The great Oregon Trail migration started in 1843 and continued until 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed. Not all of the 400,000 people who made the journey during that period came to Oregon but all them shared a common purpose. They risked everything they had, including their lives, to come to a land where they would have greater opportunities than those that existed for them in the east.
Oregon and the other western states offered the chance of a new start, to acquire rich farming land, to find gold and to create governments that provided freedom and equality to all citizens. There is not a single record of even one person coming to Oregon to create a state that would place its public employees at the pinnacle of political power or to make public employee pensions the state’s highest priority.
Over the last 161 years that is exactly what happened but the change did not occur gradually. For most of that time, Oregon’s values and priorities remained relatively constant. But that changed in 1975 when Oregon’s legislators decided they would become public employees so that they could join the Public Employees Retirement System.
Once the happened, the status of public employees was fundamentally transformed. The PERS legislators went to work in Salem, like Frankenstein in his castle, and created an entity that would be unrecognizable to the Oregonians of 1849. In the new Oregon, both legislators and judges were public employees for PERS purposes and PERS became the state’s number one financial priority. If the people ever attempted to change PERS from what the PERS legislators wanted it to be, the judges would invalidate the changes as they did in 1996 and in 2005. PERS legislators and judges were no longer public servants who represented the interests of the people. They were the masters of the state who promoted their own personal financial interests.
The legislative actions of the last 35 years were made only after the Oregon legislature was controlled by PERS members. That was wrong in 1975 and it is still wrong in 2010. It must be undone. If the legislature will not correct the situation, the people will need to muster the courage and determination which fortified the people who travelled the Oregon Trail. Once the people do that, they will be able to restore Oregon’s original values.