Monday, March 20, 2006

Two Challengers for Statehouse Get Finance-Creative

Oregon Democrats mean to retake control of the legislature in 2006, and are fielding a variety of challenges to Republican House incumbents across the state. For sure there are varying degrees of success each will have; much of the state still endorses the party, particularly on a local basis.

In two districts where challengers recently announced their candidacies, they have each sought some kind of reference to the corruptive influence of money in politics, although in different ways. In District 24, Sal Peralta formally announced a run that he had clearly signalled over the past year or so. Yamhill County was moderately red in 2004; incumbent Donna Nelson beat four challengers with 53% of the vote, while George Bush received 57%. Peralta is running a firmly progressive platform (inlcuding a prominent dig against Minnis on the payday loan bill that she killed, something Democrats statewide look to hammer her on), but to sharpen his change-agent bona fides he makes a unique statement about where his money is going to come from--locally:
I intend to run a very different kind of campaign than most candidates.

I will not be accepting contributions from businesses or trade associations that are not located in Yamhill County, nor will I be accepting contributions from labor unions that don't have members the county.

Why? Because I believe that too many of our elected officials in Salem, and in Washington DC, serve 2 masters.

The first, and most important of these masters should be the constituency that elected them. We the People.

The second set of masters are the special interest lobbyists and business associations that primarily fund political campaigns in Oregon, and spend millions to lobby our representatives on public policy.

The result of this dual ownership of our political process is a system in which we have public servants who tend to do a very good job with constituent casework, helping the people navigate their way through various government bureaucracies to access government services, but who all-too-often, do a poor job of shaping and passing public interested public policy.

There's that "buy local" theme again. It seems to resonate powerfully with a broad range of Oregonians, and in an area that looms large as a target for expansion-based development, there appears to be some worry over the influence of those who come to capitalize. "Keeping Yamhill Local" may be a smart centrist strategy for Peralta, and it's seats like the 24th that will need to be the difference for the Democrats.

Downstate in Josephine County, things were a little redder in 2004. Bush carried 63% of the vote countywide, and 3rd District incumbent Gordon Anderson (DDS) cruised to victory by the same margin. Only a very strong candidate or a serious tidal wave of discontent looks to dislodge Anderson take the open seat from Anderson pal Ron Maurer, but giving it an impassioned shot is longtime activist and union leader Howard Owens.

Where Peralta pledged whose money he would spend, Owens upped the ante and declared who he would spend money on: kids. And not your money--his. That's right; Owens pledged to fund 17 $1,000 college scholarships for district kids out of his legislator's salary. For someone backed by various gray-hair societies (self-described, so don't blame me for calling them that), you wouldn't necessarily expect to see such pointed concern for educational issues. But Owens knows exactly what's been going on:
Education is a critical investment in our economy, in our community, in our future and in our children’s future. Good schools go hand-in-hand with a good economy. Good schools are the most important factor businesses consider when relocating. Employees want their children well-educated, and businesses need a competent local pool of workers. A good education gives a person a chance at a better economic future.

School districts throughout Oregon are facing severe funding shortages and many are being forced to cut programs and lay off teachers just to survive. The schools’ funding troubles began in 1991 and continued in 1996, when Measures 5 and 47 capped local property tax revenues and shifted school funding to revenues from state income tax and the lottery. Today, Oregon schools rely on state funds for nearly 70% of their K-12 funding compared to just 25% before Measures 5 and 47.1 Our schools have endured more than a decade of cuts with a loss of almost $800 million in the past three years.2 Now, the Republican-controlled House in Salem has put into place a permanent budget for the schools that assures they will never catch up to funding needs.

Compounding school problems is the inadequately funded federal government’s “No Child Left Behind” program. Since its start in January of 2002, the program has been underfunded by $39 billion.

It certainly is shaping up to be an election concerned very heavily with money: who gets it, who spends it, where it comes from, what it's spent on, what we get for it. As the season progressess, we'll see how far these novel approaches to the use of money take their torchbearers.