According to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, one of the definitions of a dictatorship is “a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator or a small clique”. Under that definition, there is no doubt that PERS is controlled by a dictatorship consisting of PERS legislators, the PERS governor and the justices of the Oregon Supreme Court, all of whom are PERS members. That group is a small clique of less than eighty persons but they and they alone have absolute control over the PERS laws that affect over 3,800,000 Oregonians.
In the Oregon legislature, at least 65 of the 90 legislators are PERS members and in the Senate, PERS members hold 24 of the 30 seats, including every leadership position. Nothing happens in the legislature unless both the Senate and the House approve and with the Senate firmly under PERS control, no PERS law can be enacted by the legislature without the consent of those PERS members.
Governor Kitzhaber is a PERS member and so was Governor Kulongoski, Governor Roberts, Governor Goldschmidt and Governor Atiyeh. That’s 33 consecutive years of PERS governors. Oregon governors have the power to disapprove any bill that is passed by the legislature and if the governor does disapproved a bill, it takes a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate for that bill to become law.
The governor, however, has no authority to disapprove a law enacted by the people of Oregon through an Initiative measure. An Initiative can only be struck down by the courts, if it is determined that the measure is unconstitutional or is otherwise unlawful. In most cases, that decision is made by the PERS justices of the Oregon Supreme Court.
Since Oregon PERS members in the legislature, the governor’s office and on the courts make the PERS laws, approve or disapprove of those laws and judge those laws, they clearly have absolute control over PERS. They are the PERS dictators of Oregon.
But it wasn’t always that way. When PERS was first created in 1945, neither legislators nor judges were able to become PERS members. That made the legislators and judges unbiased on PERS laws and, as a result, there was no PERS dictatorship. That situation remained in effect for 25 years and during that entire 25 year period, PERS retirement benefits remained constant. A retiring PERS member would receive a retirement benefit of 50% of his or her final average salary after working a full career.
But democratic control of PERS came to an end in 1971. That was the year the Attorney General ruled that legislators could, for the first time, join PERS. The legislators were no longer unbiased on PERS matters and they spent the next 10 years doubling the PERS retirement benefits. Then, in 1983, when 84 of the 90 legislators were PERS members, they forced every Oregon judge to join PERS. As a result, the judges were no longer unbiased on PERS lawsuits. It was at this time that PERS members became Oregon’s PERS Dictators.
I do not believe that the PERS legislators had the right to impose a PERS dictatorship on the people of Oregon and I am fighting to overthrow those laws. The first battle in this fight is to reestablish the right to have PERS lawsuit decided by non-PERS judges. Once that is done, it will be possible to effectively challenge unjust PERS laws in court. That may also give new legislators the willingness to enact meaningful and just PERS reforms.
I do not expect this fight to be quick or easy but I will not give up and I do expect to win.