Six months ago, U.S. Attorney John McKay would have made an unlikely contender to take a star turn for Portland's progressives.
McKay, a 51-year-old lifelong Republican, had been western Washington's chief federal prosecutor for five years.
Then, in December, he unhappily became a member of the "Gonzales 8," the eight U.S. attorneys dismissed by the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
McKay speaks at the opening Thursday, June 28, of the Sid Lezak Center at Portland State University, becoming the second fired federal prosecutor expected to get a hero's welcome this month in Portland. (New Mexico's David Iglesias spoke to an enthusiastic audience of about 150 people attending the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies Conference in Portland on June 16.)
Organizers expect 300 people to attend the McKay speech, including Betty Roberts, the first woman to sit on Oregon's Supreme Court.
McKay might be the progressive establishment's unlikeliest rock star. "I am not a celebrity," McKay says. "I am only the relater of a bad incident."
But, speaking out against the politicization of the Justice Department since his dismissal, McKay has become a symbol of resistance to the Bush administration.
McKay plans in his PSU speech to honor Lezak's memory and commitment to prosecutorial independence. Lezak, who died last year, served as U.S. attorney for Oregon from 1961 to 1982 through Democratic and Republican administrations (see "Publisher's Notebook," WW, May 3, 2006).
Event organizers also say Karin Immergut, Oregon's current U.S. Attorney, has reserved a seat. Immergut didn't return messages, but McKay says, "We'll meet for a drink while I'm in town."
McKay acknowledges but can't confirm speculation that he was sacked for not intervening in the disputed 2004 Washington governor's election, decided in favor of the Democrat, Christine Gregoire. After leaving his federal post Jan. 26, McKay took a job teaching terrorism law at Seattle University. Last month, he was named chief counsel for Getty Images, a provider of images for news organizations.
Though the two men have not spoken since the firings, McKay does have a few words for Gonzales.
"When the boss demands loyalty, give him integrity. And when he demands integrity, give him loyalty," McKay says, quoting legendary Air Force Col. John Boyd. "Gonzales forgot about that."