Aug 28 2006

Power strategies

Published by at 10:04 pm under Oregon

The Rob Brading campaign seems to be almost on to something – almost. Tactically, it knows it has to do battle with the library Internet porn charge poured down from an ally of its opponent, Oregon House Speaker Karen Minnis. But the strategic element hasn’t quite been there. Yet. But could be. May be that Oregon’s premier legislative race – and if it wasn’t before, it surely is now – hangs on it.

It hangs on a question of power.

Karen MinnisKaren Minnis has been speaker of the House for four years, and she is no figurehead. In close alliance with Majority Leader Wayne Scott, she runs the House; her effectiveness in the role is acknowledged by her critics. Her effectiveness is widely bemoaned, in fact, by many Democrats.

As makes sense, she plays this up in her district (the 49th, in eastern Multnomah County, including Troutdale and Wood Village and part of Gresham). Watch her campaign video for a good sense of how. In a short but effective string of examples, she shows people from the district talking about problems they have faced, and how Minnis helped them through her work in the House. It’s cleanly produced and an effective declaration of usefulness and effectiveness. And at the end of it one of the (unnamed) people adds, “They say Karen’s in for the fight of her political life. I can’t see how that’s true. She’s never stopped fighting for us.”

Rob BradingIt’s an interesting acknowledgement, and probably necessary. Two years ago, when Minnis was coming off her first term as speaker, she drew a little-known opponent – Brading – who ran an enthusiastic but lightly funded and organized campaign against her. Minnis won, but it’s a tossup which candidate was more surprised at the close margin, just 53.4% for a solidly established House speaker who drastically outspent her opponent, who never seemed to have delivered a real blow of his own.

Or, in a backhanded way, did he? The most notable incident of the campaign came when Minnis, in an unusual acknowledgement of her opposition, suggested that in his service on a library advisory board, Brading should have pressed for more efforts to keep children from accessing porn at Internet-linked library computers. The implication that Brading is okay with kids viewing porn was too much, and he demanded an apology from Minnis, and got one. The subject was not revisited. That cycle.

This cycle, the subject is back courtesy of Friends for Safer Libraries, which seems set up as a group aimed at keeping kids away from Internet porn at Multnomah County libraries – that’s what its web site suggests – but also has released a flyer making the same accusation against Brading that Minnis made two years ago, and apologized for – and goes further, even accusing him of being “responsible for children viewing internet porn in our county library.” (That last is false by any reasonable construction, since Brading was only on an advisory, not governing, board.) Minnis’ reaction on this one was: Not my doing, I don’t know anything about it. The problem is that she is linked to the Friends through Chuck Adams, a veteran consultant whom she paid $86,000 for campaign services earlier this cycle. Turns out that Adams is also a consultant, receiving thousands of dollars, from the Friends. It’s not a conclusive link, but it’s enough to sustain suspicion.

Brading has taken the Friends to court, and not yet gotten satisfaction. He wants the flyer withdrawn, but the judge refused that request; besides, that equine has already fled the containment.

More important, his real focused target logically would be Minnis.

There’s some reason to think that Minnis’ use – abuse – of the issue two years ago hurt her in the campaign, and helped Brading then. If so, the reason would be that voters objected to the way Minnis conducted herself, maybe thinking a House speaker should be above that kind of behavior, even if apologized for. (You can see where the new video may have been shaped with some response to that feeling in mind.)

The sequence of events this year offers Brading a better narrative. This year’s scenario could be pitched: She abuses her power and doesn’t take responsibility, steps on people, stands by and does nothing while the district is misinformed on her behalf, and dodges the consequences. While two years ago, she at least apologizes, this year she can’t be bothered to do even that. Such a narrative would slice cleanly underneath the storyline she has developed (as in her video) so far – lift it up and toss it.

If the voters were irked two years ago, they might feel more strongly this time around.

Running a challenger campaign against an effective incumbent House speaker is tough. But give this one even odds at least: The raw materials for a powerful Brading assault that could sell in the evolving 49th are available.

UPDATE: Name correction on Adams.

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