My Legislative Travel – Trade and Training

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.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative
Speaker Pro Tempore

  • Jerry

    If you could change the “most” above to none then I would agree with your travel. I question the need for much if any of this travel. We have the Internet, video conferencing, etc. If you paid all your own expenses then I would know you really needed to attend. No legislators should travel anywhere without paying 100% of the costs. That is the ONLY way we can know the travel was necessary.
    Thanks for your disclosures.

  • Steven Plunk

    Disclosure of this kind is appreciated. It speaks volumes about the character of this representative.

    I do have to agree with Jerry. Travel is not generally essential for legislative business and should be limited. The best way to limit it is just as he says, make the elected official pay for it.

    The common citizen is at a real disadvantage when competing with lobbyists and the state bureaucracies when trying to communicate with their representatives in Salem. Keep them in their offices and limit the time lobbyists and executive branch officials can speak with them. Give the rest of us a chance.

    While we are at it let’s limit travel for the bureaucrats as well.

  • Jason

    If lawmakers go on trips to conferences where the topic is to make government more efficient, then the trip pays for itself. I’m all for that.

  • Jerry

    If you have to go on a trip to learn how to make government more efficient then I have to wonder why you are in government. We elect people who are supposed to know how to what we elected them to do – not neophytes who need additional training. If they can’t figure out how to run goverment correctly without an out-of-town conference then I would not vote for them. Again, if they really need the remediation they should foot the bill. I don’t have anyone pay for my travel – why should they? It only opens the door to corruption. Why are we even debating this? It seems so simple to me – if you want to travel then do it on your own dime. Period. End of discussion.

    • Ben Mathews

      Wow, harsh words. A good employer would hire me because of my skills. However, he wouldn’t want me to sit static without growth. I would benefit his company by learning through books and classes that most employers would gladly pay for. I see no reason why government should be any different. We elect people because of their character and skills, but shouldn’t we also want them to become better. I’m quite willing to to invest in them for this reason.

  • Jerry

    But as you pointed out – books and classes can help and you don’t need to travel to get those! Unless they are going to Wisconsin in February the travel is not needed! Please wake up to the 21st Century -whatever can be gleaned at a conference can also be obtained in reading, on the Internet, through a video class, an online class, etc. These are not harsh words – they are reality. NO TRAVEL at my expense for these people. Just simply cut it out. If they truly care to learn more they would be more than willing to pay for it. Should we send them all back to school and pay their tuition? Come on!
    If it is valuable they will pay for it – if they would not pay for it themselves it is not very valuable to them…period. Just like a kid who never earns his or her allowance – things given for free are never fully appreciated. There is no need for legislative travel whatsoever and anyone who tells you there is must be dreaming – or going to warm, sunny places during the bad weather here…

  • RT

    Interesting spin. Mr. Richardson says he doesnt accept trips paid by lobbyists and calls CareOregon’s paid for trip to Alaska as one of those. yet CareOregon is a health insurance provider, lobbies bigtime in Salem, spent over $70,000 lobbying the legislature last year according to public records and depends on state money via Oregon health plan. Also, Mr. Richardson says he went to hawaii last december “but legislators paid their own way”. yet according to the SOS website it appears after paying for his flight..he then dipped into his campaign funds and reimbused himself for the trip. And where do the campaign funds come from?…yes? right answer..lobbyists. including the beer and wine guys, Oregon restaurant Assoc and others on his list. Isnt that the same thing wayne Scott did last may and was criticized for. spin is still spin.
    on the other side..i think all of those trips are worthwhile and valid. Who wants a bunch of people making laws who arent interested in learning more. This is a $1,450 a month job for heaven sake and these trips help ensure legislators know the best practices in dealing with our money. I believe Mr. Richardson is a better legislator now because of it.