Fall 2002 Voter's Guide Introduction
Governor; U.S. Senate and House
Portland City Council; Metro races
FIRST CONCERT: Ike and Tina Turner
LAST CONCERT: Jimmie Dale Gilmore
BORN: One day before FDR beat Wendell Willkie for an unprecedented third term
Ted Kulongoski is like spinach: People say they want what he offers, but when he's available, they turn up their noses and look for something spicier.
People say they're tired of political egos; Kulongoski, 61, would rather shove splinters under his fingernails than talk about growing up in an orphanage, serving in the Marines and putting himself through college and law school driving trucks and working in a steel mill.
People say they don't like career politicians; Kulongoski has won election to four public offices--state representative, state senator, Oregon attorney general and state Supreme Court justice--but has sought re-election only once.
People say they're tired of candidates who promise the moon and deliver a 40-watt bulb; Kulongoski acknowledges the state's challenges but promises only that he'll be as engaged as the current governor has been aloof.
People say they want government to operate more like a business. Kulongoski has made a political career as the equivalent of a corporate turnaround artist. As insurance commissioner, he straightened out workers' comp. As attorney general, he brought accountability to juvenile justice. In both cases, he made big changes over the objections of some of his strongest backers--unions and trial lawyers.
Today, Oregon resembles a sound company that has foundered for eight years while the CEO and board of directors feuded. Kulongoski is the only candidate in the race who has proven he can break such an impasse. He is not charismatic. He is not blindingly brilliant. He is not a visionary. Kulongoski is simply this: a humble, smart realist who enjoys people.
He dislikes the three-year income-tax surcharge on January's ballot but won't pretend that the state can thrive without it. He wants more money for schools but knows that won't happen until voters are convinced the K-12 system is accountable.
Kulongoski has not electrified voters, and we wish he'd be a little more enthusiastic about reforming the Public Employees Retirement System. But unlike his Republican opponent, Kevin Mannix, Kulongoski has not tried to deny his past, nor has he promised all things to all people.
Mannix, an affable Salem lawyer and veteran legislator, won the Republican primary by making his opposition to abortion the issue; now, in the general election, he says his views on choice are not relevant.
Mannix labels himself a fiscal conservative, then offers up big-budget rewards to educators, district attorneys and state police, among others, if he's elected. A critic of the Oregon Health Plan, he recently pulled an about-face in front of City Club's limousine liberals, lamenting the OHP's inability to recruit new members.
We're wary of Mannix for a couple of other reasons. First, his base of support is narrow. His primary campaign and two previous runs for attorney general relied heavily on the checkbook of ultra-conservative (and ultra-wacky) Aloha tycoon Loren Parks.
Secondly, Mannix's performance in the Legislature doesn't inspire much confidence in his ability to build consensus. As a Democrat, he alienated many party members with his tough-on-crime, anti-abortion crusades. He's now a Republican, and it is telling that he has not been endorsed by of some of the more enlightened GOP legislators, such as Max Williams, Bill Witt and Bruce Starr.
Mannix is a lone wolf, and if there's one enduring lesson from John Kitzhaber's tenure, it is that lone wolves don't make very effective governors.
The third candidate in the race, Libertarian Tom Cox, 38, has performed admirably, pushing his no-tax message with far more specifics than Mannix. Cox, who once graced a 1995 cover of WW clad in the uniform of the Washington County Militia, is sharp, articulate and funny. He should seriously consider running for an office that he can win, then try working his way up the ladder.
In the meantime, pass the spinach.
FIRST CONCERT: Bob Dylan
LAST CONCERT: Bonnie Raitt
BORN: Two days after Russia stopped train traffic to West Berlin
There is something vaguely anti-climactic about this year's campaign for U.S. Senate. The Democrats' natural contender against GOP incumbent Gordon Smith was Gov. John Kitzhaber. After dithering for months, however, Kitz backed out, and the Dems scrambled for a last-minute replacement: Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. In many ways, they could not have asked for a better stand-in.
A former journalist, restaurateur, state senator and environmental activist, Bradbury represents the kind of progressive politics that appeal to a broad spectrum of Oregonians. He has consistently championed green issues such as salmon, renewable energy and a ban on offshore oil drilling. He's pro-choice. He supports assisted suicide. He opposed the Iraq resolution and backs the Patients' Bill of Rights. He is a staunch defender of gay and lesbian rights. He has the blessing of local labor.
Bradbury, 53, has overcome personal adversity: Both his parents died in a car crash when he was 9 years old, and he suffers from multiple sclerosis, which makes it difficult for him to walk long distances. Nonetheless, he maintains a cheerful, laid-back demeanor--the prototypical "happy warrior."
Unfortunately, Bradbury has faced several tough hurdles in this race: a late start, a lack of name recognition and a shortage of cash (the national Democratic party, distracted by the New Jersey Senate circus, has not come through with big dough for Bradbury). But his biggest problem is his opponent.
It's hard to get worked up about Gordon Smith. The millionaire Pendleton pea-packer practically oozes charm--without the aid of alcohol or caffeine. In his six years in office, he has cultivated moderate credentials, working with Ted Kennedy on education and sponsoring legislation to expand the federal hate-crime statute to include gays and lesbians. He has developed a solid working partnership with Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, his erstwhile rival.
If Smith has an Achilles' heel, it is probably lies in Oregon's assisted-suicide law, which pro-life ideologues in Washington, D.C., have attempted to override on several occasions. Unlike Ron Wyden, who opposes the law but threatened to filibuster efforts to kill it, Smith has praised the Bush administration's moves to undermine it. Bradbury accuses Smith of toeing the Republican party line at the expense of the wishes of Oregonians. Smith says his position is a matter of principle.
There are other things that bother us about Smith. We disagree with his views on abortion. We regret his vote on Iraq. We are troubled by his role in diverting more water to the farmers of the Klamath Basin, which scientists think triggered the massive die-off of salmon in the Klamath River.
Overall, however, we have to admit that he has been an effective senator who has generally eschewed partisan posturing. For this reason--plus Smith's $6 million war chest--Bradbury's insurgent campaign never really seemed to catch fire, which is a shame, because we are convinced Bradbury is more in tune with our state.
The race has also drawn two minor-party candidates: Libertarian Dan Fitzgerald, who struck us as an articulate and intelligent advocate for his party's live-and-let-live philosophy, and Constitution Party candidate Lon Mabon, about whom the less said, the better.
1st Congressional District
FIRST CONCERT: Willie Nelson
LAST CONCERT: Peter Yarrow
BORN: Four days before Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was deemed safe
Stretching from the grimy wharves of Astoria to the silicon forest of Washington County, Oregon's 1st Congressional District is one of the nation's few true "swing districts." For almost two decades, Democrats clung to this seat with margins as low as 100 votes. So it's kinda weird that the GOP has failed to mount a serious challenge to David Wu since he squeaked into office in 1998.
Given the knife-edge electoral politics of his district, Wu, a high-tech patent lawyer, has scrambled to raise his profile and burnish his accomplishments, with only partial success. By several accounts, the wonkish Wu isn't comfortable with beltway backslapping. One look at his starched blue oxford and the razor-sharp part in his hair and you can tell he'd rather peruse legal briefs than schmooze donors.
Despite a certain awkwardness, and despite being a minor member of the minority party, Wu has managed to bring home the pork: $3 million for the Astoria harbor, $3 million for the U of O, $2 million to beef up rail service to Clatsop County, half a mil for the Oregon Food Bank--you get the drift.
Wu has worked hard for schools and gets good grades from enviros. But what really sets him apart from your average Democrat is his passion for human rights. In 1999, he led the fight against "most favored nation" trading status for China, to protest the Communist giant's disregard for individual freedoms. Some of Wu's most powerful constituents--including Intel, Nike and The Oregonian--went ballistic, but he refused to back down.
Since then, Wu has continued to stand by his convictions. He opposed the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the resolution granting President Bush authority to use force in Iraq. "Make no mistake about it," he told the House. "With this first strike, with this first war, we will lose the high moral ground that has taken Americans 200 years to build."
Wu's Republican opponent, Jim Greenfield, is a well-informed AM talk-show host who decided to run two days before the deadline. An odd mixture of populist and ideologue (he arrived at our interview clad in blue jeans and a blue blazer) he advocates abolishing the income tax and has suggested that certain immigrants be kicked out of the country until the terrorist threat has passed. In person, Greenfield struck us as surprisingly polite for a talk-show host. We suggest he stay on the air, just to give Lars something to aspire to. For Congress, we'll stand by Wu.
FIRST CONCERT: Bob Dylan
LAST CONCERT: Can't remember
BORN: The day Babe Ruth died
Let's be blunt. Earl Blumenauer is going to win. He deserves to win. Ideologically and temperamentally, Blumenauer is an almost perfect reflection of his Portland seat, as safe a Democratic stronghold as any in the nation. He's championed light rail and the streetcar. He's the biggest bike advocate on Capitol Hill. He voted against the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the Iraq resolution. A super-sharp super-wonk, he's diligently seeking to export Portland's livability doctrine to Third World nations.
Although Blumenauer, 54, is not given to public soul-searching--his icy reserve is as legendary as his bow ties--we sense he's a little bored with his job. He doesn't like being "disconnected from Portland" and sighs about the quarter-million miles he's logged on capital flights. He dutifully weighs in on NAFTA but really comes alive when he's talking about Portland issues. It's a good bet he'll run for mayor in 2004.
None of Blumenauer's opponents offers a realistic challenge. Libertarian Kevin Jones, a ponytailed computer consultant, thinks we should scrap the IRS and replace taxes with voluntary contributions. Republican Sarah Seale, a real-estate investor, calls for wider freeways. Constitution Party candidate David Brownlow wants to outlaw abortion and abolish the United Nations.
By far our favorite alternative is feisty Socialist Walt Brown, a Harvard Law School grad who fought in World War II and worked as an aircraft riveter, mailman, law professor, Oregon state senator and district attorney. Brown, who volunteers in a local soup kitchen once a week, is a passionate and persuasive advocate for the little guy. We'd like to elect him "Public Conscience," but alas, there's no such office. Meanwhile, we'll vote for Blumenauer.