By Russell Sadler
They tossed Oregonian reporter Harry Esteve, out of a “private” meeting where Ron Saxton, Republican candidate for governor, was speaking recently.
"These meetings are kind of closed," said Jason Williams, executive director of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, who organized the meeting. "There are some things that people share when there's not a reporter there,” Williams told Esteve.
There is some truth to that. Candidates talk with supporters and prospective voters in private homes all the time on the campaign trail. Candidates are sometimes more candid talking to these intimate groups if no reporter is present.
But this “private” meeting was no intimate group of ordinary voters trying to decide how to cast their ballots. Members of William’s group have lots of national money to give away and they are talking “privately” about what is expected in return from those who receive it.
Saxton’s staff says the candidate simply repeated his usual stump speech to the Tax Coalition after Esteve was tossed out. Perhaps he did. But an announcement a week later makes it clear they also talked about something else. Saxton announced he will not campaign against and may-- emphasis on may, Saxton’s still waffling -- endorse the initiative limiting state spending to increases in population and inflation.
The 20 or so folks assembled by Williams in Wilsonville represented, among others, Right to Life, Crime Victims United, Oregonians in Action, the Cascade Policy Institute and the Republican legislative leadership staff. Nor were all reporters excluded. An editor from Brainstorm, a reliably Libertarian-flavored magazine, was permitted to stay.
Wilson says they call themselves the Tax Coalition and meet periodically to update each other on what they are doing. Most of the commentary on the Esteve incident misses the most important thing this group has in common.
These are the folks who have hijacked Oregon's beloved “peoples’ initiative and referendum” and turned it into private, parallel form of lawmaking that deliberately bypasses the checks and balances of representative government. This is Oregon’s un-elected shadow government. It coordinates strategy at these meetings.
Oregon’s constitution prohibits the Legislature from deficit spending. That means Oregon lawmakers must weigh what they want against what the people are willing to pay for. The initiative is not covered by a similar prohibition.
Oregon voters may impose large new expenditure burdens on taxpayers by initiative without any regard for the source of the money to pay for it.
Three recent initiatives supported by members of the Tax Coalition have been the biggest budget-busters in recent Oregon history and are responsible for the state’s rapidly approaching fiscal crisis.
The Taxpayers Association of Oregon protects Ballot Measure 5, narrowly approved by voters. Don McIntire’s 1990 measure shifted more than $2 billion of school costs from locally raised property taxes to the state-administered income tax, raising the state budget by considerably more than the increase in population or the rise of inflation.
Crime Victims United sponsored Measure 11, 1994’s mandatory minimum sentence initiative. The Legislature refused to pass similar legislation because it could not figure out how to pay for it with existing revenue. Voters approved the initiative anyway. The Republican-controlled Legislature decided to borrow the money rather than raise taxes. They borrowed more than $800 million to build and operate prisons and that hasn’t been enough. One prison was built, but never opened because there isn’t enough money to pay the operating costs.
More recently, Oregonians in Action sponsored Measure 37. It requires “compensation” if land use laws restrict landowners from developing their property for the most profitable use. With Measure 37 mired in the courts, the full cost of its unfunded mandate will not be known for years.
Members of the Tax Coalition are almost single-handedly responsible for Oregon’s steadily declining creditworthiness. State Treasurer Randall Edwards continues to report that Wall Street bond underwriters are wary of the growing use of Oregon’s initiative to impose higher costs on government, then restrict the Legislature’s ability to raise the money to pay for it.
Republican candidate Saxton knows if the Tax Coalition-endorsed spending limit passes he has no chance to reform Oregon school finance or repair the state’s crippled fiscal condition-- his major campaign promises to attract moderate voters. Both Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Independent Ben Westlund oppose the initiative.
It appears Saxton is tempted by a Faustian bargain with the folks who operate Oregon’s shadow government -- campaign cash from their their national counterparts in exchange for silence or even an endorsement of their latest scam.
Have we figured it out or not? Follow the money.
Editor's Note: Given the agenda of this shadowy group, aided and abetted by the likes of Grover Norquist, it's shameful that Saxton would collaborate with these folks especially in light of what more budget cuts would mean to the neediest of us - especially those facing housing insecurity (as noted below in the Faces of Homelessness flyer). Clearly if elected Ron Saxton will not act in the interests of all Oregonians but only those of his shadowy allies. We need a changing of the guard in Salem - which can only begin with the election of Ben Westlund.
A West Texas cowboy was herding his herd in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him.
The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"
The cowboy looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, "Sure. Why not?"
The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his AT&T cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.
The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany. Within seconds, he receives an e-mail on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored.
He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with e-mail on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves."
"That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves," says the cowboy. He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on with amusement as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.
Then the cowboy says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?" The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay. Why not?"
"You're a consultant for the National Democratic Party," says the cowboy.
"Wow! That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"
"No guessing required." answered the cowboy. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You tried to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a damn thing about cows... Now give me back my dog..."
We now know the value of life of two Israeli soldiers held captive by Hezbollah. 200 dead Lebanese civilians and 8 dead Canadians and counting. One wonders how USA citizens will react if any of the casualties of Israeli bombs become anyone of the 10,000 US citizens caught behind 'enemy' lines in Lebanon.
In Monday's Oregonian David Brooks, syndicated columnist for the WSJ, does a slick hatchet job on morphing Lebanese into the ubiquitous Arab terrorist. "The Arab world has ceded control of this vital flash point [Lebanon] ...to people who do not believe in freedom, democracy, tolerance or any of the other values civilized people hold dear..."
The problem, aside from Brook's stereotypical ethnic slurring of Arabs, is that Israel's smart bombs don't discriminate between members of Hezbollah and innocent people. In Vietnam, smart bombs or napalm didn't do the job. Why does Brooks feel such a strategy will succeed in Lebanon? Or does he feel Israeli lives count more than Lebanese lives?
If one reads another column in Monday's Oregonian by Robin Wright, a correspondent for the Washington Post, one gets a more nuanced picture of the 'evil doer' who heads Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. A brief notation of Nasrallah's biography ought to send chills down our spines - "...Born in a Christian suburb of Beirut in 1960, the first of nine children, Nasrallah joined Hezbollah only after the [first] Israeli invasion..."
How many new terrorists are Israeli bombs creating as we sit in the comfort of our homes in the USA as "bombs over Beirut" are exploding again? Who started this grudge match - why does it matter? Only believers in a vengeful God would argue such a question is relevant. And of course, that is a God who takes sides.
Since Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God is that God taking sides today? If one wants to simplify it, one hazards the guess that to the degree that Lebanese lives are more at risk than Israeli lives - God choice is clear. But then again, is war God's work or man's work? I return to Reinhold Niebuhr's words - moral man, immoral society.