The former Legal Aid lawyer resembles the spirit of the Bush administrationIn his year-end column, The Oregonian's Jonathan Nicholas noted that, "Years after retiring from politics, (Neil Goldschmidt) still roams like a giant through every key civic issue." Nicholas said that Goldschmidt's political durability is due to the smallness of those who have followed him.

There is some truth to Nicholas' observation.

It is also true that Goldschmidt's public stock has fallen of late. Many of Goldschmidt's longtime admirers think less of him because he seems to be nothing but an influence-peddling money grubber. Any hint of moral mission vanished when we were allowed to glimpse what the former governor was charging the Saif Corp. as a consultant. And when it was revealed that Goldschmidt took money from the Weyerhaeuser Co. to make its hostile takeover of Willamette Industries seem like a good thing for Oregon. Or when we learned that Goldschmidt was preparing to have a piece of the action in a purchase of Portland General Electric while he was fronting for the crowd that wanted to defeat the public utility district initiative in Multnomah County.

Recapitulating these developments, Willamette Week labeled the odyssey "The fall of the house of Goldschmidt."

It can be argued that Goldschmidt has merely done what so many other former public officials have dreamt of or attempted. He capitalizes on the connections he built while mayor, Cabinet member and governor. He peddles influence, which has become more the national pastime for former office holders. Even the first President Bush does it.

The great disappointment which many of Goldschmidt's admirers exude could well be extended to the larger universe of public officials.

Jim Redden has reported in the Portland Tribune that members of the state Senate Rules Committee, are inclined to vote against Goldschmidt's nomination to be president of the state Board of Higher Education. Gov. Ted Kulongoski is remaking that board, and Goldschmidt is supposed to be the centerpiece of the new game.

No one doubts Goldschmidt's intelligence. What they suspect is that the man has lost his way. Like so many characters in literature, the man who began his political career as a civil rights worker, a Legal Aid lawyer and a reform candidate for Portland City Council. has mortgaged his soul. In that sense, Goldschmidt is a parable for our time, in which greed trumps moral purpose and community welfare every time. Isn't that what the Bush administration is all about?

The problem with Goldschmidt heading the higher education board is that many Oregonians will wonder who he's really working for.


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