A Prominent Democrat Speaks Out on Accountability and Neil Goldschmidt
An Interview with State Senator Vicki Walker, D-Eugene

Interviewed by Jim Pasero, BrainstormNW

Walker: I don’t like being in this position—the position of having a public dispute with a prominent Democrat. Neil has put himself there. He made this SAIF issue about him, personally. That puts me in a very awkward position. I’m not going to sit back and take his accusations or insinuations that I am motivated to investigate SAIF because I got a meager campaign contribution from Liberty Northwest.

Brainstorm: Okay, let’s work back.
You were called by the governor and Neil Goldschmidt to have a private meeting? Who approached you?

Walker: How that happened is I had a meeting with Dave Frohnmayer, President of the University of Oregon and Rachel Pilliod. Their legislative lobbyist, Mike Redding, is the one who called me and asked if I’d be willing to meet with Dave. It was held over at Dave Frohnmayer’s office.

Brainstorm: Did you know Dave Frohnmayer?
Walker: I’ve known Dave for years. I knew Dave when I was a work-study student at the Univ. of Oregon Law School because I was going to go to law school. I met him on the 18th of December.

Brainstorm: Who was at the meeting—you, Dave Frohnmayer and Rachel Pilliod?And her present position?

Walker: She’s a member of the state higher ed board. They weren’t there to pressure me one way or the other. They just wanted me to know about the disinvestment in higher education. Which I am well aware of.

[Higher education] has not kept up in funding even in the boom times. And I blame that on the Republican majority who actually for the last decade have controlled the legislature and have not put higher ed on their agenda. And then we talked about how generally what happens is higher ed comes to the legislature and they get their money one year and then community colleges get it the next year. So somebody takes it in the shorts one year and then they alternate. I had that conversation with Neil. And that’s one of his goals—to bring those two communities together to facilitate a better discussion about trying to get money for higher education in general.

Brainstorm: Is the long-term goal to bring all of the universities under one system?

Walker: I don’t know. I’m concerned that Neil has this vision. I think he wants to get rid of the chancellor’s office, frankly. He talks about reorganizing it and he has made several indications that things aren’t working right in the chancellor’s office. It takes me back to the meeting I had with the chancellor about a year ago before the session, and after this hour-and-a-half meeting talking about the goals for the session, we just chit-chatted. The Chancellor, Richard Jarvis, asked me about my children and I said that my son graduated from the University of Oregon with one of those useless degrees. I meant useful, but not useful in getting a job. It was hysterical because the Chancellor said, “Oh, and what degree would that be?” And I said, “Geography.” And that’s the first time I’ve ever put my foot so big in my mouth, because the Chancellor said, “Oh, well that was my degree.” And so my comeback was, “Well, maybe he can have your job.” But anyway, I’m getting a sense that Neil wants to do away with the chancellor.

Brainstorm: Is that a bad idea to get rid of the chancellor’s office?

Walker: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know that it should be his top priority or anyone’s top priority. I would really have to examine what role the chancellor’s office has fulfilled for the Oregon Education System.

Brainstorm: So, you have this meeting at Johnson Hall with Frohnmayer and Redding, and everything went well?

Walker: Yes, that went fine.

Brainstorm: They just want to communicate with you that higher ed is underfunded, how eager they are to have Neil, how great it would be to have a mover and shaker in the position?

Walker: Yes, and actually, right here in my notes, he wants this to be like California Board of Regents—Dave said that.

Brainstorm: So, that means we’re probably heading to a UC-type system, without stating it publicly?

Walker: That sounds like what Dave wants. That sounds like what Neil’s headed for. Then he just talked about how Ted Kulongoski is the first governor since Vic Atiyeh to make higher education an issue, that reinvestment is going to take time, and how higher ed is the largest employer in our region. And he went on about that.

Brainstorm: Do you always take notes in a meeting?

Walker: Always, I’m a court reporter. It’s not just because I am a court reporter, but it is because I have hundreds and hundreds of meetings, and in session thousands of bills. So, I learned early on the best thing to do was to take notes. That way I can make sure people are very accurate with me in my office and accurate in committee. So people are very careful when they walk in here and speak with me because they know I am taking notes. In fact when I met with the governor to talk about SAIF, I handed him my notes from March 5th where I had been given the impression that the governor was supportive of my position to bring SAIF back in as a state agency.

Brainstorm: So we can do two things with SAIF: privatize it like Liberty Northwest wants, or bring it back in as a state agency.

Walker: Well, yes. You can privatize a couple of ways. You can just sell it outright or you can sell it to the policyholders, which is called mutualizing a company, or you can bring it back in as a state agency. And at the very least, I am promoting that we bring it in as a state agency because we don’t have any control over these people right now.
And that’s what I worry about with Neil. That’s my biggest question with him. He’s not accountable. In the meeting with Peter (Courtney, Senate President, D-Salem), I said my constituents are concerned about how much you made, the fact that you had no written contract, the fact that you never specified what you did in your billings, and I got out one of his billings and read it to him.

Brainstorm: How did he react to that?

Walker: That particular one was for $20,000. Then I asked the question. I said Neil, “Well, here’s a question for you. How were you accountable for that kind of money?”

And he said, “It’s not my job to make public what I did for SAIF.”

And I said, “I beg your pardon, but I think it is.”
And he said, “No, they’re my clients. If they want me to make it public, then I will, but I’m not going to tell you what I did for my money. These are not public dollars.”

And I said, “Well, I beg to differ with you. The State of Oregon is SAIF’s largest client, which means the taxpayers of Oregon have a vested interest in what SAIF does with its money.”

Plus the Supreme Court ruled some time ago that any of the earnings that SAIF earns on its investments, over and above what it needs to service its claims and hold in reserve, are up to the discretion of the legislature to do something with. So, they are public funds and if you are spending over a million dollars on hiring two outside lobbyists and consultants, plus having a full-time internal lobbyist, plus paying Kathy Keene over $300,000 per year—and she’s on PERS no less. I ask myself what did Kathy Keene ever do. Plus they have an ad agency, Gard & Gerber, that they spent over $500,000 on.

Brainstorm: Are you surprised that the $500,000 was going to Gard & Gerber?

Walker: Yes, I thought it was a lot of money. And again, there were no bills detailing what they did for their work. The only thing that I ever knew about what they were doing was in the board minutes. In the board minutes, it said that in the 2001 session, the board authorized expenditure of funds over and above advertising maintenance funds to Gard & Gerber to combat what was going on in the legislature.

Brainstorm: You’re reading from SAIF’s own minutes?

Walker: Yes. “Minutes of Friday March 16, 2001, 9am SAIF Board of Directors meeting.” Over at High Street at the SAIF Palace, I call it. The President’s report: “Ms. Keene reminded the board that the budget amount for advertising in ’01 is based on standard maintenance advertising. It was proposed that Gard & Gerber run newspaper ads in the major daily newspapers for the remainder of the legislative session, as well as ads in The Portland Business Journal and billboards in the Horizon concourse of the Portland Airport. The cost separate from budget maintenance advertising would be $212,620.”
Brainstorm: So this is $212, 000 on top of the $500,000?

Walker: It’s on top of their budgeted amount. Their advertising budget for ’01 is $466,726—that was their total projected budget. And then they wanted to add this additional $212,620.

And the motion was made: “Mr. Shapiro suggested that reprint from newspaper ads (SAIF ads) be sent to legislators representing those districts. Mr. Allen suggested that advertising tailored to the labor press should be considered.” So clearly they were engaging in lobbying activities but they didn’t report those funds to the Government Standards and Practices Commission. Yet it clearly states in the minutes what those expenses were for.

Brainstorm: They’re not advertising SAIF products at this point—they’re spending the money advertising for lobbying purposes? And not reporting the expenses?

Walker. Yes. And I got a ton of faxes and emails and letters from businesses in my community who are members of SAIF. They all started coming, because we in the legislature were aggressively looking at reforming SAIF in the ’01 session. And I was on the committee that was doing that, The Smart Growth and Commerce Committee. Bill Witt was chair, and we ended up getting some small bill that required an actuarial accounting audit. It wasn’t an audit of their financial dealings, but an actuarial audit to see if they were engaging in sound practices for reserves and claims. So that’s all we got out of the ’01 session because of the intense lobbying.

If you’re a legislator, you’re getting tons of faxes and emails from businesses in your district. And you’re getting lobbied by Larry Campbell if you’re a Republican legislator – because SAIF and Kathy Keene and Chris Davie both told me that Larry Campbell and the Victory Group were hired specifically to lobby Republican legislators.

Brainstorm: When did you first wonder about how SAIF was spending their money?

Walker: When I first became a legislator in ’98. (Walker served two terms as state representative and was elected state senator in ’02.)

Brainstorm: Why?

Walker: There were several reasons. First, because Larry Campbell was their lobbyist. Larry Campbell’s Victory Group only gives money to Republicans. In 1998, AOI (Associated Oregon Industries) gave money to 50 candidates in races and only seven of those were Democrats. They (AOI) are clearly a Republican organization.

Brainstorm: They get all the SAIF money?
Walker: That’s right, they get kickbacks. I call them kickbacks.

Brainstorm: Why kickbacks?

Walker: In the late 1980s SAIF let go thousands of small businesses—kicked them off their plan. So that’s when the Mahonia Hall reforms came about in 1990. Then-Gov. Goldschmidt brought together the group that met out at Mahonia Hall, the Governor’s Mansion—quote, unquote “mansion;” it’s small for a mansion. They met out there. They crafted these reforms, they came into special session, and did all these things that changed the worker’s compensation system.

Well, SAIF was in trouble because it had pissed off all of these small employer groups, so they entered into a contract with AOI—and I have never been shown the contract, only been told about it by Chris Davie, their internal lobbyist—that AOI would get dividends. They would go out and market SAIF’s packages to businesses and then when the business became a member of SAIF they automatically became a member of AOI, and AOI got dividends or kickbacks as a result of that. Well, that was a pretty cushy deal. And Dick Butrick, the executive director of AOI, has been quoted as saying AOI wouldn’t be what it is today without SAIF.

Brainstorm: Wouldn’t have 20,000 members?

Walker: That’s exactly right. They have 20,000 members and they say they are a non-profit business organization.

Brainstorm: Are they really kind of a quasi-state agency?

Walker: Well, they have a political arm.

And then I learn that Larry Campbell’s Victory Group and SAIF sponsored dinners at Dorchester—that’s a Republican Conference in Seaside held every year. So I took all those things together and I saw in my own race that the Republicans put in a lot of money. In my first race (vs. Norm Fox) AOI gave Norm Fox $2,000. And I began to look around to see that AOI was giving a lot of money to Republicans and there was this connection between AOI and SAIF. And somehow SAIF reforms never got through the legislature because Larry Campbell, the Republican Victory Group—the contractor with SAIF—would come and lobby all the Republicans in the legislature and nothing would go forward. Because, as you know, the Republicans controlled the legislature the whole decade of the ’90s. That was when it became very clear to me that there were some big issues with regard to SAIF and how it spends its money. And I wrote a letter to Gov. Kitzhaber in ’01 asking him to look into the matter.
Brainstorm: What about the differences in style between Kitzhaber, Kulongoski and Goldschmidt?
Walker: Ted is a little more outgoing with people than John. I thought Kitzhaber’s ex-wife had a great thing to say recently in Willamette Week about the differences between John and Neil. John cared about the job. And Neil cared about Neil. And that’s the pattern that I am seeing—that Neil cares about Neil. When I was in this meeting with him and Peter Courtney and I told him to “go to hell”—that I didn’t appreciate him impugning my character and going up and down the state.
Brainstorm: This is the Jan 9th meeting at the Capitol with you, Neil Goldschmidt and Peter Courtney?
Walker: Yes, the Jan 9th meeting. Neil was planting the seeds with all the editorial boards that I was being bought and paid for by Liberty Northwest Insurance (SAIF’s competitor). I said to Neil—I told the governor that I would meet with you initially, and then when I learned of your quote in the paper (Salem Statesman Journal) I told them to tell you to “go to hell.” I first told Peter Bragdon (Gov. Kulongoski’s Chief of Staff) to tell him to “go to hell,” but now that you’re in front of me, I will just tell you myself, you can “go to hell.”

I said, “I don’t appreciate that you have done that, that you have impugned my character. I have been after SAIF ever since I’ve been in the legislature. I have been questioning their policies, their practices, and their connection to AOI, and their spending, and this is truly not appropriate for you to make that kind of comment. You have run for office before, three times—city councilor, mayor, governor. You get money from all over the place and I don’t think anybody ever accused you of being bought and sold.”
Then he got mad, and I suppose I’d get mad if somebody told me to “go to hell.” He got mad and turned back at me and said, “You threw the first punch, and so it’s coming back at you.”
And I said, “what’s that supposed to mean?”
And he said, “Never in all of my years in public service has anyone ever filed an ethics complaint against me.” And I looked across the table and I said, “It’s not about you Neil; it’s about SAIF.”
Brainstorm: An ethics complaint against SAIF?
Walker: An ethics complaint against SAIF filed with the Government Standards and Practices Commission.
Brainstorm: When did you file it?
Walker: December 8th.
Brainstorm: You said to him it is not about you, Neil, it is about SAIF?
Walker: Yes, And he disagreed. He said, “I disagree with you, it is about me.” I said, “we are going to disagree on that one.”
Brainstorm: You asked him about accountability? About no written contact between Neil and SAIF?
Walker: That’s when he said it is not his job to make public what he did for SAIF. And he also told me that he has been at war with anyone who has a different view than he does about SAIF. And he was very vehement when he said that, and he was angry when he said that. That was part of the early conversation. It’s early in my notes, after I told him to “go to hell.” He made it clear that he was not going to stand by and watch SAIF be impugned, because that would impugn Neil.

Brainstorm: What does that mean?

Walker: That means that Neil has an ego that expands beyond his own universe, and he takes personal responsibility for SAIF and treats it as his child. I threatened his child, basically, and he didn’t appreciate it.

Brainstorm: He says at some point in the meeting that I don’t have to be accountable?

Walker: I told him he did. He said that these are not public dollars. That’s when I told him no.

He said that the money is there on behalf of the injured worker.

I said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. If we’re spending this money on you and Larry Campbell and an ad agency, spending lots of money, that means there is less money for the policyholders and the injured workers.”

He said, “Well, if you don’t think I earn my money just go ask the board.”

I said, “I’m not going to ask the board, I’m asking you.”

He said, “I’m not going to tell you without their permission, but just go ask the board. They will tell you that I earn my money.” And I said, “that’s all fine and good,” and Peter Courtney tried to redirect the conversation to what we were there for. And Neil kept going back to SAIF and talking about the problems with SAIF—that it can’t insure employers in Oregon who have employees in other states. That was one of the issues that he worked on. And he said that OHSU and SAIF both had problems because they couldn’t get help from the AG’s office, because they couldn’t hire legal counsel, because SAIF should have that ability to get legal counsel. Neil said that it is a constitutional entity doing contracts, but it has to find their own legal counsel.

But apparently they are able to hire their own legal counsel because I was told today that they did hire their own legal counsel to represent them in this GSPC ethics violation, and that’s why the hearing has been extended on SAIF beyond February 27th.

Brainstorm: When is Neil’s higher education confirmation hearing?

Walker: Wednesday night (Jan. 21st) at 5 pm in Hearing Room B.

Brainstorm: How will the hearing go?

Walker: It is a 3-3 split at the moment. Word is that there are votes on the floor of the Senate to confirm Neil, that there are Republicans who will confirm him. I asked Sen. Nelson today, why he was supporting Neil, and he said, “Because we went to college together.”

Brainstorm: The committee is?

Walker: The Senate Rules Committee.

Brainstorm: If the committee deadlocks 3-3, will it go to the floor?

Walker: It can’t deadlock. Sen. Courtney has to come in and cast the deciding vote.

Brainstorm: So he will do that?

Walker: He may, but I think that Sen. (Roger) Beyer (R, Canby) is working with the governor’s office now to work out some other arrangement.

Brainstorm: Some other arrangement meaning?

Walker: They don’t like a couple of other choices on the higher ed commission that the governor has appointed. They feel that if they have to swallow Neil they want something in return.

Brainstorm: So there is a very good chance that Beyer will vote next Wednesday night for Neil?

Walker: There is a very good chance that they will vote him out without a recommendation, if the governor’s office makes some adjustments.

Brainstorm: In your meeting with Neil in the Capitol, Courtney was trying to direct the conversation back to the higher ed appointment. Why?

Walker: Because he could tell it was going nowhere. Neil and I were just arguing about SAIF. He was just giving me his propaganda, and I’m giving him the responses and it was going in a circle.

Brainstorm: In the meeting with Neil and Peter Courtney, Peter Courtney left the room. What did Neil say to you?

Walker: “Don’t you ever smile?”

Brainstorm: What was his point?

Walker: I thought it was an insulting question. He said “Don’t you ever smile?” And I said “Not when I’ve been pissed on.” So then when Peter came back in the room he looked at both of us and said, “Uh-oh, what happened?” And I said, he asked me if I ever smile, but I said not when I’m pissed on. Tell him I smile. Peter said, “She smiles.” I said, “Let’s get back to business, whether I smile or not wasn’t important to the discussion.”

Brainstorm: When you left the earlier meeting with Frohnmayer to talk about Neil’s higher ed appointment, who calls you?

Walker: I made a promise to Dave Frohnmayer at the meeting. I said, okay, I have grave concerns about Neil—you know that. I have stated them to you, but here is what I am willing to do. I am willing to go talk to the governor about my concerns. And Dave said, “All right, we will circle back and let the governor’s office know that you will be calling.” So I called and made the appointment with the governor and set that up.

Brainstorm: Who was in that meeting?

Walker: Just me and the governor, and Pat Egan of his legislative staff. And then Peter Bragdon called right after I had made the appointment and said, “I would like to meet with you also because I understand you have concerns about our office.” And I said, “Okay, I will meet with you right after I meet with the governor.” So I met with the governor and Pat Egan for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I told the governor that I was concerned about the letter that he sent out about SAIF—that I felt that it humiliated me.

Brainstorm: What letter?

Walker: A letter from the governor to Jon Egge at SAIF asking to provide the governor with information by the end of March answering questions. And so I told the governor I was insulted by the letter.

Brainstorm: Why?

Walker: Because in the letter the governor said “these attacks on SAIF.” I said you characterize these as “attacks.” I said, “Governor, I have the right as a legislator to question SAIF. I don’t think my questions should be characterized as attacks.” And he read the letter again that I was referring to and he looked at it and said, “Vicki, if you look at the previous paragraph it clarifies that. And it is not an attack on you.” I said, “I didn’t see it that way.” He also called these issues “a distraction.” And I said that, “minimizes and trivializes what these issues are. These issues are big, Governor.”

Brainstorm: These issues are the commingling of public funds for political purposes?

Walker: Yes, and their denial of claims rate. They have one of the highest denial of claims rates of all the insurers, according to a document I have from the workers compensation division. Their practices of hiring these consultants and lobbyists and advertising agents for lots of money. The extensive and expansive salaries that are paid to their upper management. All of those things were important to me, and he called them “a distraction.” The governor said “These are a distraction from our primary mission in this state which is creating economic opportunity for Oregonians.”
So I objected to that, and he read it over and he said, “I apologize if you took it that way but it wasn’t meant to be a slam on you.” And I said, “Well I took it that way, Governor.” And he apologized.
So we talked a little bit longer and I told him that I wanted him to fire the SAIF Board. I said that you fired every other board you’ve been unhappy with. You cleaned house at the Lottery Commission. You cleaned house at the Port Commission. You’re cleaning house at the Higher Ed Board. Why can’t you clean house at SAIF? And he indicated that the only person who was up for reappointment at the time was Jon Egge. And that he wasn’t interested in changing that structure at the moment. Then he said, “I would like to wait until I get my report back from SAIF before I make any more changes.” But I suspect there will be more changes down the road, Vicki. But you just have to be patient.

I said, “Governor, I have been telling everyone who has been writing, emailing and phoning me complaining about SAIF to put their issues in writing and I am going to plant them on your desk at the end of the March—the same time you’ve asked SAIF to respond to your questions. I would expect that you would assign someone on your staff to look at every one of those concerns.” And he nodded and said, “okay.”

Brainstorm: Then the board fires Kathy Keene—did that come from Gov. Kulongoski?

Walker: When the Governor says that we all have a shelf life, I think it was pretty clear that Governor’s concern was that Kathy needed to go.

Brainstorm: How long had it been from your conversation with the Governor to that dismissal?

Walker: A couple of days. He sent a letter December 11th to Jon Egge. And Kathy Keene was out of there a couple of days later. It happened quick. My meeting to the governor was December 9th and on December 18th the Salem Statesman article said, two SAIF leaders to resign.

Brainstorm: Why was Kathy Keene fired?

Walker: Because she approved all of this stuff. It was clearly on her shoulders.

Brainstorm: Did you feel gratified that something happened?

Walker: Yes. I wasn’t in it to get Kathy Keene fired, but I wanted something to change. And this was one change, so that was good. But I told the governor, “you know all these questions you’re asking SAIF to respond to—almost all of them were covered in Sen. Metsger’s committee last spring (Transportation and Economic Development). So all you have to do is listen to the tapes and you’ll the hear answers to your questions.” He said, “That may be, Vicki, but I wanted to get it down in writing. And I want to hear from the board.”

Brainstorm: How did your meeting with Gov. Kulongoski end?

Walker: He says, “Do you think it would help any if you had a meeting with Neil?” And I said, “That might be helpful.” And he said, “We will set that up.” Then I met with Peter Bragdon for an hour. I left Peter Bragdon’s office and got home to Eugene about seven that night, and I got a call from John DiLorenzo. John said, “Vicki, Neil did an editorial board meeting with the Salem Statesman today and here is what he said.”

Brainstorm: Did somebody leak it to John DiLorenzo?

Walker: Steve Law called John for comment. Steve Law sat in on the editorial board. John told me what Neil said, and I was really angry.

Brainstorm: So Neil can get a million dollars without a contract; you get a campaign contribution of $2,750 and you’re the corrupt one?

Walker: Yes. John told me what Neil said. So I called Steve Law and I said I need to confirm a quote with you … did Neil Goldschmidt say the following?

Brainstorm: And the quote was?

Walker: It was in the Statesman: “There's no disconnect here between who's got the dough and who's hammering (SAIF).” Steve said, Senator, that’s the quote, word for word.

Brainstorm: And it ran the next day in the paper?

Walker: And it ran.

Brainstorm: Is that the first time anyone has suggested your vote is for sale?
Walker: People have said things about me before, but no one has ever impugned me like that. No one has ever accused me of being bought and sold.

Brainstorm: Then you go on KXL radio—Marc Abrams and Rob Kremer are guest hosting for Lars Larson.
Walker: Yes, and my power is out in my office.

Brainstorm: Abrams and Kremer read Neil’s quote on the air and that’s when you decided you won’t meet with Neil, that we will do it public, because the state needs to have this talked about in public.

Walker: That’s what I said. When I learned about Neil’s quote that night, the next morning I called Peter Bragdon and he was in a meeting and I said, “Get him out of the meeting right now,” because I was so angry. He came out of the meeting and they found him and I said, “Here’s the deal: Neil was quoting to the Statesman Journal. I expect it will be out today or tomorrow. He impugned my character, he accused me of taking money and using it to further my cause against SAIF, and you can tell him ‘to go to hell.’”

And Peter said, “Does this mean you don’t want to have a meeting with him?” And I said, “Yeah Peter, that’s what that means.” And he says, “What was the quote?” And I gave him the quote, and I said “Make sure that you let Ted know what ‘golden boy’ had to say. So he told the governor and the meeting got set up.

Brainstorm: Does it bother you that there is this “golden boy” in the state?

Walker: I just call Neil “golden boy” because I suppose it is rude. But it’s because he thinks he is a power broker, and because he’s got the golden touch, and everybody seems to want to kiss his ring finger. I told him in the meeting that I don’t know why people see you as a Swengali. I think that made him mad. I don’t see why they see it. I originally agreed to meet with the governor and then you because Dave Frohnmayer asked me to. I was willing to be a statesperson about this, but I don’t see why they see you as a Swengali in the answer to the Higher Ed problem. But be that as it may, here are my concerns. And that’s when I told him about the accountability issues. It was Peter Courtney who asked me if I would agree to meet with Neil.

Brainstorm: This is after Neil’s comment in the Statesman?

Walker: Yes, several days later. Peter Courtney called and asked me if I would agree to meet with Neil. He said, “Vicki you are a statesperson, you are a good legislator you need to hold out your hand and try to get this resolved.” I said, “Peter anything I have to say to that man can be said in public.” He said, “Well, I really think we need to meet personally, face to face, and try to get these issues resolved so that we can move forward here.” I said, “Okay, fine you talked me into it. Set it up,” and so he set it up. We met for about an hour and a half.

Brainstorm: How does the meeting with Neil end?

Walker: Peter Courtney asked if this could be a locker room discussion because Democrats shouldn’t be going after Democrats.

Brainstorm: Locker room discussion means “closed doors?”

Walker: Yes, but here I am, because I didn’t agree to that. He said Democrats shouldn’t be going against Democrats, and he’s right. I am a Democrat and I’m uncomfortable being in this position of being an adversary to another Democrat in public. It is not appropriate. We shouldn’t be eating our own. The Republicans do that very well. Neil stood up and said, “I hope so too.” But I didn’t say anything because that wasn’t going to be my agreement. We all stood and I thanked him for the meeting, and I said, “I will have more questions for you at the hearing,” and Neil left.

Brainstorm: Do they talk about you at the caucus meetings?

Walker: I met with Kate Brown last night. She came to Eugene. She said, “Vicki, there are probably people who feel as strongly about Neil favorably in our caucus as you do unfavorably, and you have to respect that.” I said, “I do.” She said, “What do you want out of this?” I said, “I want Neil to be accountable.” And she said, “What does that mean?” I said, “It means he has to tell us why he thinks he is worth $20,000-40,000 a month. And that means he has to tell us how he is going to be accountable to us when he serves on the higher ed board. And that means he has to tell us if someone has a different opinion than him, is he going to ‘go to war’ with us, or is he going to be someone that we can work with.”
In the meantime, I heard from Jim Redden of the Portland Tribune about this Cascade Center–this Oregon Economic and Trade and Marketing Center (created by Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, and later run by private citizen Neil Goldschmidt).

Brainstorm: Is there a pattern?

Walker: I was just furious, because there is a pattern, again, no accountability for the money. I’m going to be asking questions about this. The center got a million and a half and there was $300,000–400,000 that was unaccounted for. The legislature at the time was furious about this. Then-Rep. Jim Hill made some serious comments at the time that this contract was entered into in opposition to what the legislature suggested should be in the contract, that the Oregon Economic Development Commission entered into this contract contrary to what the legislature directed it to do.

Brainstorm: If this hearing doesn’t go well for Neil on Wednesday night what will happen?

Walker: I met with Roger Beyer today and gave him a copy of the Portland Tribune story on the Cascade Center, to show a pattern, because the Tribune story shows a pattern of Neil being pushy and getting what he wants and not really considering the consequences. At least that is what I’m seeing.

Brainstorm: Where is Neil’s appointment right now?

Walker: Neil is in trouble. And the governor needs to be doing something if he wants Neil bad enough. And that’s why they are looking at some potential swapping of some of the positions on the board. As Roger Beyer said when I met with him today, “Vicki, if significant questions arise that my members want more information on, I’m not willing to move him forward.” So I said, “Well Roger, read through this Portland Tribune article on Neil by Jim Redden—this stuff is amazing. Jim Redden had sent him some of the articles last week so I called Roger Beyer and he never returned my calls. So I called him again.” I said, “Roger, you told me to be careful in my meeting with Neil because he likes to charm people, and that I might go the other way.” I said, “What’s this that I’m hearing that the Republicans are now folding and that you guys are going to confirm him? Roger says, oh, your message was so cute, Vicki.”

Brainstorm: So you don’t want a million dollars of SAIF money to not be accounted for?

Walker: Yes, that’s my concern. This system is for employers to have low rates and for injured workers to be treated fairly and appropriately, and I don’t see that it’s been that way, because from the mail that I’ve been getting there are a lot of concerns.

Brainstorm: Are you worried about your political future in getting in a fight with Neil?

Walker: I don’t deny that he’s powerful, but power can go to your head. And I doubt very much that he can find a Democrat in Eugene to come after me. I feel like I’m respected by my colleagues, and my constituents like the way I stand up for the common people.

Brainstorm: Are you surprised about how personal the fight is?

Walker: Neil made it that way, because Neil likes to make things about Neil.

Interviewed by Jim Pasero, BrainstormNW

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