From excellent to awful

by Peter Toll


Sen. Richard Devlin


Rep. Julie Parrish

Two of Oregon’s best legislators represent the northwest corner of Clackamas County superbly, according to Portland’s sort of alternative Willamette Week newspaper in its June 5 edition. Both are Democrats. Our county also has some of the worst lawmakers. The paper grants anonymity to lobbyists, legislators, staffers and insiders as it gathers information for its semi-annual survey. Frankness is unusual in the political business, hence the anonymity. Only legislators from Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties are included.

State Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, serving Tualatin, Lake Oswego, West Linn and environs, is considered the best in the business. Largely a behind-the-scenes player, Devlin has carefully made a non-name for himself since joining the capital corps in 1997. This year it is his work as co-chair of the Joint Ways & Means Committee, crafting a budget which reinforces schools while trying to deal with PERS. Devlin, also a key player in resolving the S&H Logging composting plant problem in the Stafford Hamlet, earned an “Excellent” rating from the paper, the only one  so honored of all 30 senators.

As two House districts comprise a Senate district, it is no surprise that the outstanding House member, Rep. Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, is only one of two recipients of the “Excellent” appellation in the House. (The other is Speaker Tina Kotek, D-North Portland.) Garrett chairs the Rules Committee, considered by many a dumping ground for difficult and controversial legislation, and has led the (so far unsuccessful) fight for prison reform as a leader of the Governor’s committee appointed to address the high cost of prison maintenance and continually growing number of prisoners. One lobbyist describes attorney Garrett in the article as “Smart, cares, works hard. Should be governor or speaker some day.”

Clackamas County also has at least two of the worst of the worst people making laws in Oregon, according to the analysis in the publication.

State Sen. Alan Olson, R-Canby, “has spent four years in Salem without leaving a trace,” notes one lobbyist. “He often appears lost,” notes the article, and his effectiveness is so minimal as to be almost negative. “If he loses (his next election),” adds the industry lobbyist, “international jewel thief might be a good second career.” Olson (barely) succeeded Martha Schrader after she was appointed to replace her former husband when he advanced to Congress. Ms. Schrader, a Democrat, was elected to the Clackamas County commission last year.

Who is the worst legislator in the Metro area?  Rep. Julie Parrish, D-West Linn, serving the other half of Devlin’s district, gets the booby prize. “Awful” is her rating.  This is the second survey in a row where Parrish has bottomed out. A second-termer, she is the exact opposite of Garrett. Parrish is terribly ineffective in getting any major legislation passed, much less working behind the scenes effectively like Devlin. She is described as mouthy and one of the group of legislators trying to make laws “based on anecdote and personal experience,” says the article. Unfortunately, notes one observer, Parrish is “the darling of the press, the nightmare of everyone else.”

While some freshman legislators from the county don’t earn stellar marks, at least one veteran, Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, is rated as “Bad.” That’s surprising because his political career is long — dating back to the Oregon House in the 1980s, the Oregon Senate, time as a Clackamas county commissioner, and now back in the House. Despite all of that institutional wisdom, Kennemer’s level of effectiveness is surprisingly low. Called a “centrist” by one lobbyist, Kennemer and Olson bring Canby and south Oregon City the worst pair of legislators in the Metro area.