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Q and A with Greg Chaille, Former Oregon Community Foundation President (1987-2011)
When you became Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) president in 1987, OCF had $40 million in assets. When you retired a generation later, OCF was the sixth largest community foundation in the country, with $1.6 billion in assets. During that period, OCF provided more than $700 million in charitable donations to Oregonians. What is the Oregon Community Foundation and how did you accomplish this remarkable growth for OCF and establish the state of Oregon as the 14th most charitable giving state in the nation?
Right from the beginning we had a small but highly professional staff that worked in harmony with our founding board. There was a clear vision about what we were trying to achieve and what was needed to achieve it.
Together, we tapped the giving spirit of Oregonians. I always believed and advocated that Oregonians with means should be giving 5 percent of their annual income to charity. When we started, Oregonians were giving 1.5 percent. When I retired, Oregonians were giving 3 percent. I am proud of that.
The key to growing OCF was building a permanent endowment to benefit Oregon communities. To do this we needed two things: a large growing fund comprised of many individual donors and their collective leadership, and the ability to recruit active volunteers and engage them in a higher level of civic work.
These leaders created a combination of donors and synergy at OCF that helped make OCF the sixth largest community foundation in America -- a place where there are enough resources to back up good ideas, ideas that would not take flight otherwise.
We have a strong sense of what it means to be an Oregonian and that too contributed to OCF’s success. Early on we were seen as “Oregon’s Foundation” here to help your community. We don’t want to lose that.
Which Oregon business and civic leaders were your most important professional and philanthropic mentors?
As head of OCF I had a unique position where I was able to learn and work with some of the most brilliant people who built what is modern Oregon.
John Gray, who built Sunriver, Salishan and Skamania resorts, as well as Johns Landing, was also the chairman of the Board of Reed College for 26 years.
John grew up in rural Corvallis. His father died when he was three. The house he grew up in didn’t have running water. He went to Harvard.
When he looked at property he wanted to develop, he saw the pieces of the puzzle and put them together. He walked the land in his shirt sleeves over and over before and during the construction of his resorts. He didn’t want to harm what was already there. He wanted his buildings to blend in with the land, to add value to the land. He had a vision of the future and the places he built, and he persevered. He brought that same stewardship vision to his work at OCF.
Don Kerr was the creator of the High Desert Museum in Deschutes County. He had been involved with the Portland Zoo but he also loved the high desert land. Before he built the museum, there was no place for tourists in Central Oregon to go and learn about the region’s history and ecology. Don, because he had connections, was able to establish a museum east of the Cascades funded by Portlanders. He was the first to get Portlanders to spend money outside of their area.
When her husband Harold died, Donna Woolley inherited his timber company in Drain, Oregon. Against tough odds and not much encouragement, she decided to stick with the company. She could have sold it. But instead she became a beloved employer for hundreds in Douglas County. No one thought she would succeed against the forces that were trying to drive her out of business – a hostile business environment, the spotted owl, tough competitors – but she did. Donna chaired OCF through some of its strongest growth.
Bob Chandler bought the Bend Bulletin in the 1950s. With the newspaper as his anchor property, he went on to build one of Oregon’s most influential media companies, Western Communications. At its peak, the company consisted of seven newspapers, five in Oregon and two in Northern California. He flew his own plane around the state. I would hitch a ride with him from time to time, and, while flying with him he made me see how you could cut Oregon down to size and develop a statewide vision.
He also taught our OCF staff the importance of word usage, sentence structure and syntax. He would send our proposals back marked up with blue lines and edits. He made our thinking and our presentation more concise. It was just another way he contributed.
Bill Swindells was not only the CEO and chairman of the board of Willamette Industries, he was also the founder of OCF. He wanted a structure for civic involvement and charitable giving. He passionately believed that “you were responsible for the place you lived.”
Ken Ford developed a long standing tradition at Roseburg Lumber to give to the community. The tradition of philanthropy in Roseburg that exists today was developed by Ken.
John Hampton, Sally McCracken and Sam Wheeler were three more of my mentors, but there were many others, including Joe Weston who dedicated his real estate fortune for the community’s benefit. All of these people had a strong sense of what it means to be an Oregonian, a sense of that identity. It’s critical we don’t lose that.
In building OCF, you emphasized enlisting volunteers from around Oregon, not just the Portland area. Why the emphasis on building OCF offices in rural Oregon? When you were making these strategic decisions in the 1990s, did you anticipate the economic and social problems that rural Oregon faces today?
We not only anticipated the decline of rural Oregon, we were caught right in the middle of it. In the 1990s, Oregon was shaken by the decline of wood products and the spotted owl crisis, and the rise of the high tech boom. Thanks to our geographically diverse board, OCF was better able to understand how to play a more constructive role for rural Oregon. Community leaders outside of Portland, such as Bill Thorndike of Medford Fabrication and Susan Sokol Blosser of Sokol Blosser Winery in Dundee, helped us get there.
In U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse’s 2018 book, “Them,Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal,” he focuses on the collapse of American communities. Sasse writes, “Urban studies theorist Richard Florida divides America into the mobile, the rooted, and the stuck. Community is collapsing in America because the rooted are vanishing; the stuck have too many crises in their lives to think about much else; and the mobile are too schizophrenic to busy themselves with the care and feeding of their flesh-and-blood communities.”
With membership in civic associations in decline both nationally and in Oregon, be it Rotary Clubs or other civic groups, is Sasse right? Is community in America collapsing? How will this affect philanthropy – the need for it and the likelihood of ongoing donors?
The Sasse phenomenon of community collapse is not as widespread in Oregon as the picture the Nebraska senator paints nationally. Yes, we’ve got challenges. The loss of the timber industry in Oregon shook the state. But there were efforts to address that loss – constructing new civic centers, theatres, libraries, etc.
We know these days that community is fragile, that the next generation of Oregonians may not get enough support, but we’ve built something here to draw on.
I’m not saying things are rosy in Oregon, but charitable giving and civic commitment did not go away when the timber industry in Oregon declined. Again, we have challenges, but we still have a strong sense of community here. And that’s needed in a state that doesn’t have a lot of corporate wealth.
We see that commitment in the way the people in Vernonia rebuilt their town after the recent flood. The way that the local fishermen, philanthropist Mike Keiser, and others worked on the South Coast to save the endangered fish habitats.
We see it in the Oregon museums and art galleries that have been established such as the High Desert Museum in Central Oregon, and the showcasing of Oregon artists that the late Joan Austin built with The Allison Inn and Spa resort in Newberg. Yes, keeping and establishing a sense of place about Oregon has to be more than building art galleries and museums. It has to be a way of thought, feeding that sense of place – the way that Tom McCall and John Gray did for Oregon.
Other community foundations around the country have divided their states into regions and charitable districts. New Hampshire did this. Idaho did this. But we made a strategic decision at OCF to treat the state as a whole, not make those divisions.
During your tenure at OCF, Oregon’s economy made a dramatic transition from timber to technology. With that transition came big challenges to civic leadership. In June 2017, we asked Joaquin Lippincott, CEO of Metal Toad, about the reasons for the shortcoming in civic leadership from our region’s technology leaders. Lippincott said:
Whether Oregon tech leaders have a duty to invest in the state is irrelevant. The answer to that is yes, but the more important question is: Will they? Unfortunately the answer to that is likely no. Due to the financial structure of most tech start ups, they have almost zero incentive to invest in anything other than their own company. They don’t require infrastructure investment, and they generally live in a bubble where everyone they know is well compensated and loves their job. Layer on top of that, they generally come from out of state and have large buckets of money and investors who require progress on a one-, two- or three year horizon, and you have a recipe for almost no economic or civic engagement. I find this incredibly ironic given the progressive politics of the tech industry, but there is almost no interest in things that are not directly related to tech.
Do you agree? Does Oregon’s tech community provide “almost no civic engagement”? If so, what thoughts do you have to change attitudes?
It is not inevitable that tech leaders don’t show interest in philanthropy. There have to be efforts to bring them out. Lippincott is right -- they, tech, don’t require investment in the city or region’s infrastructure to succeed. And he’s right to say that high tech executives almost have to be dragged kicking and screaming to get them involved. But those of us who are already involved need to serve as role models.
High tech people have to realize that their kids may be going to school with homeless kids.
A friend of mine is a high tech executive and his 10-year-old son is doing really well in school, but some of his classes now have homeless kids. These kids will get exposed to the issue just by osmosis.
Eventually some tech leader will become civic minded, some will step up and say this is not right. Others will say, I have a responsibility to help our community. Lippincott is a good critic, but what’s his solution? But, still what he says is true.
Lippincott may be right in his critique, but the spark has to be lit – struck between high tech and nonprofits in addressing the homeless issue. They, themselves, have to take responsibility, the way that Amazon is finally, and after all these years, doing in Seattle.
I disagree with Lippincott to this extent: I think that high tech will eventually welcome the opportunity to help. Somebody has to step forward to say, “Our community can’t be this way – let’s join together.”
In Amor Towles’ best-selling novel, “A Gentleman in Moscow,” the main character, Count Rostov, ruminates on the capricious pace of change:
As we age, we are bound to find comfort from a notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade away … But under certain circumstances, the Count finally acknowledged, this process can occur in the comparative blink of an eye. Popular upheaval, political turmoil, industrial progress – any combination of these can cause the evolution of a society to leapfrog generations, sweeping aside aspects of the past that might have otherwise lingered for decades.
Rapid change in Oregon has come in the overnight dominance of the tech industry in our economy. How worried are you that the longstanding, healthy philanthropic and leadership habits of past Oregon community leaders could disappear in our state, not in decades, but, as the author says “in a blink of an eye”?
I do worry about the pace of change in our society and how it will affect philanthropy in the future. I am worried that the next generation does not have the same commitment to philanthropy that past Oregon civic leaders, such as Donna Woolley, did. However, certain Oregon philanthropic traditions are well established. John Gray who built Sunriver and Salishan was a real visionary. And John Hampton of Hampton Lumber was very determined.
Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman believed in being a community leader and carrying that tradition forward future generations. He did his giving through an advised fund at OCF.
The Bowerman family settled in Fossil and Condon Oregon during the covered wagon days. They were in the cattle business. His grandfather was civic-minded, and his father was governor or Oregon. Can you imagine today the governor of Oregon being from Condon? Unheard of.
Bowerman told me often, “I believe in the responsibility of leaving a community a better place than I found it.”
It is the same civic commitment that the Freres family has shown in Lyons and Stayton Oregon. I hope to see that kind of civic commitment out of Oregon’s tech community in the near future. It is a little ironic that we have to worry about the future of philanthropy in Oregon, because the tools are there now to do it easier than ever before.
As an antidote to wealth concentration in America, presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is proposing a wealth tax that annually would tax 2 percent of the assets of American households with a net worth of $50 million and 3 percent on fortunes of over a billion dollars. What affects do you think such a tax, if enacted, would have on future philanthropic giving?
This depends on an individual’s philosophy of giving. Some will see that their obligation is fulfilled by paying the Warren tax. Others will ignore the effects of the tax on their own assets and give as they feel is needed to support the causes they care about.
Overall, it will dampen giving among the wealthy.
Still, the tradition of giving within a community is determined by the leaders of that community.
Economist and political philosopher Frederic Hayek wrote, “Only where we ourselves are responsible for our own interests and are free to sacrifice them has our decision moral value. We are neither entitled to be unselfish at someone else’s expense nor is there any merit in being unselfish if we have no choice.”
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee recently made this comment at a Seattle press conference in reaction to the death of a homeless person during February’s snowstorm: “I want to say something too, and I hope it’s not off-topic, but I have to say it. When I think of our community that has homeless people who actually, one of whom lost their life to exposure, and realize that we don’t have a system to handle this problem in the state, it kind of drives me nuts, given the wealth that exists in the state of Washington.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has also at times appeared overwhelmed by our homeless problem and has stated that it might be not possible to solve homelessness on a local level because it is a national problem.
Is homelessness in our region solvable on a local level? What advice would you give Mayor Wheeler as he attempts to deal with this growing humanitarian crisis?
People, our leaders, are afraid of the issue, and so they walk away from it. When Gov. Inslee of Washington State says we don’t have a system to take care of the homeless problem, he is only going halfway. We need more leadership on the issue. Leadership that is not afraid.
We don’t see homelessness as a personal problem. We see it as a broad-based community problem. But it really is a personal challenge for every one of us. For our leaders who say they can’t solve it, the homeless issue is not really a structural problem as much as it is a psychological problem. We’ve got to believe in ourselves. In our solutions.
That said, local leaders need to have resources to solve the homeless issue. We as citizens need to know the direction we are going. The governor and the mayor need to provide that direction. But that direction has to be visible to everyone, what they and we are doing. The mayor, Mayor Wheeler in this case, has to go out and sell it. If he can’t sell it, he has to create a task force that can.
So here’s my advice to the mayor: Keep at it! Become a more visible and vocal champion. Inspire others to get involved.
Bottom line: The city’s future depends on how we handle this crisis.
Ten years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and one year after surviving a bout with cancer, how is your health? How have these challenges changed your perspective?
have learned to be in the moment. I have learned to cherish every day and find fulfillment through volunteering at organizations such as OMSI, SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) and Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon.
By Allen Alley
Have the Public Unions Got a Tax Bill for You
It is tax season and, with that in mind, I wanted to alert you to a tax that you likely don't realize exists. A tax that you are certainly on the hook to pay, but you haven’t seen the bill for it yet. I can tell you, the bill will be at least $36,000 for each member of your family. You will start paying it now and will be paying it for the next 30 years. The bill is for your portion of the Oregon Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) liability.
While many of you might have begun work on your taxes on Presidents Day 2019, our public school teachers did not. What were they doing? They were having a sit-in at the state capitol protesting inadequate school funding.
Isn’t it ironic that union members, who are the eighth highest paid teachers in the country, are taking a day off from one of the shortest school years, to protest lack of funding? One would believe we have chronically under-funded this critical service. The truth is, over the last six years, state funding of public schools has grown 44 percent, while enrollment has grown 3 percent. Funding has increased nearly 15 times faster than the growth in enrollment. Yet we still have one of the worst graduation rates in the nation.
So where has this money gone? It has largely gone to fund the enormous unfunded teacher retirement liability: PERS. And the saddest part? The teachers don't understand they are being used as pawns, and that even this level of funding hasn’t put a dent in the liability. Their pensions hang in the balance between financial insolvency of the state and the overburdened taxpayers of Oregon.
The problem extends far beyond only teachers. Oregon already is the fourth highest in the country for annual state government spending per citizen at $9,665. Peer states including Washington, Colorado, Utah and California range from Utah at $4,585 to California at $6,607. How can we spend more per person than 45 other states and outspend our nearest neighbor, Washington, by 60 percent? Because we have a massive under-funded, government employee pension system.
This unpaid tax is now coming due.
So just how big of a tax bill is it? If we strip away all of the government double talk about actuarial calculations and assumed rate of return and actually look at the total cash the Oregon taxpayers owe to the current government employees and retirees over the next 30 years, it totals an astounding $225 billion. Put another way, this means every person in Oregon (not only taxpayers, but every adult and child) is on the hook for over $53,000 each. Now the good news is the state does have some savings that will be used to help pay these pensions – about $17,000 per Oregonian. So, each of you reading this only need to come up with about $36,000 for each member of your family.
With the legislature back in session, there are a bevy of tax increases on the docket, but don't expect to find a PERS emergency levy. It wouldn't be very popular for the Democrats to say, “We need to massively raise your taxes to pay off the promises we made to the government employee unions (our largest campaign donors), but never adequately funded.”
No, instead they will raise taxes on corporations, keep the kicker, raise property taxes, tax carbon, raise gasoline taxes, toll the freeways, and so on and so on. But they will never, ever say it is to fund PERS. But it is.
Rather than doing the right thing – cutting up the PERS credit card and implementing a 401K type pay-as-you-go retirement plan – they will continue the charade of raising taxes on everything to pay off their virtual campaign debt to their largest donors.
So as you fill out your forms and write your checks to the Oregon Department of Revenue, remember to set aside a few thousand extra dollars. Heck, you could just hold off on funding your own 401K for the next 30 years. That should just about take care of it.
Blue, Blue Oregon:
The Conversation Continues
Jeff Mapes, reporting for Oregon Public Broadcasting, recently commented about my article, “Blue, Blue Oregon,” which appeared in our January newsletter. “Bridget Barton, Republican consultant, is getting a lot of buzz in conservative circles for writing about how the state has changed.” From the many responses, this seems like a conversation many Oregonians are eager to pursue.
In his news story for OPB, I told Jeff Mapes, “Any idiot can see that after 30 years of winning you are going to have a better network and a better ground game. They (the Democrats) have ensconced their people in every conceivable government job and bureaucratic position from dog catcher to attorney general.”
Readers wanted to know: Who are the idiots I was referring to and why the “in-your-face” tone?
On the wall in my office hangs a yellowed copy of a Willamette Week cover story from 2005, “Neil Goldschmidt’s Web of Power.” The graphic is a spiderweb depicting all the high level offices and plum public utility positions and department heads that he appointed and/or controlled. Some of those names have come and gone with their big public pensions. Some of them are still hard at work. Since then, the list of names has skyrocketed and this spiderweb has become more like a massive fungus that devours everything in its path. And yet still, every election cycle, “experts” on both sides of the aisle have taken critical aim at various aspects of Republican campaigns to explain the losses, rather than looking at the overall landscape of ground-level Democrat dominance. Could campaigns be better? Maybe; probably. We can all do better. But that’s not the problem. It’s frustrating to watch the circular firing squads every election cycle, but blaming must be more comforting to many conservatives than acknowledging that we really do live in a blue, blue state. I truly sympathize, but it’s time to be smarter and more strategic. If after 15 years of watching this web of corruption and incestuous politics grow, we still don’t get it, then we are the idiots.
My solution to the problem of “Blue, Blue Oregon” has probably generated the most controversy:
Maybe we need to patient here. Maybe elected Republican officials should commit to two years of radio silence – let the left go left, way left. Let them get sloppy with their big majority … let the middle class, what’s left of it, begin to feel the weight of their tax burden. After negotiating borderline corrupt exemptions for their friends/donors at NIKE and Intel, there’s just not enough money left in the state to fund the Democrats’ voracious tax appetite … the strategy should be: no negotiating, no bipartisanship on the horrible policies about to come our way. Let it burn. The state and the conservative movement will be easier to fix from the ground up than to fix a half-burnt structure.
In response, one reader commented, “I’m very uncomfortable with the ‘let it burn’ analogy, given the forest fires and loss of lives and property. If I sound mad, I am not. I just cringe at how insensitive it sounds.”
In 1999, I wrote a cover feature, “Not If But When … Fire Will Take the Bull Run Watershed,” in which I outlined the insane practices of preventing logging and thinning projects in the Portland Metro area’s watershed, and the devastation that was bound to result when conflagrations erupted in the clogged forests. So, not only do I sympathize with this reader, but I worry that we have not yet seen the worst of the fires, choking smoke and runoff damage on scarred hillsides. But to be clear, news writing should always avoid incendiary language. On the other hand, opinion writing, such as “Blue, Blue Oregon,” is meant to arouse heated reactions and to inflame our prejudices. The use of the term “let it burn” is a metaphor. Despite our shared sensitivities, I sadly suggest that readers should cringe at what is currently happening to our beautiful state, both literally and figuratively.
Some Republican legislators have pushed back at my prescription for recovery. They question how they can serve their constituents by laying low in this legislative session and watching the Democrats pass policies destructive for Oregon … “let it burn” policies. How can Republican legislators sit patiently, quietly through what promises to be a horrific Democrat “super majority” legislative session?
They can sit quietly and patiently or they can sit loudly and angrily. Loud and angry looks ugly and gets them nowhere. Quiet and patient gives them time to plan. Quiet and patient also demonstrates to Oregonians more clearly that the horrible results belong only to Democrats. Standing on the tracks will not prevent the train wreck.
Other conservatives had a slightly different take on my solution of “patience.”
One reader commented, “The voting margins were big enough that you can’t ignore the fact this it is the people who want these legislators and their policies to be in power. The people have spoken.
“Second, your suggestion that Republicans refrain from intervening on the implementation of their policies is a very reasonable idea. In fact, that is what good parents do when their kids do dumb stuff.”
Meanwhile, GOP House Minority Leader Carl Wilson echoed those very same thoughts when he too spoke with Jeff Mapes. “If they [Democrats] continue to overreach and we find that some of the policies that they have invested themselves in so deep don’t work – I think therein lies a chance for Republicans to have a comeback.”
On a national level we are already seeing some pretty big chinks in the Democrats’ armor. Exhibit A: Ocasio-Cortez’ Green New Deal – wow, talk about cringing. The ridiculous overreach on this nonsense plan has Democrats in turmoil and Republicans planning their campaign ads for 2020. Their overreach on identity politics and personal destruction have resulted in fiascoes in Virginia with the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, not to mention the recent humiliating embarrassments and overreactions on Nick Sandmann, the MAGA hat wearing teen, who is now suing the Washington Post for $250 million. Then there’s Jussie Smollett, who has now been arrested for faking his own hate crime attack to get attention. Give the actor some credit – he knows how to ring Hollywood and the Democrats’ bell. More serious is the sudden decision of Amazon not to build their headquarters in New York City – a direct result of progressive, Democrat overreach with devastating financial consequences.
Closer to home, Portland’s City Council has withdrawn from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, putting us all at risk. And the supermajority, super-crazy Ds in Oregon’s legislature have already passed statewide rent control. The best “dumb stuff” yet is Democrat Senator Shemia Fagan’s plan to lower the voting age to 16.
Even I thought we’d have to be patient a little longer than this. If this is only the beginning, a comeback in 2020 might not be so farfetched.
By Bridget Barton
By Aaron Withe, Oregon director of the Freedom Foundation
Do the Math
A look at public union decline
In the past month, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Daniel DiSalvo, a longtime government union commentator. The premise of the piece was an analysis of the numbers reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, based on nationwide polling of union membership in the public and private sector.
Here’s a quick take from that article: “Whatever happened to public-sector unions? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan warned of ‘large-scale consequences … involving millions of employees’ in her dissent last year from the court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. Yet according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, unions in state and local government only lost 54,000 members, from 6.244 million to 6.19 million in 2018 — a decline of less than 1 percent.”
It’s worth noting, by the way, there’s a large margin of error when numbers are collected in this way.
In any case, when you drill down a little deeper, these numbers reveal that unlike the rest of the nation, the West Coast has seen a rapid rate of decline of union membership. As you read in ourlast Q & A, the Freedom Foundation operates almost exclusively in the states of Washington, Oregon and California, where we’ve helped free more than 40,000 public employees from union bondage.
In Oregon alone, SEIU 503 membership has experienced one of the largest declines in the country post-Janus, according to newly released state numbers. Over a quarter of their members affected by Janus have now ceased paying union dues.
Many observers wrongly predicted the Janusruling would devastate government unions. And it may — eventually. In the meantime, unless public employees are made aware of their newly affirmed rights and how to exercise them, the decline will be modest.
In states where the Freedom Foundation operates, union membership has declined noticeably because we take the time to inform government employees of their rights, assist them during the opting-out process, and provide them with legal representation when those rights are denied.
Not coincidentally, government employees on the West Coast and the Freedom Foundation have borne the brunt of the unions’ pushback. Whether through personal attacks on our staff and our board, frivolous lawsuits or retaliatory legislation, unions do not react in these ways in other states because they don’t need to.
Where the Freedom Foundation does its work, unions are hemorrhaging members and are in full panic mode. Everywhere else, neither is true.
Do the math.