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Character study

We’d not suggest that the Portland Tribune‘s report Tuesday about Ron Saxton double householding 10 years ago rises to anything in the area of scandal. But it does seem to offer a useful insight into the mind and impulses of this man who seeks to be, and might be, governor.

Ron Saxton Saxton maintained that he got thorough legal advice at the time, did his proper disclosures at the time and that nothing illegal or unethical has occurred. A surface reading of the situation indicates that’s about right, although the Tribune raises a string of useful questions about the matter of residency. But there are other levels of propriety, and different people may reach different conclusions about them – and they call into play the sort of dynamics that governors often deal with.

The Tribune‘s summary of what happened: “Saxton and his wife, Lynne, wanted to enroll their son at Lincoln [High School]’s competitive International Baccalaureate program — the only one in Portland at the time — for the 1996-97 school year. But when they tried to transfer their son, Andy, into the program, he was turned away because Lincoln was overcrowded. In response, the family decided to move from its Mount Tabor home to an apartment on the South Park Blocks for a year to establish residency there, so Andy could enroll at Lincoln as a neighborhood student. It was perfectly legal as long as it was their primary residence for a year, according to the school district’s policy. The family moved back to its Mount Tabor home at the end of Andy’s freshman year, in the summer of 1997 — shortly after Saxton was first elected to the school board by the district where the family’s permanent home is located.”

Operating inside the law and inside policies, people still have a good deal of maneuvering room, and what they do with it says quite a bit. It’s called gaming the system, and it means that people with money and connections can outmaneuver people without them, if they choose to. There’s certainly no headline news in that.

Saxton’s wife Lynne, speaking to the Tribune in response, “explained that moving out of their 3,000-square-foot home into a cramped two-bedroom apartment in 1996 was a sacrifice they made because they believe all students should have access to the education they want, regardless of where they live.”

The Saxtons’ belief that all of the students in the district should have an equal shot seems genuine enough; erasure of geographic boundaries has been built into Saxton’s campaign, and was long before the new headlines hit. But Lynne Saxton clearly isn’t being forthcoming about the reasons for the family’s 1996 move: The only useful reason for doing that was to benefit one of the family’s children; no other students were benefitted, and one other student in the Portland School District lost a spot at Lincoln as a result.

Variations on this theme happens daily and has happened back into the roots of civilization. The whole story offers a number of insights into Saxton’s character, and prompts a number of questions. One of them might be this: What happens when a system gamer becomes governor?

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