Continuing a 26-year tradition, Willamette Week asked Salem insiders to grade metro-area lawmakers on their performance in the 2001 Legislature. We granted anonymity to the lobbyists, staffers, reporters and smattering of downstate legislators who responded. That means you won't see anyone's name attached to either the praises or the barbs. It also means it's the most honest appraisal you're going to read anywhere about the 12 senators and 24 representatives from the Portland area.
If anything, this is the session that proved politicians are people, too.
Lawmakers are, frankly, tired of bearing the brunt of public scorn. They know that Oregon voters are sick of the bitter partisan fighting that followed the Republicans' rise to power in the early '90s. Combine that with this session's much narrower GOP majority and tight budget, and "get along with others" was at the top of almost every legislator's to-do list.
When the final gavel bangs (which could come as early as this week), Salem scribes will begin characterizing the session. Chances are they won't talk about vision and ideology as much as maintenance and moderation. Lawmakers no longer win praise for holding fast to philosophies that are not politically expedient. This is an era in which lawmakers from both parties--such as Kate Brown, Max Williams and Kurt Schrader--are lauded not for their ideals but for their ability to operate like corporate managers, hitting budget deadlines and closing up shop.
The great school-funding battle of '99 seemed like ancient history as lawmakers settled the education budget early in the session. There were some minor flare-ups from the religious right, but nothing that matched the infernos of the early '90s.
The 2001 session showed both sides of the accursed term-limits coin. The lack of experienced lawmakers meant that the influence of the lobbyists and special-interest groups was stronger than ever (which explains why the prospect of a professional baseball stadium became the most pressing policy question of the year). At the same time, by most accounts it was an impressive freshman class. Newcomers like environmentalist Charlie Ringo and former newscaster Mark Hass showed that they were aware the term-limit clock was ticking as soon as they hit Salem--and racked up some of the highest scores in the process.
Capitol insiders rated legislators on a scale of 1 to 10 in four categories: brains (intelligence and savvy), integrity (philosophical consistency and refusal to compromise principles under pressure from special interests or peers), diligence (a propensity to work hard) and clout (the ability to get things done).
We don't claim the survey is scientific or objective. It's also important to note that a high score doesn't mean Willamette Week agrees with a legislator's politics, nor does a low score suggest the opposite. Rather, the ratings provide a measure of ability as judged by 32 people who watch and work with the lawmakers every day.
Third session in Senate
Three sessions in House
Saint Kate scored a sweep this year. The 40-year-old lawyer was the highest rated metro-area lawmaker in all four categories: brains, integrity, diligence and clout.
"Kate earns the respect and affection of everyone in small and large ways every day," says one observer. "She always has her views, which are unapologetically liberal, but her style is so balanced and respectful that even her political foes are loyal."
Although the Democrats failed to take the Senate, Brown is in many ways sitting in the catbird seat as minority leader. The split is 16-14, and Senate President Gene Derfler (R-Salem) has enough cantankerous caucus members that he needs the Democrats. In spite of that, Derfler started the session in partisan attack mode. He shorted the Democrats a seat on the Ways and Means Committee and called Brown a liar during a public discussion of the budget.
Brown's response explains why she's at the top.
"Brown could have, and many felt should have, gone to war with the Senate president," says one observer. "That is what minority leaders typically do, after all. Instead, she laid down the law behind the scenes and took control of the relationship."
After that, Brown was given a seat--and a prominent role--on the budget-writing committee, and her improved relationship with Derfler helped the Senate run smoothly this session. To be sure, the Democrats have not made huge strides this session--their prescription-drug package and women's health initiative got shot down. Some progressive Democrats say that Brown was too accommodating, but almost everyone else agrees she had a great session.
Brown has one more Senate session, and many believe she's destined for higher office. "Damn fine legislator and possible future governor," says one Salem sage. "One of the lawmakers with the potential to keep climbing and not become a disaster."
First session in Senate
Seven sessions in House
When this Portland homicide detective came out of political retirement, Salem insiders rolled their eyes. John Minnis' 14-year House career was a roller-coaster ride, seeing him go from small-minded ideologue to statesman and back down again.
This year, it's different...sort of.
Many Salem watchers cringed when Senate President Derfler named Minnis chair of the important Senate Judiciary Committee. He got an early test when presented with Sen. Avel Gordly's proposal to have the state track police stops by race. Minnis' first impulse was to kill the bill. But after meeting with some African-American activists, he moved the racial profiling bill through his committee and voted for it on the floor.
Still, there's plenty of Machiavelli left in Minnis. The Senator has maintained his penchant for cutting highly calculated deals. For example, Minnis refused to let his committee hear a bill to prohibit executing mentally retarded criminals unless it was tied to two bills that expand the death penalty. Death-penalty opponents were horrified at the idea, and it didn't happen. And many expect him to make a last-minute push to revive a pet bill to require a 24-hour wait before abortions.
Insiders are still frustrated by his explosive outbursts (which one close observer attributes to arthritis pain in his hands). "He runs hot and cold: affable or cranky, snide or explosive," says one respondent.
Minnis remains a hardcore partisan and was frustrated with Derfler's détente with the Dems (particularly on the vote to keep a portion of the kicker), but most observers say he's handled it well. "John continues to surprise people," says one. "He is my nominee for the legislator who has grown the most in his time of service."
In politics, as in all sports, the Rookie of the Year award is often a curse. But Rick Metsger avoided the dreaded sophomore slump and kept his ratings high.
"Excellent legislator," says one respondent. "He works hard, talks fast, thinks clearly, exudes high energy and thinks creatively."
Metsger, 49, is a breezy ex-broadcaster from Welches who many see representing the future of the Oregon Democratic Party. He's environmental, but he's not anti-business. He's pro-labor, but he's not anti-business. He believes in social justice, but he's not anti-business.
"Aggressive, smart and strategic. Sen. Metsger is an emerging leader in his caucus and ultimately in statewide politics," says an insider. "He is more conservative than most Democrats, so he often takes the role of building bridges between the ideological divides between parties."
This session Metsger passed a bill designed to curb Internet gambling and a bill that bans registered sex offenders from living near children. He also helped sort through the energy deregulation issue and got solid reviews on the Judiciary Committee.
Many assume Metsger is eyeing higher office and point to his vote on a bill that would let inmates out of prison a day or two early to avoid weekend releases. Even though district attorneys and crime-victim groups supported it, Metsger didn't, perhaps worried about being vulnerable to a future "soft on crime" attack.
"I think he's ambitious and would like to be Secretary of State or Governor Metsger someday," says one observer. "He's thinking ahead, putting together a portfolio of votes that will look good during a campaign."
When people think Ginny Burdick, they think guns.
Burdick sponsored last fall's voter-approved Ballot Measure 5, which requires background checks at gun shows. She went the initiative route after failing to get fellow lawmakers to pass a similar bill two years ago.
She came back this session vowing to continue her work and pushed for a bill that would ban all guns in schools, even those carried by people with concealed-weapons licenses.
While people admire her diligence, most people say that it's time to focus her energies on a new battle.
"She became a one-note Ginny," says one liberal. "When have we had a problem with concealed-weapons carriers in schools? It's a non-issue."
A former journalist who now works as a public-relations consultant, Burdick also lost integrity points for signing up to do a spit and polish on the Port of Portland's image while the Legislature was still in session.
Overall, however, she earned solid ratings this session and is viewed as a model to fellow minority members. She is considered to be tactically savvy and unbending when she sets her sights on something. On the Senate Judiciary Committee, she forced a hearing on her gun bill by threatening to attach it as an amendment to every crime-related bill that came through the committee. The bill later died, but her tenacity impressed observers. "She is articulate, tactical and hard-working," says one lobbyist. "Just getting a hearing on her gun bill this session was a minor coup!"
Verne Duncan falls firmly in the "Good" category this session, thanks especially to a high integrity score.
"A true statesman," says one respondent. "One of the two best senators in the building. He's thoughtful, experienced, accessible, balances interests effectively and keeps his word. He is well-liked and respected on both sides of the aisle, though his own caucus thinks he's too liberal."
Appointed to the job in 1997 to fill a vacancy, Duncan previously served as dean of the University of Portland's School of Education and as Oregon's State Superintendent of Schools. White-haired and distinguished, Duncan, 67, is a solid moderate Republican who often votes with the Democrats on education, childcare and public-welfare issues. In a Senate with a 16-14 split, Duncan's vote is frequently the deciding one, but observers say it isn't in his nature to exploit his position. "If he had any desire for power, he could swing his 16th vote like a big stick and accomplish just about anything," says one observer.
Duncan usually goes along to get along, but he has shown some spine in standing up to his caucus. Last week, for example, he was the only Republican to vote against Senate President Derfler's Public Employee Retirement System reform bill.
"It was a very hard vote for him, and he got up and said so," says one observer.
Second session in Senate
Three sessions in House
As usual, Frank Shields has spent this session railing against cuts in the Human Resources budget that affect the disenfranchised and poor in Oregon. He has cast a protest "nay" vote on every general budget that has come up before the Senate, and insiders say he will continue to do so until social services are adequately funded.
Shields, 56, walks away with the "liberal conscience" award every session. Until recently, he was a United Methodist minister. (Just a few weeks ago, he announced on the Senate floor that he was resigning from the church for personal reasons.)
On one dismal day last month, as the Senate debated the merits of an unconstitutional bill to allow the posting of the Ten Commandments in school rooms, hundreds of low-income people huddled in the rain on the Capitol steps, asking for increased social services. Shields was one of the few lawmakers who stood out there with them.
Protecting the less fortunate is heavy work, and Shield's brow seems permanently furrowed in consternation. He began this session on a mission to pass a bill that would rein in car-title lenders and their loan-shark tactics. The bill had some initial momentum, but Shields hasn't been able to get it past the Republican leadership.
Some observers say Shields' losing bid for Multnomah County Commissioner last November took its toll. "Frank seems incredibly checked out," says one observer. "He seems to not be a factor at all."
Still, most Salem watchers say Shields suffers only from being in the minority. If the Democrats held control in the Senate, he'd be more of a force. "Hapless liberal in a land of conservative schemers," says one observer.
Third session in Senate
Three sessions in House
Where is the love? Last session Gordly, 54, got high marks for reaching across the aisle to embrace the Republicans in a much-needed bipartisan hug.
This session, that same willingness to work with the GOP was viewed more critically, as many thought Gordly put her personal agenda ahead of her party's.
Two votes in particular left Gordly open to criticism. One was her aye vote in the Senate Education Committee for Sen. Charles Starr's bill to allow the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools. Conventional wisdom is that Gordly gave Starr the vote needed to push his bill to the Senate floor (where it failed) in exchange for his support of her bill that required cultural competency standards for teachers. Then, last week, Gordly and Sen. Margaret Carter outraged the public employee unions by voting for Senate President Derfler's pension reform bill, giving it enough votes to pass.
Some view such independence favorably. "The moral force in the Senate," says one Gordly fan. "Really can see through rhetoric to get to the right answer without regard to dogma."
But most thought the former corrections official slipped this session.
"The courtesy vote to move the Ten Commandments to the floor was the end of the integrity road for her," says one respondent.
She also has irked the unions by carrying Associated Oregon Industries' "Student Bill of Rights," which commits state money to the tuition for advanced high-school students to take college courses.
First session in Senate
Seven sessions in House
Margaret Carter is one of the most experienced lawmakers in the state Capitol. She served seven terms in the House of Representatives, took a break in 1999, then entered the Senate this year.
With that much background, the head of the Portland-area National Urban League should be rated as one of the city's top legislators. But she isn't.
People like Carter, 65, a great deal. She is funny and charming and warm. She is renowned for her great singing voice and elegant suits. However, she seems to suffer from the Kitzhaber syndrome of unrealized potential.
Carter's biggest success this session was a bill that mandates insurance coverage for treatment, supplies and self-management education for diabetics. Insurance companies would rather throw money out of an airplane than have coverage dictated, but Carter pushed her bill through both chambers.
"She is ineffective except when there is something she wants, and because she is MARGARET she can get things through," says one observer. "The only reason the insurance companies came along is because it's Margaret."
At the same time, others find her scatterbrained.
"Margaret gets facts mixed up or makes facts up," says one. "She can't remember what she hears or organize what she is handed."
Says another: "When I talk to her I can't tell if there are simply a thousand things going on in her head at once, or she just can't track me."
First session in Senate
Two sessions in House
There will come a time when a newspaper story about Ryan Deckert doesn't mention his age.
This isn't that time.
Deckert, who is 30 but doesn't look a day over 25, is a senator because the woman previously holding the seat, Republican ice queen Eileen Qutub, was so disliked that the Democrats thought she was vulnerable. They were right, but at a cost. At nearly $1 million, the Deckert-Qutub showdown was the most expensive legislative race in Oregon history.
Deckert spent two terms in the House before jumping to the Senate. After three sessions, he's still unable to shake the reputation of a disengaged preppie that earned him an "Awful" rating in this survey in 1999.
Some respondents accused Deckert of spending too much time on high-profile, headline-grabbing proposals like the ban on cockfighter breeding and the push to finance a professional baseball stadium.
For the most part, though, it isn't so much that Deckert did anything wrong during his first Senate session--it's that he did too little. "A lot of aspiration but no perspiration," as one respondent puts it.
"I think Ryan needs to pay more attention to the game," says another. "He gets distracted by stuff outside the building."
But some respondents still see potential in Deckert.
"The question has been: 'punk kid or the next Earl Blumenauer?'" says one respondent. "You can see the makings of greatness in Ryan--he has moments when he just shines--but most of the time he is in second gear and some of the time he is a big flake."
Deckert gets credit for being almost rabid in pushing for higher-education funding, one of the biggest issues of his campaign. He served on the Education, Business and Natural Resources committees in the Senate where he impressed some with a thoughtful approach.
"He understands the devil's in the details," says one respondent. "He doesn't land where others tell him to land. He lands where his brain tells him to land. That's a good news-bad news situation for most lobbyists."
Fourth session in Senate
Five sessions in House
A lawmaker once said that Randy Miller makes people nervous because he didn't need their money to run for office. It's true that this son of one of the founders of the Miller Nash law firm has never hesitated to make enemies.
Though best known for attacking Democrats, Miller spent most of his time this session going after Senate President Derfler. The two Republicans feuded in 1999 over the Wilsonville prison siting. This year Miller sideswiped Derfler several times. In one dramatic power play, he cast the key vote against one of Derfler's pet proposals, a bill to that would repeal insurance mandates on small employers.
A fiscally conservative partisan, Miller also teamed up with Newberg Sen. Gary George in a public attack on Derfler when it became clear the Senate president was considering balancing the budget by reducing kicker refunds.
"He hates policy, loves politics. He is not interested in detail," says an observer. "He enjoys partisan warfare but also has some loyalty to a few pet causes."
School funding is one of Miller's pet causes. He will advocate tax cuts until the budget runs dry, but he takes care of the schools. He also teamed up with Sen. Deckert on a bill that would limit price gouging by gasoline companies, allow self-serve gas in Oregon and increase the maximum speed limit to 70 miles per hour.
Eighth session in Senate
Two sessions in House
Sen. Tom Hartung has served in the Oregon Legislature off and on since 1969.
The 74-year-old retiree has had a horrible session--but with some serious mitigating factors. He suffered a mini-stroke at the beginning of a committee hearing and was taken to the hospital. Then his son, a diabetic, died midway through the session. It all made for a difficult final term for this "legacy legislator" (one who served before term limits kicked in).
"An old-fashioned gentleman," says one respondent.
Second session in Senate
Three sessions in House
"Starr has one constituent: Jesus," says one survey taker. "And apparently, Jesus is an English speaker who got 'hooked on phonics,' and learned to read from the Ten Commandments on the school chalkboard."
That about sums up Starr this session. The retired building contractor and high-school ag teacher was trounced in a bid for Democrat David Wu's 1st Congressional seat last year and came back to the Senate with a focused agenda. As chairman of the Education Committee, the big-smiling senator pursued a Christian-right-based phonics agenda with a, well, religious fervor.
"Nearly every bill that came up in committee he attached a phonics amendment to," says one lobbyist. "There was the phonics game, a phonics pilot program, it was silly."
Starr, 68, raised the biggest ruckus in the Senate with a bill that would allow schools to display the Ten Commandments.
You might say the senator doesn't get caught up in the details. You might say he ignores the facts. You also might take a look at his score for brains--the lowest in the Senate.
Still, for all that, Starr critics begrudgingly admit one thing: "He's a sweet man," says one. "He's just in the wrong job, and lives in a fantasy world of old-fashioned Christianity."
For the second session running, Max Williams sits atop the metro delegation in the Oregon House.
"It's hard to say enough good things about Williams. Oh, there is one thing: He is dead wrong on the issues many times," says one Democrat. "Other than that, he is a sun break on a rainy day."
Williams was rated the smartest person in the House, but when people talk about the Miller Nash lawyer, they mostly say he's thoughtful, honest, fair and compassionate.
Williams, 37, drew attention as the head of the Measure 7 work group. After voters passed the drastic change in land-use law, it was challenged as unconstitutional. With the initiative tied up in court, Williams was charged with trying to forge a compromise between those who hold Oregon's land-use laws in reverence and those who see government as an infringement on personal rights. It was just the kind of philosophical political debate Williams loves.
"I think he worked very hard to try to produce something, and the fact they are very close this late in the session is a testament to him pushing people along and being creative with that group," says one observer. "Max understands what's underneath Measure 7."
Williams also served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and here, too, Democrats praised his willingness to give their issues a fair hearing, even if he didn't agree with them.
Some say Williams suffers from what one observer calls "the Miller Nash syndrome," that is, thinking he's the smartest guy in the room. Others say he is inconsistent.
"He can be two people in the same meeting. He can be really conciliatory on one hand or a puffed-up, egomaniac jerk," says one observer. "But he understands when he's being a prick and will send you an apology note."
Kurt Schrader beat all other Democrats on the clout scale--including his own boss, minority leader Dan Gardner--and took top honors for integrity.
"Among the brightest, most reasonable legislators," says one lobbyist.
Schrader, a cowboy-boots-and-Wranglers-wearing veterinarian, is a rural, moderate Democrat, the likes of which are no longer found in Oregon. That means he's a live-and-let-live kind of guy when it comes to social issues. On budget matters he's a fiscal conservative with a soft touch for the underprivileged. He often sides with Republicans on business issues and is a stronger advocate for agency belt-tightening than anyone else in the Capitol.
"A usual swing vote for Republicans looking to pick up a Democrat," says an observer. "But it's always based on his convictions and those of his district."
Schrader was the point man for the Democrats on the state budget, and insiders say that having someone in that spot who the Republicans like and trust kept things from getting ugly.
"The large-animal veterinarian has taken good care of the elephants in Salem, and they are taking care of him," says one sage.
Schrader was praised for his role working on a compromise on the voter-passed and very contentious Measure 7. He also pushed through, over objections from developers, the so-called SLAPP suit bill (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which protects people testifying in public from being sued.GOOD
Some lawmakers are like stocks, with wildly fluctuating values. Richard Devlin is like a Treasury bill: solid, dependable and with a slowly rising value.
When Devlin started in the House, he was considered something of a dork.
One Republican recalls seeing the suburban teddy-bear Devlin during his first term: "I thought, 'My God, we were that terrible in our campaign that we couldn't beat him?' My opinion has changed considerably since then."
Devlin, 48, got high praise for his work ethic. He is second only to Max Williams in his score for diligence. He passed bills that rein in schoolyard bullies and increase use of child booster seats.
"He lives, breathes, eats, drinks and sleeps politics," says another. "He knows every major issue in every committee. He reads every bill on the floor line and verse. He is so political he makes lobbyists want to change the subject."
Devlin hasn't completely shaken off his nerdy image of sessions past, however. "Unimaginative," one observer calls him. "He thinks too much," says another.
Still, the former legal investigator is the go-to guy when Democrats want to manipulate legislative procedures to insert their pet proposals into Republican bills.
If the Legislature were the starship Enterprise, this lanky lawmaker would be one of those big-brained, highly evolved aliens whose compassion and gentle nature make humans look like baboons.
For two sessions, the 44-year-old, Stanford- and Princeton-educated Portland native has been a champion for the state's underdogs, especially when they're getting screwed by greedy business owners. This year he fought again for victims of mobile-home sales fraud and teamed up with Rep. Bill Witt on a bill to reduce mercury in the environment.
"I've seen him single-handedly kill a bill he thought was punitive to poor people when the rest of the committee was ready to roll it out," says one observer. "He persuaded them with a quiet, well-reasoned and ethical argument."
Observers say that Merkley, the executive director of the World Affairs Council of Oregon, is so obsessed with saving the world that he spends hours researching an issue and has been known to sleep on the floor of his Salem office rather than waste time driving home to Portland.
This session Merkley took on the complicated issue of genetic privacy. His bill would have prohibited life-insurance companies from discriminating against clients based on what genetic testing might foresee about their future health. It died, however, exposing Merkley's biggest blind spot: He believed that House Speaker Mark Simmons was a supporter because he had agreed to put his name on the bill. In that spirit, he filled the Speaker in every step of the way on his strategy, blissfully unaware that the Speaker was passing it on to the life-insurance lobbyists who anticipated his every move. The bill never made it to the floor.
"Why A students don't make A legislators," says one sage. "Off-the-charts smart, but no walking-around sense at all."
Karen Minnis was carried to the top of the House ratings on the strength of her clout rating.
She should have a lot of clout. The 46-year-old has been a Salem insider for 16 years. She started as a legislative aide to her husband, John, when he was in the House. Now, as a second-term legislator herself, Minnis is the majority leader for the Republicans. Normally this is viewed as a No. 2 position in the House of Representatives, but not this session. It is Minnis, not Speaker Simmons, who controls the Republican agenda this session.
"She is the power behind the caucus," says one lobbyist. "Simmons is there only because he happened to get up every morning and drive to the Capitol building."
In addition to keeping the Republicans on track, Minnis focused on public-safety issues, such as a bill that would increase the penalties for assaulting a police officer (her husband, now a state senator, is a Portland police officer). She also passed a bill that allows victims of domestic violence to tap into the state unemployment insurance program to get financial assistance.
"She is very respectful of the process and other people," says one observer. "She listens well, asks good questions, gets engaged in your issue then gives a straight answer."
Minnis is a people person. She's a toucher, a leaner and a supportive ear. She has a warm smile and deep brown eyes. Put a sweater on her and you have the female version of Gordon Smith.
She does have a vindictive side, however: After Rep. Jan Lee defected from the Republican Party, for instance, Minnis killed all her bills. Most agree that Minnis' charm masks a socially conservative streak. She is a darling of Oregon Right to Life and allowed abortion to be raised as an issue on the Republican side of the aisle, even though Speaker Simmons had promised it wouldn't be. That worries some progressives, who fear she's in line to become the next Speaker of the House.
Republicans are less worried: "Very, very, very, very talented legislator. Hope she becomes Speaker."
Perched on Portland's most towering family tree sits Rep. Deborah Kafoury, who represents inner North and Northeast Portland. It's no wonder that when the then 31-year-old was elected in 1998 the expectations were high. She has mostly met them.
"Looked to by colleagues for leadership and advice," says one observer. "She is a pragmatic liberal who doesn't vote a straight line, and lobbyists find her accessible to their information and arguments."
This session Kafoury put forth a slew of proposals but focused mostly on issues affecting women and children. She sponsored one bill that would set up a pilot program to subsidize wages of childcare workers and another to increase funding for services for domestic violence. While the childcare bill seems headed for death by the budget ax, there is still some chance that domestic-violence money could come through. Under a Republican Legislature in which money is tight, that's an accomplishment.
Most people say Kafoury emerged as a caucus leader, providing guidance to the large freshman class of Democrats. As minority whip, she works the House floor during the session, checking in with members and keeping their votes tallied. Others point out she is becoming a powerful orator on the House floor, speaking out passionately against the Willamette River Superfund tax break and the baseball stadium bill.
Still, some are disappointed in Kafoury. They say she lacks passion and direction.
"Another second-termer who has been disappointingly quiet for the most part," says an observer. "Seems bright and progressive, a good fit for her district, but appears to be biding time."
Rookie of the year Charlie Ringo started his frosh session crying "foul" at a proposal to use lottery-backed bonds to fund a baseball stadium.
"Off to a good start," says one pundit. "Principled stand got him some publicity and started an image as no-nonsense Democrat. Freshman star. Will emerge as caucus leader."
A small-business and consumer lawyer, the 43-year-old Ringo was an active member of the Judiciary Committee.
At the same time, the small and wiry Air Force veteran brought a briefcase full of baggage with him to Salem as the former head of the Oregon Sierra Club. While that résumé line plays well with green-leaning members of his suburban district, it puts the business and agricultural interests in Salem on red alert.
True to form, he put environmental issues higher on his list than any other lawmaker. He co-sponsored the Oregon Environmental Council's doomed Willamette River Cleanup package and monitored a bill that increased penalties for eco-terrorism to make sure it didn't infringe on the rights of nonviolent civil protesters. He also pushed a bill that would tie auto insurance rates to miles driven, providing a financial incentive for commuters to get out of their cars.
Salem veterans, however, caution that the Capitol is not a courtroom. They say Ringo too often turned vicious on the Judiciary Committee when questioning witnesses he didn't agree with and that too many of his fiery floor speeches made him appear self-righteous. "Ringo assumed that, like in his law practice, you could aggressively, even viciously attack a bad argument in the state Legislature," says a lobbyist. "Unfortunately, being right isn't always rewarded in politics."
Former newscaster Mark Hass made an impression from the other side of the microphone this year.
"A surprisingly bright and hardworking legislator with both policy and tactical savvy," says one observer.
Before he turned to lawmaking, Hass, 44, spent 15 years as the political reporter for KATU-TV. The experience has paid off in Salem.
"There are maybe 10 people in the state who understand the school distribution system, and he was getting it on day one," says a lobbyist who watched him in the Revenue Committee. "There are people on that committee who have been in the building more than 10 years who have been faking it."
During his first session, Hass pushed through a bill that would give employers tax credits for providing higher-education scholarships. His high integrity score comes from, among other things, sticking to his belief in Oregon's land-use system even though it meant voting against the Beaverton School District on a bill that allowed schools to be sited outside the urban growth boundary.
Hass, a public-relations consultant, received laurels--and darts--for his media-savvy tactical moves on the House floor. Along with Reps. Ringo and Kafoury, he attached a minority report to a bill that would lower property taxes for landowners along the Willamette River Superfund site. The Democrats' report called for cleanup of the Willamette instead of the tax break. Thanks to him, the Willamette River got more media play that day than it had all session.
Some say another floor speech, in which he criticized GOP leaders for failing to act on his campaign-finance reform package, will hurt him.
"Huge disappointment. Managed to alienate all his campaign supporters," says one respondent. "He will become irrelevant over time."
Most Salem insiders disagree, however, and some have already pegged him to be Speaker of the House should the Democrats take back control.
"With Willem Dafoe looks, media savvy, intelligence and conviction," says one fan, "he's a born leader who can carry the broken Legislature on his back."
Bill Witt dodges classification the way Lara Croft dodges bullets.
On one hand, he is a pro-business Republican whose Catholic conservatism allies him with the far right. On the other, he is a tentative environmentalist who co-sponsored a bill to reduce mercury toxins in the environment and voted against tax breaks to Superfund polluters.
Thin and intense, Witt is the owner of Wittco Systems, a business equipment supply company in Beaverton.
"An intellectual bully who goes after citizens, lobbies, colleagues just for the thrill of the kill," says one respondent. "Few will ever match his analytical and intellectual skills, but the respect he gains for these talents is negated by people's mistrust of him."
Witt has a reputation for last-minute vote changes and behind-the-back deals. Lobbyists and fellow lawmakers watch him with a wary eye.
In his sophomore session, Witt, 49, got his own committee for the first time. As chairman of the Smart Growth and Commerce Committee, he was notorious for running marathon hearings that dragged on into the night and for which only he stayed alert enough to concentrate.
"His commerce meetings were Bataan Death Marches, only worse," says one survivor.
Witt is known for letting the personal guide the political.
"He has a specific point of view he is advocating," says a lobbyist, "and it's somewhere between craven self-interest and public interest."
In his committee he heard testimony on at least two bills that could have benefited his business. One would require business machine manufacturers to give a one-year notice before canceling a contract with an Oregon business machine dealer. (Witt denies any conflict of interest, saying that his company sells in Washington and California, not Oregon.) The other would require insurance companies to provide written notice before canceling policies for non-payment. Witt drafted the bill after his own business policy was canceled without warning.
On the other hand, he sometimes works against his political self-interest. He has so frequently challenged the Republican leadership in Salem that Sen. Roger Beyer (R-Molalla) won't release Witt's mercury bill from his Senate committee.
Witt came to the House after losing two congressional bids against Elizabeth Furse. Most people think he is still drooling for that seat, now held by David Wu. He has also mentioned he may run for governor.
This champion of suburban values has impressed the armchair pundits in Salem with his ambition. A general contractor by trade, the 32-year-old has already served on the Hillsboro City Council and is in his second term in the House of Representatives. He is also the son of ultra-conservative state Sen. Charles Starr, and has benefited by the comparison (see page 22). "More moderate than his papa and smarter, too," writes one insider.
Starr helped redraw the Republican draft of the 1st Congressional district boundaries based on the 2000 census. The proposed map has become known as the "It Sucks to Be Wu Plan," because it creates a more Republican district, leaving incumbent Democrat David Wu vulnerable to be picked off by someone like, oh, say, Bruce Starr.
Like his father, Starr strikes most people as an affable and sincere man. Unlike his father, he has managed to avoid getting tied up in the extreme conservative politics of some of his fellow Republicans.
"He does not have any zeal for any of the mean-spirited high jinks of the right-wing wackos," says one lobbyist.
Starr's highest-profile accomplishment for the session has been to pass a transportation package that raises new money for roads and bridges.
"Money for roads is a really big deal in his Washington County district," says one sage. "It's also a huge political risk for a Republican to be the poster child for raising taxes."
Starr walked the political tightrope by generating the revenue with increased title fees, not higher gas taxes.
Not everyone is so effusive with praise, however. His brains and integrity scores were average. One Salem cognoscente says Starr is too uppity for a second-termer: "He thinks he's God's gift to political life."
Rosenbaum seems well-matched to her inner Southeast Portland district, home of both genteel Ladd's Addition and yuppie-funked Belmont Avenue. The 51-year-old Reedie with the earnest personal style of a social worker has doggedly championed social justice in the Legislature, pointing out inequities in Oregon's tax code that give breaks to corporations and short shrift to the working poor. She pushed hard for a working-family childcare tax credit that received a great deal of attention early on in the session but now seems to be headed for a Republican-induced death.
She focused on one of the most charged issues of the session: the fight over the birth-control parity bill. She mentored new lawmakers Jan Lee, Carolyn Tomei and Cherryl Walker, all of whom served on the freshman-stacked Health Committee, to try to force Chairman Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) to hold a work session on the bill. It was largely Rosenbaum's procedural maneuvering that brought the bill to the House floor, where its death sparked Lee's defection from the GOP.
Still, some observers are perplexed that someone so smart and experienced hasn't grown into more of an overall leader. Rosenbaum got lower marks for diligence than several freshmen.
Second session in House
Three sessions in Senate
Randy Leonard's rating took a dizzying plunge from excellent in 1999 to just plain average this year. A legislative swashbuckler, Leonard, 48, gives floor orations passionate enough to frighten the Oregon pioneers painted on the chamber walls. He is known for pulling crafty and defiant parliamentary stunts against Republicans. This year, though, the Portland firefighter was uncharacteristically low-key, a fact some attribute to his lame-duck status.
"Leonard has been MIA on his committee assignments," says one respondent. "That's term limits working for Oregon. He has been a great legislator for many years, but without much hope of making headway on his issues he has responded by sloughing off."
Leonard is still a bulldog on certain issues, and this session he continued to tilt his lance against the Rev. Dr. Robert Pamplin Jr., owner of Ross Island Sand and Gravel (and the Portland Tribune). Last session, he became outraged when it was revealed the Port of Portland was dumping toxic fill into the Ross Island Lagoon. For two sessions, he has proposed legislation to stop it.
One of Leonard's greatest accomplishments happened not on the House floor, but on a spreadsheet. He sits on the budget committee responsible for public safety and helped craft a budget that cut unnecessary middle-management positions at the Department of Corrections instead of inmate programs--and he convinced the DOC to sign off on it.
Even though they've watched him drop off this session, few who know Leonard are eager to see him leave.
"I've seen him be one of the most effective and tenacious debaters on the floor," says one affectionately. "He can be a ferocious adversary, sort of the alpha wolf of the house. I'll miss him."
Mary Nolan made a bigger impression with her personality than with her lawmaking this session.
As one observer summarizes many similar comments, "Too bad she's so brittle and intense, because her personal demeanor gets in the way of an otherwise very good legislator."
Nolan, 46, gets high marks for her smarts and experience in public policy. She is the former director of Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services. She was a founding member and president of the Oregon National Abortion Rights Action League. As a small-business owner, she is one of the few Democrats in Salem with solid business experience. She also learned quickly that the best way for a freshman minority lawmaker to pass legislation is to team up with a Republican. Nolan worked with Rep. Jerry Krummel on a bill to set up a state-backed insurance plan for small businesses.
People who aren't put off by her bristly demeanor see great potential in Nolan. With her solid background on environmental and technical issues, she would be an asset on any Democratic Willamette cleanup plan, should the Democrats ever decide to pick up that gauntlet.
A demure Clackamas County Republican with a penchant for pastel suits became the mouse that roared this session. Jan Lee's defection from the GOP in early June was cheered by Democrats as a partisan victory.
"She takes issues on face value and has elevated the process to a new positive level," says one Democrat. "In these activities and her most recent act of courage, she has restored integrity to this process."
Not everyone thought the defection was so admirable, however. Some Republicans feel betrayed; others just think it was a lame-brained move from a pragmatic standpoint.
"She made herself totally ineffective for the rest of the session," says one lobbyist.
Still, even before she left the Republican Party, survey takers gave Lee high marks for integrity.
She stood up to the leadership on insurance coverage for prescription birth control simply because she had given her word to the bipartisan Women's Health Coalition that she would support the measure.
"That took guts for a freshman," says one observer.
Others say this 58-year-old has more to offer than Jeffords-like stunts. She is a professional consultant on water and natural resource issues, expertise that was helpful on the two water and natural resources committees on which she served.
"Her knowledge of water issues gave her clout in committee," says one observer. "She is deceptively smart and capable," says another, "which belies her quiet demeanor."
Detractors say that she was a disappointment for someone who had experience lobbying in Salem.
"Not real spectacular for someone with [supposedly] so much lobby knowledge and experience," says one respondent. "But maybe that was an indication of her lobby knowledge and experience."
Dan Gardner wins universal praise for his work recruiting Democratic candidates and raising funds for their election in 2000. Laurels for his work as minority leader during the session, however, have been in shorter supply.
Good minority leaders are ruthless political animals who ferociously attack flaws in the majority leader's plans while making it clear to the public things would be better if their party were in charge.
"Gardner did a better job selling Democratic ideas to donors than pushing Democratic ideas on the Republicans," says a lobbyist.
Gardner, 42, is a third-generation electrician in his final term representing his Sellwood and outer Southeast Portland district and is one of labor's three mustached musketeers (along with Gary Hansen and Randy Leonard). He comes across as a regular-guy Portlander: direct, pleasant and easy-going. Nice qualities in a neighbor, but some observers say the Democrats needed someone with more fire in the belly.
"The minority party has dismally been led without a leader this session," says a caucus watcher. "A missed opportunity to take advantage of a weak majority."
Part of the problem may be that Gardner did too good a job at recruitment. Freshman Mark Hass took the center stage on campaign finance and joined with fellow frosh Charlie Ringo to raise the alarm on Willamette River cleanup.
Gardner did have some highlights this session. Both Republicans and Democrats, for example, agreed that the kicker refund needed to be reduced in order to balance the budget, but Republicans wanted the Democrats to take the blame. Gardner refused and forced the Republicans to provide most of the needed votes.
Still, such victories were too few for Gardner, who most observers believe will be running for state labor commissioner in 2002.
As one lobbyist sums it up, "Being minority leader is a tough job, but I don't think the session is a whole lot different because he was there."
If the Legislature were a health club, 65-year-old Carolyn Tomei would be one of those people who stay on the Stairmaster for an hour without ever leaning on the machine.
Tomei is a wiry, high-energy and seasoned politician who suffers no fools gladly. She entered the Legislature after serving as a member of the Milwaukie Planning Council and then mayor. Pre-politics, she worked as a child-development specialist and adolescent mental health expert. Her breadth of experience led to fairly high marks for a freshman.
Her no-nonsense personality was taxed by serving on the House Health Committee under Rep. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), say observers. Last month Tomei was among the lawmakers who walked out of the committee when Kruse refused to schedule a promised work session on the now-infamous bill that would have required coverage of prescription birth control under health-insurance policies.
Tomei also received high marks for her work on both the Government Efficiency and Stream Restoration/Species Recovery committees. She didn't move legislation, but she was able to frame the debate, challenging proponents of a bill that would eliminate the delineation between wild and hatchery fish.
"She listened intently, learned, and fired back the tough questions," says one lobbyist.
On the down side, some say that even with her experience she suffers from freshman-itis.
"She has too much on her plate and lacks focus," says one observer. "She doesn't know yet how to get what she wants."
This cherubic lawmaker came to Salem with his policy guns a-blazin'.
The 54-year-old California native is the policy analyst for Multnomah County Commissioner Lisa Naito, has been an adjunct professor at Portland State University's Institute on Aging and, most importantly, spent two census cycles as a legislative reapportionment consultant for the California Senate. That means he knows how to draw legislative boundary lines and has spent much of his time in front of a computer screen doing just that for the Democratic caucus this session.
March's chipper demeanor and easy smile hasn't been lost on people looking for light in the gloomy halls of Salem.
"A jovial, refreshing Portland liberal, like they used to be," one observer describes him.
Others warn that true political clout will come from breaking out of the Portland liberal mold. "Will he develop into something more?" one respondent asks.
Most people, however, are almost pathetically grateful for this first-termer's knowledge of the system.
"Frankly, with term limits, Capitol veterans just appreciate those who know what you are talking about and can remember the conversation a week later. March started with those attributes, which is more than can be said for about a third of the lawmakers," says one weary lobbyist.
"Too soon to judge," most Capitol watchers say about Jackie Dingfelder.
"The floor pages probably have as much clout as a minority freshman appointed two-thirds of the way into a legislative session," says another, explaining her bottom-of-the-barrel rating in that category.
Dingfelder came to Salem in April, selected to replace JoAnn Bowman after she left her seat for an unsuccessful bid for Multnomah County chair.
The benefit of her newbie status is that she hasn't made anyone mad yet. The 40-year-old fish lover receives high marks for integrity and smarts, and if her district survives the reapportionment battle, Dingfelder could be a strong environmental voice from Portland.
She heads the watershed support program at For the Sake of the Salmon. Though she was not assigned to any environmental committees when she arrived in Salem, she has been lurking in the audience, trying to take a crash course on state policies.
"For coming in so late, Jackie has laid the groundwork for next session," says one lobbyist.
LAURIE MONNES ANDERSON
Laurie Monnes Anderson is a nurse. She's a nurse in the way T.S. Garp's mother was a nurse. It is her calling and her identity. Her House office is a museum of nursing tchotchkes.
Understandably, this Gresham freshman has deflected budget cuts that threaten school-based health clinics. She also worked on a bill that would address the almost chronic nursing shortage in area hospitals.
However, as grateful as people are to have a health expert in the Capitol, most would like Anderson to expand her repertoire. Observers say she struggled on the Smart Growth and Commerce Committee and the Water and Environment Committee.
"Once out of health-care issues, she's out of her league," says one lobbyist.
As a result, the 55-year-old Anderson fell below the radar of most observers. With her soft features and earnest manner, many respondents dismissed her as timid. Those who have worked with her, however, say that when challenged, she can show some spunk, even becoming difficult and shrill. They warn Anderson to tone it down before Nurse Ratchet, not Florence Nightingale, becomes her nickname.
Two years ago, in her first session, this family and business attorney earned a solid "average" rating. Her numbers dropped in 2001. It is widely believed that Lowe is intelligent, committed and compassionate, but it became clear this session that she has not been able to hold the demons of cynicism at bay.
"She developed a defeatist attitude early on this session and has been acting on that ever since," says a lobbyist.
Last session the 51-year-old earned a reputation for bipartisanship. This year, it seemed, the cold reality of party politics showed her the full liability of being in the minority. In 1999, for example, Lowe unsuccessfully championed a bill to provide unemployment insurance to victims of domestic abuse so they could start their lives over. This year Majority Leader Karen Minnis introduced the same bill and got it to the governor's desk. Lowe's name was on the bill as a co-sponsor, but Minnis got all the credit, forcing Lowe to grit her teeth.
It seemed as if Lowe, who entered the 2001 session hell-bent on pushing through a women's health agenda, gave up.
"Her attitude showed in the way she talked about things," says an observer. "She'd say: 'Let's try this or that, but it won't matter anyway.'"
Still, Lowe, who looks somewhat like an older, more jaded Rosie O'Donnell, is respected by many, and that will help when she runs for Verne Duncan's Senate seat next year. She juggled five committee assignments this session, which is a heavy workload, and did solid work on the House Judiciary Committee. She also teamed up with Rep. Rob Patridge (R-Medford) to force a vote on an energy deregulation delay, against the wishes of the Speaker of the House.
"Kathy is smart and very honest," says one respondent.
If his name weren't on the House roster, most people say they wouldn't know he was there.
"Gary who?" asks one respondent.
Hansen. That's Gary Hansen. He's a plumber. He's been a member of the plumbing and pipefitters union since the era of lead pipes. He has also been a Multnomah County commissioner and Metro Council member. He's a thin 57-year-old with a grizzled face and a penchant for red socks.
Other than that, there doesn't seem to be much to say about Hansen.
"Good ol' Gary. So many years in the political game, so little to show for it," says an observer.
Hansen served this session on the natural resource and public safety budget subcommittees. He asked few questions, challenged no positions. He is, by default, an assistant minority leader for the Democratic caucus but has avoided a leadership role.
"Hansen works hard and is a senior legislator," says one observer, "but somehow he doesn't seem to leave a big footprint."
See side column for "AWFUL."
Whoo-ee, Jim Hill gives folks the willies. "He has a way of staring at you that makes you wonder if he's even there," says one respondent.
Maybe it's the geek thing.
The director of Internet operations for a company called Wellpartner, Hill is not gifted in the human art of politics.
"It is not uncommon to meet Hill when he is dressed down in shoes without socks, a dress coat over a T-shirt which is half tucked into his pants and a case of bedhead from napping at his desk," says one respondent. "He is more naturally suited to meet people online."
Hill, 36, has had the bad luck of being a moderate Republican who has served mostly in an era of small-minded and dogmatic right-wing leadership. Some think that turned him bitter and prone to strike out at the powerful. When OHSU President Peter Kohler testified in front of Hill's Advancing E-Government subcommittee of Ways and Means, for example, reports are that Hill viciously berated him over the fine points of the budget.
Yet Hill gets high marks as a savant of the rules and regulations that govern the daily workings of the Legislature. During the House session on House Bill 2010, the Superfund tax break bill that the Democrats tried to undermine, Hill deflected Rep. Randy Leonard's procedural challenges simply by understanding the system better.
Chris Beck has a stuffed Eeyore in his House office and has taken the character on as a totem animal. Like the depressed donkey, he's a sloucher and a scowler and can issue a snort of derision that echoes through the building.
A project manager for the Trust for Public Land, the 38-year-old Beck grew up in the westside Portland district he now serves. On paper, he fits his highly political and mostly affluent district. He understands land use, transportation, environmental issues and what makes Portland Portland.
In reality, though, respondents say he is doing a disservice to his constituents.
One respondent sums up the problem this way: "Chris is smart but passive and has a 'why bother' attitude when it comes to advancing legislation. He knows the issues well, but spends more time complaining than creating."
"He's not engaged," says one lobbyist. "It's not a good presentation for such a high-energy, vivacious district."
This session Beck had his chance. His land-use expertise earned him a seat on a work group trying to forge a compromise on Ballot Measure 7, which radically affected land-use law. But rather than take on that issue, he got involved in the ugly battle over the siting of Riverdale High School.
He has spent three sessions lamenting that it was too hard to accomplish anything while being in the minority party, a thin excuse when you look at the performance of fellow urban Democrats Mark Hass and Deborah Kafoury. "One-note tune," says one respondent.
Over his time in the House, Beck has become notorious for introducing legislation that is just plain silly while failing to engage with the important issues of the day. He draws gibes for bills such as the ban on leaf blowers and beach lights that came last session and a ban on corporate sponsorship of public spaces this year.
"He's in the wrong game," says one observer. "He should be a reporter or an observer. I think he has a very accurate estimation of what's going on, he just can't act on it. He's a misfit here. Legislator isn't what he was meant to be."
Jerry Krummel dropped to the bottom of the heap this year, but he didn't have that far to go. "Dead ringer for the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz," says one lobbyist. "Affable but goofy. Known for being a tad flaky."
Lobbyists say they avoid Krummel because he won't give them a commitment on whether he'll vote for or against them. That has given him a reputation as someone who largely does what he is told by big-dollar donors and Republican leaders.
"This guy could have a second career as a weathervane," says one respondent. "He just goes wherever the wind blows. He stands for nothing and everything at the same time."
Krummel is consistent on one thing--providing the kind of thoughtful conservative analysis of the issues that comes with a quick read through the Drudge Report.
When a bill that would expand federally funded treatment for women with breast cancer came up in front of his health committee, for example, he said he couldn't support it because it was discriminatory against men.
One charitable soul in the Capitol was able to put Krummel in context. "He gets a worse rap than he deserves," says the soft-hearted lobbyist. "He's a good guy whose candle isn't all that bright. Sure, he's not Max Williams, he's not Bruce Starr, but hell, most of the people in the world aren't either."
--The author extends deep gratitude to the insightful, witty and daring comments from the best set of Salem Insiders® ever to darken the hallways of the Capitol.