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News >  Pacific NW

Woman learns truth of lobbying

Larry Bingham The Oregonian

ASTORIA, Ore. – The night before she went to Salem to rally for an obscure bill, Ann Samuelson stayed awake, trying to think of a tactful way to tell a state senator she thought he was lying.

The 46-year-old mother of two’s only brush with politics was a run for the Jewell School Board. The senator had the backing of a powerful lobby.

Samuelson is a citizen lobbyist who runs Astoria Plumbing & Tile Inc., the family business her father started before a disease linked to asbestos took his life.

She wants state lawmakers to amend the statute of limitations to allow families like hers to file retroactive asbestos-related claims.

She is among the few so passionate about something that they seek to change the law. They are just ordinary citizens with no powerful friends who see legislation as the only way to right a wrong. But when they get to the Capitol, they sometimes find the marble cold.

When her father died in 1982, Oregon’s statute of limitations barred her family from tapping the corporate trust funds set aside for asbestos-disease victims. An amended law dealt with future claims but was not retroactive.

This trip to the Capitol was her eighth since Senate Bill 304 was introduced.

After it stalled in committee, she checked the bill’s file – when someone finally told her such a thing exists – and found a letter of opposition from the Associated Oregon Industries and endorsed by Republican Sen. Roger Beyer of Molalla. Everyone in the process had a copy, except her.

“By the people, for the people,” Samuelson muttered. “Yeah, right.”

But she kept going. She says she may get her stamina from her father, Stanford Grimberg, a “tough Swede” who settled in Astoria after the Korean War.

He worked for a plumbing contractor for 25 years, then at the Trojan nuclear plant.

Then in 1981, five years after he started his own business, he found he was having trouble walking up a flight of stairs.

Doctors found tumors on his pleura and asbestos fibers in the fluid around his lungs. Chemotherapy didn’t help, and his daughter blames years of exposure to a powdery sealant containing asbestos.

At 53 he was too young for his wife to collect a pension or get health care.

“I knew in my gut it was wrong at the time, but I didn’t know where to go,” Samuelson said. “I can walk into the Oregon Legislature and write a bill, but at 21, I didn’t know that.”

She had daughters to raise and a business to run. And yet her father’s death lingered. She wanted it to matter.

Then three years ago she found California attorney Steve Kazan, who brokered a watershed case in 1974 that opened the door for many asbestos suits.

“You don’t have any options unless you change the law,” she remembers him saying. If the law allows a retroactive claim, he will represent Samuelson and her mother.

They did it in New York, he said. She asked him to draft a proposal.

Samuelson heard that a lobbyist for Georgia-Pacific Co. was claiming the bill could flood the courts with lawsuits, a rumor she later confirmed.

Meanwhile, her trips to Salem have taught her a few things: Lobbyists leave few trails. Squeaky wheels get oiled. In the Capitol halls, friends and enemies often look a lot alike.

Mike Sullivan, a lobbyist with the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers, met her recently in Salem when he heard about the letter of opposition.

He pointed out Beyer. With Sullivan standing by, Samuelson hovered near the senator.

“Did you endorse this?” she asked.

“Yes, I did,” the senator said.

“Well, it’s not true.”

“Well, that would be your opinion.”

“No,” Samuelson said. “It’s a fact.”

The day drew to a close. Pending business, bids to make, bills to collect in Portland would have to wait.

In the Capitol cafeteria she sat with Mike Warhurst, of Local 290 of the Plumbers, Steamfitters & Marine Fitters union, who had come to help her distribute copies of her rebuttal.

He had mobilized the support of retired plumbers, 30 of whom showed up in their union shirts. Their support at the hearing gave her confidence to testify. “It just pushed the words out of my mouth,” she said. “I could feel them all behind me.”

But with the Legislature winding down, only a few committees are still open for business, and the likelihood of a bill getting stalled in one is high.

The other option was to move the bill to the Senate floor. But did it have the needed 16 votes?

Sen. Charles Ringo’s legislative aide Mike Selvaggio told her to tally the votes. Sullivan said she should drum up endorsements from other labor groups.

Someone suggested she encourage retirees to write their lawmakers.

And a few legislative veterans told her to pat herself on the back for a race well run. There’s always next time, they said.

But she had learned not to believe all she hears, not to let go of her convictions and until the Legislature adjourns, never give up.

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