Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Unmaking Of A Governor

In Oregon, the Democratic Party is facing new critical divisions between party moderates and the more liberal wing just like in many other areas of the country months before the very crotical 2006 elections. This weekend such tensions reared themself when incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski failed to garner the endorsement of the Multnomah County Democrats, an organization largely dominated by the more liberal wing of the party.

By all standards, Kulongoski has been a very reasonable Governor. He managed to maintain existing social programs while not raising taxes during months and months of high unemployment resulting after economic problems after the 9/11 attacks and other economic turndown conditions during the Bush Administration. Kulongoski has attended every funeral of every service person who died in the Iraq War from Oregon. And Kulongoski worked as well as he could given the political reality of the state House under Republican control with Republican Speaker Of The House, Karen Minnis, blocking legislation that she did not agree with from even being under consideration.

Yet like many states, there is a brewing attempt by the more liberal elements of the Democratic Party to challenge the more moderate elements and to unseat Kulongski by members of his own party, including by the first Black elected to statewide office, former Oregon State Treasurer, Jim Hill, who has accused Kulongski of "acting too much like a Republican".

Yet it seems like the alternative of Democrats seeking to undermine their own governor are filled with real danger.

The most likely Republican nominee is Republican Party Chairman, Kevin Mannix. Mannix came very close to defeating Kulongski a few years for governor, despite many years of strange baggage that follow around Mannix. In 1972, Mannix, was a liberal Democrat who was even a George McGovern delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention. Since that time, Mannix gradually drifted to the political right, became a Republican, and was involved in some political activity that is very strange.

Mannix became an attorney and in a celebrated case, defended a mayor of a city charged with public corruption charges. In the state legislature, Mannix, helped to weaken, not strengthen, state officials ethics laws.And Mannix formed several committees that put up right wing ballot measures to set mandatory minimum sentences for a wide range of crimes called Measure 11. He also championed unsuccessful efforts to weaken Oregon's Free Speech Protections and recruited former crime victims such as a father whose little 3 yearold son was murdered by a young Vancouver child predator, who falsely claim that pornography was somehow responsible for the crime, even though there was no connection whatseoever to pornography, and the only book found in the home of the convicted murderer, Westley Allan Dodd, was a copy of the Bible. Mannix's committee profitted from such absurd and false claims, as donations rolled in from supporters of Mannix's right wing effort.

Mannix has found that raising money through setting up campaign committees, and allowing persons connected to his campaigns to make blatantly false statements, which routinely go uncorrected by Mannix, has raised real questions about Mannix. To his supporters, Mannix is some sort of a populist, but to his critics he is always way too close on unethical conduct and a real poster boy that seems wrong for the Republicans to run for Gobernor when Democrats are likely to make the "culture of corruption" a main campaign theme this year. Yet no wise person should count Mannix out.

Mannix may seem politically wrong for Oregon. And his ethics may seem outrageous such as allowing person's connected with his ballot measures to make false statements go uncorrected, that bring in donations and funds to Mannix run campaign committees. Yet Mannix may be able to win with a divided Democratic Party. The very conservative Victor Atiyeh was able to win two elections for governor some years ago. And this is despite the fact that his wife refused to wait in a doctor's waiting room with the "common people", and expected to have a room ready for her the moment she arrived in the office. Even this "Marie Annoinette" type arrogance and lack of respect for the average Oregonian was not enough to keep Atiyeh from the Governor's office.

But like other states, such as Ohio, where antiwar Iraq war vet, Paul Hackett, was forced off the ballot by pary regulars who were circling the wagons of support around a candidate the party officials thought was their best prospect to defeat the Republican nominee, a real fight between party regulars, moderates, and more liberal antiIraq War liberals is beginning to mirror the Democratic Party problems of 1968.

There is plenty of danger in so much party division among the Democrats, only months before critical elections. But just like 1968, another war, and opposition to that war is fueling a strong left wing of the Democratic Party to pull the party to the left, just at a time when moderate candidates who appeal to a broad cross section of voters is probably more likely to present a stronger challenge to the Republicans. Democrats may be sowing the seeds of their own defeat right before a critical opportunity to regain power in Washington, or to become very close to becoming a permanent minority party, or even worse, going the way of the defunct Whig Party.

In 1964, after the massive Goldwater loss, Republicans looked very close to hanging out the "going out of business" signs. But they were able to rebound. However, they have always had far better party unity than Democrats. Division among Democrats in many elections since 1860, has left Democrats often looking outside the window at Republicans who often took advantage of such party divisions and won elections, sometimes with only 39% of the vote with Democrats losing because of their divisions.

Conservatives and moderates together no doubt form the largest group of voters in the U.S. Liberals simply do not have the numbers to split their ranks and still win elections. Democrats must find unity among liberals and moderates, as well as draw in independent voters, and Republican disgusted with the Bush or Washington leadership. Otherwise Democrats simply throw away another election opportunity once again.

Kulongski's problem in Oregon is typical of the 11th hour problem that Democrats are creating for themselves right when they don't need it. A perfectly decent Democratic Governor is being undermined by a antiwar left unwilling to compromise a few values to win an election and now give the Republicans some hope in a blue state in which they should have no hope.