Waiting for Wu; then election or special convention

by Brendan Monaghan

By now, the headlines placing Oregon once again in the national news should be pretty well known. David Wu is resigning after twelve years in Congress following allegations of sexual assault (and driving on the wrong side of the road, breaching security at PDX, throwing a temper tantrum at a campaign meeting, mysteriously obtaining prescription painkillers, and wearing a tiger costume). Wu himself said that he will not resign immediately, preferring to stay on until the current debt ceiling crisis is settled- which sets his departure from office to just before the Second Coming. This puts Oregon, and voters in the First Congressional District in particular, in a position many are not quite familiar with: how to choose his successor.

Recall the last Oregon politician to make national headlines (who coincidentally also had to resign as a result), Bob Packwood. After he resigned from the Senate, the Once and Current Governor called an election to choose Packwood’s replacement in January, 1996. Now, as he did then, Governor Kitzhaber has two options (assuming Wu ever does actually resign): call an election within 80 days of resignation and force the major parties to endorse candidates at a special convention or wait until after 80 days and force full-blown primaries. Speculation immediately commenced as to which door Kitzhaber would choose- currently leaning towards an election: with a primary and then general election.

There are several reasons why Governor Kitzhaber should choose a later election and a primary, not the least of which is a primary speaks for a broader section of the party itself.  One of the dangers of a closed convention, in which only precinct committee persons (PCP’s) can vote, is that friends and supporters of one candidate or another- who could have a stronger personal or professional connection than the general public- could unduly influence the results and stack the deck in favor of him or her.

A primary, on the other hand, is by its very nature a reflection of the intentions and will of the people within the party.  Not just the leadership or even the rank and file, but the great silent- if dormant- majority of partisans whose connection may be limited to checking a box on a form and voting every two years.  Republicans voting in greater numbers in a primary would be far more likely to choose a candidate on other factors- electability, professional experience, shared philosophy and beliefs- than an emotional attachment. Obviously, it’s much harder to stack the deck when there are considerably more cards in play.

Oregonians are proud of their primary system, as well they should be. They practically invented 100 years ago what was eventually adopted as a national model of candidate selection. They did it to guarantee that party candidates for high office would no longer be chosen in smoke-filled rooms. They did it to break the power of big machines, party bosses, and candidates’ henchmen who signed up to vote the day before.  A primary election is, on the party level, the truest embodiment of the will of the people and a reflection of our representative republic.  There is no need to return to the bad old days- not for the expediency of a snap election and not for running the risk of nominating a candidate whose influence was magnified in a convention echo chamber.

The citizens of Oregon’s First Congressional District deserve new leadership and hopefully, Republicans can provide it. Republican primary voters should keep the Buckley Rule in mind and vote for the most conservative candidate in the race who can win.

Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State University, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program. Brendan is studying political science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.