Senate candidate Jeff Merkley with staffer Carla Axtman, at campaign office/Stapilus
One of the first real issues engagements in the Oregon Senate race has emerged on an unlikely subject - the decision of who will build new tanker aircraft.
There is some Oregon backdrop to this, since Boeing - which didn't get the contract, a point of heated dispute - does some work in Oregon. And since Arizona Senator John McCain, a close ally of Republican Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, has been crosswise with Boeing for some time. That generated a shot from state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, one of the Democrats running to oppose Smith in the general election. (His primary opponents are Steve Novick of Portland, Candy Neville of Eugene, David Loera of Salem, Pavel Goberman of Portland and Roger Obrist of Damascus.) After some quick back-and-forth, the Smith force withdrew, possibly recognizing they were giving Merkley a higher in-primary standing by engaging with him directly.
There was implicit in some of what Smith had to say a couple of cross-currents, one questioning Merkley's expertise but another pointing to a New York Times op-ed from 1989 which Merkley - then still most of a decade away from entry into elective politics - had written urging cancellation of work on the stealth bomber. The idea of Merkley as a national defense expert pulling space on the Times' op-ed (albeit that the Paper of Record managed to misspell his name) almost two decades ago may come as a little surprising; why he would have written the article at all may seem a little puzzling.
It requires some explanation.
Merkley is best known in Oregon now (to the extent is well known) as a state House speaker, identified with local and state issues and politics. What's less well known is his background in international relations and defense policy, a subject almost glossed over on his campaign's own website. We sat down with Merkley last week to hear a little more about that background, which - especially if he becomes the Democratic nominee and winds up battling with Smith over iraq and other subjects this fall - could be highly pertinent.
Here's how Merkley outlines his background on foreign relations - in all a good deal more extensive, it should be said, than we'd realized. (Warning: This is a long post.) (more…)