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March 12th, 2008 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Lives Of An Alley Cat

First a CEO, then a top Kulongoski aide, and now one more life…as a controversial candidate.

     
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This Is His Life: Allen Alley wants to be treasurer.

Allen Alley is used to serving two masters and hopes to continue doing so.

Alley quit his job as deputy chief of staff to Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week to run for state treasurer. But he held onto his other job as board chairman of publicly traded Pixelworks, a Tualatin-based semiconductor firm.

In some ways Alley, an engineer-turned-venture capitalist who founded Pixelworks in 1997 and served as its CEO until December 2006, is an intriguing candidate to oversee financial operations and the state’s $68 billion investment portfolio.

He boasts 30 years of experience in management and finance and is familiar with Wall Street and private investors.

But for a guy trying to start a political career at age 53, Alley has also generated some controversy. Much of it comes from the balancing acts he has performed, both between public- and private-sector duties and between political parties.

Alley is a Republican. His boss until last week, Kulongoski, is a Democrat.

So, too, is state Sen. Ben Westlund (D-Tumalo), though of recent vintage. In 2006, Westlund left the Republican Party to run as an independent for governor. His early exit from that race helped ensure a Kulongoski victory because he was expected to siphon votes away from the governor.

Then, a month after the November 2006 election, Westlund became a Democrat. He’s now running as a D for treasurer, with Kulongoski’s strong endorsement.

Westlund faced no opposition until Alley announced last week he’d enter the race for treasurer on the Republican ticket. That decision came after an email Alley circulated to colleagues last fall quashing rumors that he was considering running for office.

“I have spent the last several weeks making one of my most difficult professional and personal decisions,” Alley wrote in an Oct. 9 email. “After careful deliberation, I believe the best opportunity for me at this time is to continue to work in the Governor’s office.… There are many projects we have only begun and I feel now is not the time to step away.”

So Alley’s subsequent decision to run disappointed some Democrats, who felt Alley used his 14 months in the Kulongoski administration to gauge support and build political viability.

“In that office, the name of the game was supposed to be Kulongoski,” says Peter Bragdon, Kulongoski’s former chief of staff and now the general counsel at Columbia Sportswear. “That was not the case in this instance.”

Alley denies that he used his position as Kulongoski’s top economic development adviser and ambassador of sustainable business practices in any way other than to further Oregon’s best interests. “I think if you ask people that I met with in my work for the governor, it was a positive experience for everybody,” says Alley.

Although he now plans to campaign full time, Alley also intends to remain chairman of Pixelworks’ board as long as he can.

In December, the NASDAQ warned the struggling company its shares would be de-listed if it could not raise its share price back over $1 per share. (Pixelworks traded as high as $20 per share in 2004. Alley owned as many as 2.5 million shares and still holds 1.8 million shares worth about $1.4 million.)

Alley acknowledges Pixelworks has performed poorly in recent years, a development he attributes to global competition in the semiconductor market.

“The business shifted dramatically toward Asia,” he says.

Rather than cutting all ties with the company when he stepped down as its $306,000-a-year CEO, however, Alley says he felt it was his duty to remain as board chairman (at $75,000 a year) and try to help Pixelworks survive.

“Ultimately, I believe the market is undervaluing the company,” Alley says. “Re-engineering is tough, but I’d like to stick around for that.”

If elected treasurer, Alley says he’s so committed to Pixelworks he would explore whether he could stay on as board chairman. The state ethics commission says that’s allowed, provided he avoid any conflict.

After Alley’s October message to his colleagues, they thought he was making a similar commitment to Kulongoski. Alley declined to describe his parting conversation with the governor, but Kulongoski spokeswoman Patty Wentz says, “The governor is disappointed that a Republican got in the race for treasurer.”


FACTS: A self-described “car guy” who once worked for Ford like his father and grandfather, Alley drives a Ferrari and a Corvette but says he has a Smart Car on order.

As Kulongoski’s deputy chief of staff, Alley made $124,000 a year.

 
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