Representative Bruce Hanna: Waiting period for lawmakers into state jobs

by House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg)
Statesman Journal (Salem)
September 12, 2009

Oregonians have a right to be concerned about legislators who’ve recently left office to take high-paying jobs in the state’s executive branch.

During this recession, the 2009 Legislature raised $1.6 billion in new taxes and fees because its leadership claimed the state was broke. Yet, soon after raising taxes and cutting services, legislators quickly took new state jobs with starting salaries reaching $122,000 and enhanced pension benefits. Because legislators shape public policy and control billions of taxpayer dollars, Oregonians are understandably cynical about potential conflicts of interest. Citizens should feel confident that legislators are not using their positions to obtain more lucrative positions in state government.

There’s no evidence these legislators acted illegally or traded votes and tax dollars to secure their new agency positions. However, it’s clear these legislators actively job-hunted while in office, and actively utilized their inside connections in the governor’s office and agency management to win these jobs.

Even if there was no official wrongdoing, this practice simply sends the wrong message to Oregonians. We need to send the message that the Legislature is about public service, not about using the office as a stepping stone to better personal opportunities.

That’s why House Republicans will introduce an ethics bill during the 2010 special session. Our proposal will require legislators to leave office and wait until the end of the next regular legislative session before they can seek and obtain non-elected positions in the state’s executive branch.

A 2007 law already requires legislators to leave office and wait a session before they can secure certain private sector jobs. Our proposal eliminates this double-standard by applying this same “waiting period” to jobs in state agencies.

A waiting period would assure that legislators can’t use their positions to win lucrative state jobs, and it guarantees they wouldn’t be able to leverage their power and influence to get what they want. Best of all, it forces legislators to compete with unemployed Oregonians and other qualified applicants for top state positions. In fact, a mandatory waiting period may be the only way we can assure a fair process for hiring people or promoting current employees within an agency.

This issue isn’t about partisanship because both Republican and Democratic legislators have moved into high-paying state jobs. This practice should have ended a long time ago. Regardless of which party is in the majority, we must restore the Legislature’s credibility and close the Capitol’s revolving door. If our bill is approved during the special session in February, both Republicans and Democrats would be required to wait before they can climb the state’s employment ladder.

With record unemployment, Oregonians expected the 2009 Legislature to find ways to create quality jobs for everyone. What Oregonians didn’t expect were legislators only creating quality jobs for themselves. It’s time to eliminate the perception that politicians only serve in public office to pursue better opportunities and richer pension benefits. It’s time to impose a waiting period so that all qualified applicants can seek and win important state positions.