Monday, August 21, 2006

TABOR Astroturf Convention Gets Front Page Treatment

I'm not exactly sure what to make of this guileless piece running above the fold in today's Oregonian. At various times it tries to be hard news, editorial analysis and feature story--about the only place it doesn't go is towards an understanding of how the Americans for Limited Government convention in Chicago last weekend stands to fundamentally impact Oregonian lives.

The first thing I noticed was the impression given that ALG is a diverse group, or that it's primarily made up of "estranged Republicans." Are you kidding me? Look at some of the speakers:
  • Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) (I didn't call, but I'm guessing rumors of his estrangement are somewhat exaggerated)
  • John Fund, The Wall Street Journal
  • Jonathan Garthwaite, Editor-In-Chief,
  • Michael Tanner, Director of Health and Welfare Studies, Cato Institute
  • Mike Flynn, Union Facts
  • John Berthoud, President, National Taxpayers Union
  • Kathryn English, Pennsylvania Club for Growth
  • Mike Krempasky,
How many of these people do you think did NOT vote for Bush...twice? Nonetheless, certainly many of the same types of folks exist in the Beaver State, such as Measure 37 ramrodder David Hunnicutt of Oregonians in Action, and both M37 and Hunnicutt are mentioned in the story...once each, very briefly. This would appear to be the angle The O was looking for: they were talking about us in Chicago, a little! We're left to guess exactly what they said about it; no other quotes or references were supplied.

It also seemed hopeful--for a few paragraphs--that the backlash forming in Oregon regarding out-of-state funding being used to affect policy here, would get some needed treatment in the mass media. Here's what we got:
Opponents of Americans for Limited Government measures say the proposals could hamstring important government services and make it difficult to plan for growth. They quickly sniffed out-of-state money and exposed it. [Howard] Rich, the chairman, takes the most heat...during a chamber of commerce meeting in The Dalles, discussing the fall ballot [it was said]: "They are not Oregon initiatives."
That's it? A Chamber meeting in The Dalles, on an unknown date by an unknown speaker, in an unknown context? That's the extent to which the reporter was able to define and detail state opposition to the group's aims? They mention Howard Rich, who runs both ALG and US Term Limits...and then don't even point out The O's own coverage this month, indicating just how much of Oregon's 2006 initiative class is being bankrolled almost entirely by Rich's efforts? Or how about this June report from AP, showing that 90% of the money raised through May by OR TABOR is Rich money?

Even creepier, the reporter gets to meet Rich--briefly--and manages to squeeze one quote from him: "It's all about the ideology." Quite obviously this is true; nobody at national HQ gives a rat's ass about how their ideology might become Oregon's nightmare in practice. She also drops in a reference to Colorado's TABOR initiative after which Oregon's is modeled, but doesn't bother to mention that it's no longer in operation, having been suspended at the behest of the citizens, the business community, and the Republican goobernor.

If I were the editor who authorized the travel funds to attend the ALG conference, and then read the story produced from it, I'd be pissed. Not only are the tethers to Oregon news wispier than Homer Simpson's combover, but so much more was possible. Obviously from our perspective we'd have liked to have seen input from Our Oregon or the OR Center for Public Policy, but the reporter didn't have to stop there. What do the chief petitioners of the "Rainy Day" and term limit measures have to say about ALG and ATU, the convention, and their role in aiding the success of those measures in November?

Unless, of course, the local proponents--realizing that having their initiatives exposed as astroturf campaigns by a bunch of TownHallers and RedStaters wouldn't exactly help their cause--clammed up when asked. I wouldn't doubt that reaction to the story, but their non-response qualifies as news--of which this "One time, at Anti-Tax camp" story was in painfully short supply.