Don't rush reform


Last updated 1/16/2007 at Noon

Two laws need to be recognized by the Oregon Legislature, and neither was passed in Salem.

The first is the law of unintended consequences. The second is that, given a chance, most people will do the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

These are immutable, and legislators will obey them, willingly or not.

According to The Oregonian, the House and Senate will attempt to "clean up our act," in the words of the estimable Peter Courtney, after revelations that the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association paid for legislators to go to Hawaii for a little golf.

Now, Senator Courtney is a good man by all accounts. And even though the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association should be embarrassed about the trips, lobbyist Paul Romain should be even more so about advising legislators the trips did not have to be declared.

And did Romain really equate a trip to Maui with a drive to Medford or Scappoose? Ah, what exquisite brass. Most who have been to Medford, Scappoose and Maui would say they are not "the same thing." Especially under these cold gray skies.

But that overarching arrogance is not the topic, not today. The topic is that good men and women in the legislature plan on making big changes in the rules, and they need to move more slowly.

As much as we hate to agree with Rep. Wayne Scott about anything, he is probably (that's a qualifier) telling the truth when he says he can't be bought for a $50 steak dinner.

And while Romain should have his shoe laces tied together for trying to slide around the rules and have individual beer distributors make contributions rather than his lobby, it isn't the steak dinners nor gift bags for spouses at the Grand Wailea Resort (Paul, there isn't one of those in Scappoose. Not even in Medford) that we need to worry about.

It isn't the martinis or crab cakes at Bentleys Grill, as good as they are (the crab cakes).

It is time to deal with the real issue.

We as a people need to grapple with the thorny free speech issues of huge, single voice campaign contributions.

Yes, this is hard and difficult; there may not be any easy answers. There will be many opponents, from the right and the left, from the Beer and Wine lobby to the Oregon Education Association. But to restrict steak dinners, crab cakes and golf may restrict the flow of information to less-than-fully informed lawmakers.

That would be wrong. An unintended consequence. Even if we want more transparency in government, that might be doing the wrong thing for the right reason.

We don't want to do that. What we do want to limit is the wink and nod and a $10,000 donation wrapped in a hidden agenda.

A step in the right direction, small but important, would be to return to the days when every bill introduced in the House or Senate had a sponsor.

No more namelessness for lawmakers. They need to own their legislation. If a special interest has gotten a bill into and out of committee, at least we the people have a right to know who carried their water.

It needs to be out in the open, where we can keep an eye on things. Opponents of public interest bills should be identified by name as well. That will take more work by the media, but there is no accountability if anonymity is abused.

Visit Eric Dolson's Capital blog at


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