Thursday, September 14, 2006

Torrid Punk'd By His First "Liberty Street" Letter

I'm a native Oregonian, but with an extended prodigal period separating residencies, so in some ways I still have a lot to learn. I obviously didn't check in too hard with Oregon politics when I was seven, and thus I never got introduced to the Liberty Street Letters.

Let me back up a little. Coming home from work yesterday and assaulting the unusually large pile of mail (we forgot to get it the first two days of the week!), I found a nondescript envelope with a Liberty Street return address in Salem. Naturally curious to find something neither a bill nor a personal letter, and noting that our names and address were actually spelled correctly, I had to open it. What if a heretofore unknown rich relative just died and left everything to me? What if I were doomed to bad luck if I didn't open it and then forward it to 10 friends? What if it was a hot tip for the blog?

Inside, on informal letterhead from "Peggy Browne of the Browne Family Farm in North Powder, Oregon" (which turns out to be along I-84 in the northeast part of the state, surrounded by crop circles), I discovered a personally directed, eight-paragraph letter telling me why I should vote against Measure 42. (While we are all still reminding ourselves which measure is which topic, 42 is the bizarre Sizemore measure to ban credit history reporting for insurance purposes.)

"Peg," as she signed the letter, mentions Sizemore, calling him a "ballot measure activist." That's kind; he's really an anti-tax zealot with a sketchy record of legal compliance. But as I said, this one comes totally out of left field for me. When I heard that there was a proposal to end credit reporting for insurance, I thought "great! Insurers don't offer you credit; they offer you insurance--so what possible reason other than profits do insurers have for checking on my private credit? What's next, will the Beavers credit check me and charge me less on the theory that I'm unlikely to storm the field with my son and drunkenly whale on the first base coach?"

And then I saw that Sizemore is backing it, and I racked my brain for the next couple of hours trying to figure out his angle. This isn't less regulation, it's MORE. This isn't designed to screw people in the long run, it's designed to PROTECT them. It works out best for the little guy, perhaps at the minor expense of the Starbuckians. See the problem here? How does this help Bill Sizemore? And if it doesn't personally enrich Bill Sizemore or his cadre of government drowners, what is he doing pushing it to ballot?

If you thought I had an answer for that question you're wrong, but by sheer luck I was reading Carla's piece about the idiotic OR GOP complaining that Ted Kulongoski has too many communications staffers. That's nearly the dumbest campaign attack I've ever heard, by the way. But on the way to the link, I found that another story had replaced it:
For experienced political junkies in Oregon, the sight of a plain white envelope with the Liberty Street return address is as predictable as the return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano.

Every campaign year, Salem consultant Mark Nelson turns to his favorite device - a quiet, homespun letter from a respected, but down-to-earth Oregonian - to warn of the evils of a ballot measure he's been hired to defeat.

The latest one is from Peggy Browne on the "Browne Family Farm - North Powder, Oregon."

She complains about Measure 42, which would prohibit insurance companies from using a consumer's credit rating to set insurance rates. Her eight-paragraph letter takes several minutes to read. There is no bold-faced type, nothing underlined. Not even a mention of a Web Site. And it is signed "Peg," in real ink.

"We don't do anything fancy," explained Nelson. "I call it 'Plain Jane'...It's your acquaintance across town writing you a letter."

Of course, there's more to it than that. Nelson and his fellow consultant, Pat McCormick, carefully developed the points they want to make based on their polling research. They went through several drafts of a letter, giving Browne a chance to stamp her own style on it. And then Nelson hired workers to personally sign thousands of copies of the letter (he won't say how many he sent out; but you can bet a sizable percentage of the Oregon electorate received them).
Well, that answers THAT question. Being a native was no help for my political naivete, and it's good to be humbled now and again. In a funny way, I feel welcomed home to have finally gotten one. Mark Nelson likes me...he really likes me! Not everybody gets their own personal bamboozlement letter. (Well OK, the article says pretty much everybody does, but I feel special, and don't you try to take that away from me!)

One mystery remains...after reading Sizemore's rebuttal, I'm even more eskeert, as Beaver Cleaver would say. Once again, I'm faced with rational, substantiated arguments that make sense and seem well-intentioned. I keep scrolling back to the top, and it keeps staring back at me: "By Bill Sizemore." Is it the apocalypse?

Lunch at Pizza Schmizza downtown is on me if you can convince me what Sizemore's real angle is. Frankly, if I can't find one my world will crumble around me. And Carla does not want to do this blog alone. Help!

Update, 9/15 8AM--
Bill Sizemore graciously emailed me to offer his reason for starting the initiative; take it on whatever faith you have, I suppose. I've posted his reply in comments.