Ogden gets nod in BOLI race; position shouldn't be elected
Most newspaper endorsements offer advice for readers on an upcoming election. This one does, too, but it's also written for Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Legislature.
In the race for Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, we are tentatively endorsing Lou Ogden, mayor of Tualatin, over his primary rival, former legislator Val Hoyle.
Tentative, because we don't think Ogden is ready for the role. He's done a good job as mayor of a small city but when he met with our editorial board, his understanding of the BOLI position seemed vague and ill-defined. We are hopeful that, given time, he could grow into the role.
But more importantly, we urge the governor and the Legislature to address an issue that has been obvious for years, and is glaringly obvious this year: The Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries should not be an elected position. It should be an appointed position, like director of transportation or human services.
As long as it's an elected position, Democrat candidates like Hoyle will campaign and raise money from labor and Republican candidates like Ogden will campaign and raise money from industries, and the winner will represent the two sides of the equation unequally.
Making this the Bureau of Labor vs. Industries.
There are only seven statewide elected positions, outside of judges, in all of Oregon: Two U.S. senators, governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and BOLI.
It's not without precedent to change that lineup. We used to elect a superintendent of public instruction until John Kitzhaber's 2011 reorganization of the state education system. That position now is appointed by the governor.
Now it's time to do the same with the BOLI Commissioner.
For one, a lackluster field of candidates. Hoyle is far too entrenched as a Democratic Party apparatchik, and Ogden would be in way over his head.
He's has done a commendable job as Tualatin mayor. He's respected throughout the county and the metropolitan region for the work he's done. And he's not an unbending Republican, either. This year's state of the city address included a plea for public investment in services; a public health plank; and a strongly worded cheer for inclusionary policies.
But his answers regarding the BOLI race suggest he only dimly understands what the job entails. We fear he'd spend most of his first term figuring out what the job is, not mastering it.
We also don't buy the argument that he began running for Washington County Chair, then dropped out of that race to run for this job because it's a better fit. We suspect he was driven out of one race when the fundraising numbers didn't add up; he is termed-out as mayor; and BOLI was the only other available gig.
Hoyle was not a great legislator. She chaired the House Democratic Caucus, where she garnered a reputation for a my-way-or-the-highway approach to issues that turned off lawmakers of both parties. The word in Salem was that her own caucus wasn't heartbroken when she left office.
She is a Democratic party leader and, we fear, would use the pulpit of BOLI to bolster Democratic issues, to curry labor votes, and to serve as a de facto arm of the party that runs the governor's office and both chambers of the Legislature.
We also don't think she has a passion for BOLI. Like Ogden, this was her second-choice campaign; she ran for, and lost, the race to be secretary of state in 2016.
The mission of BOLI includes promoting a highly skilled workforce; coordinating apprenticeship and training programs; protecting the rights of workers and citizens to equal, non-discriminatory treatment; enforcing compliance with state wage-and-hour laws; and advocating policies that balance the demands of the workplace and employers with the protections of workers and their families.
All of those issues would benefit by being pulled out from the traditional politics of elected office — including the inherent fundraising. The civil rights aspects of the BOLI job should be given to the Attorney General's Office. (Why in the world did BOLI bring a legal case last year against STARS cabaret for prostitution of two minor girls, and not the AG or the county district attorney? Because Oregon has a weirdly inorganic governance structure that put the case in BOLI's wheelhouse, not that of professional criminal prosecutors.)
Would making this an appointed position, rather than elected, eliminate the politics? Of course not. Take one long-serving director: Bruce Goldberg, who directed the Oregon Department of Human Services from 2005 through 2011. During that time, he served Democratic governors and responded to Democratically controlled chambers of the Legislature. Politics is inevitable. But since he didn't have to run for the job and get elected, he didn't spend a year taking campaign checks from, say, hospitals or insurance companies. The Human Services director doesn't have to go hat in hand to the agencies he or she would be expected to regulate. And the BOLI leader shouldn't either.
Gov. Brown, area legislators: It's time to remove the politics of elections from the missions of BOLI. It's time to eliminate the "Bureau of Labor vs. Industries" that the campaign-and-election process necessitates. It's time to make this bold change.
We think Lou Ogden could grow in the job, and we think Val Hoyle would politicize it too much. While not a full-throated endorsement, we nonetheless back Ogden in this race.