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Republican Vic Atiyeh, who guided Oregon through economic upheaval, dies at 91

Posted on Monday, July 21, 2014 in Legislature, News, Politics & Campaigns

By Jeff Mapes
July 20, 2014

Vic Atiyeh, the even-tempered, low-key Republican governor who guided Oregon through the deep recession of the early 1980s, died at 8:15 p.m. Sunday of kidney failure. He was 91.

Atiyeh was admitted to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center on Saturday with  shortness of breath and possible internal bleeding, according to Denny Miles, a family spokesman who also served as Atiyeh’s gubernatorial press secretary.

Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” by Atiyeh’s death, describing the former governor as a “mentor and a friend” who “led Oregon out of the recession of the early 1980s, with a strategy embraced by both parties, and went on to make international trade a cornerstone of Oregon’s economy.”

The former governor had been in the hospital earlier last week for treatment of an adverse reaction to pain medicine following rib injuries caused by a July 5 fall in his Washington County home. His wife, Dolores, 90, has been in a rehabilitation facility following hip and wrist surgery after a separate fall on July 13. However, along with other family members, she spent several hours at her husband’s bedside Sunday.

Atiyeh, governor from 1979 to 1987, became an elder statesman for his party after his governorship. He frequently told Republicans that he looked forward to the day that he would no longer be introduced as the last Republican to serve as governor — but it didn’t happen in his lifetime.

He was the first state leader to court Asian business, earning him the nickname “Trader Vic” and laying the groundwork for a modern Oregon economy that relies heavily on international trade.

Atiyeh often reminded his staff: “It’s amazing how much you can get done if you don’t care who takes credit for it.” Nonetheless, his fellow Republicans and Democrats alike credit him as a man who helped change the face of Oregon.

The nation’s first Arab American governor, Atiyeh fought for minority groups, including backing legislation ensuring that racial and religious harassment would be a felony in Oregon.

He was a proponent of land-use planning and worked behind the scenes to win lasting protection for the Columbia River Gorge.

However, Atiyeh’s two terms in office will always be colored by the bleak economic times.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, served in his first legislative session in 1981 as Atiyeh and lawmakers were grappling with rising unemployment and growing budget shortfalls.

“He became a model for me” of how to get through tough times, said Courtney, adding that Atiyeh’s legacy was of “how to make things work when everything is going against you.”

“He was the epitome of a public servant and gave so much to so many in Oregon,” said House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, in a statement. “Governor Atiyeh was quick to encourage this generation to work together to solve Oregon’s problems.”

The Great Recession that hit Oregon in 2008 was not as bad as the financial disaster Oregon faced in the early 1980s. The timber industry, the state’s main economic driver, crashed, leaving shuttered mills and empty storefronts around the state. The unemployment rate reached 12.1 percent in December 1982.

Atiyeh was a hands-on manager who dedicated the bulk of his time to the fine print of the state budget.

He favored short sleeves over fancy dress shirts and refused to believe that an Oregon governor needed an official residence, especially one with an upstairs ballroom. He sat down for weekly meetings with the press corps, even if he had nothing specific to announce. He also relished chatting it up with the public during daily half-hour open houses at the Capitol.

Atiyeh would smile when he talked about those meetings: “People would say: ‘Are you really the governor?’ I’d say: ‘Yep.’ ”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat who admitted he got off on the wrong political foot with Atiyeh, said he came to be a “great admirer.”

The GOP governor was the “quintessential Oregonian. Straightforward. Results-oriented,” Wyden said. “No one ever walked away without knowing where he stood.”

Rabbi Emanuel Rose, rabbi emeritus at Portland’s Congregation Beth Israel, described Atiyeh as a “total gentleman.”

“He was a very broad-minded, understanding man because he himself came out of a background that could have been attacked by many people — and was,” Rose said. “But he lived above that.”

Victor George Atiyeh was born in Portland on Feb. 20, 1923, to Syrian immigrants George and Linda Asly Atiyeh. George had come to the United States near the turn of the century to operate an Oriental carpet business with his older brother Aziz. That business became Atiyeh Brothers.

Vic Atiyeh grew up in a racially and ethnically mixed neighborhood. He attended Holladay Grade School and Washington High School in Portland and then the University of Oregon, where he studied for two years and played guard for the Ducks football team.

In a characteristic assessment, a coach later said Atiyeh’s main failing as a ball player was that “he never got mad enough.” However, Atiyeh was scouted by several professional football teams and turned down an offer to play for the Green Bay Packers.

Along with his older, twin brothers, Richard and Edward, Atiyeh joined the military during World War II. His brothers went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and were taken as prisoners of war. But Vic Atiyeh’s childhood broken leg and ankle injuries kept him out of active service.

Atiyeh married his high school sweetheart, Dolores Hewitt, on July 5, 1944. His father died that summer, and Atiyeh dropped out of school to take over the family carpet business.

His political career began in 1958, when Atiyeh was recruited to run for the Oregon House representing Washington County. He went on to serve three terms in the House and was elected to four terms in the Senate, where he served as Senate minority leader.

Atiyeh suffered the only loss of his political career when he first ran for governor in 1974. Though he won the GOP primary against a more favored candidate, Atiyeh was soundly trounced in the general election by Oregon Treasurer Bob Straub.

Atiyeh ran again in 1978 and in a GOP primary upset, he defeated former Gov. Tom McCall, who was trying to stage a comeback after leaving office. Atiyeh went on to beat incumbent Straub in the general election.


Oregon Legislature’s high-speed annual session draws fire

Posted on Saturday, March 1, 2014 in Legislature, News, Politics & Campaigns
By Harry Esteve
March 1, 2014

SALEM – Maybe it’s the influence of the recent Winter Olympics, but listening to the hallway chatter about Oregon’s annual legislative sessions is like channeling Nancy Kerrigan after her 1994 knee-whacking.

Why? Why? Why?

Complaints about the additional even-year meeting have increased as the session winds down, with the overriding concern that the hurry-up schedule could cause bad legislation to slip through.

“We’ve had entirely new policy concepts introduced,” said Alan Tresidder, a veteran lobbyist with State Street Solutions. “If you look at the Voters’ Pamphlet statement and what was said about annual sessions, it wasn’t any of this stuff. We’re dealing with stuff all over the map.”

Tresidder isn’t the only one who has soured on what was supposed to be the Legislature’s big move toward greater relevance. Other lobbyists talk about the session as though it’s one big political rally for the upcoming election season. A Republican leader described it as “a political free-for-all” and said the compact timeline shortchanges Oregonians, especially those outside the Portland-Eugene corridor, on meaningful participation.

The new way of doing things still has staunch defenders, who say it brings Oregon out of the political backwater. But at the very least, the voter-approved expansion into yearly gatherings seems to have hit its first existential mini-crisis.

In addition to complaints from lobbyists and some members, one otherwise stalwart supporter of annual sessions has offered a bill to increase the number of days in the even-year session to 45 instead of the current 35-day limit. The bill would reduce the time limit in odd years by 10 days, keeping the total number of days the same.

“I just think 35 is too short to do good policy work,” said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin. “It’s fine for the budget,” but not for the dozens of other bills lawmakers tackle. Devlin said he meant his bill to be a “conversation starter” and expects any changes to the annual session calendar would take several years.

Until four years ago, the Legislature met only in odd-numbered years, although special sessions could be called at any time. In 2008 and 2010, under the urging of Senate President Peter Courtney, lawmakers called themselves into special “supplemental” sessions as an experiment. The idea was to prove to voters they could hold a short, effective off-year session.

It worked. Voters approved annual sessions in 2010. The first “real” even-year session was in 2012 and got generally positive reviews. This is the second, and some of the sheen appears to have worn off.

“I hear the grumblings here or there,” said Courtney, D-Salem. But he said he has no interest in retreating. To Courtney, it’s a question of balancing the power.

“The governor is in his office 24/7,” he said. “Administrative agencies are working every week. So your Legislature is supposed to meet every 18 months? I don’t get it.”

Griping about the annual session began even before the session started, with accusations that lawmakers were introducing bills to provide ammunition in this fall’s elections. Those accusations only sharpened as the session proceeded.

House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, called out House Bill 4143, which would redirect unclaimed class-action lawsuit proceeds to legal services for the poor. Opponents say the bill is unconstitutional and erodes defendants’ rights.

“Because of the short session, House Democrats ran that bill for absolutely partisan reasons to gain advantage in campaigns,” McLane said. “My complaint is that it’s gone from budget adjustments and minor policy changes to a free-for-all on the policy side that is not vetted, lacks citizen participation and is aimed at campaigns.”

He suggests that annual sessions end or, barring that, the number of policy bills be severely curtailed and supermajority votes be required to pass bills in short sessions.

Paulette Pyle, a longtime lobbyist who represents the pesticide industry, said she thinks it’s a mistake to call lawmakers to Salem shortly before most of them run for re-election. The result is far more attention to maintaining or gaining seats than to passing good laws, said Pyle, who would prefer to return to meeting every other year.

“It’s a temptation as a politician to put something out there that’s provocative to the public,” Pyle said.

Not that the public would have much time to respond. For a good part of the session, committees met to consider bills with only one hour of notice, making it nearly impossible for average Oregonians to track legislation and offer input. Bills that weren’t scheduled for a committee vote by the end of the first week died. The timeline was just too compressed, many said.

“It does the whole body a disservice,” Tresidder said. “My concern is the short session doesn’t give the public enough time to have any input.”

Russ Dondero, retired political science professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, said Oregon faces too many complex problems to have its main lawmaking body gather only once every two years.

“Whether it’s school funding, whether its urban-rural issues, the Legislature needs to be addressing these on an annual basis,” Dondero said.

He said he would prefer the Legislature meet six months each year instead of holding what he calls a “truncated” session in the even years. It takes time to build relationships, and that’s when the best policy-making occurs, he said.

“I believe in government,” Dondero said. “I believe in an activist government. I believe that compromise across the aisle is better when people have a longer time to think about the issues and talk about the issues.”

– Harry Esteve

– Yuxing Zheng

State Street Solutions Lobby Group Welcomes Two New Team Members To Their Firm

Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 in News, Politics & Campaigns

George Okulitch and Alan Tresidder, of State Street Solutions, a local Government Affairs advocacy and lobby firm, announced today the addition of two new members that have joined their firm for 2014.

Molly McGrew recently joined State Street solutions as the Director of Business Development and Government Relations. She has an extensive business career including software start-ups and successful launches of multiple pharmaceutical and biotech medications throughout the Northwest and California. Her background also includes multiple years working for candidates and Legislators in Oregon.

Her background includes over 20 years of work with businesses such as Wellero, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Janssen, Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson, and political work with Senator Richard Devlin, former State Representative Ryan Deckert and many others.

She graduated from the Atkinson Graduate School of Management in 2000 with a Masters of Business and Public Administration (MBA, MPA), and Marketing and Human Resources. Prior to that, she studied at Portland State University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and History. | 971.226.0182

Rebecca Tweed joins our firm as our Political and Communications Director. Rebecca has been a political consultant and campaign manager in Oregon for the last nine years and during that time has worked on over 40 different campaigns varying from city council, mayoral, judicial, ballot measures, and state representative races across the state. She served as the Political Director for the Oregon House Republican Caucus where she worked on the key campaigns leading the Oregon House to a historical 30-30 tie between Republicans and Democrats in 2010.

She graduated from Syracuse University with Bachelor’s Degrees in Political Science, Philosophy, and Public Policy. After graduating college, she worked as an International Story Developer at Fox News in New York City before returning to Oregon.

She has also worked with non-political clients such as law firms, small local businesses and non-profits, doing fundraising, public relations, social media management, media training and communications development. | 503. 860.6033

State Street Solutions is a full-service government relations and contract lobbying firm, whose team collectively has over 40 years of experience working in Salem.