Appearances matter

Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office may be right when it says politics is involved in Republicans' efforts to limit legislators' moves into state jobs. But the Republicans are definitely right when they say recent appointments and hirings appear unseemly.

Republican leaders announced last week that they planned to introduce legislation preventing legislators from taking a state job until the end of the session following their last term in office. That's the same rule that now applies to legislators who take jobs as lobbyists.

The issue arose after a third legislator (all Democrats) took a high-profile job with the state within the past several months. Each of the appointments came with a shadow of doubt about its propriety and each served to lessen the public's trust in how state government operates.

Portland Sen. Margaret Carter became the most recent legislator to move to the ranks of full-time state employees when she accepted a $121,872 job as a deputy director for Human Services Programs, a newly created position. Carter, a longtime supporter of the Department of Human Services, brought extra clout to that position in the past session as co-chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, responsible for doling out the very dollars that made the new position possible.

That certainly raised some eyebrows, as did the news that Carter was hired for the job without an outside search for applicants.

Prior to Carter's move, state Sen. Vicki Walker of Eugene was named chairwoman of the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision, a job paying $97,000 a year. She was selected for the position after originally failing to be selected as one of the three finalists.

Rep. Larry Galizio of Tigard was appointed by Kulongoski to serve as director of strategic planning for the Oregon University System, a job that reportedly will pay between $90,000 and $100,000. The job had been vacant for years because of budget problems. Galizio was previously in the news when he changed his stance to cast the deciding vote for passage of a Metolius Basin protection bill, one of Kulongoski's pet projects.

So, in short order, Oregon has seen three high-paying positions go to state legislators, in each case with troubling questions about the process.

Kulongoski's office argues that this is a GOP partisan attack and notes that the governor had previously appointed Republicans to high-profile state jobs with no criticism at all from the party.

We don't doubt that there is some opportunistic partisanship at work here. But put that aside and it's hard to argue against the Republican proposal. There may be no hard evidence to prove any of the job offerings were the result of some kind of quid pro quo. But appearances are important — and the appearance here is that the friends of those in power have been taken care of.

The three former legislators all bring admirable qualities to their new jobs, but the issue is not about their abilities, it's about a process that appears (there's that word again) to be stacked in favor of elected officials.

The hint of impropriety in these hirings is unmistakable and clearly damaging to state government's credibility. Legislators should set aside politics — and their own potential self-interest — and do the right thing by restricting access to state jobs until a suitable amount of time has passed.

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