Oregon state treasurer Westlund dies at 60

PORTLAND — Oregon state treasurer Ben Westlund, a longtime fixture in Oregon politics and a champion of health care reform, died Sunday after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 60.

Westlund served 12 years in the Oregon Legislature, first as a Republican and then as an Independent and as a Democrat. He took office as treasurer in early 2009.

Stacey Dycus, who had been Westlund's campaign manager, said from the family's home in Bend that Westlund died Sunday morning.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski called Westlund a "dedicated public servant" and said that with his death, Oregon had "lost a leader."

During his tenure 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 legal settlement.

An affable politician fond of joking with reporters whom he would drop in on unannounced, Westlund for years was a well-known and well-liked figure on Oregon's political scene.

He was also a key player in Oregon health care reform.

"Ben was the heart behind the work we are doing today," said Bruce Goldberg, director of the state Department of Human Services. "He was 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."

Westlund's cancer was first diagnosed in 2003. He had part of a lung removed, and last fall announced the cancer had returned.

Westlund was born in Long Beach, Calif. According to The Oregonian newspaper, he graduated with a degree in education and history from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash.

He moved to Central Oregon, where he became a rancher and sold cattle genetics.

He is survived by his wife and two children.

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