The Worst Vote He Ever Made

Bruce Hugo had a relatively long career of government service. In the 1970s, he served as chairman of the Scappoose Planning Commission in the city government. He went on to serve in the Oregon State Legislature as a state representative for a decade, representing Scappoose and other communities in northwest Oregon. He would later serve as a Columbia County Commissioner. That's a lot of time spent as a public servant.

There's not a lot of information online about Bruce Hugo. I have come across his name a few times over the years, usually in Wikipedia rabbit holes of research on Oregon political history, where each clicked link is a gateway to a whole new world of names, events, and ideas. A few times, I've tried to track down more information about Hugo's tenure in the legislature to find out more about his record and his contributions to Oregon. I have never found much.

The Chief, a newspaper in Clatskanie, Oregon, has more on him than anyone -- and, according to their reporting, played a big role in the end of his political career.

Hugo, while serving as a Columbia County Commissioner, used the county credit card to play video poker. An investigation by The Chief revealed this to the public.

He later admitted to it, agreed to pay over $800 in fines, and pled guilty to two counts of theft and one count of official misconduct. But when you're a public official, especially an elected one, you have to answer to more than just the law. You have to answer to the people. 

The people, as it would turn out, did not feel he should continue to serve as chair. According to The Daily News, "Hugo charged $635.50 at Longfellow's Inn in Scappoose in 1994. The following year he pleaded guilty to charges of theft and official misconduct. Shortly afterward, a group called the Citizens Alliance for Honest Government collected more than 3,000 valid signatures to seek his recall. Nearly 70 percent of the voters approved his recall, despite a campaign to keep him in office."

It marked the sad and embarrassing end of a long career in public service, one which included big victories for schools and for those living in poverty (the former Executive Director of a non-profit in Columbia County called Hugo an "effective anti-poverty warrior").

Hugo died on January 4th of this year. His obituary in the Portland Tribune makes no mention of the gambling, and mentions very little about his legislative career. It does say he "helped lay the groundwork for for today's economic development in South County." It also says he "loved playing golf with his friends at the St. Helens Golf Course."

I have never met Bruce Hugo, nor spoken to anyone who knew him about what he was like. But from what I've read, he was a pretty good guy who cared a whole lot about his community. 

There's a lesson, though, in the story of Bruce Hugo. While he was serving in the state legislature, he voted to legalize video poker. If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend The Oregonian's series about the Oregon Lottery and how it "disproportionately leans on problem gamblers to keep its revenues flowing."

Hugo would later call his vote to legalize video poker "the worst vote he ever made" -- this from a guy who made many votes in his life.

I don't know if Bruce Hugo was addicted to gambling. I do know that people who are addicted to gambling make bad decisions, and I think we ought to do more to help people with that addiction. It doesn't feel right that "state-sponsored addiction," as The Oregonian calls it, is what we rely on to pay for schools, health care, and law enforcement. It's hard to believe that there isn't a better way.