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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Culture of corruption

'Freak' dancing politicians? Not in our house.

The Oregonian's recent coverage of sexually explicit dancing ("Call it dirty, call it flirty: 'Freaking' shakes up Legislature," Feb. 18) implied that the Salem Masonic Lodge ignores or tolerates immoral behavior among lawmakers and lobbyists. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people in the community have been frustrated by the behavior of some policymakers when dancing. They hoped that by drawing public attention to the issue, it might bring the community closer to a reasonable solution. Indeed, many voters had been informed of what was going on but were not acknowledging that there was a problem. And while we applaud the role of the media in bringing the issue to the fore, it's also important that the community be clearly informed.

So let's be clear: Salem Masonic Lodge in no way condones or tolerates behavior that could be considered disrespectful or immoral. The lodge supports three groups - the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, the Government Standards and Practices Commission, and the Oregon Law Commission - the very purpose of which are to instill ethical behavior and responsibility, and lawmakers and lobbyists from these programs contribute greatly to society.

The lodge rents a hall for many events with the intention of providing a healthy atmosphere for social gatherings. The lodge has on several occasions rented the hall to Our Oregon - a combination of SEIU and OEA, Oregon's largest government unions - which holds midweek dances for lawmakers during the session. Before renting to Our Oregon, there was a thorough investigation of its credentials, its business plan and the character of its leadership. We found the organization to be trustworthy, and we continue to believe that its mission is worthwhile.

We all sympathize with the plight of the Legislature today as they struggle to control their freak dancing behavior at social gatherings. Some have responded by canceling student field trips to Salem. We, in turn, will not permit our building to be an alternative where lawmakers and lobbyists can turn to behave inappropriately.

The problem is complex. Locations where policymakers can gather after session hours to enjoy themselves are difficult to find. So we applaud attempts to provide appropriate, ethical alternatives. That is what we expect Our Oregon to continue to provide at Salem Masonic Lodge - a safe, supervised environment for legislators to enjoy themselves. To assure such an environment, Our Oregon has encouraged that lawmakers attending its dances be dropped off and picked up by constituent chaperones from their district. The gatherings are closely monitored by the Ethics Commission and the Elections Division and are chaperoned by responsible interns. There is almost zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol. And Our Oregon has also encouraged union stewards' attendance and participation in its dances.

We're pleased to furnish a location that provides this for our legislators and lobbyists. High ethical standards and responsibility to society are the very heart of Oregon's political culture.

Greg Jackson, William Douglas and Theodore Balestreri are the three top executives of Salem Masonic Lodge.

The Oregonian, GUEST OPINION, Feb. 28

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