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Bennett's Blog: Lost on the Campaign Trail Print E-mail

chuck-bennettBy Chuck Bennett, Director of Government Relations

Most likely, you mailed your Oregon Primary Election ballot days ago. If not, you may still have time to drop it off.

There was a time when vote-by-mail at least offered the promise of licking a flavored stamp. Now it’s just a challenge to see if you can peel the postage free without tearing it. 

Even the stamp images, aside from the flag, lack the historical interest of old issues like Legends of the West. Look at the latest crop. That’s right. Crops – beans, peppers, sunflowers – are the latest postal subject. No civics lesson there. Maybe it does fit with the by-product politics leaves spread about, and it’s not those annoying plastic lawn signs that boast the half life of an Iranian power plant.

Boiling down an election cycle is difficult. Certainly education has been a key issue and apparently unlocked the doors last month at the state Capitol. It was just long enough for incumbent lawmakers to approve a $15 million opening in Portland Public School’s property taxing authority. Legislators also approved sending $42.2 million of unanticipated lottery funds to K-12 schools. They  pointedly excluded ESDs. How many parents vote based on ESD contributions, anyway?

With only token opposition during the Primary, most candidates played it pretty safe in the Voters’ Pamphlet.  It’s the don’t-give-your-opponent-in-the-other-party-a-chance-this-early-to-spot-a-fatal-flaw-in-your-candidacy approach.  When that happens it’s likely the opponent will launch a write-in campaign in your party’s Primary. There are a couple of those underway around the state and generally involve incumbents facing candidates in the other party with either the community stature of Saddam Hussein or the people skills of Jeffrey Dahmer.

What’s missing this season are Voter’s Pamphlet statements that entertain, enlighten or just baffle voters. It wasn’t so many years ago that you were as likely to see a candidate dressed in a uniform, like say a brown shirt as you were to read a spirited call to action in the face of the apocalypse. Those were the days. Now it’s all just white bread.

Joe Klein, the guy who used the pseudonym Anonymous to launch “Primary Colors,” which exposed the picaresque side of Bill Clinton’s first campaign, has just published “Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid.” In the book, Klein, now a Time magazine columnist, scolds the political class for succumbing to the advice of political consultants and advisors, who he finds have stripped elections of their humanity in favor of  arid posturing driven by polling data. Examples abound. They tend to read something like:

            Education is Joe’s top priority. “Educating our kids comes first in creating the Oregon economy we all want.”

            Stopping crime must be everyone’s top priority. Joe will do the work it takes to close District 61’s meth houses. “Crime isn’t good for our community and it can be stopped but first we have to go to the source of the problem, methamphetamine.”

            Jobs in District 61 is Joe’s job one. “Everyone has the right to expect a family wage job for themselves and their kids. It’s what makes Oregon unique.”

If you were to look at polling data on District 61’s voters you’d find that education, crime/meth and the economy poll well. What’s missing is Joe talking about a new traffic light on Main Street, dogs running wild near the Senior Center and a local city’s deteriorating water quality. There’s nothing new, nothing creative and certainly nothing quirky like Joe calling for a ban on spray paint sales to minors to stem the local graffiti problem. But then, the pollster didn’t ask about those issues so they don’t register.

And it doesn’t stop at the Voters’ Pamphlet. Take a look at the TV ads and some of that mail that drops onto the dining room table.

One piece arrived on thousands of doors last Thursday from Gov. Ted Kulongoski. It was big and it was attractive, sort of. On the cover wasn’t a picture of the guv, though. It was George Bush and an end of the world headline, “HAD ENOUGH?” Open it and you find a nice picture of Ted with the line, “Governor Ted Kulongoski is standing up to Bush to protect Oregon Values.”  Wait a minute. I thought he was standing up to Jim Hill to protect us from the Grand Ronde Tribe. However you react, you have to admit that it is based on polling that shows George Bush at the lowest approval rating since Richard Nixon took a swipe at the Constitution.

And things aren’t going much better on the Republican ballot. If  you listen to the Oregon Story Lady ads, you’d think Kevin Mannix was running against Neil Goldschmidt and on the other side, Ron Saxton is responsible for Portland Public Schools recent turn around in public estimation. Oh yeah, Ron also is protecting us from the Grand Ronde Tribe.

Just hold on. After Tuesday it really gets interesting. This has all been inner party politics. Over the next several months we’ll be treated to a look at partisan politics. Unfortunately, they’ll all be looking at the same polling data, advice from the same school of consultants and as Joe Klein says in his book title – the opinion of voters leaves something to be desired.

Comments (4)Add Comment
failed democracy
written by tim keeley, May 17, 2006
Bethel School district just became another example of the failed double majority system (though many fiscal conservatives love this and would say that this is an example of the system working) in that we garnered a yes vote of 54% for our local option levy but failed by nearly 3000 votes to get to the double majority mandate.

I hope that it is not asking too much for COSA, OSBA, OEA, and Stand for Children to work to get the double majority rule eliminated along with getting the kicker funds to go to k-12 education (no rest for the wicked, Mr. Bennett).

Thanks for allowing me to be a first time participant in a blog.

Sadly yours,

Tim Keeley

Bethel School District
Could be
written by Chuck Bennett, May 18, 2006

Thanks for being the first on the blog site.

There are a couple of problems with double majority. It isn't democratic and it relies on the county clerk and Secretary of State to do their jobs -- you'll have to evaluate that. Clean voter rolls and registration of voters who vote seems like their jobs and would help under present circumstances.

I agree on the elmination of the double majority and want you to know that COSA is already working on its repeal. I'll keep you posted on events as they develop.

Getting the kicker funds to K-12 is a great idea. I often wonder as a lobbyist if I should tell you what you want to hear and the truth. I know many of my colleagues choose the former -- their bad. The truth is that there is virtually no chance that the personal tax kicker will be eliminated by the voters. That leaves the corporate kicker and I see real possibilities there. In fact, I was surprised it wasn't taken up during the recent special session. All polling indicates strong voters support and there really isn't much opposition from business. I fully expect this to be a hot issue next session and one of those ones we hear so much about where your elected officials can really keep those promises to "work across the aisle" and be "bipartisan." Hold them to it.

written by tim keeley, May 19, 2006
thanks chuck.

local revenue offset
written by John Widenoja, October 11, 2006
Hi Chuck,

I'm concerned that small rural districts cannot raise local option, or beyond, dollars as easily as rich districts. For instance, Lakeview would have to raise an additional $2.50/thousand to increase their local revenue 15% above their SSF; North Lake School district would have to ask $2.187/Thousand of their tax base to raise 15%. I don't know how these figures compare with more urbanized areas on the other side of the hill, but do remember how hard it was to convince tax payers here in 2000 to vote for an 85 cent increase when we formed our Health District, something by the way all could use as compared to only those who have children believing they benefit from public education.

I believe allowing local resources to escape offset in SSF allocations is in opposition to "equalization" and fairness to small rural communities. We don't get to hold our "local resources" harmless when it comes to timber receipt replacement dollars, 75% of our county belongs to the feds and many of us just don't have the same ability (property base) to raise bucks like Portland.


John Widenoja

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This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 .