Vol 1 No. 13 January 27, 2005
The Matter With Senator Walker?
week, Diana Goldschmidt was cleared of wrongdoing. On August 27, 2004 The
Portland Tribune had reported “[Diana] Goldschmidt
said she does not understand the grudge that state Sen. Vicki Walker,
D-Eugene, has against her and her husband, former Gov. Neil
Goldschmidt. But she said she welcomed a state investigation into her
actions on the Oregon Investment Council. ‘I’ve never met this
woman,’ she said of Walker, who also opposed her husband’s
confirmation to the state Board of Higher Education.”
This week, The Eugene Register-Guard reported, on January 22nd: “Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers said Friday an investigation turned up no wrongdoing by former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt’s wife, Diana, in an investment of public funds in a Texas buyout group in 2003 ... ‘Based on our investigation, Diana Goldschmidt became aware of her husband’s potential involvement with Texas Pacific hours after the Oregon Investment Council meeting,’ attorney general spokesman Kevin Neely said. Further, he said the investigation also turned up no impropriety by Neil Goldschmidt, Texas Pacific officials or any employee of the Oregon state treasurer’s office in connection with the case.”
But that wasn’t enough for Senator Vicki. “Walker said she wanted to determine whether Goldschmidt publicly disclosed her conflict of interest at that time, as state ethics law requires, or simply declined to vote. ‘It’s a very small problem, but it is a problem nonetheless,’ Walker said. Walker also said she intended to draw up legislation....”
Perhaps it was something more than “a small problem.”
Considering that Walker had just spent much of 2004 trying to make sure that former Portland Mayor, former Oregon Governor and former US Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt was virtually erased from Oregon society, this nitpicking only seemed to confirm that Walker’s “feud” with Goldschmidt had turned into something else entirely: far beyond the R-G’s euphemistic characterization that Walker was “one of the Goldschmidts’ most outspoken critics.”
To understand it, we have to review Walker’s legislative career.
Walker has a legislative record as a “crusader.” It began with a senior class trip to Mexico that her daughter took in 1998. Walker, who happened to be running for the Oregon House for the first time, became the crusading mother, appalled at a wet t-shirt competition. According to The Oregonian, “I told the company, ‘You messed with the wrong mom. I personally know my congressman and I personally know my U.S. senator, and you guys are toast.’”
The Medford Mail Tribune News reported “Vicki Walker, a Eugene court reporter, sparked an investigation of charter carrier Falcon Air and the travel company, Student Tours, after her 18-year-old daughter, Sara, called from Mexico with tales of a trip focused on drinking and sex.”
She told The Arizona Daily Wildcat “I don’t think there is any redeeming social value here with this company,” Walker said. “I would be hard pressed to be convinced they could clean it up ... I don’t like businesses that take advantage of folks, especially repeatedly.” This was the first hint of the ruthlessness with which Walker would treat perceived foes.
Walker, the newly-elected legislator (helped, perhaps, by the publicity of her “crusade” against senior class trips to Mexico) pushed a bill through the 1999 legislative session and got her first taste of national media attention, thanked publicly by Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection on August 3, 1999. Her newly-found role of crusading mother and legislator was getting plenty of positive attention.
Shortly after taking office, Representative Walker gave an interview to the R-G, talking about her history as an incest and sexual abuse survivor beginning at age 5, and of attempting suicide at 17, once by attempting to “overdose” on LSD. While her pharmacological illiteracy was ignored, Walker became a crusader against teen suicide, introducing more legislation. Of course, teen suicide would be a difficult thing to be in favor of, and Walker continues her “crusade.”
A couple of years later, she became a crusader against unsafe child cribs: “HB 3962 seeks to reduce those tragic numbers by prohibiting the remanufacture, retrofitting, sale or lease of an unsafe crib. Rep. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene) introduced the bill after being contacted by Lane County resident Andrea Brandt-Amor, whose infant son Rasheed died in an unsafe crib accident while in daycare.” (Oregon Representative Carolyn Tomei’s News from Salem: May 14 - 18, 2001)
The crusading mom had struck again: “Many parents or caregivers may not be aware that cribs can be dangerous. This law is meant to protect our most vulnerable citizens by getting hazardous older cribs out of circulation.”
In 2000, running for re-election against former Eugene Mayor Jeff Miller, she told The Eugene Weekly: “My opponent talks like a Democrat, but he’s a Republican,” says Walker ... “When he gets to Salem they’re going to tell him what to think ... My opponent is not going to be the messiah for the Republican Party.” Miller was the enemy. And she was going to whip him, which, after a nail-biter, she did. In 2002, Vicki Walker, the crusading politician and angry mother moved up to the Senate, accepting, in the process, a large contribution from Liberty Northwest.
Another cause she took up was banning wired glass, when another constituent’s son was injured in a gymnasium accident. Her response was, again, to introduce legislation, as a disquieting trend began to emerge: whatever she was crusading against was not a problem. It was an enemy. “I am appalled beyond belief that the wired glass industry has taken control of this issue and apparently intimidated and harassed individuals to the point that committee members are unable to vote their conscience for fear of reprisals,” stated her official campaign website. And this: “I am not surprised the wired glass manufacturers plan on filing some complaint objecting to the vote; it would be out of character if they did not. They have continuously shown a total disregard for the health and safety of the citizens of this country and abroad ... .”
Again 2003, according to John M. Puskas, M.D., of the Alliance For Hippocratic Principles: “Last year Rep. Randy Miller(R -West Linn), co-chair of The House Ways and Means Committee, turned down over $8,000,000.00 in Federal funds targeted for obesity for Oregon as Oregon is the first state West of the Rockies to have a 20% “Obesity Rate”; When this was discovered in a budget meeting, Mr. Miller said there are always strings attached to federal funds and Sen. Vicki Walker (D. Eugene) said “Who does he think he is, God?”
Clearly now, Miller not wrong, not holding a different opinion; Miller was the ENEMY.
And then came SAIF.
It began nobly enough. According to the Grants Pass Daily Courier, “SAIF has been under siege almost constantly the past 18 months, ever since a desperate Legislature briefly considered raiding the insurer’s reserves to fill funding gaps. Then came the revelation that SAIF secretly paid $1.5 million for lobbying to ex-Gov. Neil Goldschmidt and former House Speaker Larry Campbell. State Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, was so incensed by that she pushed for major changes in SAIF, including taking away its status as an independent public corporation.” SAIF was now the enemy.
On Nov. 13, 2003, Gov. Kulongoski appointed Neil Goldschmidt to the State Board of Higher Education.
The confrontation began almost precisely on January 1, 2004. Walker made several public comments about Goldschmidt, and Goldschmidt fired back, locking horns over SAIF. Goldschmidt mentioned the thousands of dollars that Liberty Northwest had contributed to Walker’s 2002 Senatorial campaign. The Salem Statesman-Journal reported: “Walker called Goldschmidt’s comments ‘smarmy and inappropriate,’ and said her longstanding criticisms of SAIF had nothing to do with any campaign donations.”
How dare anyone question the crusader’s integrity? Whether or not the contributions contained the appearance of impropriety, the matter was beneath comment. (Walker has repeated this statement almost verbatim ever since.)
Boston-based Liberty Northwest is SAIF’s only competitor in the lucrative Workmen’s Compensation market, and contributed $7.5 million -- or 99.1% -- of the “Oregonians for Public Accountability” campaign to dismantle SAIF with Measure 38 in November. “Supporters of Measure 38 asserted that $500 million could be placed in programs to support Oregon education, provide prescription medicine to low-income people, help local law enforcement and pay for job training,” reported the Statesman-Journal.
Vicki Walker publicly endorsed Measure 38, and campaigned for it, even appearing on Lars Larson’s show to flog their shared position. But there was no conflict of interest, according to her.
Walker confronted Goldschmidt at his appointment hearings in January. She was still the crusader, wrote internet reporter Jim Pasero: “This winter, liberal Dem. State Sen. Vicki Walker challenged the state’s political dysfunction when she challenged Goldschmidt’s appointment. Of course, when you go to kill the king, you’re not supposed to miss. Royal retribution is an ugly, ugly thing. Walker’s challenge was probably a lot more successful than anyone cared to admit--those who rule Oregon, or those sheepish GOP leaders too stupid or too beaten down to join the fight. Good government crusaders are becoming harder for the ruling establishment to ignore ... The Portland Tribune’s Jim Redden, whose excellent reporting drove the story, described Walker as a ‘classic citizen legislator.’
“In an interview with Sen. Walker, posted on our website (www.brainstormnw.com) Jan. 19, Walker, a court reporter, read from her notes about a series of meetings with the ruling Democrat establishment. Those notes detail the extraordinary steps taken by the state’s establishment to quiet her. If you’re a Republican and you challenge the boss, you are ridiculed in the press (Bill Sizemore, Bob Tiernan), name-called and labeled by the likes of Steve Duin. If you’re a Democrat and you challenge the boss, you’re asked to attend closed-door meetings where you’re told to shut up. If you don’t, the whispering campaign begins–“She’s too combative… too emotional… not that stable.”
The non-combative, unemotional, and stable Walker was in the middle of taking on Goldschmidt when, according to Portland’s “Alternative” Willamette Week: “Eugene state Sen. Vicki Walker was driving home from Salem on Jan. 15 when Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford called ... What Stanford told her nearly caused Walker to drive off the road. ‘He said he had a document that showed that Neil Goldschmidt had sexually abused a 14-year-old girl,’ Walker says. ‘I said, ‘Oh, my God.’”
(Note how The Portland Tribune’s reporters drove the attack on Goldschmidt, but we’ll leave that one for another time.)
encapsulates the process thusly: “Although Phil Stanford’s book, Portland
Confidential, was a Pacific Northwest Booksellers bestseller for
three weeks running this fall, The Oregonian has thus far
declined to review it. Stanford was the first reporter to obtain a
Washington County court record that, while not mentioning Neil
Goldschmidt, eventually led to disclosure of the ex-governor’s
long-held secret of statutory rape. At a standstill, he passed it to
state Sen. Vicki Walker, who subsequently gave it to WW.” (Note
WW’s implicit accusation of “payback” by The Oregonian.)
What happened next has never been examined, even though it is a matter of public record. Instead, a moral conflagration ensued in the press, as the terms “sexual abuse” and “statutory rape” were bandied about freely to characterize Goldschmidt as a sexual predator or even a child molester. Goldschmidt was publicly lynched in the public eye, resigned his positions with the state, and Walker had triumphed. Her “enemy” Goldschmidt was no more.
She was safely anonymous. Any accusations of political vendetta were scrupulously protected by Willamette Week who was being touted as the little giant-killer in the national press, even as The Portland Oregonian was being pilloried from as far away as The Washington Post.
Never mind that “statutory rape” bears the same relationship to “rape” as “lightning bug” does to “lightning.” We Oregonians are a resolutely moral people -- especially when it’s someone else’s morality that’s at issue.
(Part 2 next week. Vol. 1 No. 14)
A member of the National Writers Union, AFLCIO, Hart Williams has been in print since 1973, and has written for THE WASHINGTON POST, THE KANSAS CITY STAR, THE SANTA FE SUN, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, THE OREGONIAN, THE LOS ANGELES FREE PRESS, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, THE LOS ANGELES HERALD-EXAMINER, NEW WEST MAGAZINE and many others.