Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kitzhaber's Open-Mic Moment

Near the end of last night's debate on environmental issues, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Bill Bradbury and John Kitzhaber engaged in a somewhat bitter exchange over campaign contributions. As the Register-Guard's Dave Steves reports, Bradbury accused Kitzhaber of taking money from a corporate executive whose company has been fined by environmental regulators. Kitzhaber said he was "incensed" at the implication that he was "in somebody's pocket."

And if that on-stage war of words wasn't enough, the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes reports on a comment Kitzhaber made to Bradbury after the debate was over:

The anger continued after the debate. The Bradbury campaign said that viewers of a live webcast could hear Kitzhaber say as he was leaving the stage, "If that is how it's going to be Bill, then the gloves have come off."

That sounded a little stilted to me--more like a line of melodramatic B-movie dialogue than an off-the-cuff remark.  And so in the spirit of accuracy (and who doesn't love an unscripted open-mic moment?) I tracked down the webcast of the debate. I took the liberty of isolating the audio of the alleged barb, and you can listen to it below. The comment was made while the camera was focused on debate moderator David Sarasohn. While the audience is applauding the candidates, it sounds as though Kitzhaber says the following (as best I can interpret it): "Way to lower the bar there, buddy. I guess we take the gloves off from here on out." Since the comment takes place off-camera, it's impossible to know for sure who Kitzhaber is speaking to, but it would sure seem to have been aimed at Bradbury, rather than Republican Allen Alley who was also on stage. It sounds as though Bradbury mumbles something in response, but I can't make it out from the recording. Take a listen:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Candidates For Governor Debate Environment Tonight

Three gubernatorial candidates will fall under the green gaze of Oregon's environmental community tonight. Democrats Bill Bradbury and John Kitzhaber, and Republican Allen Alley, will take questions from four high-profile environmental groups during a debate at Portland State University. Organizers say more than 1000 people have RSVP'd their attendance. You can watch it live online here starting at 6 o'clock.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Treasurer's Race Fundraising Heats Up

The unexpected race for Oregon Treasurer is heating up. Ted Wheeler, who was appointed to the office by Governor Ted Kulongoski following the death of Ben Westlund, is grabbing the early lead when it comes to fundraising. In less than three weeks, Wheeler has pulled in more than $22,000 in cash. The largest single contribution was $5000 from Portland wind energy executive Brett Wilcox. The most curious gift comes from Metro President David Bragdon, who donated exactly $78.63 to Wheeler last week. (Bragdon says there's no particular explanation for the uneven number, but he points out that he previously contributed $150 to Wheeler's re-election campaign for Multnomah County Chair.  That money, along with other donations to Wheeler in his pre-Treasurer days, gets transferred to Wheeler's Treasurer's race fund.)

Wheeler's opponent in the May Democratic primary, Rick Metsger, reports around $12,700 in contributions since entering the race March 8. Of those, all but $200 comes from unions or Metsger's Democratic colleagues in the legislature, including $5000 from State Representative Brent Barton. Barton, you may recall, is running for the Senate seat that's opening up as a result of Metsger's retirement from the Legislature.

Of course, it's possible to read too much into fundraising totals at this point. But Wheeler certainly seems to have a broader support base right now, based on campaign contributions. Wheeler is also bringing out some big guns--Governor Ted Kulongoski and former Governor Barbara Roberts--for a Portland fundraiser early next month.  And in another barometer of public support--and you can take it for what it's worth--Ted Wheeler has a wide edge in terms of Facebook fans. As of this morning, Wheeler has 2381 fans. Rick Metsger has 41.

Meanwhile, Republican state senator Chris Telfer hasn't reported raising any money since entering the Treasurer's race March 9th. Telfer faces no opposition in the May GOP primary. But she is holding a joint fundraiser in Bend tonight with Ron Maurer, a Republican state representative who is running for the non-partisan office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction against incumbent Susan Castillo. The outcome of that race will be decided in May.

Voters' Guide First Look

The voters' guide for the May primary is now online. You can read it here. Hard copies won't appear in mailboxes until next month. I took a quick glance through it, mainly to check whether any major candidates had committed the unthinkable gaffe of forgetting to file a statement.  (At first blush, it appears as though all of the front-runners are present and accounted for.)

You can also brush up on the two ballot measures to appear on the May ballot:  Measure 68 and 69. Don't know anything about them? You're probably not alone. Both are legislative referrals and both deal with somewhat obscure points related to educational bonding. Nobody filed any arguments in opposition to either measure.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kroger Nixes Health Overhaul Lawsuit

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger said today he won't be joining attorneys general from at least 14 other states in filing a suit to block the recently enacted federal health care overhaul. The lawsuits contend certain provisions in the bill--signed Tuesday by President Obama--are unconstitutional, especially the part that requires most people to purchase health insurance or face penalties. That's a question that will ultimately be decided by the courts, though some legal experts are casting doubt on the suit's chances. Some observers wonder if the lawsuits--particularly one filed by Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna--are actually about future political ambitions as Republicans look for a silver-lining to a major victory for Democrats.

With that in mind, it's no real surprise that Kroger--a Democrat in a state dominated by Democrats at nearly every level in government--would take a pass on any lawsuit challenging the health care overhaul bill. A press release from Kroger's office contends that a preliminary review finds the law to be constitutional, and adds--in what could be interpreted as a shot against Republican attorneys general in other states--that "Attorney General Kroger will not waste taxpayer dollars on filing meritless litigation."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Political Ad Drought Nears End

After a nearly two-month respite since January's tax election, Oregon television viewers can look forward to seeing political television ads in the near future. Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley's campaign says it will begin airing the first television commercial of the 2010 primary season "statewide" starting next week. It's probably no coincidence that the first commercial comes from Dudley--he has a significant fund-raising lead over his opponents on both the Republican and Democratic sides.

Dudley's ad hits on fairly standard GOP talking points:  Lower taxes and cuts in government spending, all in the name of job creation. Dudley also hits another of his main campaign messages toward the end of the ad:  "The insiders won't change." Dudley, a newcomer to politics, has repeatedly said his lack of political experience is a plus over his chief opponents in the GOP primary--Allen Alley and John Lim.  While it may seem early to start running ads, keep in mind that ballots will be mailed to voters starting April 30, just 6 weeks from today.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Friday Is Next Furlough Day

Most state agencies will be closed this Friday for the third in a series of ten cost-cutting furlough days. It's the first closure since last November. For a refresher on which agencies will be closed, and which will be open, click here.

The Capitol's Newest Photo-Op

Governor Ted Kulongoski and his staff only recently moved back to their capitol building digs after a 2008 fire forced them to seek temporary office space for more than a year. But even after Kulongoski and his staff returned, the Governor's ceremonial office and reception area on the capitol's second floor lacked a little something: carpet. Visitors instead were greeted by a vast expanse of green tile.

Not anymore. As I finished my interview with Kulongoski today on his drought declaration for the Klamath Basin, the Governor asked if I had seen the new carpet in his ceremonial office down the hall. Apparently I had walked right across it on my way in, and didn't notice. I'm not one to appreciate the finer points of interior decorating, but Kulongoski did want me to see the brand-new carpet-version of the Oregon state seal. A staffer told me it's becoming quite the photo-op for the Governor and his guests in the days since it was installed. I snapped a quick photo (below), but if you want a better, more detailed view of the seal, click here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bradbury Also Shies From Democratic Label

During a debate last night in Portland, Democratic gubernatorial candidates John Kitzhaber and Bill Bradbury were asked about how they would balance their political ideals with political reality. It was a potentially loaded question, coming at a debate sponsored by the Multnomah County Democrats and moderated by a lefty radio host.

Kitzhaber answered first, and talked about how Democrats need to recognize that they'll likely need Republican support to get things passed, particularly if the GOP picks up seats in the legislature. Bradbury shot back that he was proud to be a Democrat, and wouldn't shy away from that label. In these comments, Bradbury suggests that Kitzhaber is hiding from the word "Democrat":

Bradbury ends with something of a zinger:  “Look at my website, look at John’s website. And on the front page of his website you would not see the word ‘Democrat’ mentioned once.” The obvious thing to do here is to see if Bradbury's right. Take a look at John Kitzhaber's website. Yep, as far as I can tell the word "Democrat" does not appear on the homepage. The word "Democratic" does appear, twice, as part of headlines in the "In the News" section.

Next, I surfed over to Bill Bradbury's website. Based on Bradbury's comments, I expected to see the word "Democrat" plastered all over the homepage. But the only place I could spot it was in a headline in Bradbury's Facebook feed.

Of course, websites can change frequently so by the time you read this, it's impossible to say what these two sites will look like. But for now, I'd have to call a foul on Bradbury for making a misleading accusation.

It is true that it's common for candidates to downplay their party affiliation in an attempt to appeal to voters from across the aisle. For what it's worth, Republicans Allen Alley, and Chris Dudley are mum on their party affiliation on their homepage. John Lim does identify himself as a Republican near the top of his homepage as of this moment.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wheeler Sworn In, Westlund To Be Remembered

Ted Wheeler, who was appointed to be Oregon Treasurer this week by Governor Ted Kulongoski, was sworn in during a ceremony yesterday at a Multnomah County boardroom, shortly after Wheeler resigned his position as Multnomah County Chair. You can see photos on Ted Wheeler's Facebook page. The ceremony was not widely promoted in advance, and lacked the pomp that happens sometimes when politicians take the oath of office. That's because no one was celebrating the circumstances under which Wheeler took the reigns of the Treasurer's office--namely, the death of Ben Westlund on Sunday due to lung cancer. A spokesman for the Treasurer's office says Wheeler is expected to get down to work starting Monday.

Meanwhile, the public has two chances to attend memorial services for Westlund. The first is this afternoon in Bend. A second service will be held tomorrow afternoon in the House chambers in Salem. You can find details about both events here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Anti-Crime Group Praises, Then Snubs Rep. Greg Smith

Eastern Oregon Republican Representative Greg Smith would like you to know that he received high marks from the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance. The group's most recent legislative scorecard showed that Smith voted in accordance with the group's position on 94% of the bills they deemed worthy of grading during the 2009 regular session. In fact, only one House lawmaker (Republican Kim Thatcher) scored higher. So Smith must be somewhat of a darling in the eyes of the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance, right?


On the same day Smith sent out a press release touting his high marks with the anti-crime group, the group endorsed Smith's opponent in the May Republican primary. Smith is one of two eastern Oregon Republicans under fire from Republican brass for voting in favor of tax increases last year in the legislature. But that's not what's bothering the Anti-Crime Alliance. Instead, the group points to a vote Smith took in the February special session on a bill that alters an early-release program meant to save money in the corrections budget. Many Republicans vocally opposed the measure, saying the early-release program should be scrapped altogether, not just placed on hold. The Anti-Crime Alliance, in endorsing Smith's opponent, Colleen MacLeod, notes that Smith was the only Republican in the Oregon House to support the measure. (Two Republicans in the Senate voted for the bill.)

Smith's vote on Senate Bill 1007 seems to be the only thing the Anti-Crime Alliance has against him. It's also not clear how meaningful the group's endorsement will be in this race. But for lawmakers, it just goes to show that a single vote in Salem can turn special interest sentiment against you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Stand At The Door And Knock: Now Please, Vote For Me

One final note from yesterday's filing day here at the capitol: During the hectic final hour, when lawmakers, candidates, journalists and onlookers poured onto the House floor to watch the closing moments before the filing deadline, I managed to speak with three people running for House seats. Finding candidates was easy. Having a meaningful conversation amidst the din was not. Still, I was struck by the fact that each of the three candidates I spoke with--all making their first run for a House seat--told me, without prompting, how many doors they had knocked on so far.

Will Rasmussen is one of three Democrats seeking their party's nomination in the 37th District. That's the seat being vacated by Republican Scott Bruun, who's running for Congress. Rasmussen told me he's knocked on about 2500 doors. (The other two Democrats in the race are Joelle Davis and Gerrit RosenthalChael Sonnen is running unopposed in the Republican primary.)

Cheryl Myers is a Democrat running for the 51st District, a seat that's being vacated by current Representative Brett Barton, who's running for the state Senate. She told me she had knocked on exactly 2871 doors as of the moment she spoke with me. Since she's running unopposed in the Democratic primary, Myers presumably hopes those voters remember her until next fall when they cast their ballot in the general election.

Also running in the 51st District, but as a Republican, is John Swanson. The former aide to state Senator Jason Atkinson told me he's knocked on more than 3500 doors so far. (Swanson faces Patrick Sheehan in the GOP primary.) There are roughly 12,000 registered Republicans in the 51st District, so Swanson is on pace to knock on the door of every GOP voter between now and the May primary.

Of course, just because you knock on somebody's door doesn't mean they'll answer. My experience tagging along with political candidates on door-knocking excursions is that for every 10 doors you knock on, you have an actual conversation with perhaps one or two people. The rest either aren't home or have no interest in hearing why they should vote for candidate so-and-so.

Sizemore: "I'm serious about winning."

Oregon Republicans may need a wallet card to keep track of all the people running for governor. A total of nine GOP candidates filed by yesterday afternoon's deadline. The big board on the floor of the Oregon House (right) listed the names during yesterday's filing day festivities.  (Feel free to print out the photo to use as an easy reference guide.)

The front-runners, in terms of fundraising, are Chris Dudley, Allen Alley and John Lim. The other people are either political newcomers or perennial candidates, save one:  Bill Sizemore. While Sizemore has run for public office before--he was the GOP nominee for governor in 1998--he's best known for spearheading dozens of initiative petitions over the past 20 years. But Sizemore's political star-power has faded. When he announced his campaign for governor last fall, many in the Oregon Republican Party distanced themselves from him.

His campaign seemed like a long-shot from the get-go, as a court injunction prohibits Sizemore from raising money for political purposes. Then, shortly after announcing his candidacy, Sizemore was dealt a political bombshell:  Oregon Attorney General John Kroger announced a series of felony tax evasion charges against Sizemore.

So it probably wasn't a huge surprise when leaders of the influential Dorchester Conference declined to invite Sizemore to participate in the gathering's marquee event: a debate among GOP front-runners for governor. While Dudley, Lim, and Alley duked it out on stage, Sizemore watched from the audience. I caught up with Sizemore in the lobby of the debate hall, and he told me he was undetered by his Dorchester snub. "Maybe I'm a little too conservative for them, or too controversial," he said. Still, despite the various setbacks he's faced, Sizemore insisted that he's "serious about winning." He says he plans to start running radio ads in the coming weeks, and he re-launched his campaign website. He's set up a Facebook page and started a Twitter feed. He's probably the first candidate in Oregon history to Tweet: "Im very excited to be spending christmas with my family and not in a jail cell!"

Sizemore told me it looks as though his felony tax evasion trial won't take place until after the May primary. He had hoped it would come sooner, as he insists he will be cleared of all charges. Sizemore plans to represent himself, and says he's preparing his opening and closing statements. Despite saying that he's serious about winning, he did concede: “I’m not cocky about the outcome of this primary, obviously." 

UPDATE:  Sizemore has now requested--and has been granted--a court appointed attorney, but still plans to present his opening and closing statements. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Filing Day Thoughts

Checking in from the floor of the House, as candidates and onlookers stream onto the floor to watch the action. Above, a state elections worker updates the big board as yet another candidate submits papers.  A few minutes ago, Ted Wheeler appeared and paid the $100 filing fee in cash.  Appointed this morning by Governor Ted Kulongoski to fill the vacany left by Ben Westlund's recent death, Wheeler will face a primary challenge from Rick Metsger and Jim Hill in his attempt to win the final two years of Westlund's term.  (Wheeler will serve until the November election regardless of what happens in May.) Still no sign of Republican Chris Telfer, or any other GOP candidates for Treasurer. (UPDATE:  Chris Telfer filed just before 4 o'clock.)

Looking at the slate of candidates at this moment, two things stand out:  First, the sheer number of candidates for governor. Nine Republicans are on the ballot, and four Democrats (although one, Steve Shields, has said he's not actually running...but he's still on the ballot at this point).

The second thing that stands out is the number of Republican legislative incumbents facing primary challenges.  As of this moment, I count six sitting Republicans who will have to win twice (in May, and again in November) in order to keep their seat.  Aside from the two eastern Oregon Representatives who drew GOP wrath for supporting a pair of tax increases that eventually became Measures 66 and 67 (Bob Jenson and Greg Smith), the other Republican lawmakers facing a primary challenge are Senator Jackie Winters, and Representatives Kim Thatcher, John Huffman, and Sherrie Sprenger. In the case of all but Thatcher and Jenson, all have a Democratic challenger waiting in the wings if they should survive the May primary. (UPDATE:  Both Thatcher and Jenson now have a Democratic opponent in the general election, should they survive their primary.)

Only one incumbent Democrat, on the other hand, faces a primary challenger:  Portland Representative Tina Kotek. Of course, there are plenty of other primary races, in districts without an incumbent.

UPDATE, 4:45 p.m.:  A second legislative Democrat will apparently face a primary challenger:  Portland Senator Rod Monroe. A few moments ago I spoke with House GOP leader Bruce Hanna. He told me he expects Republicans to pick up "three to five seats" this November. Democrats currently enjoy a 36-24 advantage in the House. Even one GOP pick-up would break the Dems "super-majority." On the other hand, I spoke with House Majority leader Mary Nolan, who was confident Democrats would hold their edge and perhaps even pick up a seat or two.  With just 15 minutes left before the filing deadline, it appears there won't be any additional Treasurer candidates, barring a last-minute surprise. The House floor is absolutely packed with people watching the boards and chatting.

UPDATE, 5:12 p.m.: The final gavel has fallen (literally, in the House chambers...I don't know if there was a digital gavel that fell for people rushing to file online). No huge surprises in the closing moments, that I'm aware of, although it's possible that not all last-minute online filers were posted on the big board in the House chamber.  I did notice that another House Republican is facing a primary challenge:  Klamath Fall's Bill Garrard. Should Garrard win the primary, he'll face no Democrat in November, however. All told, that makes 7 overall Legislative Republicans facing primary opponents, compared to just 2 Democrats.

Signs Of Spring

In some places in Oregon, a sure sign of spring is the abundance of roadside daffodils. On U-S Highway 26 heading out to the Oregon coast last weekend, the signs of spring were literally that:  signs.  Specifically, there was an outbreak of political lawn signs. This example was typical on my drive last Friday afternoon:
The proliferation of political road signs was undoubtedly connected to last weekend's Dorchester Conference in Seaside, an annual gathering of Oregon Republicans. In fact, of the literally thousands of signs I spotted, I didn't see a single one for a Democratic candidate. If you can read anything into a political campaign solely on a candidate's signs, you'd have to give Allen Alley the edge in the race for the GOP nomination for governor--though as you can see in the photo, candidates in other races were also well represented. I did see quite a few signs for Chris Dudley, but only a handful for John Lim. In fact--going out on a bit of a limb here--I'd say the proportion of signs was a fairly accurate predictor of the Sunday morning straw poll, which saw Dorcester attendees select Alley as their favorite by a 51%-38% margin over Dudley. Lim received 11% of the vote.

The signs and the straw poll vote don't tell us a whole lot at this point, other than the fact that Allen Alley is running a well-organized campaign, in terms of getting people out there to do the grunt work. Although in this case, pulling the signs up later would be the real grunt work...and I'm not sure if that actually happened along Highway 26, since I took a different route that was virtually free of political signs. So I don't know if all of those signs came down after Dorchester, or whether they'll stay there until the May 18 primary.

Here's another sign of spring:  Cherry blossoms are blooming along the capitol mall. If you'd like to see them for yourself, I'd suggest getting down here within the next week or so. (If you hurry and get here today, you can file to run for office, too.)

Filing Day

Today is the biennial tradition known in Salem as "filing day." It's somewhat of a holdover from the days when you had to file in person. It's now possible to file your candidacy online, but that hasn't dampened the excitement generated by last-minute, unexpected filers--even though they don't have to actually show up at the capitol anymore.

Still, you can expect to see a slew of sitting and would-be state lawmakers on the floor of the House this afternoon. By tradition, in the moments leading up to the 5 p.m. deadline, politicians and gawkers alike flood the House chamber, watching as state elections workers put the names of newly filed candidates on the board. The photo below shows what that boards looked like at around 10 o'clock this morning (notice the ladder, which will be used to put up names as they come in today). Of course, you can always just check the Secretary of State's website to see the latest filings for yourself.

And if you're reading this today and suddenly think to yourself:  "Hey, I have $25 burning a hole in my pocket and I'd kind of like to run for state representative," have about 5 hours to get your act together and do it!  Here's a handy how-to guide.

Former Treasurer Jumps Into Treasurer's Race

UPDATE, 3/11/10:  Dave Steves of the Register-Guard is reporting that Hill withdrew from the race today.

Former Governor John Kitzhaber won't be the only ex-statewide officeholder seeking his old job back this year. Former Treasurer Jim Hill is a Democrat who served two terms from 1993 until 2001. He filed his candidacy papers this morning, and is one of at least four people vying to win the remaining two years of Ben Westlund's term. Westlund, age 60, died of lung cancer on Sunday.

This morning, Governor Ted Kulongoski announced that he has appointed Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler to be Treasurer. Wheeler will serve until voters choose a long-term replacement this November. Wheeler says he'll file to run in the Democratic primary. He'll face Democratic state Senator Rick Metsger, who filed yesterday. Bend Republican Senator Chris Telfer says she'll file candidacy papers today. Westlund's death on Sunday gave potential major-party candidates just over 48 hours to file, because the deadline to get onto the May primary ballot is today at 5 p.m.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Westlund Loses Battle With Cancer

State Treasurer Ben Westlund lost his battle with lung cancer today. According to a statement issued by the Oregon Treasurer's office, Westlund died this morning in Bend. Prior to being elected Treasurer in 2008, Westlund served in the Oregon legislature for 12 years--first as a Republican, then as an independent, and finally as a Democrat.

Westlund first battled cancer in 2003, then announced last fall that his cancer had returned. There has been no announcement yet on memorial services for Westlund, who is survived by his wife and two children, age 21 and 17.  In a statement, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski said “Oregon has lost a leader, a friend and a member of our collective Oregon family, but (Westlund's) spirit and enthusiasm will continue to inspire the best in all of us.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Missed It By That Much

I'll be the first to admit:  I don't attend all of the photo-ops held by Governor Ted Kulongoski. A recurring event has the governor reading storybooks to schoolchildren: A memorable occasion for the kids, no doubt, but containing little by way of news value. But props to my journalistic colleague Peter Wong of the Statesman-Journal  for heading up to the governor's office earlier this week for the latest edition of "Read Across America Day." For in doing so, Wong was able to catch a priceless exchange between the governor and a second grader.  Read about it here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Online Voter Registration Surges

More than 600 people signed up to vote online during the first 30 hours of online voter registration, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's office. No doubt spurred by media coverage of the brand-new opportunity, the initial flurry of sign-ups included people from 28 of Oregon's 36 counties, and included at least 8 people in their 80's. More Democrats than Republicans signed up, though the ratio was roughly the same as the existing ratio of Democrats to Republicans. It's worth noting that the Oregon Independent Party enjoyed a disproportionate number of online voter registrations when compared to their existing numbers. But it's unclear to me whether that represents an actual surge of interest in that party, which is relatively new, or whether people simply clicked on that box instead of the "non-affiliated" box.

Of course, more than two million Oregonians had already figured out how to register to vote prior to this week's debut of online voter registration. Those existing forms of voter registration will continue for the foreseeable future. It's also worth noting that although online voter registration debuted Monday in Oregon, it has been possible to find voter registration forms online for years. But until this week, you had to print it out and mail it in.