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Vol 1 No. 10                       January 6, 2005 

What’s A Little Cronyism Among Friends?
or, A Confabulation of Asses

report by
Hart Williams

An old English saying reminds us that ‘A new broom sweeps clean.’ Traditionally, a new administration, whether at the local level or at the level of the presidency installs new officers and functionaries to create a new beginning.

This should have been true after the Lane County Democratic Party’s December reorganization, when the cronies of the old regime were defeated by a new slate of candidates, nearly all of whom came from the ad hoc grass-roots organization “Lane County for Kerry” -- about which, wrote the Southern Oregon Kerry coordinator, Shum Preston, "I feel very lucky ... upon my arrival, I had a ready-made steering committee, an organizational structure, and a list of hundreds of volunteers.” He also privately confided to this reporter that without LC4K, there would have been NO organization in place for the campaign. The DPLC was, he stated at an LC4K Steering Committee meeting in September, “a clusterfuck.”

The Lane County regime of Pat Riggs-Henson from 2002-2004 had been nothing, if not an unmitigated disaster. Cronyism, a blatant disregard for the rules and bylaws, and outright lying to the PCPs about the financial and organizational strength of the DPLC became common. Riggs-Henson had promised to “attend every meeting,” even though a 30-year track record in Lane County Democratic and union politics belied this glib assertion.

These misgivings proved founded: her attendance was abysmal, and office workers complained of being unable to even contact her. Newspaper reporters looking for a sound bite on political controversies (a traditional role of the party Chair) were too-often reduced to writing "Riggs-Henson was unavailable for comment."

The final arrogance of the putative DPLC leadership was to appoint a “recruitment” committee to name their successors, an astonishing conceit that presumed that they had done such a sterling job that they had a right to name the next set of officers. None of their picks made the cut, with the exception of the Secretary -- a woman of such astonishing incompetence that she could not accurately transcribe language unanimously approved by the Central Committee when it was typed and handed to her.

Be that as it may, Riggs-Henson and her cronies have insinuated themselves into the new administration, insisting on their appointment to the new Executive Committee, which would seem an utter abrogation of the will of the voters in selecting a fresh start after two years characterized by ugly meetings, personal vindictiveness and wholesale manipulation and cover-up.

If you doubt that, consider “Chili-gate.”

A “chili cook off” was scheduled for the Morse Ranch in July. The strange rules of this cook off were that the “judges” -- all prominent Democratic politicians -- would decide who had made the best chili based mostly on “bribes” which was meant to be the main fundraising activity. Notwithstanding the distasteful basis of the “contest” -- and it should be telling that the contest was cooked up by the union cronies of Riggs-Henson, who had come to power by stacking the 2002 reorganization with union PCPs ordered to vote a straight ticket -- it turned out that no one had bothered to tell the politicos what to DO with the “bribes.” So they put them in their pockets and walked away.

At the succeeding Executive Committee meeting, the debacle was discussed, it was decided to NOT ask for the money, and agreed upon NOT to tell the membership about the fiasco. This was typical of the Riggs-Henson regime.

But now, Riggs-Henson is “working closely” with the new Chair, Valerie Hoyle, and lobbying intensely to get her old cronies reappointed as chairs of the committees.

There is, for instance, the previous Vice Chair, Dan Isaacson, who wants to be “Fundraising Chair.” Isaacson was largely responsible for Chiligate, in addition to the placemat fundraising fiasco -- which reportedly, lost money -- allegedly sent the DPLC mailing list to be transcribed by a company owned by Caroline Chambers, a prominent local Republican, and served as “acting Chair” while acting as a salaried employee of the Bev Ficek campaign. How much Isaacson was paid is not known, since the C&E’s only indicate a payroll company for the disbursement of the Ficek campaign’s rather substantial wages.

In usual practice, one would never appoint anyone with such a reputation to a position of fiduciary responsibility, but Isaacson may well have the job sewn up.

Or consider John Cuff, who has served as State and DPLC Rules Chair, even after several ethical lapses of judgment. Most prominent among these would be his insistence on chairing the Congressional District convention to choose delegates to the national convention, in which he also ran as a delegate, giving himself a rather substantial advantage in campaigning for the position. He did, in fact, make it to Boston. Other similar misbehaviors attended his term in office, but he would like to remain as Rules Chair.

On another front, even though the prior DPLC Administration of Jim Rice had promised the Executive Committee to change the locks on the DPLC offices, this was evidently never done, since unauthorized persons decided to spend the night in the DPLC office, using a key, according to my sources, that had been given them by an officer leaving from the prior, Barnhart administration! According to another source, Mr. Cuff stated that it was “OK” for them to have the key, since he “trusted them.”

Sadly, the Rules Chair is in no position to hand out keys to the office. Past practice has been that only the Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer and Office Manager are allotted keys, to keep some control over the DPLC’s records and finances.

Using the DPLC offices as an unauthorized “crash pad” certainly falls outside the bounds of propriety. Two dozen keys may be outstanding, but the locks are still unchanged, perhaps from as far back as 1992!

This is only the tip of the iceberg. If Ms. Hoyle intends to keep good faith with her electors, she should insist on a new broom, and not the same old dirty mop.


Hart Williams served as an elected Democrat PCP for the better part of a decade, as state and county Publicity Chair, DPLC & state Webmaster, Chair of HD 40, Vice Chair of HD 8, and was a delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention. He is no longer affiliated with any party.