Reforming Oregon’s Political Corruption

Right From the Start

There is a political reality in Oregon that apparently continues to escape both Republicans and conservatives – the two are not necessarily consubstantial. There are simply more liberals and Democrats than there are Republicans and conservatives. It is nice to think about independents as being the centrist swing vote but in Oregon – well at least in the Portland metro area where most of them live and vote – that is simply not true. In Portland, a significant portion of independents are so because they don’t think that Democrats are liberal enough. But when it comes to voting they provide the Democrats an overwhelming majority of their votes.

For instance, in the 2012 elections, there were 443,665 registered voters in Multnomah County – 235,946, or 53.2%, of who were registered Democrats and 106,445 were independents. But in the election, Pres. Barack Obama received 274,887 votes or 75.3% of the votes cast. If every last registered Democrat in Multnomah County actually showed up and voted for Mr. Obama – which they didn’t – it would mean that Mr. Obama also received 38,941 or 36.6% of the votes by independents. However, the records show that only 82.5% of registered voters turned out. Assuming that to be spread equally amongst Democrats, Republicans and independents, it would mean that Democrats delivered 194,655 votes to Mr. Obama, with the remaining 80,232 votes coming from independents. Again applying the 82.5% equally meant that of the 87,817 votes cast by independents over 80 percent went to Mr. Obama.

Like it or not there are more of them than there are of us. And not by just a little, but by a lot. They not only have more votes; they have more money available. State and local governments collect and remit to Oregon’s public employees unions over $130 Million each election cycle. Virtually all of that money is available for political purposes because the public employee unions make no significant effort at recruiting – they already have agency shops in most state and local government agencies. They spend little on bargaining because they bargain with those whose elections have been secured with union contributions. The primary activities of the public employee unions are political. Little of the money expended by public employee unions is required to be reported under Oregon law. The unions undertake candidate recruitment, opposition research, polling, voter identification and tracking, and poll watching all of which inures to the benefit of Democrats exclusively. The cost of such services runs in the millions each election cycle and the bill for all of it is paid for by the unions – none of it is required to be reported.

In addition, the unions engage in issue identification, research and “education.” This latter term includes campaigns against candidates and ballot issues but are not reported because they do not technically ask voters to vote for or against the candidate or measure. None of these expenditures are required to be disclosed or reported and their costs again run into the millions each election cycle and again inures almost exclusively to the benefits of Democrats and liberal causes.

No political or other organization – or even a combination of political and other organizations –can, on a recurring basis, raise and expend the amount of money on political operations as do the public employee unions. And again, not by just a little, but by a lot.

As a result, the Democrats hold every statewide office; they have recaptured a majority in the state House of Representatives and maintained their majority in the state Senate. The Democrats own Oregon and the public employee unions own the Democrats.

All of the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), the continuing increase in the cost of government services while those services are being reduced, the quality of education going down while the costs go up, and the unrelenting march towards higher taxes and fees are pointless because the public employee unions are the principle beneficiaries of such waste and corruption. The ongoing bias against business in general coupled with the insistence that government should choose the winners and losers – particularly in the area of energy production – continues to drive business out of the state, to marginalize the growth of businesses already here and mitigate against the ability to attract new business to the state.

There is serious work to be done if Oregon is to ever regain its long past, but storied, reputation as a paradise for entrepreneurs. It is obviously not going to be done by Democrats and public employee unions and, therefore, the task falls to Republicans, conservatives and the business community. But instead there is an internecine battle within the Republican Party and business organizations as to which faction should control, which agenda should be pursued and which leader or group of leaders will deliver them to the Promised Land. The simple answer is none of them because they all have different versions of the same theme – give me your money and I will deliver a majority. No they won’t. They don’t have enough money, they don’t have enough organization and they don’t control the levers of government. They may periodically deliver a fleeting victory only to see it nullified in the next election cycle – think about the Republicans achieving a tie in the House for the 2011-12 session only to lose it again in the 2012 elections.

Unless and until Republicans, conservatives and the business community are prepared to undertake the hard work to cut off the head of the snake – to deprive the public employees unions of the government collected and remitted tens of millions of dollars each election cycle – these abuses will continue and Oregon will continue to be, in essence, a one party state. Until the Democrats and the public employee unions are forced to raise and collect money in the same fashion as every other political organization in Oregon, the imbalance that is inherent in the political system will continue.

It’s not that I disagree with the agenda of many of the business groups or for that matter much of the Republican platform. I simply disagree with their priorities. All of their good intentions matter not if the balance in the political system is tipped substantially, and perhaps permanently, in one direction. Remember, you cannot clean a waterway until you first remove the source of pollution. And you cannot cleanse Oregon’s political system unless you force the public employee unions into the same position as every other political organization.