Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Saxton Courts the Wingnuts

After having read this piece in The O last week about Ron Saxton meeting privately with a who's-who of conservative activist organizations, I thought it raised some interesting points and questions. Only, they weren't the points and questions the reporter seemed to have, which seemed to center around why he was asked to leave the meeting before it started. And then I saw the story covered at Blue O, and columnist Cody Hoesly called it "Frightening News."

That's a bit overboard, as several commenters pointed out. For one thing, the group has been meeting for a while, and are not pathologically secretive about it (they went so far as to publicize Saxton's appearance on their web site--although they won't make that mistake again, since it's why Esteve knew to try and cover it in the first place). Another commenter rejects the entire "secrecy" premise of the story, and suggests that the only thing that put it on the front page of the Metro section is the fact that a reporter for The O was asked to leave--and thus the meeting became "secret." He might have a point; the sense of pique expressed that a 'reporter' from Brainstorm NW was not only allowed to stay, but to distribute their own lit to the participants, hints of a little jealousy. (C'mon--envious of BNW?)

Political cloak and dagger aside, what I got out of it is the very simple point that Ron Saxton may be screwed. It's not that Saxton is meeting in secret with his allies to plot some kind of electoral wingnut strategy; it's that these are Saxton's allies in the first place.

Look at who his friends are--the anti-tax zealots (not that being anti-tax makes you a zealot, but these guys are), the anti-unionists, the pro-lifers, the gay discriminators and the property rights people. All of them with the exception of the Measure 37 guys have no better option than Saxton; Westlund's fairly conservative economic plan is still way too liberal for the people at the meeting, and he was one of the Republican tax rebels in the last session. Saxton is the only pro-life candidate, and even he's not an aggressive one. So that wasn't a casual meeting with some coalition groups, that was a check-in with his base. And that this is his base, is the problem.

Mary Starrett's quixoticism notwithstanding, Saxton starts with the whole rightmost quarter of votes to himself this election. Ideally, Saxton shouldn't need to waste too much time with these folks. There is worry about turnout of the diehards, but there's no sense priming the pump on your most likely voters when there are so many other fish to chase. No, where Saxton needs to go to pick up voters is among the pro-choice, pro-school (and thus teacher's union), civil union Oregon Republicans who like his hard line on taxes and spending. He even has the chops to do it on education, using his Portland Schools background as the hook. But he's limited in his ability to appeal to those voters, both from the left--where Westlund wants to poach those very same constituencies--and from the right, where his putative allies are watching to see how hard he panders to those needed "centrist" votes. Saxton's pickle is that he can't spend too much time wooing the middle without these reassuring check-ins with the participants at last week's meeting.

The other problem with keeping this company is that the company THEY keep is starting to smell. This, to me, has potential in-state that most are not calculating, and only Mike Caudle--who's running against Wayne Scott in the 37th House District--is picking up on it.

The key name in the entire story is not anyone from Oregon...it's Grover Norquist, head of the American Taxpayer's Union Americans for Tax Reform and Jack Abramoff's laundryman. Note that a rep of the ATU ATR was at the meeting to sit in on the local scoop. Think Norquist is just randomly interested in this konservative koffee klatsch and sent someone to drop by? Hell no--he's got a big chunk of coin invested into half the participants at that meeting, and he wants to know what he's getting for it, specifically on his spending initiatives and the progress of the beknighted local candidate.

Caudle makes it clear why the stench of men like Abramoff and Norquist in Oregon politics ought to make any voter seek out a candidate with less odious friends:
We do not need outside agitators coming into Oregon to foment discontent among voters -- especially Washington fatcats who were close allies of Jack Abramoff and even earned money from dealing with him.

The flow of money from Abramoff-ally Grover Norquist into Oregon must cause us to begin rethinking the campaign finance laws in our state. While Mike strongly believes in individuals' right to fully participate in the political process, he also believes that out-of-state power-brokers like Grover Norquist shouldn't be able to throw unlimited dollars into our elections.
We'll be talking to Mike later on this week, and will let you know how he views his under-the-radar quest to take out the Queen's leftenant in the House. But the point is, with each passing week another Congressperson or lobbyist gets the finger from Johnny Law as Abramoff continues to spew information. There is a major risk for any Abramoff-linkable candidate going into November; no one is really sure how bad it might get if and when critical mass is reached, media-coverage wise. Putting yourself in the hands of groups whose benefactors are filthy with Abramoff ties is a dangerous strategy.

If the Abramoff story blows big later this summer and after Labor Day, with multiple Congresspeople going down like Duke Cunningham (and there are a couple who definitely are making the news lately), there is a very makeable link to be made from Abramoff to Norquist as his money man, skimming funds off the top for himself and passing some of the rest on to his state minion--like those who form the core of Saxton's support. It won't affect his core; it'll just affect everyone else who might have considered him but now won't because of the out of state connection to the Jeff Skilling of lobbyists.

Like I said, screwed.