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Scott Bruun: Why Choosing Lynne Saxton Is A Smart Move for Kitzhaber

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Lynne Saxton

For Governor John Kitzhaber, 2015 may prove to be a tough year.  His recently proposed budget, long on new public programs but short on the private economic growth needed to pay for it all, will face a difficult time even with Democrats controlling the legislature.

At the same time, continued revelations about abuse of position and misuse of government resources and personnel at Mahonia Hall will keep the governor scrambling to stay ahead of the wolves.  All this is to say that despite his recent re-election, the only honeymoon Kitzhaber is likely to see is a future one with the First Girlfriend. 

And yet, give our Governor credit where credit is due.  His recent nomination of Lynne Saxton to head the Oregon Health Authority is timely and politically shrewd.

Lynne Saxton, a Republican, is among the most talented and dynamic leaders that our state has to offer.  For the last dozen-or-so years she has served as executive director for ChristieCare, which later merged with a larger organization to become Youth Villages of Oregon.  At Youth Villages, Saxton and her team have worked to provide physical and emotional stability for Oregon’s highest-risk children.

As a private entity, Youth Villages works under the direction of Oregon’s cities, counties, and the state Department of Human Resources to deliver residential treatment and in-home services for children with emotional and behavioral problems.  Simply put, the job of Saxton and her team has been to discover and apply best practices toward improved outcomes for juvenile behavioral health.  Or in other words, her job has been to keep Oregon’s children from falling through the ever-widening cracks of our broken world.  

Now, as the future director of the Oregon Health Authority, Saxton will put her skills and experience to work leading the agency wholly responsible for public healthcare in Oregon; including Medicaid (Oregon Health Plan), child and mental healthcare services.  If past is precedent, Lynne Saxton will be among the best agency heads that our state has seen.  And let’s be honest, after the Cover Oregon health insurance fiasco, Governor Kitzhaber and our state could use a win on healthcare.

Kitzhaber’s nomination of Saxton is smart for several reasons.  For starters, Saxton is a first-rate executive who’s demonstrated that she can deliver results on a limited budget.  She is accustomed to an environment where continued access to budget dollars is dependent on delivering quantifiable results.

Saxton is also a consensus-builder.  Success in her past work required the ability to bring diverse groups and interests together toward common goals.  In this area, she is especially strong in bringing clarity and purpose to the misunderstood world of mental health care and treatment.  An area which still suffers from generations of bias and misunderstanding, and remains among the biggest of public challenges in Oregon.  

Saxton, too, is a visionary.  She sees something , sees how it can be better, then uses her adept strategic thinking and diplomacy skills to bring reality to that vision.  This was key to her success at Youth Villages. This will also be key in helping Saxton lead a complex and often controversial agency like the Oregon Health Authority.  

Finally, and important for navigating Salem, Saxton has outstanding political skills.  She was a tremendous asset and strategic partner for her husband, Ron Saxton, eight years ago when he was the Republican gubernatorial nominee.  

I remember attending a fundraising event for Ron Saxton that year in the upstairs ballroom of the Portland Art Museum.  The event, which featured former-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the keynote attraction, had an audience of around 500-to-600 people.  I arrived early and remember watching, in awe, as Lynne Saxton worked the ballroom front-to-back.  There were perhaps forty-five or so of those round banquet tables.  Lynne Saxton was able to make the rounds, greeting and engaging people at every table, and leave everyone at those tables with smiles on their faces.  In all my years of attending and observing campaign events, from would-be state legislators and congressional candidates, to aspirants for high office including presidential candidates, I’ve never seen anyone work a room as well as Lynne Saxton.   

It’s just that kind of retail political skill, combined with managerial excellence and a visionary outlook, which will help Saxton be the bright spot for Oregon government in 2015. A bright spot that a troubled governor sorely needs.

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs, yet dutifully commutes every day to Portland, where he earns his living on the fifth floor of Big Pink.


Related Slideshow: Slideshow: 14 Biggest Political Stories of 2014

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INVESTIGATION: Merkley Spends 78% of His Campaign Funds with Businesses Outside Oregon

In Sept. GoLocalPDX reported: While incumbent Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) talks a lot about his effort to grow jobs in Oregon, a GoLocalPDX investigation found that Merkley’s campaign spends millions of dollars of campaign funds with businesses in Washington, DC, California, Minnesota and Wyoming to name a few of the locations.

According to an analysis of federal campaign reports, Merkley spent $3,276,106  - 78% of the dollars spent - with printers, copywriters, designers and consultants outside the state. Only 22% was spent with Oregon-based businesses.


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Oregon Drivers Card, Measure 88 Fails

Measure 88 was voted down on Nov 4, meaning four-year driver licenses will not be available be to undocumented residents. GoLocalPDX reported at the time:

The measure was put on the ballot after a 2013 Oregon legislature passed SB 833 that allowed the DMV to issue driver cards to undocumented residents. Two groups, Oregonians for Immigration Reform PAC and the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses Committee, led the petition campaign to put the decision to voters. 


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Oregon Candidates and Their Biggest Donors

In Nov. GoLocalPDX reported: Oregon is one of only five states in the country with no limits on campaign contributions and it’s reflective in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that poured into statewide candidates' pockets this election cycle. 

As voters complete their ballots by Election Day on Nov. 4, they might want to take note of who gave candidates the most money and who might have their ear if they’re elected. From Nike Chairman Phil Knight’s $250,000 donation to Gov. John Kitzhaber to a $33,000 individual contribution for state senate candidate Dave Dotterer, it’s clear big money is a player this election season. 

“It (limitless campaign contributions) creates a breeding ground for corruption,” said Daniel Weiner, counsel in the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. 


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History of Insider Dealings Dogs Alberta St. Developer

In Oct. GoLocalPDX reported: The Southern California developer of a controversial project on NE Alberta Street has a track record of funneling money to officials who end up in hot water. 

Majestic Realty Co. is developing a 20,000-square-foot shopping center with Natural Grocer as the anchor store at the intersection of Alberta and NE Martin Luther King Jr. Streets in Portland. The site sparked controversy earlier this year when the city struck a deal with Trader Joe’s to build a store there. Trader Joe’s eventually pulled out over community concerns of gentrification.


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Federal Investigation into Cover Oregon Costs Ore. Taxpayers $146K

 federal investigation into Cover Oregon, the state's failed health exchange website, has cost Oregon taxpayers over $146,000 as of Oct 21. 

A law firm hired to represent the state in a pending FBI investigation has invoiced for over $123,000 and the state fund set up to represent employees embroiled in legal trouble has spent over $23,000, according to records obtained by GoLocalPDX. 

“The price for two years of gross mismanagement at Cover Oregon keeps adding up, especially because the current administration doesn’t have a problem throwing good money after bad," Senate Republicans spokesman Michael Gay said. 


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Ethics Commission Denies Governor, Investigation Moves Forward

On Nov. 7, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission denied a request by Governor Johns Kitzhaber to advise him on whether his fiancée Cylvia Hayes had broken ethics rules and whether or not she even qualified as a public official.

The Commission ruled that it could only give advice on hypothetical situations not situations that had already happened. This sets up a full ethics violation ruling.

Kitzhaber requested an opinion from the commission on Oct. 13, after stories surfaced in the media saying that Hayes had obtained unethical benefit from her duel role as a paid consultant and “First Lady” of Oregon.


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Oregon GOP to Demand State Ethics Commission Investigate Kitzhaber

On Oct 15, as the Cylvia Hayes scandal began to gain steam, The Oregon Republican Party called for an investigation by the state ethics commission into Gov. John Kitzhaber, over alleged ethics violations committed by the governor and Cylvia Hayes. 

The ORP complaint triggered an investigation into both Kitzhaber and Hayes. The party claimed both Hayes and Kitzhaber violated the Oregon Government Ethics law, or ORS 244.320. 

The GOP filing came on the heels of Kitzhaber’s request that the ethics commission provide an opinion on whether Hayes is a public official and subject to the ethics laws. The request was later denied.


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Is Portland City Council White By Law?

When GoLocalPDX launched on August 31, we asked the question, is there anyway for minorities to get elected under Portland’s commissioner system:

In the past 100 years, only 4 percent of Portland’s city council members have been racial minorities. 
According to legal experts, it is almost impossible in the current structure of city government for minorities to get elected. 

"When people see that there are no people of color represented on the city council, they automatically assume there are no people of color that live in the city," said Cyreena Boston Ashby, director of the Portland African American Leadership Forum.


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GMO Labeling, Measure 92 Goes Down

Oregon voters have rejected a statewide ballot measure that would have required the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, according initial projections that came in Nov 4.

With 94 percent of the votes in, the measure is failing with a 51 percent to 49 percent margin.

Opposition to Measure 92 received more financial contributions and spent more money than any other political campaign in Oregon’s 2014 election, raising over $17 million and spending a total of $20.6 million.

The final tallies came in closer and triggered an automatic recount, but in the end the measure failed by only 800 votes.


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Hayes Scandal Could Implode Kitzhaber’s Campaign

In Oct, GoLocalPDX asked local political experts if the emerging Cylvia Hayes scandal might impact Kitzhaber’s political fortunes:

If the scandal over Cylvia Hayes, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s fiancee, continues to unfold, even with a locked-in-place electorate like Oregon’s race for governor, political tides could shift, political experts say. 
“Kitzhaber’s going to be in trouble,” said Bob Moore, owner of Moore Information, an opinion research group that conducts political polling. “Here’s somebody that calls herself the first lady of Oregon. It’s like, ‘c’mon, you have to be above reproach.'

"You’re embarrassing the governor, for one thing, and is the governor paying attention?”


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Kitzhaber Does Not List Hayes on Financial Disclosures 

In Oct, GoLocalPDX revealed that Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber didn't list his fiancee Cylvia Hayes in a 2013 ethics document that required him to name lobbyists he had a relationship with.

In a Statement of Economic Interests document obtained by GoLocalPDX and filed with the Oregon Ethics Commission, Kitzhaber stated that his household received income from two companies, Energy Foundation and Resource Media, that had contracted with Hayes' consulting firm E3 Strategies. 

But under a section that required him to disclose “any compensated lobbyist who was associated with a business with which you or a member or your household was associated during 2013” Kitzhaber simply put “N/A” or not applicable.


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Recreational Marijuana Legalized in Ore.

Voters passed Measure 91, making Oregon the third state to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use on Nov.4.

Yes on 91 volunteer Martha Duff said, "Tonight Oregon won a great victory, decades in the making."

Supporters of the measure held a Portland party on election night evening to celebrate the new law. While a number of attendees were from the Portland area, some supporters made the journey from out-of-state to witness, what they called, history in the making.


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"Oregon First Lady" Role is Legal Fiction

GoLocalPDX reported in Oct that a “state ethics investigation into the actions of Cylvia Hayes will be complicated by the fact that her role as a public official and as “First Lady” of Oregon is nowhere to be found in Oregon State law.”

After the state GOP filed an ethics complaint, Cylvia Hayes will be the focus of an ethics investigation to determine if she, as First Lady, broke rules governing the behavior of a public official. The problem is, there’s no such thing as a “First Lady” under Oregon state law.

“There’s no such thing if you look it up in the statutes,” said Christopher Shortell, an Associate Professor of Political Science at PSU’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government. 


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Biden Lauds Oregon Senator Who Resigned Amid Sexual Harassment Claims

During a speech to women on Sept 19, US Vice President Joe Biden praised former U.S. Senator Bob Packwood, the Oregon Senator who resigned in 1995 amid numerous accusations of sexual harassment.

During a Democratic National Committee's Women’s Leadership Forum meeting, Vice President Biden held up Packwood as an example of Republicans who previously championed issues now mostly favored by Democrats, such as raising the minimum wage. 



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