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Sad cases

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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