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1994: the ambassador of cool | whacked! Tonya's third-rate plot | death with dignity


Senate majority leader Dick Springer is busted for drunken driving in February after driving his car off a road near Gresham. The Portland Democrat blows 0.18 on his Breathalyzer test--twice the legal limit, and four times the stricter limit Springer championed in 1991.

Three female employees of Leathers Oil Co., a Gresham gas station, are shot in the head execution-style during a gruesome early-morning robbery. The chief suspect, 21-year-old former employee Tyrom Walter Thies, remains at large.

The X-Ray Cafe--formerly the UFO--shuts down after four years of fertile all-ages punk and indie action. Dead Moon and the Kurtz Project anchor the club's final bill.

Still smarting from the defeat of her sales tax proposal, Gov. Barbara Roberts decides not to seek reelection. Roseburg ER doc and fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber stems the Republican tide and wallops GOP candidate Denny Smith to become governor.

Nine Oregon firefighters die battling a forest blaze on Colorado's Storm King Mountain. The elite Prineville Hot Shots were trapped by shifting winds that cut off their escape route.

Grunge king and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain shoots himself in his Seattle home.

Grocery clerks wage a bitter three-month strike against Portland-area supermarkets. The United Food and Commercial Workers target Fred Meyer for picketing because the chain is weakened by negotiations with the Teamsters. But after 88 days, Freddie's breaks the strike, leaving the clerks My-Te-Frustrated.

Community activists Tom O'Keefe and Joe Keating fix up 100 beat-up old bikes, paint them bright yellow and release them on the streets of Portland for anyone to ride. The yellow bikes quickly capture the city's imagination--then just as swiftly disappear from view (in years to come they will be spotted as far away as San Francisco).

Eco-warrior Andy Kerr gets a frosty reception when he moves to the backwoods town of Joseph. Local townsfolk, frustrated by court decisions banning logging and grazing, hang Kerr
in effigy
; storekeepers refuse to trade with him. Five years later, the green gnome hasn't budged. "Intolerant people have a short attention span," Kerr says.

Nike trade analyst Chuck Carpenter beats Democrat Jeanne Atkins in Oregon House District 7, becoming the nation's first openly gay Republican to win an election.

The Oregon Ducks football team heads to the Rose Bowl for first time in 37 years. The Ducks lose to Penn State 38-20 before a crowd of 102,000 fans.



  In 1994, an infamous Northwest Portland bar named the Gypsy unveiled a dramatic makeover from barfly dive to hipster hangout. Who performed at the gala event? Thomas Lauderdale, of course. The ubiquitous, tres gay piano man and his band Pink Martini kick-started the Portland chapter of the Cocktail Nation, where youngsters dressed up like oldsters and danced to the tunes of their grandparents. This newspaper was as guilty as anyone in glomming onto the colorful Lauderdale, who combined an outsized talent with a firm commitment to social responsibility. He brought the fetching Del Rubio Triplets into town to play political fund-raisers; created the annual Wild Kingdom Rumba
Party; and, with Pink Martini's lush CD Sympathique and bookings at the Cannes Film Festival, has become Portland's international ambassador of culture. Sick of Thomas Lauderdale? Never.



  Just once, it would be nice to have Oregon thrust into the media spotlight in a way that made us look good. You never hear a peep about our urban planning or our progressive land-use laws on Hard Copy. But let the hype-mongers get hold of one Bob Packwood, one Kip Kinkel, and bam! There we are on the front page of The New York Times, under the headline BACKWARD STATE OF SUBHUMAN CAVE-DWELLERS SPAWNS ANOTHER ABOMINATION.

The story had all the elements of a fairy tale: In the first chapter, we met 23-year-old Tonya Harding, a scrappy girl from the trailer parks, who owned her first gun at age 5 and whose father taught her how to hunt, fish and fix a transmission. Next we thrilled as she defied the odds and soared to the top of the ice-cold world of women's figure skating.

Then, on Jan. 6, 1994, at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, an unknown man rushed at Olympic gold-medal favorite Nancy Kerrigan as she stood talking with reporters and whacked her just above the right knee with a telescopic billy club. Taking a cue from the Three Stooges, the attacker then escaped by using his head to break through a plexiglass door.

Suspicion quickly fell on Harding and her entourage, thanks in no small part to loose-lipped bodyguard Shawn Eckardt, a hopelessly miscast student of the cloak-and-dagger arts.

Eckardt, who boasted of CIA connections, lived with his dark secret for a whole day before spilling his guts to a classmate in his legal procedure course. He reportedly went so far as to play an audiotape of the attack being planned. (Why the conspirators thought it wise to tape this conversation remains a mystery.)

The revelations sparked a media firestorm. By the end of the month, Eckardt was in custody, along with Harding's husband, Jeff Gillooly, and two acquaintances. Harding herself denied all involvement, fetchingly threatening to sue if she were left off the U.S. Olympic team.

Harding managed to avoid prosecution just long enough to compete in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, where the women's technical program was viewed by an astonishing 47 million households, making it the sixth-highest-rated broadcast in history.

Harding placed an undistinguished eighth, returned home and promptly pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution. She was fined, sentenced to community service and barred from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life.

That should have been the saga's end, but it was only the prologue. Over the spring and summer, the sordid details emerged with dizzying speed, as Tonya became the poster girl for a media obsession with "white trash" culture. We heard about her mother's six marriages, the hairbrush beatings, the restraining orders, the boob job. Gillooly changed his name to Jeff Stone--infuriating the Jeff Stones of the world--and then, just when we thought they could sink no lower, Gillooly sold the couple's wedding-night video to Penthouse.

The soap opera continues. Tonya's credibility was strained in 1997 with a bizarre story about a bushy-haired man who had hijacked her truck, but she actually managed to claw her way back into the figure-skating world in 1999, participating in the Pro Skating Championships in Huntingdon, W.Va.

For Oregon, Tonya Harding was the embarrassment of the decade. It's bad enough we spawned a gang of thugs who sullied the (then) untarnished name of the Olympic Games--did they have to be such lame thugs?



Damn the deacons, Oregonians want the right to die with dignity--so much that they voted for it twice.

The 1994 debate over physician-assisted suicide was contentious and desperate. Opponents--funded by the deep coffers of the Catholic Church--conjured images of Dr. Kervorkian hooking old ladies up to death machines. They outspent proponents $1.5 million to $600,000. If the initiative passed, they said, Oregon would truly become an Inanimate State. Out-of-staters would drag their infirm and unwanted family members across our borders and kill them. Their blood would be on Oregon's hands.

Voters didn't buy it and passed Measure 16, making Oregon the only place in the world where doctors could write lethal prescriptions for their terminally ill patients--legally.

Measure 16 survived a complex legal challenge that failed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could make their own laws on physician-assisted suicide. The measure didn't make it past the 1997 Oregon Legislature, however, where hysterical lawmakers referred it back to the voters, in essence asking, "Are you sure you want this?"

They did. By a ratio of 3 to 2, voters reaffirmed their support for physician-assisted suicide after the third-most-expensive initiative campaign in Oregon history. With all legal challenges exhausted, the law went into effect.

In March 1998, a Portland woman who had been fighting breast cancer for 22 years became the first person to end her own life with the help of a lethal prescription.

Since then, the predicted massacre has failed to materialize. In 1998, just 15 patients ended their lives through lethal prescription. Most--13--had terminal cancer. The Oregon Health Division reports that the rate of requests in 1999 is at the same level.

The battle over physician-assisted suicide continues in Congress, however. Just last month, the House of Representatives passed a law that all but overturns Measure 16.

Since the passage of Measure 16, there has been a dramatic shift in the way we die in Oregon. Palliative care has improved. Patients no longer have to suffer through their pain--doctors are prescribing the sweet relief of morphine at three times the rate of 1995. Across the rest of the country, most people die in hospitals. In Oregon, seven out of 10 now die as they wish--at home in their own beds.


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