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.