PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Gov. Ted Kulongoski named Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler, pictured at left, to succeed Ben Westlund as state treasurer. Westlund, an independent spirit in Oregon politics and a passionate advocate of health care reform, died of lung cancer Sunday. He was 60.
Westlund was diagnosed in 2003 but survived to win election to a Senate seat to which he had been appointed. In October, he said he was undergoing treatment for a recurrence.
He was in his office as recently as Tuesday and participated in a conference call on Thursday, said Stacey Dycus, his campaign manager. She said he went to a hospice Saturday in Bend.
"He worked right up to the end," she said.
Westlund served 12 years in the Oregon Legislature, first as a Republican, then as an independent and finally as a Democrat. In 2006, he had a brief run for governor as an independent, and two years later won the treasurer's office as a Democrat.
"Oregon has lost a leader, a friend and a member of our collective Oregon family, but his spirit and enthusiasm will continue to inspire the best in all of us," said Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Westlund had two careers, one in businesses from mining and selling cattle genetics in central Oregon and a second in government. Colleagues in the Legislature, where he served on the budget committee, called him likeable and hard-working.
"I was enormously impressed by his earnestness and command of the issues," said Jeff Merkley, who was House speaker before winning election to the U.S. Senate. The current Senate president, Peter Courtney, called him "a good and kind man. He was a great listener and a great thinker."
As treasurer, Westlund helped stabilize the Oregon college savings plan after one of its managers, OppenheimerFunds Inc., posted big losses.
Westlund and the attorney general's office successfully sued OppenheimerFunds, winning a $20 million settlement.
He was also a key player in Oregon health care reform.
Bruce Goldberg, the director of the state Department of Human Services, called him relentless in his pursuit of affordable and available health care for all Oregonians.
"As we carry that mantle forward, we will miss him as a partner and as a friend," Goldberg said.
Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt said that while Westlund may be best known for his work on improving health care, he should also be remembered for his work on other issues, including creating Oregon's Rainy Day Fund, the Oregon Cultural Trust, expanding K-12 school capital construction and strengthening the state's credit rating.
"Ben Westlund was an Oregonian through and through," Hunt said. "He truly did not care if you were a Democrat or a Republican. He only wanted to know if you were willing to work to help Oregon," Hunt said.
Westlund's family and others recalled his customary parting words Sunday and used them in farewell: "Down the trail, Ben. Down the trail."
Westlund was born and raised in California's Apple Valley, where his father developed real estate, according to a biography the family posted Sunday.
He graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., studying education and history.
Westlund started various business ventures in Oregon, and went into ranching in the 1980s.
He is survived by his wife and their two children. Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced Monday.