Sen. Vicki Walker of Eugene used to pride herself as an outspoken watchdog of government largesse and ethical standards.
It was Walker who played a big part in blowing the whistle on former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt. And it was Walker who took a stand against golden parachutes for administrators.
The list goes on. The feisty legislator also had no problem chastising her colleagues when she thought they were wasting taxpayer money with frivolities. That, of course, was before Walker discovered a parachute of her own.
The now former senator, like a number of other legislators, has chosen to leave office in favor of state employment. Since there are no rules barring legislators from using their influence and their position to secure a lucrative state position, it becomes an ideal avenue for enhancing their PERS benefits.
While legislators enjoy access to the same factor in the pension system available to firefighters and law enforcement personnel, the $21,000 or so a year they receive limits their potential benefits. That, of course, assumes they will retire from the Legislature.
Since the state pension system bases benefits on length of service times the highest levels of pay, there are great rewards for finding a higher salary. A legislator who serves say 10 or 15 years in the House or Senate and then takes a much higher paying job in administration, suddenly becomes the beneficiary of a dramatically improved pension.
That's what Walker has done by becoming chairwoman of the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision at $97,020 a year. Never mind she has limited experience in the field or she was not among the three individuals named finalists for the position. All she needed was an appointment by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Now, 73-year old Sen. Margaret Carter of Portland has announced her resignation to take over as deputy director for Human Services Programs at $121,872 a year. During the last session, Carter controlled the budget for that department. Director Bruce Goldberg did not conduct an outside search for his new deputy.
Also recently, Larry Galizio, a representative from Tigard - and, like Walker and Carter, a Democrat - stepped down to take a job helping coordinate university and community college programs. As in the case of Walker, the governor either made the appointment or helped it happen.
Bruce Hanna, House Republican leader, and a representative from Roseburg, believes legislators should be bound by the same rules in the public sector that bind them in the private sector. By that he is referring to the fact legislators must wait until the end of the following session to become lobbyists.
Said Hanna, "Oregonians should feel confident that legislators are not using their positions to obtain higher-paying jobs in the executive branch."
In response, Walker dismissed the idea as Republicans playing politics.
Perhaps she has a point because in 2004, the governor appointed three Republican lawmakers to major executive positions and the issue was never raised.
The validity of her point, however, has only to do with the possibility of sour grapes - not the ethical considerations surrounding the practice of appointing legislators to key state positions.
The citizens of Oregon need to be assured that hiring practices are based upon accepted principles of personnel administration without the slightest taint of favoritism.
It's extremely difficult to suggest there is no correlation between how a budget shakes out in June and the possibility of being appointed to a plum job a month or two later.
Legislators should have the right to be considered for jobs in either the public or private sector, but their service or their influence doesn't warrant granting them privileges not available to all Oregonians.
Hanna's proposal would help level the playing field.