Editor's letter: We didn't talk about sofas or high-priced desks

For the record, leather couches and credenzas costing thousands of dollars each never came up.

Let me back up. In 2006, I was one of 30 members of the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature, formed by the Legislature the year before in order to recommend various reforms.

In November 2006, the commission adopted its final report and called for a great number of changes in the way Oregon lawmaking is done.

A tiny part of this process now has popped up in the television ad campaign for the U.S. Senate between Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Jeff Merkley, speaker of the Oregon House in 2007.

Commercials on behalf of Smith have been calling Merkley a hypocrite because the Legislature is buying expensive furniture for the remodeled House and Senate offices in the Capitol wings. How does that make Merkley a hypocrite? Smith says that in a previous campaign, Merkley had criticized Republican Speaker Karen Minnis for having redecorated the speaker's office.

Now, as Brad Cain of the Associated Press reported Thursday, the Democratic Senatorial Committee from Washington is hitting back on the furniture angle with an anti-Smith ad of its own.

Also Thursday, the Merkley campaign issued a press statement titled " Smith Wants to Talk Furniture, But Forgets to Check His Facts." It alleged that "documents from the Legislature show that Gordon Smith's own top aide, State Director Kerry Tymchuk, approved the Capitol renovation project and called the project 'thoughtful' and 'innovative.' Tymchuk served on the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature and recommended a complete renovation of the Capitol facility, including renovation of the wings of the Capitol. The recommendation states clearly the need for 'ergonomic furnishings.' "

Yes, Tymchuk was on the public commission. He was head of a subcommittee that dealt with the Legislature as a "public institution." I was on that panel along with him and four others. Office furniture was not part of our brief, and I can say that we did not talk about it.

The full commission voted to approve the final recommendations, which included this: "Require Legislative Administration to spend funds within their existing budget to update the renovation plan for the capitol 'wings,' urge the 2007 Legislative Assembly to seek funding to implement the renovation plan so that the plan can be included in the March 2007 Certificate of Participation sale; and that the project begin as soon as possible."

The 2007 legislative session approved $34 million for the wing renovation, now nearly finished. The Legislature's administrator told me a governance group, including Speaker Merkley, has met monthly to oversee the project and make decisions such as what furniture to buy.

Buying good furniture may well be a smart move, but as a member of the public commission, Tymchuk had nothing to do with saying the state should buy some or how much to pay.

Hasso Hering is editor of the Albany Democrat Herald. He can be reached by e-mail at hhering@dhonline.com.

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