A few weeks ago we all read about a few Oregon Legislators who had traveled to Hawaii at a lobbyist’s invitation and expense. Their trip was to a business convention and one of the Senators involved was even a speaker at the convention. The only reason the story made the papers was because the Legislators had failed to list the trip on an annual form elected officials are required to file. I remember being offered such a trip by a lobbyist whose clients were having a convention in Palm Springs. It was shortly after my first election; I chose not to accept the invitation. When I saw the publicity over the Hawaii trip, I gave a sigh of relief and was glad I had not accepted the Palm Springs invitation.
Recently, I read about four additional Legislators whose pictures made it above the fold on the “B” section of the Oregonian. They were being singled out for failing to place on their annual reports a trip made to tour Idaho dams at the invitation of the Idaho Power Company. This trip included a flight to the dams in a company aircraft, meals in a mess hall and shared bathroom and sleeping arrangements in a “utility shack.” Maybe it was a slow news day; the reporter obviously felt there was a story there somewhere. Regardless, such negative publicity motivates me to review my own annual disclosure forms for completeness. Although I have not accepted any trips paid for by lobbyists, in an abundance of caution, I want to publicly remind my readers of the Legislative trips I have taken since my first election in 2003. Most of my trips have been previously discussed in my newsletter.
My legislative trips have been made for three reasons: trade missions to China; legislative leadership training; and health and human services training.
Trade Missions to China. To promote Oregon’s trade relations with her sister-state in China, I traveled to Fujian Province and other Chinese cities in September 2003 and June 2006. Both times I was named by the Speaker of the House as lead diplomat for these official Oregon trade missions. Both times I could have requested reimbursement from legislative travel funds, but I did not. I wanted to avoid the appearance of unnecessarily spending taxpayers’ money, so I paid my travel expenses from funds left over in my campaign account””thanks to my contributors. In China it is proper diplomatic protocol to give and receive a small gift at nearly every meeting. On the first trip I took several single-serving-size smoked salmon boxes from Harry & David to give as gifts to Chinese dignitaries. On the 2006 trip I took samples of uncirculated American coins enclosed in plastic. These gifts were presented, and I returned with multiple lovely mementos from my gracious Chinese hosts. The gifts were inexpensive, but the friendships they represented between Oregon and China are lasting and valuable. After returning from China last June, I was contacted by a Chinese representative of the Fujian trade department who, as a courtesy to me as the trade mission leader, offered to reimburse me for my flight expenses. I expressed my gratitude for their kind offer, but respectfully declined to accept it.
Legislative Leadership Training. To gain training in legislative leadership I accepted a scholarship from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to an October 2005 Legislative Leaders conference in Savannah, Georgia. It was a bi-partisan training conference for Speakers of the House, Senate Presidents, Speakers Pro Tempore and Majority and Minority Leaders. I was the least among those who attended, and I learned a tremendous amount about leadership styles and building coalitions to work together in bipartisan, bicameral legislatures. I also was recommended by the Speaker of the House to attend a leadership conference in Washington D.C. on an NCSL scholarship in November 2005. Lastly, I was one of four Oregon House members named to attend the annual conference of the Pacific Foundation””a bipartisan legislative training organization composed of legislators from the five pacific-rim states of Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California. It was hosted in the State of Hawaii last December. The legislators paid their own travel costs and the Pacific Foundation paid the costs of housing and some of the meals.
Health and Human Services Training. To gain knowledge in the complex areas of Medicaid, Medicare and health care, I was invited to Phoenix, Arizona back in December 2003 for a conference hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This national legislative organization reimbursed legislators for travel expenses. More recently, I traveled on my own dime to Seattle, Washington to attend a thrilling training session on regulations for the federal TANF program. It was presented by federal bureaucrats””you can imagine how exciting that program was (yawn). My most recent trip began on the evening of Wednesday, August 30, 2006. I flew to Anchorage, Alaska to visit the Southcentral Foundation (SCF), an award winning medical facility. I arrived at 2:30 a.m. Thursday morning, slept until 7:00 a.m., spent the day in lectures on health care, ate dinner, slept, attending more meetings Friday morning, then flew back to Medford Friday afternoon. The Southcentral Foundation trip was paid for by a grant from CareOregon, a not-for-profit, low income health care provider. The CareOregon director was quite persuasive. She convinced me to shave a half day off of a family vacation, and with the support of my wife I was able to join the SCF presentation on effective and efficient medical care practices for low income native Alaskans. It was a valuable trip. What I learned will help in our work to provide access to health care for all Oregonians.
In conclusion, since becoming a Legislator in January 2003 I have worked hard and traveled far to better represent the citizens of Oregon. I have learned more about social services and health programs than I ever imagined. I have been elected by my fellow Legislators to positions of leadership and have traveled to several national and regional training conferences to learn how to do my job better. When assigned to represent Oregon on China Trade Missions, I have cleared my law office calendar and traveled to a dozen Chinese cities to promote Oregon businesses and enhance Oregon and China relationships.
Most of my travel expenses have been paid from my own accounts, some by legislative and health care organizations, and none by Oregon lobbyists.
Speaker Pro Tempore