I was just sitting down to write about the predictability of politics in Oregon – in this case the approaching resignation of Bill Bradbury as Secretary of State. When another predictable event occurred – the announcement by Republican turncoat Ben Westlund that he has completed his opportunistic migration from Republican to Independent to Democrat. The probability that those two events are interdependent now looms large.
Okay, let’s review the bidding to date. One of the constants in the twenty plus years of Democrat gubernatorial rule is the routine resignation of a Democrat incumbent of a statewide office prior to completion of his/her term but shortly before the next election for that office. It routinely occurs at the judicial appellate level so that the governor can ensure that another liberal from the Portland/Eugene corridor can be appointed and thus run as the “incumbent.” It has also been true of the Secretary of State’s office ever since the Democrats regained that office in 1985. Democrat Barbara Roberts resigned prior to completion of her term and Democrat Phil Keisling was appointed. He ran as incumbent and was elected for another term in 1992 and again in 1996. Keisling then resigned before the completion of his last term and Democrat Bill Bradbury was appointed in 1999 so that he could run as the incumbent in 2000 and again in 2004. Bradbury is constitutionally prohibited from serving a third term and so, with the regularity shown by Democrats of late, he should resign sometime next fall in time for Gov. Kulongoski to appoint another liberal Democrat who can then run as an incumbent.
Every Democrat with dreams of statewide office is currying favor with Kulongoski in hopes of winning his support and the easy path to public office through appointment and subsequent campaigns as the then-incumbent. Included in those Democrat ranks are Sen. Majority Leader Kate Brown, who really pines for Earl Blumenauer’s congressional seat, current State Treasurer Randall Edward’s who is looking to step up as governor himself but needs a higher profile position from which to run, and newly elected Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley.
Enter Ben Westlund, former Republican state senator, former Independent gubernatorial candidate and current newly minted Democrat. You remember Ben Westlund. He recently made the Don Quixote run for governor as an Independent to the general applause of the state’s major newspapers and the collective yawns of the state’s voters. You remember Ben Westlund. He was the former state representative from Bend, who was appointed to fill state senator Bev Clarno’s seat after promising the Deschutes County Republicans that he would “represent the Republican Platform better than the other GOP candidates” and then went out and promptly stabbed his Republican colleagues in the back by joining Democrat Sen. Kurt Schraeder in proposing a $1.2B tax increase. And you remember Ben Westlund who, when he terminated his abortive campaign for governor, noted to 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.” And finally, you will remember Ben Westlund, at that same moment, promising to subsequently endorse a gubernatorial candidate and, to no one’s surprise, then endorsing Democrat Ted Kulongoski.
I asked at that time whether any commitments had been made by Kulongoski to Westlund to induce him to withdraw his candidacy – polls showed that Westlund was draining off votes from Kulongoski. I asked whether Westlund would make the Shermanesque promise that if nominated by Kulongoski to a paid political office he would refuse to accept. No such commitment was forthcoming, and, in fact, Westlund noted during his announcement of Democrat conversion that he “would not rule out a run for higher office.”
So the question arises, will Kulongoski reward Westlund for withdrawing from the governor’s race (thus assisting Kulongoski’s re-election) by nominating him to serve as Secretary of State when Bradbury resigns? And the answer to that question, and probably much to Westlund’s surprise, is a big “NO!”
First of all, there are a legion of political aspirants that have been loyal Democrats all of their political lives and Kulongoski will most assuredly reward them long before he does a political turncoat like Westlund. Second of all, while most politicians are opportunists, few are as blatant and self-delusional as Westlund who routinely denies the obviousness of his own actions. That unattractive transparency makes him a political liability. And finally, despite half-hearted welcome notes from Democrat legislative leaders, these seasoned politicians know Westlund well. Most importantly, they know what Republican Senate Leader Ted Ferrioli wryly said of Westlund’s announcement to be absolutely true. Ferrioli noted, “I can only wish him all the best success and hope that he is able to do for the Democrats what he has done for Republicans.” That was Ferrioli’s polite way of saying to the Democrats, “Watch your backs.”
In the end, while Westlund may think he is deserving, may think that he was promised, may have been actually promised, he will find that other politicians are no more trustworthy than he is himself. Look for Westlund to get an appointment to some state agency but not to some important elected political post.