Writings and observations

These two cases of Oregon state representatives, Democrat Kelly Wirth and Republican Dan Doyle, are more than instances of private failure: Both dragged over into the public sphere. That does not make them less sad. But it mens the rest of us have an understandable stake.

Dan DoyleDoyle was the legislator who started the year at a political high – as the top House budget writer, one of the most influential people in the state – and will end it in prison, serving a 10-month term. He resigned from the Oregon House on January 31.

His offense was lying on his campaign finance reports, hiding the way he shifted money from campaign coffers to cover his personal expenses. His may have been the first case ever of an Oregon legislator serving time for a campaign offense.

Kelly WirthWirth’s case, still in process, is more complex, but suggests no less moral culpablity. During a police inquiry of an assault against her – the background of which is still murky – a small amount of methamphetimine was found in her vehicle; she then resigned effective October 15. One could consider the matter serious legally but semi-private in nature up to that point. But then came reports about Wirth drastically increasing pay for some of her aides – most notably her mother, a woman now receiving about $6,000 a month, who according to news reports seldom was seem in Wirth’s statehouse office.

The question: What effect do these cases have on public affairs and politics in Oregon?

The short answer seems to be, not a lot.

Taking a very broad view, these cases of course diminish the already-weak status of the legislature in the eyes of the state. One case would be easier to explain away as a personal quirk; two personal quirks (which these seem to be) begins to feel more like a pattern.

Doyle’s case taken along might have given Democrats some thin ammunition in the upcoming campaigns, but the matched set on either side deprives both parties of much immediate partisan advantage.

What then about the home districts of these two?

Again, the probability is that neither party will gain much advantage.

Doyle was replaced by Kevin Cameron, a restaurant executive who had a largely quiet session this year – nothing wrong with that for a freshman under the circumstances – and seems at first glance a reasonable match for the district. His chances for election to the seat in this generally Republican district look good.

Wirth’s successor hasn’t been chosen, but the likely bet would be Sara Gelser, who ran against Wirth in the 2004 Democratic primary and has already organized to follow up in 2006 – followed up, in fact, by the time the legislature ended this summer, long before Wirth’s visible problems hit. She ran a solid campaign in 2004 and nearly won then, and has developed a strong endorsement roster and organization since. Had Wirth’s problems not gone public, she probably would have defeated her next year in any event. And this Corvallis-based district is about as Republican as Doyle’s/Cameron’s is Republican.

So no particularized advantage here. Just an unfortunate set of events all around.

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There’s no huge shock, but some food for thought, in the latest Survey USA state-by-state poll on abortion.

The question asked was whether the respondent considered himself or herself “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” There are loads of objections to this approach, not least that attitudes on abortion in this country tend to be far more nuanced than that. But the effort to deliver a clean dividing line as a tool for political analysis.

Natonwide, SUSA said, 38% call themselves “pro-life,” and 56% “pro-choice.” In ranking the states, in just 13 states did the “pro-life” percentage outnumber “pro-choice.” Utah came in first, which is no surprise.

Idaho was fourth, decisively so, 55% pro-life, 41% pro-choice. So decisive a pro-life lead is a little surprising, since the issue has not been a decisive winner at the polls. The last time it was a truly driving issue was in 1990, when the Idaho Legislature passed what would have been the strongest anti-abortion legislation in the country, only to see itself rebuked first by Governor Cecil Andrus’ veto and then by Idaho voters, who gave the state’s Democrats a sohrt moment of sunshine before the Republican lock set in two years later.

But – on the other hand – that was 15 years ago, and Idaho has changed a lot since. Has it become so much more socially conservative that the legislature’s action, rejected in 1990, would be decisively upheld today? Maybe so.

Oregon and Washington scored almost identically in the SUSA survey, with 33% and 32% respectively calling themselves “pro-life,” and 62% and 63% respectively self-described “pro-choice.” Makes clear why the issue doesn’t often come up in these states as a wedge; it wouldn’t work very well.

In Tuesday’s balloting, California voters rejected a proposal to require parental notification for abortion for a minor. (California’s numbers: 28% pro-life, 65% pro-choice.) There has been talk about putting such an issue on the Oregon ballot in 2006. One suspects that after a review of the California results, and of polling information, that idea may go by the boards.

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