Hot on the heels of Bend Republican Knute Buehler’s announcement this month that he’ll run for governor in 2018, the campaign of incumbent Kate Brown issued a fund-raising letter that likened state Republicans like Buehler to “Trumps-in-training.”
The accusation had a familiar ring.
Last October, Democrat Brad Avakian’s campaign had this to say about Republican opponent Dennis Richardson: “My race for Secretary of State is close. Like Trump, Richardson is an extremist that doesn’t belong in public office.” P.S. send money.
We know how well that worked. Richardson beat Avakian comfortably to become secretary of state even as Democrat Hillary Clinton clobbered Trump in Oregon by more than 200,000 votes.
Voters, it turns out, can make important distinctions. They can distinguish between two very different candidates of the same party, and they can distinguish between good and bad candidates of different parties. That’s why Avakian’s serving out his final term as state labor commissioner while Richardson holds Oregon’s second highest elective office.
But the Avakian echoes extend beyond the Brown campaign’s hurling of the “T” word.
Avakian and his supporters seemed to be convinced that drumming away at wedge issues such as abortion would be enough to rally Democratic and progressive voters regardless of the actual demands of the secretary of state’s office or the qualifications of the candidates themselves. Avakian ran less as a candidate than a progressive cause and, it seems, he expected voters to be either blindly partisan or stupid. Oops.
If there was a lesson to be learned last November, it seems to have been forgotten or dismissed by many in the Brown camp. Thus, the partisan wedge machinery roared to life following Buehler’s announcement, led by the pro-choice group Emily’s List, and the results have been surreal. It’s as if someone substituted “Buehler” for “Richardson” in the propaganda grinder and picked up right where last year’s secretary of state campaign left off.
There was Emily’s List on Aug. 8 blasting Buehler’s “record of opposing women’s reproductive rights.” And there was Grayson Dempsey, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, claiming absurdly in an Aug. 9 op-ed piece in The Oregonian that Buehler is “masquerading as a pro-choice champion.” What’s so strange about such attacks is their fundamental dishonesty. Among other things, Buehler proposed legislation in 2015 that has given pharmacies the authority to distribute contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription. That’s not the sort of thing you do when you’re “masquerading as a pro-choice champion.”
Such indifference to the facts is positively Trumpian, not to mention risky. Buehler is well-known in Oregon and has compiled a moderate legislative record with which many voters are familiar, or can easily become so. He’s not Bud Pierce, the obscure political neophyte Brown defeated in November. Do Brown and her supporters really assume voters don’t care about the truth? Good luck with that.
It’s true that many of Oregon’s Democrats, 964,668 as of July, will vote the party line no matter what. So, too, will many of its 703,310 Republicans. But the state also has 765,061 nonaffiliated voters, most of whom presumably are less interested in partisan demagoguery than in identifying candidates of any party committed to addressing the state’s most compelling problems.
While Team Brown might prefer to compare Buehler to Trump and hammer away misleadingly about his views on abortion, most Oregonians have figured out by now that the state’s most pressing problems lie elsewhere and demand bipartisan solutions. The rising cost of the state’s public pension system continues to draw money away from classrooms, and it will continue to do so until legislators and the governor can agree on a package of reforms that includes cost cutting as well as additional revenue. Meanwhile, Oregon’s land use system is badly designed to accommodate the growth Bend, Portland and other cities are experiencing, at least without producing extremely expensive housing. This will continue to happen until people stop moving to Oregon or state leaders figure out how to relax state land-use laws without violating the system’s spirit. Neither Democrats nor Republicans can do that on their own.
Oregonians deserve a gubernatorial contest that focuses on the problems that actually plague the state. In the end, they may get just that. These are early days, after all. However, if Brown’s campaign and supporters continue to wallow in Avakian mode, they shouldn’t be shocked to receive an Avakian result.
— Erik Lukens is editor of The Bulletin