Subverting the Will of the People


This past week, Oregonians endured creative applications of the truth by our public officials, proving that The Penn State Problem of creating your own truth is infecting the Left Coast like a virus. You’d better get your shots; doubtless, the big shots in your state are likewise contaminated.

Our governor, John Kitzhaber, made two decisions that triggered headlines, fiery letters to editors, and even campus demonstrations (nothing new there).  He responded to one situation with a fairly courageous stand against his support base in the bastion of liberalism (Eugene, Oregon). In the other, he ignored a state-wide vote of the people, thus putting himself above the will of the people.

In the first case, the University of Oregon president, Richard Lariviere, typically ignored directives of the university board to control spending. Two weeks ago, The Oregonian reported that last August Lariviere gave several million dollars in raises to 1,300 faculty and staff “in order to keep the U of O competitive,” a prime example of bending the truth to suit himself. Considering that our unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation, citizens were outraged.

Lariviere’s defenders—mostly U of O alums and students—complained about “small minds … the junk heap of consistency … assured mediocrity” undercutting Lariviere’s “boldness, vision for meaningful change … Rose Bowl of superior policy … and the hope to future generations.”

The expectancy on the street was that nothing would be done. Then, the other six state universities proclaimed their need “to be competitive.” Our governor suddenly found his voice. He concurred with the governing board and Lariviere was sacked Monday. Score one for keeping faith with Oregonians and the truth.

The second situation involved Gary Haugen, a convicted killer of two people, now on Death Row. Haugen admits his guilt and wants his execution to proceed. Kitzhaber last week said there would be no executions on his watch, completely ignoring a 1986 vote of Oregonians to re-institute the death penalty. He made his own truth. By doing so, he subverted the will of the people, enshrined in our state constitution. Death penalty opponents were ecstatic but forgotten along the way were three very important constituencies: the relatives of Haugen’s victims, who had hoped for closure to their personal loss decades later; the citizens of Oregon, whose vote 25 years ago was trumped by one man’s “personal convictions about the morality of capital punishment;” and lastly, justice suffered as justice was not served.

Regardless where you stand on capital punishment, the governor imposed his view of morality and justice upon those three constituencies. His correct moral stand to sack a renegade university president was diminished by this inconsistency in the handling of truth.

Service to the public is often under-appreciated and I am thankful for those who serve well. But you and I are responsible to hold those public officials accountable.

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About samuelehall

A follower of Jesus, husband, father of 3 adult children, writer and learner.
This entry was posted in Risking change/changing the risk and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Subverting the Will of the People

  1. Lloyd Lowry says:

    I tend to agree with Stan. I support the death penalty as the ultimate punishment allowed by a government. As a former DOC employee, I was very interested in how this would pan out. I don’t know how I would feel if my personal approval was required to commit the final act. Especially if I had done it before.

    The governor does have the legal right to commute individual sentences. I am less clear about the legality of suspending the entire process. I think the Supremes may need to weigh in.

    Interesting blog Sam. Glad you have overcome your technical difficulties!

  2. Stan Baldwin says:

    Hi, Sam. You made an Interesting juxtaposition of the two Kitzhaber decisions. I would say that of the two, his decision to uphold the firing of Lariviere was the more courageous because he knew it would create a firestorm against him among those usually considered his supporters. I would also say it was a sound decision. One cannot have university presidents ( or other public officials) charting their own course directly opposing the duly constituted authority that governs them, In the case, Lariviere directly disregarded directions of both the Board and the Governor.

    In the second case, I personally disagree with Kitzhaber’s suspension of the death penalty. However, I take him at his word that it was an agonizing decision for him and was dictated by his conscience. One could argue that, like Lariviere, he disregarded the directive of his superiors (the voters). I think, however, that Kitzhaber had the authority to make his decision against capital punishment, for, if not, he’d be guilty of an impeachable offense, would he not? In other words, while the people said they wanted capital punishment, they also said he could decide otherwise if he saw fit. Am I right? (That’s not a rhetorical question; I would welcome being instructed more perfectly.)

    While I favor the death penalty for the most egregious offenders, I think it is terribly flawed in its execution (no pun intended). I think it should happen a lot quicker (not after years and years of legal wrangling, incarceration, and huge public expense.)

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks, Stan. I believe we are in accord here. No doubt, Kitzhaber’s suspension of the death penalty was agonizing but it was every bit as wrong as that of the Obama administration to announce they will not enforce DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act, requiring one man and one woman for a marriage). Of course, the DOMA non-action is a nod to the gay-rights lobby and is consistent with his support for gay rights.
      I would defy either Obama or Kitzhaber to disallow abortions. To me, that would be no different than not enforcing DOMA–except that it would ignite a firestorm of opposition.
      Back to Kitzhaber: an impeachable offense? Perhaps, but not likely to happen in Oregon. Actually, the governor could deal with each capital punishment case as it came up–and then summarily commute the death sentence or grant a reprieve. However, by handling it this way, he appears courageous and noble in a one-time bold stand–not as risky in liberal Oregon as it would have been in 1986. Dealing with each case individually would expose him to recurring scrutiny in the light of the viciousness of each capital crime, thereby allowing death penalty advocates to gain momentum, with the ongoing questions of what will he do this time.

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