Westlund reflects moderate move from GOP

By Tony Ahern
   Our old friend and former representative Ben Westlund has decided to make it official. He is now a Democrat.
   After bashing heads with his Republican party over a myriad of core issues over the years -- including such basic ideals as funding government and providing health care -- Westlund became an independent last spring and ran for governor. This week, he decided to complete the transition to the blue side, becoming a Democrat.
   Conspiracists think he went Donkey to prepare for a run at statewide office, or to challenge for Gordon Smith's U.S. Senate seat. He simply said he reread the platforms of both parties this past weekend and it solidified his thoughts of changing teams.
   I'd venture this: Westlund is a very good legislator, bringing a skill of compromise and nonpartisanship to a overly party-centric Legislature. To be an effective legislator, one needs to be at least invited to one of the parties, so to speak. As an independent, Westlund's impact would have been limited. His ideals are much more in line with Democrats, and the time to join them was now. His bridges to the GOP, meanwhile, were torched beyond repair when he endorsed Gov. Kulongoski over Republican Ron Saxton.
   However, I wouldn't be one bit surprised to see Westlund run a statewide race soon.
   Speaking of Gordon Smith, he's already started the 2008 campaign to retain his seat. His much-publicized breaking with President Bush on Iraq has been intriguing. Wonder why he waited until after the midterm election, after everyone else in the nation broke with President Bush, to a announce his displeasure? Let's all answer this together: politics, or something more focused and basic: re-election.
   And speaking of President Bush. Those that aren't in the camp of can't standing him are starting to feel sorry for the guy. If his administration ended now, I'd guess that most historians would rank him, if not among the worse, at least with the most unsuccessful presidents in history.
   He led us into a war under false pretenses, then managed it poorly, with no foresight as to post-conflict in-country politics. His war has created a Civil War, entrenched Islamic fundamentalism, made the Middle East less stable, and, most importantly, our country less safe. His arrogant cowboy diplomacy alienated us from the rest of the world, furthering our nation's transition from a beacon on the hill into an angry, spoiled boy with a club. He inherited a large budget surplus -- maybe Bill Clinton's greatest achievement -- and quickly returned us to a huge budget deficit. His political party absorbed a bloodbath in November, a referendum on his leadership, which may take years to recover from.
   Certainly Bush supporters, a staunch 35 percent of Americans, would challenge these assumptions and assertions. But most of the country agrees with these assessments, and has given up on President Bush's capacity to revamp the situation or his legacy.
   This is unarguable: It's been a horrendous year for the president and his party. 2006 can't come to an end quickly enough for them. But if 2007 doesn't bring significant change and improvement, 2008 may be even worse for Republicans. It could end with a GOP nightmare: Hillary and Barack -- arms raised, winning smiles -- celebrating election night victory in November 2008?
   Some nice accolades were recently showered down on one of our finest.
   Oregon Business Magazine tabbed Mountain View Hospital District's CEO, Jay Henry, as one of its 50 Great Leaders for Oregon in its special Oregon Business Power Book 2007 publication. Henry was one of 10 to be referred to as "pioneers."
   Henry, just 34, was touted for leading a financial turnaround at the hospital, for visionary leadership and fostering a strong relationship with the Confederated Tribes.
   Henry told the publication that he suffered eye difficulties while growing up, and the frustration he endured and lack of input he was offered while undergoing care inspired him to join the medical field. He is an advocate for revamping the way we currently deliver health care, and he encourages the governor to "take a blank slate approach to our current system."
   This fresh attitude, the commitment to improve and push through the status quo, and on-the-ground accomplishments got Henry on this list. His career may eventually take him away from Madras -- he's sure to be a increasingly hot commodity in his field -- but while he's here, he's making a healthy impact.
   Congratulations, Jay. Keep up the good work.