State Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard) is relatively new to Salem. She replaced former Rep. Larry Galizio in House District 35 just one year ago after Galizio left his post for the top job at Clatsop Community College.
But despite her brief service, Doherty—who is seeking election in November for the first time because she was appointed to the job in 2009—has already glommed onto a publicly subsidized incumbent protection plan, which makes her this week's Rogue.
On Aug. 30, Doherty got state approval to mail a full-color flier known as a legislative update to constituents in her district, which covers Tigard and parts of Beaverton and Southwest Portland. The mailer provided a tardy summary of the February 2010 special session, Doherty's only exposure to lawmaking as a representative. More important, the mailer put her name and face on a glossy, official document just as voters are about to get their November ballots.
Legislative updates have a contentious history in Oregon because, like franked mail at the federal level, taxpayers cover the costs. In decades past, the "updates" resembled campaign literature, which candidates are supposed to pay for and label accordingly.
As a result, since the 1990s, lawmakers cannot mail updates in the 60-day period before a general election. This year that deadline was Sept. 2, three days after Doherty sent her update.
So technically, Doherty did nothing wrong when she authorized spending $3,323 of taxpayer money to print her fliers. More than a handful of lawmakers from both parties also mailed taxpayer-funded legislative updates recently. But Doherty's decision stands out for a couple of reasons. First, she faces minimal financial competition from her Republican opponent, Gordon Fiddes, who owns a furniture repair business. As of Sept. 7, Doherty had raised nearly 15 times Fiddes' paltry $2,265 cash total.
Doherty's mailer also Roguishly distorts a key issue in the 2010 election cycle: She writes that the Legislature "reduced spending" by $2 billion in 2009 and another $577 in recent months.
In fact, the Legislature reduced spending because a revenue shortfall forced it to do so. Doherty's taking credit for reducing spending is akin to a penniless gambler saying he's given up wagering.
Michael Cox, a spokesman for the House Democrats, defends the mailing.
"This is an informational newsletter about what's happening in the state Legislature," says Cox.