Press "Enter" to skip to content

Frohnmayer’s contribution

John Frohnmayer

John Frohnmayer at the Statehouse

There are ways of looking at John Frohnmayer‘s Oregon Senate candidacy – any candidacy, for that matter – other than in the political calculus of polls and vote probabilities. One of the those is in the calculus of structuring the debate.

He is running as a candidate of the Independent Party of Oregon (not yet, presumably, though likely as its eventual nominee), and we’ve suggested before that his odds of pulling in more votes than the Republican or Democratic nominee is not good. Putting that aside, he may have other kinds of effect.

Formerly both a Republican and a Democrat, Frohnmayer has a statesmanslike sense to him, particularly Oregonian in style, affable but serious. (Counterparts in Washington would be more aggressive, and in Idaho a little earthier.) Unlike independent efforts of the past, this one is starting early, already has covered large swaths the state and, Forhnmayer says, will hit all 36 counties before very long.

It’s enough to get a message out and affect the discussion, especially if the tools of the digital age are put to work. And they have been. He’s already been visible on YouTube, and his staff (which he already has) also is busy finding ways to gain visibility, sometimes in unlikely places. This morning we watched as he did that in the press conference room at the Salem Statehouse, drawing only a small local media contingent – but that didn’t matter. His remarks, captured on video, were headed for YouTube, where he’s already been drawing a substantial audience. (His clip on impeachment has drawn about 3,000 views so far.)

All this could turn into enough to work its way into the Smith-Merkley-Novick discussions. And the substance could be strong enough to affect its structure and tenor.

His talk – his eventual clip – was his critique of where Republicans have gone wrong. He said he’ll later cover the Democrats too but did say of them in this talk that “he Democrats, again, turn to spin – that I am a shill for Gordon Smith to take votes from the Democratic candidate and assure a Republican victory. My candidacy offers a clear choice and I will get votes from both democrats and republicans but, particularly, from Republicans.”

His rationale covered six or seven main points, and is worth reading in detail. He started by identifying himself with such Republicans as Dwight Eisenhower and Theodore Roosevelt, and Oregonians Tom McCall (he likes to make a regular swing by the big McCall portrait at the Statehouse when he visits) and Mark Hatfield, and Republican traditions as they expressed them.

I became politically aware during the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and worked for Mark Hatfield.s election in the early 60s. Eisenhower believed in investment, but today investment has been supplanted by greed. And it is greed, above all else, that has caused the Republican Party to lose its way. . .

Here are six ways in which traditional Republican values, traditional republican principles have been spun, jettisoned, disregarded, all to our detriment.

First, Eisenhower’s investment in our roads and national infrastructure has been neglected. Interstate 5 has ruts like a slalom course. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation approximately 25% of the bridges in Oregon are structurally deficient, and 1,200 are functionally obsolete. More than 350 roads in Oregon are rated as poor by the Federal Highway Administration. But most importantly, we need a transportation system that is coherent and connects the various transportation entities: water, rail, road, bike and pedestrian so that we can move people, and materials, and products efficiently. Investment isn.t sexy. It seldom gets political attention, but it is the DNA of a successful economy.

Second, Ike warned against the military industrial complex. His greatest fears have been realized. Last month, the present Republican administration announced that it had signed a deal for 30 billion dollars in military aid to Israel, and 20 billion dollars of military aid to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. How could that possibly make the Middle East safer?

Third, investments and deficits: Vice President Dick Cheney has told us repeatedly that, “Deficits don’t matter.” They don’t matter if you don’t care about your children or your childrens childrens children. Somebody has to pay for deficits sometime. Republicans used to spend wisely. Now they just spend.

How about education? That’s number four. I benefited hugely from the G.I. Bill that was available to me after serving in Viet Nam. I also benefited from the State G.I. Loan program so I could buy my first house. We are spending, according to the latest Pentagon Bill, 480 billion dollars a year on the military. wouldnt it be wiser if educated 50,000 children so that they could understand Farsi and Arabic and the Indian continent.s languages and Chinese and could therefore reach out to other cultures, learn their desires and motivations. Wouldn.t that make the world safer than building more bombs and planes and aircraft carriers? Military power works best when it is a deterrent as opposed to the political tool of first resort. This administration.s saber rattling about Iran should chill every American to the bone. It certainly does me. . . .

Fifth, what about investment in our manufacturing base? What manufacturing? Under this administration and, indeed, the Democratic administration that preceded it, deals such as NAFTA, WTO, CAFTA, have led to the flight of capital to other countries – China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala. We have traded quality (a very traditional Republican value) for cheap goods, throwaway items that pollute our planet, satisfy no one, and are not even utilitarian because they break. This is a frontal assault on the middle class. The quest for cheap labor and big profits has undermined the middle class and the family wage jobs upon which it has always depended. Republican leadership claims to stand for family values, but families that can.t afford to put food on the table, a family where one major car repair is an economic disaster, a family that can’t afford to support its kids in school is the kind of disinvestment that national Republican policies have brought us. Hard work, honest wages, the dignity of those people who work – those are Republican values – or at least they used to be. Education in professional industrial technology has been disregarded, ignored, stripped from school curricula. Here I’m talking about electricians, carpenters, masons, mechanics, machinists, all noble professions. How many schools in Oregon have auto shop, wood shop, or what we used to call home economics?

And sixth, in this non-exclusive list of Republican values that have washed away like the tide, is stewardship. I’m talking about stewardship of Oregon – our beaches, our forests, our plateaus and plains, our river basins. Tom McCall, a great Republican leader, was the author of the beach bill and statewide land use planning. That has given way to, “let me get mine and the hell with the rest of you.” We need to work together to create jobs, a sustainable environment, and preservation of our forests, our fisheries, our economic base and our wonderful environment. Working together used to be a Republican value. Now it.s partisan bickering, a tax system whereby the rich get richer, some corporations pay virtually no tax, and the middle class bears the burden.

We are in a national malaise. Since 9/11 we have bought a line of hokum that suggests that in order to be safe, we have to be compliant, our civil liberties curtailed, our initiative dependent upon leadership from Washington. That.s not Oregon, that’s not traditional Republican values, that.s just baloney. The very phrase “the war on terror” requires us to ask all the wrong questions. It’s not a war on terror any more than World War II was a war on blitzkrieg. The struggle that we are involved in is a struggle to reestablish values, to recognize that sacrifice and hard work and articulated goals are how we succeed as a state and as a country. We can be excellent in everything we do. We can produce the best timber, the best fish, the best wheat, the best electronics, the best wine. It.s not the war on terror. It’s the struggle to establish enlightened democratic principles throughout the world. We can, through the strength of our character, the determination of our workforce and the quality of our society include everybody, make a place for everybody, and return to a respect for the rule of law as our guiding principal as a society, as a nation, as a state.

He didn’t include the conservative religious component in the modern Republican Party, although he does on the front page of his campaign website: “If you think unifying religion and politics is a good idea, just look around the world at where people are killing each other and you will find governments who are trying it.”

There’s a substantial slice of the Republican Party which responds to the kind of talk Frohnmayer is making here, and Gordon Smith has to bear it in mind. Some of this overlaps with the ongoing development of message in the Democratic camp too – you can imagine Steve Novick or Jeff Merkley agreeing with much of what Frohnmayer has to say, phrased perhaps a little differently. But the emphasis might be different.

A lot of political dialogue has to do with what you choose to talk about, and what you choose not to. Frohnmayer may be putting some ideas on the table that others could find hard to ignore.

Share on Facebook