Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Trib, Still Trying to Convince Us VOE is DOA

[this is Torrid's take on the Tribune story. Want Carla's? Go here...]

Despite their endorsed candidate's failure to spearhead a repeal vote for clean candidate elections (or VOE) in Portland, and her even bigger failure in challenging incumbent Erik Sten primarily on the basis of his authorship of the VOE ordinance, the Portland Tribune is ready to move forward...with a vote to kill it ASAP. You'd think given the 23-point beatdown on VOE foe Ginny Burdick by the supposedly crippled Sten, if the Trib wanted to do a VOE post-mortem, their headline might have been "VOE wins out, for now?" Instead, they opted for the laughably less straightforward "Is Clean Money a Washout?"

There's no doubt that questions still remain about the VOE process, and among certain sectors there is a strong desire to see the ordinance (un)ratified by public vote as soon as possible. But that's a long way from the twin assumptions that there is a groundswell against VOE, and that the election only intensified the public's angst about it.

That doesn't stop the Trib, however--their handy stand-in for the editorial board is PSU Professor and elections critic Melody Rose, who says her biggest concern is
how its supporters have marginalized critics, suggesting that if someone doesn’t favor the city’s taxpayer-funded “clean money” system, they must favor “dirty money.” “There can be legitimate disagreement among progressives about this measure,” Rose says, “and there is legitimate disagreement.”
If you can find an example of that sentiment among supporters, please let me know. Otherwise, I think having the candidate with the biggest anti-VOE banner pull 27% in an election is pretty marginalizing all by itself.

Who is Melody Rose, by the way? Budnick makes a concerted effort, twice, to point her out as a "progressive" who nonetheless opposes VOE. There's some speculation that the Portland Business Alliance (also featured as prominent critics in the article by writer Nick Budnick) served her up as a "woman on the street" progressive, rather than the topic expert on political parties and elections that she is. I can't confirm how she came to Budnick, but Rose has a history of naysaying progressive electoral policy in Oregon; her editorial for The O in 2002 railed against the newly-hatched vote by mail system, calling it "a gimmicky, pale imitation of genuine voting reform," and that it "adds significant risk to electoral integrity."

That piece is reprinted on a website run by the Equal Justice Foundation, the Colorado affiliate of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, based in Colorado Springs right next to James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Not to tar Rose directly, but the ACFC is part of a movement that wants to use "father's rights" as a front for their "gays can't be good parents" homophobia. Don't believe me? President Stephen Baskerville is on record believing that
Granting gay couples the "right" to have children by definition means giving them the right to have someone else's children, and the question arises whether the original parent or parents ever agreed to part with them.
Chairman David A. Roberts takes aim not at gays but feminists [scroll down--ed], who from my reading of his views are pretty much just gay men with vaginas. Roberts is also a co-signor of a petition to make "misandry" and the "vilification of the male half of the species" as a hate crime. Does Rose know where she's been published, and who's doing the publishing? Maybe not, but in that case she's become an unwitting tool for others to advance their marginalized agenda--and I think that's what's happened in the Trib article as well.

But let's move on to the various biases and distortions that allow Budnick to present VOE as crippled by scandal, easy bait for those who seek to take it down:

  • Budnick says "Citing the ongoing criminal investigation of failed City Council candidate Emilie Boyles...there appears to be increasing momentum for moving up the date of a public vote on the system, now scheduled for 2010." Who is supplying that momentum in the article? The President of the PBA, and...Erik Sten? As we probably reported first in our interview with Sten, he is indeed open to an earlier vote than 2010--but that's hardly increased momentum. (Budnick even admits at the end of the piece that Council has been "noncommittal" to PBA's request).

  • Budnick uses Emilie Boyles' disastrous campaign as an example of the problems of VOE, which is half true; her method of gathering signatures did appear to exploit loopholes in the system. But Budnick attempts to make her post-qualification activities part of the problem as well. He indicates that her spending practices triggered an investigation by the state AG, when only her signature gathering activities are part of the probe; and he notes that "Boyles also spent the money in questionable ways, including paying her 16-year-old daughter $12,500," without explaining that paying family for campaign work is fully legal--as long as they're paid market rate for a bonafide service.

  • What would a Trib story about the election be without a nod to either Dave Lister or Jack Bogdanski? It's Dave's turn this time:
    Boyles’ campaign style underlined this concern for people like candidate Dave Lister, who said his opposition to the ordinance was heightened after seeing Boyles in a City Club debate [where] her erratic speaking style had audience members laughing at her.
    OK, she has a terrible public persona, I agree. But what does that have to do with the stated point of disagreement--that VOE funds candidates you might disagree with, using your tax money? Lister (and Budnick) appear to be suggesting that tax money shouldn't go to stupid or crazy people. If that's the case, thank heavens for VOE--as Boyles' media viability only went into the toilet after her violations of the ordinance became known. If she was taking private money, would we ever have found out she was spending campaign cash on her home phone and a sprawling HQ she planned to use after the election?

  • Budnick re-raises Burdick's late-game canard about VOE being "incumbent protection," on the grounds that it was impossible for her to bury Sten with a huge campaign war chest. Which is rather the point, I thought--that wealthy candidates or those with access to large sums could not buy their way to an election. In fact, the Trib tries to make it seem like the other way around, with their continuation headline "Money: Incumbents keep their positions." The article gives us Burdick's view, 2002 failed Sten challenger (notice a pattern?) Liz Callison's corroboration, and then essentially uses Amanda Fritz against herself, noting quickly that she still supports VOE,
    but agrees that it is extremely difficult to knock off an incumbent...while political professionals didn’t think Fritz waged a strong campaign, this was an election season in which pollsters saw the strongest anti-incumbent streak in a long time — and she still was trounced.
    Does Fritz believe that she lost because VOE is bad or ineffective? Not that she's explained to me. Furthermore, notice the way that Budnick strains to avoid counterfactuals to his theory. Could it be that Fritz lost because she didn't run a strong campaign? Could it be that at least one political insider called her a freak and a loon* when I asked them about why Fritz lost? Nahh...it was VOE holding her back the whole time!

  • After the Fritz comments, there is indeed a section where VOE supporters get to make their case (and in fairness, as with Melody Rose, Budnick probably should have noted that "activist" Chris Smith was in fact a key player in bringing VOE to Portland, and let his comments interpreted in that context). But then it's back to the litany of problems--including one that never came up at all:
    Under the city’s system, if an independent committee dumps $50,000 into a campaign against a publicly funded candidate, the candidate receives an extra $50,000 from the city. But if that money is spent in favor of a publicly funded candidate against a privately funded candidate, then the latter candidate is out of luck. The committee’s spending does not count against the publicly funded candidate, and the privately funded candidate does not receive any public funds to offset it.
    Aside from the fact that nothing even remotely like this happened in 2006, it makes it seem as if the private candidate has no control over their situation. Could they get matching funds and make sure they're not outspent by the public candidate? Sure--they could become one as well. Of course they don't receive public funds; they opted not to take them!

To the extent that Budnick and the Trib try to make the 2006 primaries a performance referendum on VOE, they ignore the fairly salient point that the person most easily tarred with their brush, whipped the ass(es) of the candidate(s) who backed their position. As a rhetorical point, I might have accepted the argument that Boyles' tally of 5,000 votes was an indication that even sternly punishing a VOE offender gives them too much notoriety, creating a false viability for the candidate that might not have otherwise existed. But if this is all VOE opponents have, good luck on forcing a vote. We just had a vote, and the canary emerged from the coal mine a little dirty, but sailing on clean (money) wings.

*disclaimer: that's not my view of her at all, but others clearly disagree...