkley's good cop.
The majority leader's job is to make the trains run on time and encourage party loyalty inside the caucus—or failing that, to bust heads. That's a must when your party has only a slim advantage and you're trying to get gay-rights crusader Tina Kotek on the same page with a knuckle-dragger like Mike Schaufler.
Sometimes, Hunt—a Baptist minister with an Ivy League degree (Columbia)—loses his cool. He also failed to call his colleagues for key floor votes. As recently as last week, two bills, SB 336, a school bonding bill, and SB 1017, which requires the reporting of animal abuse, had to be sent back to committee because members were AWOL in droves.
Hunt, a former congressional aide who many say aspires to replace U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-5th District) someday, does get high marks for keeping a range of interestsin mind.
"Business groups were glad he was there to provide adult supervision to the liberal lefties in his caucus," says one insider.
Rep. Diane Rosenbaum as: Jill of All Trades
"Smart, feisty and liberal as hell," says one lobbyist about whom the last adjective does not apply. "You know where she stands, and it's just to the left of Lenin."
That reputation cost her the House majority leader position, which went to the more moderate Hunt.
Some people say Rosenbaum cares little for issues other than those pushed by organized labor. But the earnest, diminutive former union official won big this session on longtime priorities including bills that would make it easier for working mothers to nurse their babies and that mandated insurance coverage for contraceptives.
"It's been a great term for Rosenbaum," says one lobbyist.
Rep. Scott Bruun as: The Frat Boy
The biggest question is not whether Bruun is smart or has potential to run statewide but to which party he really belongs.
"Is he a Republican?" asks one business lobbyist. A member of Oregon politics' most endangered species, the moderate Republican, Bruun plays well with others and has the marketable good looks of a TV news anchor.
The 41-year-old scion of a family construction business, Bruun felt independent enough to cross House Minority Leader Wayne Scott and his Tony Soprano-like memory for revenge early in the session by voting for Senate Bill 426, a measure that would force school districts to join an insurance pool.
That's a big step for a second-termer, but maybe Bruun knows what he's doing: The bill has already become law.
Rep. Greg Macpherson as: The BookWorm
A Harvard-educated, third-generation legislator and partner in Stoel Rives, Portland's largest law firm, Macpherson comes as close to being a Brahmin as anyone in the Legislature.
He's long been considered one of the smartest people in the building.
Assigned both to seek a fix for the civil war surrounding Measure 37 and chair the always-contentious House Judiciary Committee, the buttoned-down bagpiper (he plays in the Clan Macleay pipe band) gamely shouldered a heavy burden this session.
With Measure 37 headed for another brutal ballot fight, Macpherson fell short of the resounding success that might have propelled him to the attorney general's position he covets.
Some question his passion and his humility, but, as one lobbyist notes, "You're doing well if the only bad thing people can say is you're too smart and too careful."
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici as: The Nanny
Lots of praise for this 52-year-old rookie: "A true superstar among the freshman—and among all the members of the House," says a business lobbyist.
A former consumer lawyer, legislative aide and schools advocate, Bonamici brings a varied experience and a ton of energy to the Capitol—along with the flat Midwestern twang of her home state, Michigan.
Although nobody attaches her name to any specific accomplishment, she noses out fellow frosh David Edwards as Rookie of the Year based on solid preparation, good questions and an ability to work well with others.
"Excellent issue mastery and skillful in dealing with R's," adds another fan.
Rep. Chip Shields as: The Bleeding Heart
Of the lawmakers in the metro area, Shields has one of the widest gaps between integrity and effectiveness.
"So honest it's hard to believe he's a legislator," says one observer.
A 39-year-old sophomore who sometimes still acts like a freshman, Shields earned praise for battling against the prison-building boom but earned the most notice for less substantial work, including a bill expressing the Oregon Legislature's lack of support for the Iraq war.
"Hey, Chip, I don't think Bush cares about your views on Iraq," says one observer.
Rep. Jeff Barker as: Straight Arrow
Overall : 7.03
Barker is a retired Portland cop who seems to have earned the respect of virtually every lobbyist in the building.
He's got a reputation for working across the aisle and finding common-sense solutions to contentious issues.
After the recent highly publicized arrest of a cheerleading coach in his district, for example, he worked with Republicans to craft amendments to Sen. Carter's bill that would strengthen the requirements for background checks for non-licensed school employees."
"That bill was dead in the House until Barker got involved," says one insider. "With these amendments, there's a good chance it will pass."
Barker's combination of maturity, intelligence and small ego makes him an effective member.
"Smart, straight shooter who tells you what he is going to do and then does it," says one observer.
Rep. David Edwards as: The Analyzer
One of two rookie House members with the same last name (the other, Chris, is from Eugene), Edwards is off to a strong start.
A 40-year-old market researcher, Edwards landed on the Joint Ways and Means Committee, a plum assignment for a freshman. Dems also put him in charge of figuring out the details of a "rainy-day fund," which he did successfully in only his second month.
Building a record is a must for Edwards, because Republicans eye his Washington County district as a prime opportunity to retake the House next year.
"He's gutsy," notes a lobbyist. "He's the Republicans' top target in '08, but that hasn't stopped him from being front and center on tax and budget issues."
The owlish Edwards also showed independence by supporting Gov. Ted Kulongoski's green energy bill, in defiance of his district's largest employer, Intel.
Rep. Jackie Dingfelder as: The Green Lantern
If there were an award for the greenest legislator, Jackie Dingfelder would probably win. More than one lobbyist says the former salmon advocate suffers from tunnel vision.
"She still thinks it's 1975 and every day is an environmental crisis," says one observer.
Dingfelder celebrated a big win on Senate Bill 838, the green energy bill that requires 25 percent of Oregon's electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. But some say that although Dingfelder is obsessed with environmental causes, she is scatterbrained.
"She's the most ADD person I've every encountered," notes an observer who works with her often.
Rep. Ben Cannon as: The Wunderkind
In addition to being the Legislature's youngest and arguably least politically experienced member, Cannon, a 30-year-old private-school teacher, also carries the tricky burden of having been a Rhodes Scholar.
That academic honor commands respect but can also unrealistically raise expectations and act as a "kick me" sign for lawmakers who value street smarts more than a two-year idyll in merry olde Oxford.
Back in dreary olde Salem, Cannon gets high marks for intelligence and for listening more than he talks. Some say he needs to learn to rely on others.
"Over-thinks way too much," says a lobbyist who met often with Cannon. "Trust us, Ben, we did the research."
Rep. Tina Kotek as: The Badger
A well-regarded freshman, the openly gay Kotek spent much of her time helping to pass House Bill 2007, the landmark civil-rights bill that established domestic partnerships for gays.
Although some try to pigeonhole her passion for gay rights as the hallmark of a one-issue politician, Kotek, the 40-year-old policy director of Children First for Oregon, also earned respect for her work on poverty and juvenile issues.
Kotek's geeky glasses and ready smile disguise the instincts of a street brawler, always useful when trying to secure funding for the lobbyist-challenged.
"Her leadership on the TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] budget piece was very important," says a lobbyist. But her low score on effectiveness knocked her out of the "good" category. And others found her tougher to deal with. "She's totally intolerant of dissenting views," says an insider.
Rep. Larry Galizio as: The Smiley Face
In a term where higher ed was the Legislature's neglected foster child until the session's waning days, Galizio played an effective game of chicken.
The rail-thin community college professor and chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education "really stood up to Schrader and Nolan," says one lobbyist. "He wouldn't move bills out of his committee with the numbers that were in their budget."
In the end, Galizio's patience was rewarded as most of the windfall from a higher-than-expected May revenue forecast went to higher ed.
"He was given a huge job and had to come up to speed virtually overnight," says an observer. Too bad his middling grades for diligence and effectiveness weren't better.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick as: The Grumpy Professor
Considering he literally started the session in a hospital bed, after a fall that required surgery on both knees, it's hardly surprising Greenlick—the House's resident healthcare guru—has struggled.
Nobody, least of all Greenlick, a 72-year-old former researcher at Kaiser Permanente and OHSU, has ever doubted his brainpower; some have questioned his personal style. "It's all about Mitch," says one lobbyist.
Part of the rub may be that lawmakers typically use lobbyists as tutors and Greenlick neither wants nor needs that help. But brains don't always translate into effectiveness, as Greenlick's ratings show. One defender, while acknowledging a lack of marquee achievements, notes that Greenlick did pass healthcare bills aimed at boosting efficiency and improving low-income access.
"He passed a couple of healthcare reform bills [SB 329 and HB 3097]," says one lobbyist. "And he did a lot around transparency and insurance issues."
Rep. Mike Schaufler as: Bud-Man
In a caucus of chai drinkers, Schaufler is a throwback—an old-fashioned union guy who thinks trees are a job creation vehicle and enviros work best as hood ornaments.
A husky former concrete contractor with a legendary thirst for Budweiser, Schaufler loves the role of being the least predictable—and, therefore, most lobbied—vote in the House.
With the Democrats' edge only 31-29, that means he gets lots of attention—and beer. "He held out forever on the gay rights bill," says one lobbyist. "He must be into S&M because he gets whipped by the caucus daily."
"Votes his heart," writes one lobbyist, while another sneers,"Profiles in pandering."
As is often the case in politics, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. "Effective mainly because he's a wildcard," says a third lobbyist.
Rep. Tobias Read as: The Mysterian
In most legislative sessions, Read, 31, a footwear developer at Nike, would be a star. But surrounded by the likes of fellow rookies Bonamici, Cannon, Edwards and Kotek, he is merely good, the fifth hitter on a championship team. "Willing to listen, not talk too much and learn the ropes," says one lobbyist.
Lobbyists say Read is very hard to...read. "Never ever tells you how he's going to vote, even if you already know," says one.
And some wonder whether he'll last. "Front-runner for the 'Charlie Ringo/Mark Hass/Chris Beck Award' for wasted potential," says a veteran lobbyist, citing three Democratic ex-lawmakers who talked a good game.
"He could do something good, but will he end up like the namesakes of his award and pout his way out of office?"
Rep. Patti Smith as: The Sodbuster
Smith, who has the weathered appearance that comes from raising hay and cattle in the Columbia Gorge, has served with quiet competence for four terms.
She's most comfortable with natural resource issues.
"Her priority bill this term was a food safety bill after the Chinese scandal," says one lobbyist. "She punched it right through." (The bill is currently stalled in Ways and Means.)
And she does get style points for not whining about Republicans losing control of the House.
"I think Patti has gone into the minority with more grace than most," adds a union lobbyist.
Rep. Carolyn Tomei as: The Fader
Like a car that's past its warranty, Tomei seems to be losing steam.
Once a rising star—our 2001 survey referred to the former Milwaukie mayor as a "wiry, high-energy and seasoned politician"—Tomei slipped badly this year.
"A poster person for why we need term limits," noted a liberal lobbyist.
Although she's worked hard on women's health issues, Tomei, a social worker, all but disappeared this session. "Something happened to her spark; it's just missing this session," says a lobbyist.
Rep. Chuck Riley as: The Gas Bag
Riley's top attribute is persistence. "He keeps getting elected in a tough, tough district," says one lobbyist of the retired systems analyst.
The problem is that not much happens after Riley gets elected.
"Riley is flat-out useless," says one lobbyist. "He has never made a vote his caucus or the unions didn't decide for him, and he is the shining example of why smart people are not always good legislators—because they don't have any people skills."
Rep. Linda Flores as: Moral Marauder
"Flores is very committed to her principles," says one lobbyist. Those principles include denying abortions, denying gays civil rights and keeping the brown horde south of the border.
A vehement opponent of stem-cell research, Flores had a violent reaction to a discussion of the subject in the Health Care committee this session.
"I thought her head was going to spin right off," says one lobbyist.
It's OK to be conservative; less so to have served three terms without accomplishment.
Still, she is known for one thing: "Sorry, Gordon Smith: She has the best hair in Oregon politics," says an insider.
Rep. Wayne Scott as: Boss Hog
If Scott didn't exist, Democrats would have to invent him.
Almost a caricature, Scott, 60, conforms to nearly every stereotype liberals fear.
He's mean—he forced an ailing Greenlick, in great discomfort after surgery, to wait for hours in the House for a floor vote—and heavy-handed: He distributed the names of all those who took money from the teachers union before a key education vote, trying to publicly intimidate fellow Republicans.
But now that Scott's in the minority, his tactics matter less—although as House minority leader he's kept his 29 members in line to deny Democrats the three-fifths majority they need to pass tobacco and corporate-minimum tax increases.
"You can say what you want about Wayne, but he's been pretty effective," says a business lobbyist.
Rep. Jerry Krummel as: The Wind Tunnel
A perennial cellar-dweller in this survey, Krummel, a gabby charter-school teacher, is at least consistent.
"Krummel is best known these days for the endless questions he asks during floor debates," says one lobbyist. "When he stands up, everyone—even the R's—groans inwardly."
Says another: "Please shut up. Doesn't read bills until the floor vote, and it shows."
Rep. John Lim as: The Royal Jellyfish
Lim's signature moment this term was refusing to vote on a proposed tobacco tax, which gridlocked the House for a couple of hours.
"His floor antics are an embarrassment to his district and the state," says one lobbyist.
At least Lim, an importer of royal jelly (a honeybee secretion), lived up to his reputation for introducing wacky legislation, introducing a bill demanding the American Museum of Natural History in New York return the Willamette Meteorite to Oregon. (Neither the bill nor the 16-ton meteorite went anywhere.)
After six terms in the Capitol, Lim remains as indecipherable as ever—and not just because of his heavy Korean accent. "He's crazy but smarter than people give him credit for," says a lobbyist.
Rep. Karen Minnis as: The Ghost
Wow! How far the mighty have fallen. Two years ago, Minnis and her Republican retinue ruled when she was speaker of the House; today she sails through the halls like a ghost ship, shunned by members of both parties.
Two years ago, her "clout" rating was 9.46. This year's version, "effectiveness," is less than a third of that.
But Minnis smiles a lot more.
"She's returned to her roots as a very nice person," says one lobbyist. "But nobody cares."
News intern William Crawford contributed to this report.