"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

TABOR debate debate

Pobably there are a few things about the opposition on Measure 48 that its in-state petitioner and veteran initiative organizer, Don McIntire, can’t stand. In his current released on the subject, he didn’t seem happy about much. But what probably irritated most was the particular place the spotlight was pointing.

It was pointed by Governor Ted Kulongoski, whose re-elect campaign has been getting persistently savvier, and which on Tuesday made perhaps its smartest move yet. (Except that this latest bit isn’t yet posted on its website; the material here on his statements comes via Blue Oregon.) Here’s Kulongoski’s note to Howard Rich, a New York City businessman who has underwritten an estimated $1.1 million of the Measure 48 – TABOR – proposal. (And no, it isn’t a “Rainy Day Amendment,” and we will keep on noting that.)

Since you are the chief financial backer of Oregon ballot Measure 48, I invite you to Oregon to publicly debate the merits of the measure. You have already put $1.1 million dollars into this effort, so I am certain that you can afford the price of a plane ticket. …

For too long out-of-state special interests have used Oregon as a laboratory for their failed ideas. As Governor, I feel it is my obligation to stand up to the special interest groups you fund and protect the most vulnerable in our population – kids and seniors – who depend on services you are proposing to cut.

Your subordinates may try to help you avoid the publicity by offering to debate in your stead. I do not see such an arrangement as acceptable. If you are willing to pour millions into our state as a social experiment, the least you can do is come here and explain in person to Oregon voters why the face of our future is so important to you.

I welcome my Republican opponent join me in this discussion with you, but while he opposes this measure, he refuses to campaign against it. Please contact my campaign as soon as possible so that we can finalize arrangements for the forum.

Governor Ted Kulongoski

Rich, of course, declined. He’s not much on public appearances or statements, just likes to drop several hundred thou or a million in a state and watch the fireworks: “I’m happy that I could help out the local group in Oregon–they’ve faced a real uphill climb against public employee unions and special interests. The fact is, though, that the local group has done all the heavy lifting, and the result of their hard work is that voters will have a say in state spending in the fall. It sounds to me like the Governor is afraid to debate local leaders like Don McIntire, or face up to the 162,000 Oregon voters who have already signed the petition.”

But as Kulongoski noted, the heavy financing of petition signature-gathering and campaigning is the reason Measure 48 is on the ballot: It wasn’t a home-grown invention. Similar ballot issues have been paid for in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Montana and elsewhere, also underwritten with Rich money. To imagine him as anything less than the prime reason it’s on the Oregon ballot is to ignore a lot of external evidence.

This does not, of course, sit well with McIntire, who has been more thoroughly responsible for the presence of a number of previous ballot issues in Oregon. In a rebuttal of sorts posted on Oregon Catalyst, he accuses Kulogoski of four factual errors . . . except that they turn out to be not factual errors at all, but at most differences of opinion.

But he also hones his point: “But perhaps that’s what you’re so afraid of—that hardworking taxpayers might just put an end to your government gravy train. We all know who pulls the strings here in Oregon, and forgive us, Governor, if we say publicly it’s not you. Union bosses and special interests are openly running your campaign, so we, in turn, realize why you’re doing their dirty work. You want to keep spending recklessly, and you want the taxpayers to just shut up.” McIntire concludes that what he wants is also a debate – between himself and “the real leader of the government class in Oregon – Tim Nesbitt, recent President of the Oregon AFL-CIO. I will debate Mr. Nesbitt as many times as he would like between now and election day. Oregonians would be well served to find out more about the ‘power behind the throne’ in our state. I suspect such a series of debates would reveal much about what’s really wrong in Oregon. If Mr. Nesbitt is unavailable or unwilling, I’d even take on the second in command, Governor Kulongski.”

Is anti-union feeling so strong in Oregon that this sort of rhetoric sells? Doubtful; if it did, conservative Republicans would employ it more openly and would be more successful at the polls. (It’s been used in several ballot campaigns before but generally hasn’t been central to the success of those that have passed.)

Kulongoski’s spotlight on Rich, on the other hand, is an invitation for Oregonians to band together against the east coast outsider who would manipulate them with his money. By developing a running battle between himself and the (fill in the negative adjective) outsider, he’s set himself up as Oregon’s champion. It’s a brilliant move.

For his part, Republican Ron Saxton probably ought to be giving strong consideration to getting into it, lest he allow Kulongoski to very efficiently redefine himself in a way that will be hard to match. Or even compete with.

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