Writings and observations

Political races are decided in part by the nature of the candidate, in part by the nature of the campaign – but more, usually, by the nature of the place where the campaign is run. Ordinarily, and especially in recent years, places tend to vote R or D, red or blue, up and down the ballot, with ever fewer exceptions. Exceptions remain, but they are fewer now than they once were.

That’s key to the recent analysis behind the political prospects of Oregon state Representative Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point.

Oregon House District 4

Richardson has unleashed several controversial comments of late, notably one which compared passage of the Oregon domestic partnership and gay anti-discrimination measures to the massacre at Virginia Tech. (He later said he “didn’t intend” to make that linkage.) The discussion arose: How might Richardson be defeated in 2008?

The response from some southern Oregon observers was, won’t be easy. The core of the reason being that Richardson’s district is very conservative and very Republican. John Doty, who has run for the legislature in that region, noted, “The district he represents (Northwest Jackson county and a sliver of Josephine… with Central Point being the largest city (along with the towns of Rogue River and Gold Hill) is solidly red – so much so that getting an opponent to step forward at all is like pulling teeth for the county dems.”

Always a point to consider.

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Oregon

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

Two strains have been running in the first few months of Idaho Representative Bill Sali‘s tenure in Congress. On one hand, to a degree, he has positioned himself as simply another member of the conservative Republican Idaho delegation, alongside Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and House member Mike Simpson. He’s had regular lunches with Simpson, patching up a contentious relationship from years past, and he’s had his place in statements “from the delegation.”

He hasn’t, yet, done much that seems likely to hurt him among the operating majority of 1st district voters, and there haven’t been any wild explosions from afar (that we’ve seen reported).

But there is a growing body of votes marking him as different from the other three, and it’s starting to become noticed. The national satiric web site Jesus’ General posted a sort of open latter to Sali as one “of only seven to oppose helping torture victims, one of twenty who is willing to defund science, and one of a very few who supports enhancing our oceans with chemicals and our leisure time with cockfighting and dogfighting.”

Yes, these have been documented, in part due to the watchfulness of the Mountain Goat Report blog, which has been tracking his votes. Its most recent post concerns the Torture Victims Relief Act of 2007, which passed the House 418-7, Sali being among the minority.

Sali’s hasn’t posted his reasons for the vote on his web site. One of his supporters, though, does take on the subject:

The anti-Sali socialist over at The Mountain Goat Report is trying to claim that Rep. Sali’s vote against the so-called “Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization Act” is a bad thing, or that the fact that he is one of only seven brave Congressmen to stand up to Pelosi is somehow wrong. The fact is that no one goes around torturing people just for the fun of it, and these people who have been tortured probably did something to deserve it. It’s just like liberals to try to throw money at so-called “victims” who should be taking responsibility for their choices instead of whining for government handouts.

This – because we suspect the attitude is broader than one blogger, regardless whether it matches’ Sali’s own take – calls out for some error correction.

That Mountain Goat is a Sali critic seems clear enough; “socialist” is not, and constitutes only simple(minded) name-calling. MG never actually says the opposition vote was a bad thing; instead simply offering the official summary of the bill, and letting us draw the (easy) inference for ourselves. Why the seven opposition voters are de facto “brave” is unexplained; were they supposed to be afraid of being stalked by torture victims? The reference to “stand up to Pelosi” is pro forma but ridiculous. In voting against the bill, Sali was voting in opposition to not only Pelosi, but also the official position of the House Republican caucus, and against Craig, Crapo and Simpson. If money was being thrown, it was being thrown not only by “liberals” but by nearly all other members of the House Republican caucus, including Idaho’s delegation.

There’s also the matter of the bill’s primary sponsor: A Republican, Christopher Smith of New Jersey. Said the Republican representative, ““The agony and suffering endured by victims of torture leave lifelong physical, emotional and psychological scars. However, proper treatment can help torture victims overcome these effects and lead normal, productive lives within their families and communities. We can—and must—continue to support programs that mitigate the long-term effects of torture.”

What’s a lot more troubling about this post is: “The fact is that no one goes around torturing people just for the fun of it, and these people who have been tortured probably did something to deserve it.” Stalin’s apologists, or those of King George III, could not have put it better. The American Revolution, not to mention the many expansions of freedom and justice in this country since then, was fought in large part in direct opposition to just such attitudes. There’s simply no way to square this line of thinking with anything we’ve come to know as freedom, justice or democracy.

We can’t and won’t attribute it here personally to Sali, of course. But it does seem emblematic of where some of his strongest supporters are pushing him. And so far, he has not given them much cause for disappointment.

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Idaho