By Dave Lister
Guest Columnist Oregonlive
Ron Wyden exhibited his usual adeptness as he fielded questions from the crowd. About 40 employees of a struggling light-manufacturing company had gathered in their cafeteria to express their concerns about the economy, pose questions about why certain companies had enjoyed federal bailouts while theirs had not, and ask for help. Wyden side-stepped the hard questions, offered platitudes on the soft questions and assured the workers that keeping him in Washington, D.C., was in their best interests. After the compulsory hand-shaking that preceded his departure, the dismayed crowd realized that they’d been offered nothing substantive to address their concerns.
That was in 1984. I was there. The location was Milwaukie. The failing company was Phillips Drill, a subsidiary of Oregon Saw Chain. The company that had enjoyed the bailout was Harley Davidson. Ron Wyden was then an Oregon congressman, seeking his third term in the House of Representatives.
My recollection of that long-ago gathering was spurred by a desperate plea for financial support from the Wyden for Senate campaign that showed up in my mailbox the other day. At first I thought it a little surprising that the piece would show up at the house of a registered Republican. But then I remembered that law professor Jim Huffman, Wyden’s likely Republican rival in the general election, had told me that most of the deep-pocketed Oregon Republicans had already been contacted by the Wyden camp and been advised that, if they weren’t willing to donate to Wyden, they should at least keep their checkbooks closed.
Wyden has been in Congress for 30 years. His prelude to elective office was the founding of the Oregon Gray Panthers, an advocacy group for senior citizens. That early career move was politically brilliant. As a group, seniors turn out to vote in greater proportion than any other.
Wyden’s campaign mailer, which sports a photo of the senator in blue jeans and an open-neck collar, states that “deep-pocketed, right-wing ideologues are working overtime to defeat me.” What’s interesting about that claim is that Huffman has raised just one-tenth of what Wyden’s camp has collected so far, $3.7 million. The piece also states that “far-right Republicans are pouring out-of-state money into Oregon and lining up a candidate against me.” If I were into texting, which I’m not, that would be cause for a LOL. Two-thirds of the money raised by the Wyden campaign has come from out-of-state sources, with over half a million coming from New York and a quarter-million from Washington, D.C. I’d call that an outpouring of out-of-state money, wouldn’t you?
While Wyden’s letter urges immediate action to “keep us from going back to the disastrous policies of the Bush/Cheney years,” an included glossy insert praises the senator for “reaching across the aisle” to Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to introduce tax legislation and for fighting the Wall Street bailouts. Republicans have been working for a simplified tax code for years, and only six voted to release the second round of bailout funding.
As far as the blame Bush/Cheney mantra is concerned, that’s getting a little old. The Democrats took control of the House and Senate in 2007. Democrats have controlled Congress for three years. Democrats controlled Congress when gas prices broke through $4 a gallon, and Democrats controlled Congress during the financial collapse. When will this Congress own up to its own mistakes? Will Democrats continue to blame Bush forever?
I will say one thing, though. Wyden still looks pretty good in blue jeans. I just didn’t know they sold them on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.