Grow Oregon, a stealthy new business group announced the hiring of its first executive director on Friday.
In an email, Grow Oregon's Board Chairman, Greg Ness, CEO of the The Standard, a large downtown insurance company, announced the group has selected Erica Hagedorn to lead its efforts.
As WW reported earlier, Grow Oregon is the brainchild of among others, Chip Terhune, a former Oregon Education Association lobbyist and chief of staff to ex-Gov. Ted Kulongoski. In his current role as a lobbyist for Schnitzer Steel, Terhune and leaders from The Standard, Nike, NW Natural, PacifiCorp and other major employers decided to band together to emulate the success of Our Oregon, a union-backed non-profit that has used sophisticated voter analysis and polling in statewide ballot measures and candidate races.
Most recently, Our Oregon helped pass two income tax hikes in 2010, and helped Gov. John Kitzhaber's massive get-out-the vote effort that same year. Terhune helped get Our Oregon off the ground while he was lobbying for the teachers' union and is now part of an effort to accomplish similar results for the business community, which has struggled to exercise its might at the ballot box.
Like Our Oregon, Grow Oregon will be organized as a non-profit, rather than as a political action committee, which means that the sources and amount of its funding will not have to be disclosed, although its campaign contributions will be.
In a preliminary 2011 document outlining how the group plans to operate, Grow Oregon said this:
"Grow Oregon will be a non-partisan electoral strategy effort led by business leaders across the state."
Hagedorn's recent employment will at least initially raise some questions about how bi-partisan the group's approach will be.
For the past five-and-a-half years, she's worked for the Salem lobbying firm Public Affairs Counsel, where she was a top lieutenant to that firm's leader, Mark Nelson.
Nelson's client list is a who's who of big business, but he's perhaps best known for his work for the tobacco industry and on ballot measures. In 2007, Nelson's tobacco clients spent more than $12 million to defeat a ballot measure that proposed raising tobacco taxes to insure low-income kids. In 2010 he led the failed effort to defeat two income tax hikes—Measures 67 and 67—but despite that setback still carries a prodigious reputation in Salem.
Hagedorn's association with Nelson could make Grow Oregon's aim to be bi-partisan a challenge. Certainly, Nelson will have every incentive stay close to Hagedorn and her new employers, as he noted in an email to clients this morning.
A group of Portland-based CEOs has formed a new business-based voter outreach organization called âGrow Oregonâ and Erica will serve as its first executive director. Grow Oregonâs mission is to educate voters about business perspectives on public policy issues and candidates. We know that she will serve this group well and we intend to maintain our great relationship Erica as she moves into the next phase of her career.