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Monday, June 4, 2007

Anatomy of corruption

Senator steals land, then pushes for subsidy
Senior Democrat lawmaker lends new meaning to "property rights"

Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) served in the House and now serves in the Senate. She has long-harbored statewide electoral ambitions. But the stubborn Democrat heavyweight from one of Oregon's dynastic political families can now kiss that goodbye as her next term may be served in Corrections.

Oregon's thin veneer of political nicety has been stripped away by a video of the experienced and influential Democrat lawmaker - a reliable friend of organized labor - exposing herself as a scandalous bully and scold.

In an August 2002 meeting with Port of St. Helens and Columbia County officials, Johnson, a Scappoose Democrat, "urged" the officials to allow Ed Freeman to buy and develop about 435 acres of land adjacent to the local airport. She also suggested the port could help subsidize the development.

Freeman, a Democrat mega-donor, is the same developer to whom Johnson in early 2005 sold a 36-acre plot of farmland next to the airport for nearly $119,000 more than she paid for it three months earlier. She bought the land from Stanley Wagner, a longtime friend and influential Democrat insider, for $635,425, then sold it to Freeman for $754,950.

With Sen. Johnson refusing to acknowledge her conduct as unethical, Oregonians now realize that cash-for-legislation is merely business-as-usual in state government.

Click "More of this post", below, for the video.



The Oregonian - a daily ad sheet published jointly by the Oregon AFL-CIO and the massive SEIU government employees union - obtained the video of the meeting from an anonymous state police source. On it, Johnson, then a state representative, bluntly criticizes port officials for not working with Freeman and for looking for other possible developers for the land. Port and County officials are tight-lipped and glum as they accept a tongue-lashing from the corrupt Democrat.

"If development for the highest and best use is what you want to do, why are you out hunting for other developers when you've got one with an open checkbook?" Johnson says on the tape. "Instead of maligning Mr. Freeman and casting aspersions on his company and on him ... why hasn't the port stepped up and said, 'We'd like to work with you'?"

A few weeks after the sale, Johnson introduced a bill in the Legislature to promote special airport access for private landowners - something Freeman needed to create an industrial park catering to the aviation business. Johnson did not initially disclose her interest in the land deal, as state law requires.

In previous interviews, Johnson has downplayed her relationship with Freeman. But the videotape shows Johnson was a vociferous advocate for Freeman far earlier as he worked to become a major player in the development around the Scappoose Industrial Airpark, which is owned and managed by the Port of St. Helens.

Johnson, unrepentant and seemingly uncorrectable, has skipped her meds since last week and refused to hire the Portland based damage-control specialist Gard & Gerber, choosing to speak for herself. She explained to The Oregonian Sunday that she forced Freeman on the port because, "the port had no money, no wherewithal, no interest in developing the property. Ed had the capability and the integrity to do it. Why wouldn't I?"

Friday, acting Gov. Tim Nesbitt labored to save Johnson in a now-embarrassing news interview. With the smoking-gun evidence from the land-for-influence corruption probe now spilled all over the internet, however, even the AFL-CIO has gone silent.

blog.oregonlive.com, June 3

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