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Capital Chatter: Val Hoyle takes over BOLI

After being sworn in Monday as commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Hoyle gave a speech that came equally from the heart and the mind.

Oregon is the only state in which an elected labor commissioner oversees civil rights and fair housing as well as employment-related issues. For Val Hoyle, none of these is merely theoretical.

After being sworn in Monday as commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Hoyle gave a speech that came equally from the heart and the mind. She thanked supporters – "whether you've mentored me, or you've been a friend or you've been a shoulder to cry on." The former legislator thanked her family — twice — because she forgot to do so the last time she was sworn into office. She acknowledged that being BOLI commissioner is "the most important job that nobody has ever heard of."

Most important, Hoyle came across as understanding her fellow Oregonians. She told of being employed in a hostile work environment and missing out on wages due her. She talked of being a small-business owner and working in the private sector for 25 years. She acknowledged that most businesses want to follow the rules, and BOLI's task is to help them do so. She vowed to be accessible to all Oregonians, from the Pearl District to Pendleton, from Astoria to Ashland, and everywhere in between.

"I understand clearly that I am accountable to the people in the state of Oregon — everywhere in the state of Oregon," she said.

As House Democratic leader, Hoyle said, she kept two quotations on her desk. One was a saying commonly attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of substance, stand like a rock."

The challenge is to separate substance from style.

The other quotation was Rotary's Four-Way Test: "Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"

"I figure if I could pass both of those things, but take the time to think about it, I would make the right decision," Hoyle said.

Times have changed: After her speech, reporters asked Hoyle about BOLI's provocative report on sexual harassment in the Oregon Capitol and her own experiences as a legislator.

"I came in, in 2009, and it was a different time," she said. "I was told who not to get into an elevator with, as if it was my responsibility to make sure that somebody didn't harass me. And I have seen that culture shift considerably, in that someone wouldn't be told that now, and I think that's important.

"Can we do better? Absolutely. And so what I'm looking forward to doing is figuring out what should we do to make sure people who come into the Capitol or any workplace in Oregon feel safe coming to work."

On Wednesday, Hoyle issued a statement saying BOLI Deputy Commissioner Duke Shepard would handle the sexual harassment case against the Oregon Legislature as it moved to either adjudication or conciliation. She said BOLI protocols dictated that the deputy commissioner take charge because the original civil rights complaint was filed by the then-BOLI commissioner, Brad Avakian, whom Hoyle replaced.

"The Bureau of Labor and Industries will continue to pursue its civil rights complaint against the Oregon Legislature under my leadership. I'm fully committed to ensuring that all Oregonians feel safe in their workplaces, including the state Capitol," Hoyle said. "I'm confident that the deputy commissioner will handle this complaint in a fair, impartial and transparent manner."

Kindness in governance: Oregon "inaugurated" a new Kid Governor this week, fifth-grader Erikka Baldwin, who attends McCornack Elementary School in Eugene. She campaigned on a three-part plan of finding forever homes for rescued dogs and cats.

The 2018 Kid Governor, Dom Peters of Gervais, ran on a platform of preventing bullying.

The Kid Governor is a statewide civics education program that Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and the Archives Division adopted from Connecticut. Sixteen Oregon fifth-graders ran by making videos about an issue. More than 1,200 fifth-graders around Oregon voted, electing Erikka from among seven finalists. Her campaign video was amazing.

In both years, kindness was the prevailing theme. This year campaign platforms including helping disabled students, cleaning up the community, promoting student safety, stopping mass shootings and protecting the environment.

At her first press conference, Erikka said we should remember that animals have feelings, too.

As do humans. Kindness goes a long way.

Back at the Capitol: Richardson, who is battling brain cancer, attended Hoyle's swearing-in and Erikka's inauguration. He looked strong, talked informally with well-wishers but did not speak publicly.

He has said voice issues are a side effect of his treatment.

Just a reminder: I'm moderating a Portland City Club panel at noon Friday, Jan. 11. The topic is "2019 Legislative Preview: Should We Fear or Cheer the Supermajority?" You can attend in person at the Sentinel Hotel, watch the forum online or later on community television, listen on radio or download it as a podcast.

The panelists will be House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland; House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass; and Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland. As we talked by phone this week about the format, I was again struck by how well individual legislators along in a partisan environment.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/DickHughes or Twitter.com/DickHughes.