Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Oregon Primary Painted Some Important Political Lessons

Now that the dust has settled on yesterday's Oregon Primary, a few important lessons can be gleaned from the results.

Kevin Mannix, the former George McGovern Democrat turned right wing Republican politician who runs for office or proposes another ballot measure every single election year like near clockwork may have finally wore out his welcome with the voters. A fresher candidate, like Ron Saxton who painted a form of vision for the future bested Mannix's tired old campaign of sleazy attacks. Even Mannix's campaign which was claimed to be $350,000 in debt by Saxton, seemed to be almost single handedly funded by $250,000 from wealthy far right Nevada sexual excitement electronics measurement equipment guru, Loren Parks. A very goofy source of campaign cash to say the least, and certainly a turnoff to many voters. It makes for a very strange alliance with the social conservative crowd of which Mannix who attempts to make himself the political darling of the prolife crowd to have to tolerate. Mannix sure knows how to make himself very hard to swallow. Maybe he's finally even worn out his welcome among most Republicans after last night's latest lost. But running and losing every year except on some anticrime ballot measures seems to be par for Mannix. Part of his achievements as a private attorney was to defend public officials charged with corruption and to weaken ethic's laws while in the sate legislature. With the "culture of corruption" under voter scurtiny this year, any connection with the sleazy seemed to hurt Mannix and turn off voters. It appears that Republican voters were tired of Mannix and all the old baggage and wanted to pick someone electable for a change.

By comparison, Ron Saxton also is the type of moderate Republican who tends to win statewide races in Oregon. He may seem a little, "chipmonklike" in his first impression, but he also seems like a reasonable, decent, trustworthy and competent man. Although Saxton's "no new taxes" campaign issue may ring a bell with voters, it is nonetheless seems wholly unrealistic for an actual ruling Governor. The first George Bush walked into this trap once before. It sounds good to tell the public what they want to hear, but a "no new taxes" pledge will quickly give way to serious issues of school budget ptoblems or other funding concerns. But it presses the Democratic Governor, Ted Kulongoski who emerged from the primary badly bruised by two challengers to retool his low key style and present an image to the voters between now and November of a Governor who has made the best hard choices during the economic downturn years following 9/11 and resulting high unemployment years. Unless Governor Kulongoski can recast his image of himself as an effective leader, even though he actually has been, he could likely be one of the only Democratic Governors nationwide to fall short in November. Saxton is electable, and Kulongoski once was defeated in a 60% landslide by a very mediocre Republican Governor, Victor Atiyeh. Kulongoski is famous for running very crummy campaigns. His last minute attack ads to salvage his Governorship wasn't that much of a campaign at all, but his challenger Jim Hill, who did paint a far better impression of a vision for the future of Oregon did manage to run an even worse ad with a silly singing guy in the background. Hill was a perfectly good candidate well suited to be Governor, but the choice of the "singing guy" ad was not the best possible choice. Kulongoski will likely be haunted by the ghost of a comment about a sales tax he made. This could be a kiss of political death issue, unless this can be quickly washed away with a serious campaign that highlights other issues. Voters won't tolerate a sales tax or a politicaian who proposes one, so why even try.

In local elections, a City Councilman Eric Sten, who is still smarting from an impression of some voters as in over his head thanks to a past water bureau problem, faced competition from another candidate who failed to impress as well, State legislator, Ginny Burdick. Burdick would have had a real chance if only she would cast a far better impression, but a very silly crosswalk law that she got through the legislature which became so cumbersome and ignored by so many motorists including the police that it had to be partially repealed cast her as lacking good judgement to many voters as well. Despite a strong voter record with labor issues, Burdick simply impressed too many voters as being as poor of a choice as Sten was. Choosing the worst of the two seemed too difficult for many voters, so many decided that they would stick with the fool they already had, rather than take a chance on a new one. Sten very narrowly garnered 51% to avoid a November runoff, and does seem to learn from his mistakes. If he seems terrible today, then he seems to turn a little less terrible as time goes on.

A perfectly good new candidate, Amanda Fritz, seemed like she would have been an excellent addition to the Portland City Council, but despite a strong prolabor stance and being respected for a strong progressive tradition, fell short for some obvious reasons. For one thing, she ran against Dan Saltzman, a very competent City Council member who few voters felt needed replacement. Why run against Saltzman when she could have forced Sten into a run-off is a really good question. But for running such a low budget and grassroots campaign, Fritz should be respected. Getting a decent amount of votes against a perfectly good city councilman who there is no good reason to replace does say really say something really positive about the strengths of Amanda Fritz as a new face in Portland political circles. Hopefully she will learn from some of the problems that doomed this year's race and try again in the future.

Another important lesson from Tuesday's voting was obvious. Diane Linn who headed the County Commission was a capable leader, but public image problems really started to steamroll downhill for her after a well intentioned, but clumsily executed, Gay civil union proposal was brought in by a backdoor process to avoid it being scuttled. A series of other public impressions continued to build that really hit a watershed level when one former employee made some charges that Linn asked her falsify some documents. Linn claimed that she didn't. But the charges were not resolved before the primary yesterday, and Ted Wheeler, whom many fear may be a Republican in disguise, was able to score a 70% landslide. Wheeler had merely to impress many voters that he was up to the job in order to win. His suspected "closet Republicanism" did not jell into an issue that could have saved Linn because her political negatives simply became just too high.

Yesterday was like a textbook on what can go right or go wrong for a campaign, and how to win or how to lose an election.


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