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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