Writings and observations

jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
In the Capitol

The official resignation of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber is set to take place Wednesday morning. It comes after a series of events that have thus far completely overshadowed the 2015 legislative session.

All the signs were there before the session that the scandals involving the governor and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, were going to continue dominating the headlines statewide. A big hint that it was all about to come crashing down was when the Oregonian published an editorial calling for his resignation. This was the same paper that had endorsed him mere months prior.

Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard) had held a town hall meeting, at which she was asked about the governor. She replied that it was like waiting for the other shoe to drop, but with an octopus. That was a very fitting analogy for what was going on.

By the time the session started earlier this month, it seemed like at least six shoes had already dropped. But a couple of shoes were left to drop and it felt like it wasn’t going to take much longer.

Last week saw the controversy cast a cloud over virtually all the rest of the official legislative business taking place at the state capitol in Salem.

Rumors about Kitzhaber’s resignation flew through the halls and beyond literally the second that Secretary of State Kate Brown abruptly flew back from a national conference in Washington D.C. She will, of course, become governor once Kitzhaber’s resignation takes effect.

On February 12, two days before the state’s birthday, the wheels came off completely. And it all fell apart in real time.
By one o’clock that afternoon, Democratic leaders were publicly calling for Governor Kitzhaber to resign. Throughout the building, legislators and staffers were visibly ashen. The atmosphere quickly became surreal. Visitors to the capitol began the trend of taking pictures in front of Kitzhaber’s official portrait, located just outside of his ceremonial office.

The following morning—Friday the 13th—it was expected that his resignation was imminent.

By noon, press outlets from all over the state were swarming the governor’s office. Reporters conducted live broadcasts in front of a set of closed doors as the crowd gathered and grew.
It was almost anticlimactic in that room when Kitzhaber’s official resignation announcement was released. The assembled TV news crews packed up their cameras and relocated to Brown’s current office downstairs.

Despite Kitzhaber’s official resignation, this situation is nowhere near finished playing itself out, and it already has all the elements of a Greek tragedy.

Here was a powerful man who served two terms as governor after stints in the House and as President of the Oregon Senate. He left office famously declaring the state “ungovernable” after fighting with the Republicans who controlled the Legislature at the time. His habit of vetoing their bills had earned him the nickname “Dr. No.”

Ted Kulongoski took over as governor in 2003 and Kitzhaber became a private citizen.

He sat on the sidelines for eight years, many of them in the company of a new and much younger lover whose ambitions had fueled her own meteoric rise. Kulongoski served two terms, after which Kitzhaber had the opportunity to have a redemption of sorts.

The former governor was able to defeat political newcomer and retired Blazers basketball star Chris Dudley in November 2010 and made history in the process.

The 2011 session saw the Oregon House of Representatives in an extremely unique 30-30 split, requiring a co-governance model that was eventually heralded nationwide.

Kitzhaber’s first stint as governor was marred by long and treacherous special sessions. But not this time around. Multiple special sessions were held—one in late 2012 and the other around a year later. The 2013 special session produced what came to be known as the “Grand Bargain,” a series of bills produced through months of bipartisan negotiations with leaders from the House and Senate.

The first signs of trouble came not too long after that, when the failed launch of Cover Oregon made national news and produced jokes on late night television shows in which the hosts opined that residents of the state were living in a cartoon.

Kitzhaber weathered the storm, though, and the prospect of investigations by the Congressional General Accounting Office and the FBI about the failed exchange still weren’t enough to keep him from being re-elected.

By then, he had long since already proposed to Hayes.

The final weeks of the campaign were starting to see revelations in the press about her various business dealings. Media outlets began making records requests during the summer, which were never completed until after the election. But when those records eventually became available, the press got a more thorough portrait of what they had been looking for in the first place.

No matter what happens, nobody will ever be able to take away from John Kitzhaber the fact that he served in the Legislature for many years, or that he was governor not once, but twice. He will always go down in history as the state’s only three-term governor, which is not to mention his extremely brief fourth term.

Share on Facebook

Jorgensen Oregon

jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
Conversations with Atiyeh

Last January, former Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh was the keynote speaker at an event put on by the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce at Happy Valley City Hall. Attendees included elected officials such as Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Canby) and Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River).

Gov. Atiyeh was introduced by Verne Duncan, who has the unique distinction of having served in both the Idaho and Oregon legislatures. Duncan had worked as Oregon Superintendent of Schools during the Atiyeh administration.

The theme of Governor Atiyeh’s speech was “How to Use Statesmanship and Compromise.”

Atiyeh described the circumstances surrounding his initial decision to run for a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives.

Running for the Legislature

In his remarks, Governor Atiyeh provided much useful advice for the elected officials and would-be, potential and future officeholders present at the event.

Vic’s Words of Wisdom

Governor Atiyeh shared many of the principles that contributed to his success in the nearly three decades of public service that he gave to Oregon and its citizens.

The Virtues of Common Sense

The full transcripts of his remarks that day make up an entire chapter in my new book, Conversations with Atiyeh. It can be ordered by clicking here.

Share on Facebook

books Jorgensen

jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
Conversations with Atiyeh

Of the three interviews I did with former Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh prior to his passing last July, my favorite was the one from late March.

That hour-long talk makes up the fourth chapter of my recently released new book, Conversations with Atiyeh, and is called “Boy Scouts, Football and the Legislature.”

The first part of our conversation was about the governor’s lifelong involvement with the Boy Scouts organization. He joined as a young boy, but continued his involvement well into adulthood and beyond.
Vic beamed with pride as he talked about his son Tom achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.

Governor Atiyeh talks about the Boy Scouts

We also discussed his football career. Vic played at Washington High and the University of Oregon through good years, bad years, and everything in between.

Governor Atiyeh talks about football

Our final topic was his 20-year legislative career. I asked him about his favorite memory from that time. He replied that it was the days of the famed “Phone Booth” caucus, when there were so few Senate Republicans that they could all literally fit in a phone booth.

One thing was clear to me in our talks—Governor Atiyeh felt good about his life and career.

Governor Atiyeh talks about his legacy

Share on Facebook

Jorgensen

jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
Conversations with Atiyeh

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s very easy to forget that we are living tomorrow’s history. It’s also easy to forget that there are historical figures among us, whose wisdom awaits those who seek it.

I came to this realization last year. One of Oregon’s great governors, Vic Atiyeh, had left office in 1987. His steady style helped steer the state through a time of tremendous challenges. The example that he set for subsequent generations was already very obvious. The lessons he could pass on from all of his years of acquired wisdom would be priceless.

At first, I had to consider the almost mythical figure that Vic Atiyeh had become in Oregon politics, the way that his work and legacy still surround every man, woman and child in the state, whether they know it or not.

It became clear to me that I might have the opportunity to interview and learn from the former governor. Mutual friends were able to put me in touch with him, and we conducted a series of long-long interviews on a variety of subjects.

The governor was a personable man, and I enjoyed our talks very much. I asked him about formative experiences, like his time in the Boy Scouts and playing offensive line for the University of Oregon football team. His anecdotes and personal stories are treasures in and of themselves, and paint a clear picture of the great man that Vic Atiyeh was.

He shared with me many aspects of his governing philosophy, along with many important life lessons. I learned much more from our talks than I even initially expected. My biggest takeaway from the whole project was that the governor felt good about the decisions he made in his life and as a public official, and about the legacy that he would ultimately leave.

Vic Atiyeh passed away on July 20. Our last conversation had been at the beginning of the month, and it was an attempt to schedule one last interview with him.

I never got that last interview, but I realized fairly quickly that I might not even need it. The last question I would have asked him was going to be the way he felt about his legacy. But based on our talks, I felt like I already knew.

The transcripts of our talks, some of the governor’s last recorded interviews, form the bulk of my upcoming book “Conversations with Atiyeh.” It is not the traditional historical biography. Rather, it’s about the ways in which wisdom is passed down from one generation to another. It’s a unique look at the life and times of one of Oregon’s great governors, in his own words. It’s the story of a young man getting to know someone he would otherwise only read about in books.

This is my contribution to the history of a state that I have grown to love very much. My hope is that it will also serve as a tribute to Vic Atiyeh. He was the kind of leader who sought to bring out the best in everyone around him, and we would all do well to learn from his example.

Share on Facebook

Jorgensen

jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
Conversations with Atiyeh

Friends, family, well-wishers, elected officials and Oregonians from all walks of life descended upon the state capitol in Salem yesterday morning for the memorial service of former Governor Vic Atiyeh.

The service was held on the floor of the House of Representatives, which began to fill up an hour before the ceremony. Smiles and friendly chatter flowed freely, with several stories about the former governor shared among those who knew him.

Speakers included Gerry Thompson, who served as chief of staff in the Atiyeh administration.

Thompson said that the administration faced 12 percent unemployment, a prime interest rate of 20 percent, 14 percent inflation and an “abysmal” national economy.

“Believe me, it was not an easy time,” Thompson said.

As Thompson told an anecdote about a trip Atiyeh took to Southern California to honor former President Gerald Ford, one could almost picture the two leaders reunited in the afterlife playing another round of golf together.

Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem) affectionately recalled the twinkle in the governor’s eye. She described how a cross-burning incident in suburban Milwaukie prompted Atiyeh to enact laws making racial and religious harassment a felony in Oregon.

“The governor had a unique understanding of diversity,” Winters said.

Another former governor, Barbara Roberts, described the work she did with the governor while she served as House Majority Leader. Those times involved multiple special legislative sessions and budget cuts, yet the two set aside their partisan differences and overcame those challenges.

“That’s the job of leaders, and Vic lead,” Roberts said. “He loved Oregon, and was so proud to be a native Oregonian.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) praised the way Atiyeh always took the high road.

“He never thought of someone else as an enemy,” Walden said. “Vic was genuine, and he was honest.”

Vic’s daughter, Suzanne, described the former governor as a patient and kind father whose true talent was love. She said he lead a lifetime of doing the right thing and taught his children that responsibility was an honor.

A flower bouquet sent from officials in China was on display outside of the House chamber during the ceremony. It was yet another reminder of the bridges that Governor Vic Atiyeh built over international waters for the good of all Oregonians.

W. Scott Jorgensen has worked as an award-winning reporter for various publications throughout Oregon, and was a news director and talk show host for the Grants Pass Broadcasting Corporation. He has also been an aide in the Oregon House of Representatives and a field organizer for a successful statewide ballot measure campaign.

Share on Facebook

Jorgensen