Until April of this year, Christopher Penner was an entrepreneur. Now, despite the fact that he has never committed a crime against persons or property, he is an indentured servant.
For several years, Penner owned an embattled but marginally successful nightclub in Portland, Oregon. Today, according to his attorney, Jonathan Rademacher, Penner has a job managing a bar owned by somebody else – and twenty-five percent of each paycheck is garnished to pay off a $400,000 civil judgment imposed by Brad Avakian, the Commissar of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) as punishment for trying to save his business. Between his ordinary tax burden and the BOLI-inflicted garnishment, Penner probably devotes more than half of each workday to state-imposed involuntary servitude. He suffers the added indignity of being constantly exposed to the smug face of his slavemaster.
Business owners who have the misfortune of living in Oregon are required by the BOLI to post a “notice of rights” in their work area. The most recent version of that document, Rademacher told me in a telephone interview, contains a color photograph of Avakian. No previous BOLI commissar has been given the “Dear Leader” treatment, but none of the functionaries who have filled that role have entertained Avakian’s ambitions or been similarly suffused with sociopathic self-regard.
Last August, Avakian announced his candidacy to become Oregon’s secretary of state. In Oregon, that position combines the duties of Lt. Governor, public auditor, and chief election officer. The Secretary of State also holds a position on the state land board, which supervises forest lands and navigable waterways, and the “Sustainability Board,” an eco-soviet growing out of a grandiose agenda for “global governance.”
In principle, a sufficiently ambitious Secretary of State could find an excuse to insinuate himself into every land use, property rights, or business activity occurring anywhere in the Beaver State. Avakian has never neglected an opportunity to aggrandize his powers, and if he becomes Secretary of State that office would fill the measure of its creation.
The insular political clique that rules Oregon out of the northwestern quadrant of that lovely but miserable state is astoundingly casual it its corruption. In 2012, when Avakian was poised to lose the May run-off election for the “non-partisan” position as BOLI Commissioner, fellow Democrat Kate Brown, who at the time was Secretary of State (and has since become Governor), simply rescheduled the election for November, when the heavier turnout would favor the Democratic candidate.
If elected to be Secretary of State, Avakian would be in a position to protect other ailing Democrats. He would also enjoy expanded opportunities to shake down potential victims.
During the 2012 campaign, Avakian – who had been BOLI Commissioner since 2008 — admitted to receiving campaign donations from interests that were subject to his administrative whims. When this provoked a much-too-modest controversy, Avakian dispatched a press aide to assure the public that this arrangement was entirely appropriate, given the Commissar, like Robespierre of old, was incorruptible, or something to that effect.
In announcing his bid to become Secretary of State, Avakian said that if elected he would use his new office to continue his pursuit of “corporate accountability in the workplace” and “combating climate change.” In substance, he is promising to continue his onslaught against property rights in general and small businesses in particular. His campaign literature boasts that he has “directed more than $22 million into the pockets of Oregonians who’ve been treated unfairly.”
In practice, most of that supposed mistreatment consists of exposure, on the part of a person identified as part of a “specially protected class,” to words or gestures that offend them. Avakian has been using the expansive and ill-defined powers of the BOLI to build a loyal constituency by redistributing money from the productive class into the pockets of privileged “victims.” Sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but “hurtful” words are lucrative.
Penner’s case, which has previously been discussed here, involved two polite but urgent voice mails to the “administrator” of a group calling itself the “Rose City T-Girls.” That club’s membership chiefly consists of biological males who “identify” as female in a variety of ways, most of which are related to couture. The T-Girls were familiar and welcome customers at Penner’s club, which routinely hosted “pride” events and otherwise offered ritual homage to Portland’s officially approved version of “diversity.”
However, when the T-Girls essentially took over Friday nights, the business – which was trying to recover from a previous run-in with the BOLI – faced a potentially fatal downturn in weekly receipts. College-age males weren’t interested in socializing with the T-Girls; college-age females didn’t relish the prospect of sharing lavatory facilities with them; and the T-Girls weren’t spending enough to make Fridays profitable.
Penner left a message for the “administrator” of the group politely asking them not to monopolize the club on Fridays, and pleading for an opportunity to discuss other ways of accommodating them. He did not ban them from his club, which – as a property owner – would be within his rights, whether or not this is recognized by the Marxist retreads ruling the People’s Republic of Oregon.
As somebody whose business was failing, Penner had no interest in driving away customers. As creatures of the coercive sector who have never been gainfully employed, Avakian and his comrades would find this incomprehensible. The entities that employ people of that ilk cannot go out of business, and thus don’t have to worry about earning and retaining customer loyalty. From their perspective, businesses exist to generate tax revenue, and enact policies ordained by visionary social engineers.
The morally appropriate way to deal with irrational discrimination is to use the invisible hand of the market, rather than the mailed fist of the state – but that approach doesn’t empower the state and enrich its pet constituencies. Like those who stand to profit from the agency’s rulings, the BOLI has no incentive to seek resolutions that do not involve ruinous financial penalties. As Rademacher points out, there were many ways that the dispute involving the T-Girls could have been handled without imposing a grotesque punitive award. However, this wouldn’t have served Avakian’s chief interest, which is “using this process to seek a higher elected office.”
The same perverted priorities were displayed in a $2.4 million settlement reached with Daimler Trucks North America last January. Six former employees filed a civil rights complaint alleging that they had been subjected to discrimination on the basis of “race, color, and national origin,” including “racial epithets,” harassment, threats, and workplace sabotage.
None of those charges – one of which involved an allegation of a very serious crime – was ever corroborated. Once Avakian’s agency became involved, furthermore, no corroboration was necessary. In keeping with standard procedure, Avakian filed a “commissioner’s complaint” that was referred to a prosecutor employed by him, and examined in a legal “forum” presided over by an administrative law judge whose rulings Avakian could set aside.
Given that arrangement, it’s not surprising that Daimler decided to pay the Dane-geld. As Kipling warned, this means that Oregon’s small business owners, who operate on much tighter margins than Daimler, “will never get rid of the Dane.”
Assuming that the expression “rule of law” encompasses official compliance with existing statutes, court precedents, and constitutional limitations, Avakian is a serial offender, the agency over which he presides is a criminal enterprise, and the Oregon Court of Appeals is an accomplice.
A perfunctory ruling handed down by the Court of Appeals in late September upheld the agency’s unprecedented $400,000 “discrimination” award in the T-Girls case. In his motion to reconsider, Penner’s attorney Jonathan Rademacher pointed out that the BOLI’s Deputy Commissioner Christie Hammond violated the law by overruling the judge’s factual finding regarding Penner’s credibility.
The administrative law judge’s ruling in favor of Penner was “a factual issue uniquely decided by the person hearing the testimony,” Rademacher observed. Because Hammond was not the finder of fact, she had no legal authority to rule on that question, and her finding in favor of Avakian – the official who signs her paycheck — “strips all sense of fairness from the process, and should not be condoned by this Court.”
Unfortunately, Rademacher’s motion asks the Appeals Court to reverse its own ruling, a development about as likely as a BOLI ruling that runs contrary to Avakian’s preferences.
Avakian sees himself an enforcer plenipotentiary on behalf of the “progressive” movement – even on matters that fall well outside the BOLI’s legislative mandate. During the 2012 campaign, Avakian earned a rebuke from the editorial board of the thoroughly leftist Oregonian newspaper for trying to inject abortion into the race by accusing his Republican opponent of being a pro-life “extremist.”
“In addition to forgetting, apparently, that he is not the commissioner of in-labor, as [his opponent] quips, Avakian has forgotten that he’s involved in a supposedly nonpartisan race,” complained the Oregonian. Besides, “what the heck does an easily ridiculed plank in the GOP platform have to do with the Bureau of Labor and Industries? Labor commissioners enforce laws. They don’t make them.”That’s not strictly true of the BOLI, given that Avakian’s agency considers itself empowered to carry out legislative functions as well. It also wants to make feticide racket the only industry free from invasive regulation — or even critical public scrutiny.
In 2013, Avakian announced that BOLI would conduct an “anti-discrimination” investigation of a pro-life group that staged protests outside the Lovejoy Surgicenter abortion clinic in Portland. The supposed authority for that investigation was the same statute the agency had employed to destroy Christopher Penner’s business.
That “investigation” wasn’t opened as the result of a citizen complaint. It began when one of the apparatchiks employed by Avakian happened to see a protest on her way to work and, in a fashion worthy of an East German spitzel, reported this impermissible act of dissent to her agency’s “civil rights” division.
On August 26 of that year, Avakian reportedly sent an official letter to Pastor Charles O’Neal, who led the peaceful demonstrations, announcing the investigation and threatening “one year in prison and fines of $6, 250” for each “civil rights violation” his agency might find.
Avakian is a singularly resourceful sophist, but even he couldn’t contrive a rationale for claiming that people protesting against a business were somehow discriminating against people employed by it, or customers who sought to employ its (in this case, lethal) services.
In any case, the Commissar lost interest in the abortion clinic matter after BOLI received a discrimination complaint against Sweetcakes by Melissa. This presented to him a perfect opportunity to extort a huge sum from Christian entrepreneurs who had done no injury to a living soul.
That case, which involves a $140,000 “damage” award imposed on the bakers for declining to make a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony not legally recognized in Oregon at the time, will most likely be grinding its way through the courts for the next three years. By its end, Avakian will most likely be ensconced as Secretary of State, busily carrying out new initiatives to reduce independent business owners to the status currently enjoyed by Christopher Penner.
Oregon’s coastal nomenklatura, of whom Brad Avakian is repellently typical, is expansively contemptuous of the values and priorities of the state’s productive population, and is determined to reduce it to outright peonage. Not surprisingly, residents of rural Oregon are becoming terminally disenchanted with the state’s existing political arrangements. Since it appears to be impossible to uproot the parasite class embodied by Avakian and his comrades, a quixotic – but growing – secession movement has sprouted in eastern Oregon. It’s impossible to believe that the parasites would allow their long-suffering host to escape without a fight.
If the state’s political class continues to harass and destroy small businesses, and prosecute harmless people for heresies against “progressive” dogmas, they’re likely to provoke a fight that won’t be contained within political channels.
If the legislature wants to foreclose that possibility, they must, at the very least, take action to lance the festering boil that BOLI has become. If all efforts to end Avakian’s collectivist jihad against property rights prove unavailing, somebody might want to take the Commissar aside and quietly ask him if the name “Ceausescu” means anything to him.