Shemia Fagan: Another Oregon Democrat Takes A Fall

What is it about some politicians who just can’t behave?

I remember a saying I was told growing up in New England, “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your parents to read about the next morning in the paper.” 

Former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who resigned under pressure today, should have followed that advice.

If she had, she certainly wouldn’t have signed up for a $10,000 a month consulting contract with the owners of the La Mota chain of cannabis dispensaries at the same time her office audited state regulations on cannabis businesses. Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) has pointed out that the cannabis entrepreneurs are also high-profile Democratic donors.

According to OPB, Fagan, a single mother with two children, justified taking the consulting job by saying she simply could not pay her bills on her $77,000-a-year state salary.

Some of this behavior, unfortunately, has a precedent among Oregon Democrats.

In 1993, I wrote a story for The Oregonian spelling out how John Kitzhaber, when he was State Senate President, pulled in about $90,000 in speaking fees around the country during his last three years as a legislator.

Kitzhaber had earned approximately $35,000 in honoraria in 1990, about $20,000 in 1991 and about $35,000 in 1992, with payments ranging from $100 to $3,000 per speech, plus expenses. As Senate president, Kitzhaber also was paid a monthly salary of about $1,976 during those years.

Kitzhaber ‘s draw was his advocacy of the Oregon Health Plan, a proposal to reform Oregon’s Medicaid program to broaden the number of people covered by limiting the types of procedures eligible for reimbursement. Kitzhaber authored the plan and shepherded it through the Legislature in 1989.

Fagan’s behavior is also reminiscent of the sudden downfall of Jennifer Williamson, a former House majority leader and a leading contender to be Oregon’s next secretary of state in 2020. Williamson suddenly dropped out of the race, attributing her action to a forthcoming story in Willamette Week about questionable expenditures of campaign funds when she served in the House.  

When will politicians learn?

Virginia’s Nov. 7 election: rural vs. urban is the story


Democrats sweep in Virginia…as voters reject ‘Trumpism’, “ said OregonLive.

I’m not sure it’s that simple.

If you look at maps that break down election results by county in Virginia you will quickly see that it wasn’t so much Trumpism vs. Liberals as urban vs. rural. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate won by sweeping heavily liberal urban areas, but lost by big margins in rural areas.

It reminds me of statewide Oregon elections.

In 2016, when Kate Brown won the race for governor, her win was derived almost entirely from higher population urban areas, including counties with academic centers, such as the University of Oregon (Lane County) and Oregon State University (Benton County)


BLUE: Kate Brown; RED: Bud Pierce

John Kitzhaber’s 2014 race against Dennis Richardson followed the same pattern:


BLUE: Kitzhaber; RED: Richardsonn

Now look at the results of the Nov. 2017 governor’s race in Virginia, where voters chose Democrat Ralph Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie 54 percent to 45 percent.


RED: Gillespie    BLUE: Northam

The New York Times reported  that Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam won the race against Republican Ed Gillespie with huge margins in vote-rich metropolitan Virginia, and especially the populous Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia.

For example, in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest county (and where I used to live when working in Wash., D.C.) twice as many voters supported Northam than Gillespie. Northam also carried Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County by more than 23,000 votes — a 20-point spread.

Maps on the New York Times website  also show Northam’s big vote advantages in other urban areas, including Richmond (The State Capitol), Norfolk (Home to the largest U.S. Navy base in the world, Naval Station Norfolk, and one of NATO’s two Strategic Command headquarters, Roanoke ( Roanoke College , Hollins University and Virginia Tech  are in the area), and Harrisonburg (home to James Madison University, with an enrollment of 21,000 students).

Northam also did well in southeastern Virginia, where the state’s large black population is heavily concentrate. Northam also comes from Virginia’s eastern shore,

Meanwhile, Gillespie rolled up huge margins in rural areas, sometimes 70-80 percent of the vote. In southwest Virginia’s Scott County, for example, Gillespie took 81.4 percent, Northam 17.7 percent. The problem is all the rural areas couldn’t override Northam’s vote in populous urban areas.  Gillespie’s win got him just 4996 votes in Scott County., while Gillespie’s 67.9 percent win in Fairfax County got him 254,919 votes.

“Rural Virginia, mostly stuck with the GOP brand and backed Gillespie at almost the same levels as Trump,” Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told the New York Times. “However, the problem for the rural areas is that Gillespie didn’t make any inroads in the Urban Crescent, meaning that the more urban and suburban parts of the state trumped the heavily Republican vote in areas such as Southwest Virginia, Southside, and the Shenandoah Valley.

This election suggests that the state’s politics may remain very polarized, with urban areas being very Democratic, suburban and exurban areas leaning Democratic, and rural areas voting heavily Republican.”

In other words, despite the Democrat’s success this week, it’s no sure thing that 2018 will see a Democratic sweep.











Oregon’s abandonment of higher education: it’s criminal

The Oregon Legislature should be declared a crime scene.

Oregon’s state universities are increasingly that in name only. Because of the Legislature’s calculated callousness or pure indifference in funding Oregon universities, young people across the state are facing soaring college loan debts and diminished opportunities for higher education.

The state is also sabotaging its goal of ensuring that 40 percent of all adult Oregonians have a bachelor’s degree or higher by 2025 and undermining the rationale for the state having a say in the operations of what are still called public universities.


Governor John Kitzhaber says he deserves to be re-elected because he froze tuition at Oregon colleges.

Sure, for one year.

In June, the state Board of Higher Education approved a tuition freeze for in-state undergraduates for the 2014-2015 academic year.

But that was after steadily escalating tuition rates for in-state undergraduates, particularly after voters approved Measure 5 in 1990 and K-12 school funding shifted to the state, with a devastating impact on state support for higher education that has continued to today.

Over the past 15 years, tuition and fees at the University of Oregon, for example, leaped from $3810 for the 1999-2000 academic year to $9918 for the 2014-2015 academic year.

In other words, since the 1999-2000 academic year, tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates have increased 160 percent. You can’t duck the fact that this
substantially outpaced the 42.8 percent rate of inflation.

During that same period, the state’s share of the University of Oregon’s annual operating budget has been in steady retreat from 17.1 percent in 1999-2000 to 5.5 percent in 2013-2014. Extrapolating this trend, state investment will reach zero by 2022.

Coincident with the loss of state support has been an increase in out-of-state students. In the 2013-2014 academic year, non-residents, undergraduate and graduate, reached 46.5 percent of total enrollment.

The University cloaks the leap in out-of-state students as a well-intentioned effort to ensure diversity, but it’s really all about money. In 2014-2015, for example, while in-state students are paying $9918 in tuition and fees, out-of-state students are paying $30,888.

It could be argued that out-of-state students aren’t displacing in-state students, given that the number of undergraduate in-state students has increased about 20 percent since 1999-2000. The number of out-of-state students, however, mushroomed by 250 percent during the same period.

What that means is that the university is likely drawing fewer students from low-income Oregon families and competing more aggressively for students who can afford a more expensive education. In addition, as the state’s population has increased, it’s getting tougher for in-state students to get in.

Had the state not cut university funding so severely, it could have or kept tuition and fees down or accommodated more in-state students.

The pullback in state funding raises the question of why the state continues to impose its will on the universities in so many ways. “The defunding of public higher education by the states inevitably inaugurates a new conversation about who controls them and whose interests are to be served,” says Thomas Mortenson, senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.



Originally published in the Hillsboro Argus, Oct. 28, 2013



Killing Trust: Kitzhaber the unobservant

John Kitzhaber’s latest tour of duty in the governor’s chair has exposed him as an empty suit in terms of faithfully overseeing the government he runs.


First, he hired education czar Rudy Crew. Remember him?

Rudy Crew (R) with Governor Kitzhaber

Rudy Crew (R) with Governor Kitzhaber

Crew checked in to his $280,000 a year job as Oregon’s first chief education officer in June 2012. Hailed by Kitzhaber as a man with a track record of leadership and innovation, his collapse as a leader was quick and dramatic.

Crew spent a year travelling extensively, often first class, on the state’s dime to speak at non-Oregon related events, took vacations at every turn, and made the scrambled eggs-and-bacon circuit around the state, telling the same heartwarming stories over and over again, while he continued to make money on the side. On July 1, 2013, Crew checked out and headed back East, a failed experiment in every way.

“How big of a setback was the Rudy Crew fiasco?” Portland Business Journal Publisher Craig Wessel asked Kitzhaber in January 2014. “It had to be difficult.”
“It was,” Kitzhaber responded. “It was an embarrassment.”

It was more than that. It was a complete failure to exercise good judgment and to oversee the performance of a key figure in Kitzhaber’s administration.

Then there’s Cover Oregon, another debacle.


Millions were spent there on a disastrous website, ubiquitous advertising and highly paid top staff (The total compensation of the each of the top ten highest paid of Cover Oregon’s employees in early 2014 was between $154,000 and $229,000, more than their boss, Kitzhaber.) In April 2014, Cover Oregon’s board of directors voted to close the state-run exchange and adopt the Federal exchange in 2015.

Cover Oregon’s troubles were compounded when the state tried shenanigans to avoid making public a scathing report on the program by consultant, Clyde Hamstreet. The report was made available to the media only after it was requested under Oregon Public Records Law.

“In retrospect, I should have been more engaged in the (Cover Oregon) project,” Kitzhaber said in November 2013. I’ll say.

Then there’s the matter of First Lady Cylvia Hayes.

Cylvia Hayes at an Oct. 9. 2014 press conference where she admitted entering into an illegal marriage in 1997.

Cylvia Hayes at an Oct. 9. 2014 press conference where she admitted entering into an illegal marriage in 1997.

On Oct. 8, Willamette Week raised serious questions about her business dealings and possible conflicts of interest while associated with Kitzhaber. Subsequent stories have disclosed that, unknown to Kitzhaber, Hayes accepted $5,000 as payment for illegally marrying an Ethiopian immigrant in 1997, allowing the man to remain in the U.S.

On Oct. 12, Kitzhaber asked the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to determine whether Hayes is subject to state ethics laws and, if so, whether she has broken them.

A better question is why is he only paying attention now? Where has he been since his third term began on ensuring that all of Hayes’ business relationships comported fully with state ethics rules?

Pay attention, John.

Cover Oregon: big management paydays/ small results



When Clyde Hamstreet took over as Interim Executive Director of Cover Oregon earlier this month, he said one of his priorities would be clamping down on spending. He might want to start by looking at the compensation of his senior staff.

That’s because the fiasco that is Cover Oregon has still found a way to pay some pretty hefty salaries and generous benefits.

While the focus of most Cover Oregon media coverage has been on the utter failure of its enrollment website and the millions paid to contractors, little has been said about the employees behind the scenes.

Cover Oregon’s 2013-2015 budget for personnel is $18 million. That covers 175 employees.

The top ten highest paid of those employees are all getting more than their boss, Governor John Kitzhaber, whose annual salary is $98,600. With benefits, Kitzhaber’s total annual compensation is $125,163.

In contrast, the total compensation of each of the ten highest paid Cover Oregon staff exceeds $150,000.

Before Interim Executive Director Bruce Goldberg resigned in March, his annual compensation totaled $229,761.

The salaries, benefits and total compensation of the rest of the top 10, which includes state payment of 95 percent of their health insurance premiums, are as follows:


Chief Communications Officer $132,516 $35,700 $168,216
Sr. Mktg Mngr $132,516  $35,700






Chief Policy Officer $132,516










Position title Current salary Benefits* Total Compensation
Operations Mngr. $122,000 $32,867 $154,867
Operations Liaison $125,002 $33,676 $158,678
Functional Lead $150,000 $40,410 $190,410
Chief Operating Officer $162,516 $43,782 $206,298
Chief Information Officer $162,516 $43,782 $206,298
Executive Director $181,000 $48,761 $229,761

*Derived from a benefits factor equal to 26.94 percent of salary, based on 2013 overall year-end totals. Source: Cover Oregon

But even with all this high-paid firepower, Cover Oregon couldn’t get the job done.

Maybe part of the reason is because Cover Oregon employees have so much time off. According to Cover Oregon’s recruitment information, benefits for all employees include 30 days of paid time off and 11 paid holidays annually. That adds up to 41 days, or more than 8 weeks, off each year. Not a bad deal … for them.



What didn’t he know and why didn’t he know it?

This is really getting embarrassing.

Washington State has directly enrolled 454,009 people in health insurance through its Healthplanfinder website since launch day, Oct. 1, 2013. The number of health insurance enrollments directly through Oregon’s Cover Oregon website since Oct. 1, 2013? Zero. Zilch.

The launch of Oregon’s much ballyhooed Cover Oregon website has been like a rolling catastrophe, a hot mess even more embarrassing after Oregonians were bombarded for months by a multimillion dollar campaign featuring quirky, down-home advertisements.

As the Cover Oregon debacle has plodded on, Governor John Kitzhaber has tried to shift public attention away from the hapless website, saying in Nov. 2013, “Cover Oregon works, the website doesn’t work.” That’s pretty much what President Obama said after Obamacare’s website failed spectacularly on its Oct. 1, 2013 rollout. “The Affordable Care Act is not just a website,” he said. “It’s much more.”

A former emergency room doctor with a national reputation for healthcare innovation, pulling in speaking fees for healthcare presentations around the country during his first two and current terms, and a declared candidate for an unprecedented fourth term, Kitzhaber has a lot riding on Cover Oregon.

So why did he let this fiasco happen on his watch?

For somebody touted as a skillful politician and manager, and a governor likely concerned about his legacy, his failure to keep a close watch on the Cover Oregon website from the outset is an egregious error for which there is really no excuse.

Myriad explanations have been proffered for why the website didn’t work on Oct. 1 and is still comatose, including the complexity of the project, internal feuding, bureaucratic bungling, shifting federal guidance, poor management, lack of state expertise and big mistakes by the primary software firm, Oracle Corp.

Whatever the reason, Kitzhaber should have been bird-dogging the project from day one.

And the well-compensated people working at Cover Oregon, all rewarded with six weeks of paid time off plus 11 holidays each year and 95 percent state coverage of health insurance, should have felt obligated to give Kitzhaber a heads up when things were going off the rails. Or he should have noticed.

After all, Cover Oregon’s problems as the work was underway were legion and well-documented.   failed to meet the terms of the initial federal grant for the project, which stipulated that the website was supposed to be ready to go by Feb. 15, 2013.

Then, in May an internal Cover Oregon report revealed that the exchange was infested with technical bugs.

In mid-August, another warning came when Cover Oregon said Oregonians would be able to look online for insurance plans beginning Oct. 1, but wouldn’t be able to enroll in coverage or tax credits for the first few weeks without an agent or community partner.

Moreover, Rocky King, former executive director of Cover Oregon, has said it became obvious during the summer that the website wouldn’t be fully ready by Oct. 1.

But on Dec. 14, 2013, Kitzhaber said he’d been just as unaware of Cover Oregon’s technical problems as other Oregonians and didn’t learn until Sept. 30 that the Oct. 1 website launch would be cancelled.

Kitzhaber, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader have done the expected, blaming Oracle, —, and insisting that the company make good on its commitment to producing a working website. Late last year Kitzhaber admitted at a press conference, “I think I should have been more engaged on this project,” but now he’s clamming up, refusing interview requests from The Oregonian in connection with an article on the chaos associated with the website.

Meanwhile, Cover Oregon’s website still proclaims, “We’re one of the first states to build our own health insurance marketplace. We’re setting the standard for making health coverage more accessible and easier to understand.”

Not so much.