Monday, June 26, 2006

Westlund part 3: Mistakes, flip-flops and energy exuberance.

[This is the third of a three part series based on my interview with goobernatorial candidate Ben Westlund. Part one is here. Part two is here.]

The Westlund campaign has certainly worked hard to reach out to the progressive community in Oregon. Westlund has a reputation for pissing off Republicans both in his home region and with the GOP legislative leaders in Salem. That reputation is earned I think in part by his stances on taxes and revenue generation for the state budget. My investigation of Westlund's record indicates that Westlund has generally scorned the deep budget cuts brought on by conservatives.

That record certainly plays well with beleagured Oregon progressives who've watched in horror as school budgets and state services/programs fall under the legislative ax.

A closer look at other parts of Westlund's record make things a lot murkier.

Certainly Westlund's positions on Measure 36 vs. SB1000 don't entirely add up. Westlund carefully characterizes support for 36 as a "mistake".

Unfortunately, that's not the only mistake.

Westlund also characterizes his previous opposition to Payday Loan regulation as a "mistake". To use the anti-Kerry vernacular: Westlund was against Payday Loan regulation before he was for it:

Westlund:That first vote was a mistake. During a session we're drinking out of a firehose. It doesn't mean I wasn't aware of the issue and I'm not trying to hide behind that. But we were working on a couple of other big things.

Dycus: It didn't really hit our radar.

Westlund: We working on things including trying to create renewable/sustainable energy programs and keep the biodiesel program alive.

The issue of energy security is one where Westlund says he'd really like to sink his teeth. Watching him talk about it in fact made me think that perhaps Ben if we could (literally) plug into Ben's excitement on this topic--we could light the Willamette Valley:

I am thrilled. I am excited. I can't tell you how much of an opportunity I think this is for Oregon. This IS Oregon. For every reason This is jobs. This is enviornment. This is energy independence. For every buck worth of gas we put into our tank we send what...97-93 cents out of state?

This is just nuts when you have a huge potential in Oregon. We're ideally situated geographically in terms of wind,solar, geothermal, biomass, biodiesel and even wave technology. There's a big time scientific institute--can't think of the name--did a study on the west coast and Oregon is ideally suited for wave (energy) technology.

The stuff OSU has got going is incredible!

That exclamation point is no exaggeration. Westlund truely exudes a child-like excitement when discussing the possibilities of Oregon and renewable energy technology.

On other areas of a more politically social nature, Westlund characterizes himself as having a prochoice position on abortion. As we've discussed here before, Westlund's rather cagey responses via press liason Stacey Dycus have pushed many strongly prochoice Oregonians to glance askew at Ben. Westlund's support of three antichoice bills in the Senate have given many pause. And the couching of Westlund's support hasn't especially thrown a strong light on where Westlund truly stands.

Would a Governor Westlund support Oregonians continued access to full abortion services? Based on his record, it doesn't look good. And since the Senator hasn't come forward to answer these questions himself--its tough to say for sure.

Finally, I asked Westlund to offer up the political case for how he wins the Governorship (skipping the platitudes, please). Here's what he came up with:

First of all this is not without precedent. Its happened multiple times before in the last 10-12 years. In states where all these conditions are present, independent candidates have won 4 of the last 7 (or if we count Angus King 5 out of the last 8) independent bids for gubernatiorial office.

Two of the conditions are constant in Oregon: One, you have to have a high voter turnout. Two, you have to have a high percent of independent registered voters. The fastest growing segment of the Oregon electorate is independent. We're now like second or third highest independent registration in the country.

Then you have to have a strong climate for change, right track/ wrong track. As you can well imagine Oregon's numbers are some of the highest wrong track numbers ever. Then you have to have poor choices presented to the voters coming out of the major primaries. I know that a Ted supporter or a Ron supporter would challenge this contention. But its my contention that those are poor choices for the voters.

Then you have to have a strong, centrist candidate.

When you have all 5 of those conditions in place then independent candidates for governor have won 4 out of the last 7 or 5 out of the last 8, depending upon how you want to slice it.

As of May 5, 48 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans answered, "wrong track" on a poll asking that right track/wrong track question.

And to keep our readership updated: Westlund's effort to get on the ballot is currently sitting at 5,545.