Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Kevin Mannix and the Oregonian

When I heard that Kevin Mannix was thinking of entering the Fifth Congressional District contest to succeed Darlene Hooley, I didn't have a strong opinion either for or against the idea.

That said, I'm always a tiny bit wary of a political effort from Mannix, as I fear he has expended any political capital he may have accumulated over the years, leaving a mild distaste in average voters' mouths as they watch him chase whatever office is available -- representative, senator, attorney general and governor. That's partially why I supported Jack Roberts in the 2002 primary (though I voted for Mannix in the general), and Jason Atkinson in '06, and I think it's a key reason why Ron Saxton won the 2006 nomination.

But there's good reason why Mannix would think himself a good fit for the Fifth District. In most statewide elections where Mannix was a candidate, he has won the district*:
  • In 2000, he lost to Hardy Myers for attorney general by nearly four points statewide, but won the district by nearly five;
  • In the 2002 gubernatorial primary, he beat Roberts by six points statewide, but in the Fifth District he beat Roberts by 15 points;
  • That fall, he lost to Ted Kulongoski by less than 3 points statewide, but won the Fifth by 5 points.
The exceptions to that rule, however, are interesting:
  • In 1996, when Mannix took on Myers in the attorney general primary contest (both were Democrats), Myers hammered Mannix by 25 points statewide; in the Fifth District, Myers won by 8 points, with Mannix winning only his native Marion County (7 points) along with neighboring Polk County (3 points).
  • Ten years later, as a Republican, Mannix made his second attempt at the gubernatorial nomination and fell short. Saxton won the nomination (by 12 points) and the Fifth District (by 7). Mannix's one consolation in the Fifth was, again, Marion County, by 5 points. (By the way, Kulongoski went on that fall to win the Fifth by almost 3 points; Saxton's only Fifth District prize was Polk County, and by just 23 votes.)
(* In figuring the votes of the fifth district, I am including voting totals from Clackamas, Lincoln, Marion, Polk and Tillamook counties; the Fifth District includes a little more than a third of Benton County, as well as less than 5 percent of Multnomah County but I couldn't find a way to isolate those portions.)

So it's a mixed bag, but there are certainly reasons why Mannix can feel encouraged by his chances in the Fifth District race. And when Mannix officially signed up to pursue Hooley's seat, I felt a little bit bad for Mike Erickson, who's been campaigning for the spot for the last three years, but overall I wasn't disappointed -- a spirited primary battle can be good for the party and the voters.

And then, last week, the Oregonian came up with a hit piece on its editorial page, one that fell along the same lines as a news story I criticized recently for its liberal use of vague descriptions in an attempt to sell an unconvincing story.

In the editorial, the paper admitted it has no evidence of unethical or illegal behavior by Mannix, but started the attempted drive-by shooting -- in an underhanded manner -- by suggesting something unethical or illegal: Mannix's "latest fast and loose handling of campaign financing." It suggested that using money from his law firm -- you know, the money he makes to support himself? -- to pay off campaign debts without letting the public scrutinize the sources is "neither aboveboard nor wise."

If Mannix had applied for and paid off his debts with public financing (if such a thing existed at that level), the O would be fine with that, because it could snoop into his finances. But because he paid it with funds that came from his efforts as a private attorney, funds that the O grudgingly and vaguely admits are covered by attorney-client privilege, the paper is making an attempt to slime Mannix. Here's the key slime, where the paper notes that Mannix declined to reveal the accounts who paid their bills so he could pay his:

It's just speculation, but those accounts may include FreedomWorks, the Washington, D.C.-based outfit that seeks lower taxes and less government regulation. From 2004 through 2006, the group reported paying Mannix more than a half-million dollars in legal and consulting fees.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Nothing, that is, if the money was truly compensation for legal work as opposed to campaign contributions masquerading as attorney fees. But even if the fees were entirely legitimate, doesn't the candidate owe Oregon voters an unlaundered accounting of who's bankrolling his campaign?

It's just speculation. To rephrase: we don't have any evidence of Kevin's malfeasance, so we'll make up stuff under the label of "speculation." Since when did journalism's level of proof drop through the floor? Gee, if I write that Editorial Page Editor Bob Caldwell likes to parade around his neighborhood at night wearing nothing but a tutu, can I qualify it by saying it's just speculation? I didn't think so.

If Mannix had revealed his clients, as the O wants, he'd be facing career-ending bar complaints, so he can't win. He either screws over his clients, or he gets screwed over by the media.

Now, having said that, there's another thing that caught my eye this weekend. Over at Northwest Republican, Common Sense posted a piece that Mannix sent to the O in response to the paper's hit piece (a response that he requested permission to submit). It apparently never ran, as the O's Galen Barnett wrote in an email obtained by NWR:
I have reviewed the submission and, quite frankly, I'm disappointed. Kevin dismisses the editorial's argument in two sentences and then goes on to give a campaign speech . . . If that's all Kevin has to say about the financial issue, he should submit a letter to the editor for consideration.
Common Sense (CS) calls Kevin's response "dead on. He addresses the bogus campaign issues raised by The Oregonian and then goes on to talk about the issues that are most important to the people of the 5th Congressional District. Kevin is trying to keep the campaign positive."

Sorry, CS, but I agree with Barnett. Mannix's first paragraph reads:
Recently, The Oregonian editorial board took issue with the fact that I used my own income to cover an old campaign debt. I think it demonstrates personal and fiscal responsibility. I owed a debt; I paid the debt.
And that's all it says; he uses the remaining 13 paragraphs to roll out a laundry list of issues he wants to address, which is essentially a campaign speech. That's not responding to the editorial, it's dismissing it without explanation. He could have reiterated the attorney-client rules he operates under, and explained what CS touched on -- "if there is anything even remotely questionable about Kevin's finances, Kevin would lose his license to practice law, thereby losing his ability to earn a living" -- but he chose not to. When a candidate requests the opportunity to "respond" to a hit piece like the O's editorial, it's not unreasonable for the O to expect the response will actually "respond" to the allegations.

Unfortunately for Mannix, he was in a no-win situation; unless he named names, no response would be adequate in the O's eyes. I think Mannix is smart enough to know that, but he didn't use much common sense in this case.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Give that addict another hit

The state of Oregon has an addiction problem, and some people are all too happy to keep feeding that addiction.

That addiction problem was summed up -- inadvertently, I think -- by an editorial in yesterday's Oregonian. In it, the O argued (in the logic of some sort of alternate universe) that the state is addicted to gambling, and the way to solve that problem is to give the state access to greater lottery profits.

While we're at it, let's help conquer smoking addictions with an unlimited supply of cigarettes, and offer free shots for any alcoholics wanting to overcome the demon rum.

What the editorial ostensibly said is that the state gives too much money to lottery retailers and should instead reduce those payouts in order to provide more money for education, parks and economic development.

But in the first 50 words of the editorial, it calls those supposedly-high payouts a "symptom of the state's gambling addiction." As if said addiction can be treated by the temporary high brought about more lottery money. As if the allure of more easy money will put our children's education on Easy Street forevermore, rather than providing a temporary rush until the next budget crisis.

And then there's the problem with the editorial's limited definition of "addiction." It hints at, but never acknowledges, the real addiction -- those people who cannot control the compulsion to feed their paycheck into a video poker machine. This Portland Tribune story from 2005, quoting the manager of a state-sponsored services program for problem gamblers, claims that problem gamblers contribute up to half the state's video gambling revenue. (By the way, 1 percent of lottery proceeds are set aside to help treat gambling addictions, which afflict an estimated 2.5 percent of the public. You do the math.)

Instead, the editorial talks about how the games have became "addictive for players," but only as a way of saying that the lottery has brought more cash into state coffers every year. It claims that the rates paid to retailers "haven't kept up with Oregonians' legendary gambling habits," essentially suggesting there should be some inverse formula that reduces retail payouts as the overall addiction surges.

These claims are ludicrous because of something that seems frequently forgotten in the liberal rush to tax the rich -- the more income a person makes, the more money he pays in taxes, and thus the more money that goes to the government. In the case of the lottery, retailers are making more money from the lottery because the lottery has been more successful every year. When the lottery started in 1985, it contributed $60 million to the state biennial budget; in the most recent figures available from the lottery, the state received almost 12 times that amount.

Don't get me wrong -- I will not defend retailers who claim poverty because the state wants to reduce the percentage it pays to those retailers (other than to insist that the state live up to the contracts it signed with those retailers), and I'm not interested in arguing over the definition of a "reasonable rate of return" for those who provide lottery access.

Yes, the retailers are taking home a much larger amount of money -- although a smaller percentage of each sale -- because Oregon is addicted to the lottery. Lawmakers are addicted to the money, using it for key functions such as education (which receives almost two-thirds of lottery proceeds). State residents are addicted to the thrill of the big payoff, providing a 23 percent increase in participation over the previous biennium.

But for the Oregonian, the only addiction worth discussing is the one that gives retailers too much of the take -- and it thinks those other addictions are easily ignored if it can just get the cash for one more fix.

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Among the living

I'm back from busy-ness and vacation. A couple of catch-up items to come. I hope.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Take $3,600 out of your pay and kiss it goodbye

That's how much residents of Washington County in Oregon would lose four years from now under the U.S. House budget resolution, according to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation released Tuesday.

The analysis factors in spending increases in the budget resolution, as well as the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts (it factors in those expirations based on best-guess scenarios of how House Democrats will pay for their spending increases under their own PAYGO rules).

Those combined factors meant that four years from now, everyone in Oregon's First Congressional District would see an average annual tax increase of $2,107, and a $1,480 income decrease. That's the steepest impact in the state of Oregon (though below the national average of roughly $3,800 per person). House District 5 is close behind at $3,525 per person, while the remaining districts are all in the $3,200 range.

So if David Wu is your U.S. representative, and if the House budget resolution becomes law, your paycheck in 2012 will be $300 lighter every month. Think you'll get enough raises between now and then to keep your wages at 2008 levels? Me either.

Oh, and by the way, it also projects 12,000 lost jobs statewide, and a $1.2 billion hit on the state economy. Won't that be fun for state budgets?

But that's nothing compared to our neighbors across the Columbia. Residents of Washington House District 3 would say sayonara to almost $4,100 every year (and those poor suckers in Washington House District 8 would lose another $1,000 on top of that), and the state as a whole will lose 21,000 jobs and take a $2.4 billion economic hit.

But hey, the Democrats are looking out for the little guy.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Every band has their 'Stairway to Heaven' song

So says James Lileks, speaking in today's Bleat (the "joint" is apparently some local Minneapolis establishment):
I had no idea Aerosmith filmed a video in the joint in 1998, and, having learned it, I couldn’t care less. I think I liked them in high school, but you were supposed to like them. I remember explaining to a peer that “Dream On” was their “Stairway to Heaven.” He didn’t get it. See, every band has to have a Stairway. It’s “Dream On” for Aerosmith. It’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out” for REO Speedwagon. The lights flickered on; he got it. Oh! Long pieces that were about weather and wizards and stuff and started slow and got pumped up. Yes, my friend. It is the way of Rock.
So I posed the question to my bride, who still holds a soft spot in her heart for a certain '70s rock band: What is Styx's "Stairway" song? "Duh," she quickly responded, "Come Sail Away!!"

And it's only fair that I ask myself the same question about my favorite '70s band, Rush, even though I reserve the right to change my answer after I think about it a bit. My first thoughts went to 2112, but that's up and down in intensity throughout the piece. There are a few others, like The Trees or Closer to the Heart, that have that start-slow-and-build pattern, but they don't really fit the long-pieces mold that Lileks is talking about. Perhaps the closest would be the lesser-known Natural Science.

But overall, I'm not sure any Rush song really fits that mold. And really, that's why I always liked them.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Erik Sten's next job

Now we know why Erik Sten resigned. Fresh off his water bureau billing system achievements, Sten has to help with this.