Thursday, June 14, 2007

A LO Primer on the Betsy Johnson saga (so far)

Its been suggested to me on several fronts that the winding and weaving we've attempted on the issues surrounding State Senator Betsy Johnson and local media coverage is tough to follow.

So to help out those who don't have the inside baseball view of it that we do, I've attempted to lay it out in this post in a digestable form.

There are essentially three prongs to the various accusations against Johnson:

The first prong has to do with one of Johnson's bills, SB 680. Basically, the bill would set up a pilot project for a few rural airports that would allow them a "through the fence policy"--meaning that those businesses who own property at an airport would have the ability to enter the airport without having to go through the main security gate. The Oregonian printed a story citing Johnson's efforts with SB680 and how it looked to them like the buyer of some land she sold was helped by the bill.

Except that he wasn't. We've found documentation that Scappoose Airport had a "through the fence policy" since May of 2005--and two Port Commissioners told us that the policy has existed since at least 2000. Not to mention the fact that the buyer says he had no idea that the bill existed and it wasn't a part of the deal. Further, the many people we've interviewed from Scappoose that have followed this situation for decades tell us that the stories being fed to the media about Johnson are trumped up crap.

The second prong is about SB 30, which is sponsored by Johnson but introduced by State Senator Ben Westlund. SB 30 would ban destination resorts at the Metolius River Basin. Willamette Week says that because Johnson owns 160 acres at the Metolius its a conflict of interest because, "by cutting off further development in the area, the bill will increase the value of her property". WWeek doesn't tell us exactly how Johnson's property will be devalued by such development--and we're wondering why it wouldn't increase her property's value--as the resorts would add infrastructure and draw more people to the region--thus making it a very desirable piece of property for more development. What WWeek's piece doesn't tell the reader is that Johnson's family has owned the property since 1904, her father is buried on the property (and her mother will be interred there soon). Her parents 1950s dream home is on the site--and her mother was an ardent advocate against development of the region for years. In other words, that land is her family's legacy--no matter what its monetary value.

And finally, prong three: SB 807. We talked about that here. Willy Week says that Johnson introduced the bill and indicates that it would be very profitable for people cozy with Johnson. The bill (as I understand it--this is more TJ's ball than mine and I'm still a little shaky on all the details) creates taxing districts around rural airports, allowing them to generate revenue to be used for improvements around the airport. The problem with trying to tie it to cozy relations with Johnson is that the bill assists rural airports ALL OVER THE STATE--not just ones where people who are tight with Johnson would benefit. There are those who disagree with the bill--saying that those who benefit (generally the people who own property and businesses around the airport) is just too small a number and not worthy of that kind of revenue generation. But that's a different argument. Does this bill give special perks to just a few people who are tied in with Johnson? No--although a few people she's known over the years (and who may be supporters) will surely benefit. But so will alot of other people--and so will the economy around rural airports.

We've been told by some who don't think our reporting is correct that we're not "following the money". Its certainly fair to criticize us and we accept that we're not professional journalists. We're simply two Oregonians who use our skills to attempt to bring things to light that might be missing elsewhere. But in this case--I think we have followed the money.

For example--who stands to benefit if Senate Bill 30 fails..or lose big if it passes? Ponderosa Land and Cattle, for one. They're one of the groups trying to build a destination resort banned by SB 30. And who else? The lobbyists pushing hard to see the bill defeated..who will undoubtedly not be paid nearly as well for their efforts should SB 30 fail.

And what better way to discredit a bill than to undermine one of its chief proponents?

Follow the money indeed.