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The Wingard split

Matt Wingard

Matt Wingard

From a political standpoint, the Matt Wingard question seems to come down to, is it hypersensitivity or ideologial opportunism? Either way, it looks like a question to be asked not of the media or of Democrats (Wingard being a Republican candidate for the Oregon House); it’s very much an inquiry among Oregon Republicans, and one (phrased in different ways) some of them are asking each other.

Wingard is running for the House in District 26, based around the Wilsonville area, a Republican-leaning district which has been represented by Republican Jerry Krummel of Wilsonville. Wingard, who has been a Republican operative and activist for some years, told Willamette Week that in 2001 he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor that followed his striking his son, who was then seven, on the head. (He said he’d heard private investigators, on whose behalf was unclear, had been looking into the case.) Evidently the incident was a one-time occurance and resulted in no lasting injury. The mother and son apparently have reconciled with him and have endorsed his House campaign. The conviction was later expunged from court records, and he seems to have had no legal problems since.

This is, of course, not exactly the kind of news a candidate wants. But it doesn’t seem fatal, either, on political or judgmental grounds. We’re talking about a single incident seven years back, a misdemeanor considered sufficiently marginal to be erased from official records, and with which the participants have long since made their peace. Wingard was apparently open about it when asked; given the expunging, he might have tried to hide it, but evidently did not. He seems contrite about it, with indications that he learned his lessons.

And there’s a useful character reference online from Rob Kremer, who ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2002, and who hired Wingard as campaign manager: “So I lived through it with him at the time. Before I hired him, he told me what happened and what he was going through legally. I hired him, and we basically spent 80% of our waking moments with each other for the next nine months. You get the full measure of a man when you spend that kind of time with him in the pressure cooker of a statewide campaign.” He maintains that though the facts alleged were accurate enough the misdemeanor charge was “pretty badly trumped up” (On that we have no information, but domestic law is often a treacherous place to search for definitive fact) and shouldn’t be any kind of disqualifier for Wingard now. And he said he flatly supports him for the legislature. (Krummel also apparently is continuing to support Wingard.)

There hasn’t been much chatter from Democrats on this (though there is a Democratic candidate in 26, Jessica Adamson). But there has been from Republicans, and therein lies the story.

Some Republicans have jumped Wingard hard. Wingard has a long list of endorsers, and some have pulled their support. House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) even asked for his $1,000 contribution back. There’s talk about party people trying to prssure Wingard out of the race, or finding a primary opponent for him.

Kremer put it this way: “I don’t relish or seek out political battles against Republican leadership, but it seems to happen almost every session. I’ve been involved with several. The House leadership was very angry when we helped Kim Thatcher beat Vic Backlund in the Keizer-area House seat.”

Coyote at NW Republican has this take: “the issue at play here is this: The Republican caucus, or the “establishmentarians” are never comfortable with solid conservatives. They will ALWAYS look for someone who is prone to deal making to support and include in the future caucuses. Remember the names, Lynn Lundquist? Lane Shetterly? Mary Gallegos? Rob Patridge? Max Williams? And of course Ben Westlund? This kind of behavior from establishmentarians was evident when they closed ranks to stop Larry George and attempted a personal smear campaign against him. . . . One Wingard supporter has already informed NWR that ‘if we have to pull a Kim Thatcher and hand the caucus another Vic Backlund then we’ll do it.’ So now the cat is out of the bag. The conservative community has sent word to the establismentarians that, we see your bet and now we are going ‘all in.'”

Looked at from the outside, this seems an unlikely and almost perverse development. Republicans are down in the House by a single seat, and they can afford no mistakes and certainly no internal battles as they try to recoup. But internal battles seem to be the way of things anyhow.

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