Sen. Ben Westlund (I-Bend) announced last week that he was withdrawing his quixotic quest to be elected governor as an independent in very partisan Oregon. A month ago, as various groups were submitting their signature sheets to qualify initiative measures for this fall’s ballot, Westlund was boldly bragging about nearing the requisite number of signatures to qualify as an independent candidate. He was preaching that Oregon wanted a change and that Oregonians were “bullish” about his candidacy and his chances were great to win in a three-way race with incumbent Kulongoski and his rival Ron Saxton, who had already closed the “incumbency” gap as evidenced by state wide polls.
So what changed?
Well, it certainly wasn’t the polling numbers. The polls have consistently shown that Westlund was unknown and uninteresting, except to a small band of special interests and the mainstream media. Oregon’s leading newspapers have been fawning over Westlund’s candidacy, giving him virtually unlimited “earned” (as opposed to “paid”) coverage. It is difficult to tell whether these statewide newspapers actually liked Westlund and his principles, or they were just enamored with the idea of an independent candidate and all of the mischief that such a candidacy could cause.
And when Oregon’s newspapers are enamored of an idea, they never ask the hard questions that might dispel the myth that they are so intent upon creating. Sure they asked about his health — Westlund is a cancer survivor — but that was simply in hopes of portraying him as a sympathetic hero battling both political and personal demons. Too bad, but when you are looking for “heroes” you may want to look somewhere else.
Here’s a series of hard questions that none of the media asked? “Sen. Westlund, have you cut a deal with one of the candidates to endorse him? Does that deal include appointment to a full time public office? Will such an appointment increase your PERS benefits since such benefits are based primarily on you last years of service?”
And yet there is plenty of evidence out there that should make those questions be on the tip of every reporter’s inquiring mind. First, then-Rep. Westlund lobbied the House Republican leadership hard to become co-chair of the powerful budget committee. He then sold the Republicans out in their attempts to provide a balanced budget without a tax increase. In doing so he preserved funding for “the cultural trust” — a pet project for which he then applied to become the governor appointed director of that state agency. When Oregon’s voters twice rejected the Westlund supported tax increases, the legislature was forced to cut the funding for his “cultural trust” and thus eliminated his coveted position.
Later, when Sen. Bev Clarno (R-Bend) resigned her seat, Westlund appeared before the Deschutes County Republican Committee lobbying for their support for his bid to be appointed to fill Clarno’s seat. In the process, Westlund told members of the committee that he would “represent the Republican Platform better than the other GOP candidates.” Westlund got their support and promptly stabbed them in the back by proposing a $1.2B tax increase with Democrat Sen. Kurt Schraeder. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he joined Portland’s uber liberal Sen. Kate Brown in proposing to ignore the popular vote of Oregonians limiting marriage as being between one man and one woman. They sponsored legislation that gave all of the rights, duties and privileges afforded to married couples carte blanche to homosexual couples. Regardless of what you may think about either of those propositions, they sure as heck did not reflect the Republican Platform to which Westlund had pledged his fidelity.
But here comes the big hint for the mainstream media as to why they might want to ask those “hard” questions. Portland television station KGW and the Associated Press noted that “Westlund told reporters that he didn’t want to be a “spoiler” candidate — in other words, skimming off just enough votes from Democratic Governor Kulongoski camp to give Republican challenger Ron Saxton the victory.”
Well duh! The polls have consistently shown that Westlund was a drag on Kulongoski’s numbers, not on Saxton’s. But that was always the case. Westlund never stood a chance of becoming governor. He was always a spoiler candidate. Maybe when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to spoil the Republican’s chances — only the Democrats — he had a change of heart. Oh, by the way, Westlund said he would make a gubernatorial endorsement at a later date. Any guesses as to whom he will endorse?
So here is the final hard question. “Sen. Westlund, when you make that gubernatorial endorsement, will you make the Shermanesque promise that if nominated by that candidate you will not serve in a paid public office?” Don’t hold your breath. Oregon’s mainstream media won’t ask the question, and Westlund won’t answer it affirmatively.