October surprise


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Cylvia Hayes, tabloid vs. watchdog journalism and the looming threat of a Cascadia earthquake.

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Cylvia Hayes’ admission that she married an illegal immigrant 18 years ago qualifies as a surprise.  But possible conflicts of interest between her private work as a consultant and public work as an adviser are not so surprising, since she has openly occupied both roles since Kitzhaber became governor for a  third term.

Hayes’ dual role as First Lady policy adviser and environmental consultant was the reason we selected her as the (unpaid) keynote speaker for our 2013 Best Green Companies to Work for in Oregon awards dinner.

Regardless of potential ethics violations, the Hayes affair shows once again what a thankless job it is to be the spouse of a politician, especially when that politician holds executive office. Our system still favors women (most political spouses are female) who don’t have careers and instead pursue feel good projects — without compensation. 

The big winner in the Hayes marriage scandal is probably Willamette Week, which has built a solid business model around exposing the personal life  felonies and misdemeanors of Oregon’s political elite. The marital revelation also drew more attention than the possible ethics violation, validating the thesis of New York Times reporter Matt Bai’s new book: “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid,”

Excerpted in the New York Times magazine last month, the book describes in exhausting detail the sex scandal that toppled Gary Hart’s presidential aspirations in 1986 — and how it forever altered the course of political reporting.

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Kudos to Oregonian reporter Les Zaitz, who wrote this  story detailing contracting fraud and cover up on the part of  KT Contracting, the company owned by Rep. Kim Thatcher. Thatcher is a Republican representative from Keizer now running for the Oregon Senate.

As Zaitz reports, Rep. Thatcher describes herself in campaign materials as a “financial watchdog” — yet presides over a company that destroyed hard drives and deleted accounts during the state’s 2010 investigation of the company’s contracts with the Oregon Department of Transportation. 

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Last week I covered a PortlandDesignweek panel lamenting lack of innovation aimed at creating meaningful social change.  That sentiment is cropping up everywhere:

Today, the NYTimes ran a story about venture capitalists interested in moving away from consumer services internet startups with dubious social value to invest in new science businesses aimed at solving the world’s problems.

Closer to home, after 13 years, Ecotrust president Astrid Scholz has stepped down to take a position with the Resilience Exchange, a global social change initiative she helped launch in 2011.  Scholz lamented the proliferation of frivolous mobile and internet platforms in our conversation here.

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About that earthquake: Last summer, local writer David Wolman wrote a fascinating account of seven scientists who were convicted of manslaughter for failing to predict an earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy that killed several hundred people.  Their appeal began last week. 

It got me thinking about the relationship between science, earthquakes and litigation in the Pacific Northwest.

The science around the massive Cascadia earthquake slated to hit well, yesterday, is as solid as it gets when it comes to predicting seismic activity. Scientists and risk managers have also done their best to convey the risk to the public as well as civic and business leaders.

And yet hundreds of Oregon schools, bridges, hospitals and other buildings languish unretrofitted, a lethal threat to thousands of people. One can only guess at the volume of lawsuits that will be filed post-Cascadia. 

Fingers crossed the long-predicted magnitude 9 plus quake is not an October surprise.

Linda Baker is editor of Oregon Business.