Eugene Weekly : News : 5.8.08

EW Election Endorsements

Here are our selected recommended picks for the May 20 primary. We have not included uncontested races (see Slant this week).

• U.S. President — Barack Obama (D)

Our nation has been battered and bruised by more than seven years of inept and wrong-headed neocons in the White House backed by a timid, rubber-stamp Congress, and it’s time for a major shake-up. Of the two candidates left in the Democratic race, Barack Obama holds the greater promise for bringing about change on the domestic front and polishing our tarnished reputation in the world community. Hillary Clinton carries too much baggage, reflected by recent low poll ratings in the important “trust” category. She has not run nearly as good a campaign as Obama, and her latest blunder is supporting McCain’s idiotic idea of cutting federal fuel taxes for the summer. Obama’s charisma and rhetorical skill are vital to beating McCain in November and also to pushing through his agenda on health care and economic reform, getting us out of Iraq, progress on critical environmental issues and elevating our national debate on race and class. Obama has inspired a new generation of young Americans and appeals to independents and a surprising number of Republicans. Is he our best chance for democracy at home and more peace and goodwill around the world? We have high hopes.

• U.S. Senator — Steve Novick (D)

Change is the theme for this year’s election, but the question for the Democratic Senate primary isn’t just who can create change, but who can beat incumbent Republican Sen. Gordon Smith in November?

Outsider candidate Steve Novick is EW‘s pick as a guy who can do both. Novick is strong on the environment and healthcare, strongly anti-war and most importantly not afraid to take a strong position on controversial issues like same-sex marriage (he’s for it).

Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley is the mainstream candidate with a good record in the House (except for that pro-Iraq War vote in 2003, albeit with a mild disclaimer) and the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but Novick’s innovative campaign has shown he can get things done and do it a little differently. (And the whole little guy with a hook thing is pretty unforgettable).

Eugene’s Candy Neville, with no political experience, went from being the outside, outsider candidate to a real contender in the race, with one media poll even showing her with a slight lead over Merkley (both trailing Novick). Kudos to Neville for making a strong showing, and EW hopes to see her making waves in local politics in the future.

• Oregon Attorney General — John Kroger (D)

A desire for real dynamic change in the Oregon AG’s office is driving our endorsement of John Kroger. Now a Lewis & Clark law professor, formerly a prosecutor in New York and D.C., he advocates aggressive enforcement of Oregon’s environmental laws and aggressive science-based treatment for meth and other drug addictions. Kroger sees the AG as the lead lawyer for the people of the state, not the quiet counsel for the state agencies or the powerful business establishments of Oregon. Maybe this is not fair to his opponent, Greg McPherson, Portland lawyer and state legislator who has taken on some tough issues, such as the restructuring of PERS, and who has a good environmental record. But Kroger wins our vote. McPherson’s law firm represented Enron, and Kroger prosecuted Enron when he was in the U.S. Justice Department on leave from Lewis & Clark.

• Oregon Secretary of State — Vicki Walker (D)

State Senator Vicki Walker is known for being an outspoken and meticulous crusader for justice. She’s fiercely for government accountability and not afraid to go against the status quo. These are qualities EW wants to see in the person charged with overseeing state audits, elections and records.

On her résumé is her work to expose mismanagement at SAIF Corp., as well as expose former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt’s sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl. Walker has spoken up for schools and workers, and together with fellow candidate Sen. Rick Metsger, she authored a Senate bill ending a tax loophole that let utilities keep millions of dollars in taxes that they were collecting from customers.

Metsger and Sen. Kate Brown are also strong candidates. Brown was state Senate majority leader for 3 years and has strong name recognition as well as the most funding and endorsements. But Walker is the person mostly likely to stand up and fight for Oregonians.

• Lane County Sheriff — Russ Burger

We wish Burger had a strong challenger. Facing a fiscal crisis, this county needs a good debate about priorities. Pot raids or catching car thieves? Police computers or jail beds? Using city money to jail shoplifters or wife beaters? Alas, Burger’s two challengers in this race offer more conservative flakiness than good ideas or experience.

• North Lane County Commissioner — Rob Handy

If you think Lane County is headed in the right direction, vote for incumbent Bobby Green. We don’t think it is. County government has been in the grip of conservative ideologues for far too long, and they’ve run it into the ground. If the county had referred a progressive income tax balanced with money for treatment and prevention, Eugene voters could have put it over the top. As it was, Green and other county conservatives stubbornly rejected any compromise with their flat tax for prisons. They are now trying to drive the county over the financial cliff while they continue to throw bags of public money to corporate tax breaks and developer subsidies. Handy, a longtime neighborhood activist and advocate of public accountability, the environment and livability, offers a chance for real change. Voters should seize it.

• Eugene Mayor — Kitty Piercy

Developers, land speculators and timber, construction and gravel interests have dumped a record $200,000 into closet Republican Jim Torrey’s campaign to oust moderate Democrat Kitty Piercy. As a return on their investment, the development interests will expect radical urban sprawl and environmental destruction. Eugene voters should rise above the empty promises of more spending with less taxes and slick TV attack ads. Eugene is more than potholes and prisons. Piercy recognizes this and is moving Eugene towards a greener and more livable future, for all Eugene, not just the developers.

• Eugene City Council, Ward 7 — Andrea Ortiz

Ortiz is a moderate swing vote on a divided City Council that special interests would like to yank over to their side by putting John Crane in office. Developers and sand and gravel interests have stuffed Crane’s pockets full of campaign money. Like Mayor Piercy, Ortiz has frustrated progressives with some votes, but she is progressive more often than not. Ortiz offers a rare Latina and working class perspective in local government and has served her ward well.

• EWEB Commission, Wards 1&8 — Joann Ernst

We favor the challenger over the incumbent in this race. Incumbent John Simpson is a strong supporter of EWEB’s move to Roosevelt in 2010, and going ahead with EWEB’s new $85.5 million bond sale without voter approval. He also approved the list of five pro-development members to the nine-member Community Advisory Team (CAT) that will recommend what to do with EWEB’s surplus riverfront property. Joann Ernst does not have Simpson’s experience on the EWEB Commission, but we like her progressive community activism. She’s skeptical about the Roosevelt project’s design, she thinks a project imposing such a large burden on the backs of ratepayers should have gone to a public vote (she even gathered signatures in the failed effort), and she’s puzzled why EWEB stacked the CAT with business and development interests. Ernst has 15 years experience in technical environmental work, and that combined with her dedication to public process wouldmake her a welcome addition to the commission.

• EWEB Commission, Wards 2&3 — Bob Cassidy

Two candidates, Bob Cassidy and Maurie Denner, are competing for an open seat being vacated by Patrick Lanning. Cassidy is our clear favorite in this race. He’s been attending EWEB Commission meetings off and on for 10 years, has testified numerous times on various EWEB issues regarding rate structure and other issues and has been a strong advocate for reducing our city’s consumption of power and water. He is endorsed by Lanning, Kitty Piercy, Alan Zelenka, Betty Taylor, Susie Smith and Sandra Bishop. He also has several decades of experience in credit union banking and management. Denner is a retired elementary school administrator currently serving as interim principal at Gilham School. He served on the Eugene Police Commission for eight years, and, backed by business and development interests, he unsuccessfully challenged Betty Taylor for the Council Ward 2 seat in 2004. He has a long record of public service, but he has never attended an EWEB board meeting and says he has “not thought through the rate structure issues” that Cassidy has been working on foryears.

• EWEB Commission, Wards 6&7 — Rich Cunningham

Mel Menegat is retiring from the board, and Rich Cunningham and Larry Newby are the candidates. Until two years ago the seat was held by Sandra Bishop, and she is favoring Cunningham in this race, as are County Commissioners Pete Sorenson and Bobby Green, Mayor Kitty Piercy and Sen. Vicki Walker. We agree Cunningham is the better choice. Newby has a long record of public service and says he has been following EWEB issues for years though he has never attended an EWEB board meeting. Unlike Cunningham, Newby is very happy with the CAT appointees and does not favor public votes on major EWEB financial commitments. Both candidates are pro-environment, but we see Cunningham as more of a change agent. “It is disgraceful,” he says, “that the city of Eugene has more strongly worded environmental protection policies than EWEB.”

• State Measures 51 & 52, Crime Victim’s Rights — NO

We’re wary of Oregon’s habit of constantly amending our Constitution. That’s what both these measures do, with the stated purpose of giving crime victims remedies to enforce nominal rights they already have received in the Oregon Constitution. Victims rights is a politically charged area these days. Attorney General Hardy Myers led the effort and the law enforcement community joins him in supporting these measures. So does Kevin Mannix, who led the campaign to put the crime victims rights measures in the Constitution in 1999. The ACLU and criminal defense attorney groups are not actively supporting the measures, but neither are they opposing. As one experienced prosecutor told us, “I am voting for these measures, but I don’t think it is earth-shaking if they lose.”

• State Measure 53, Seizing Property — NO

In 2000 voters wisely passed Measure 3 to ban the government from seizing property without a conviction and to prohibit the use of forfeiture proceeds for law enforcement, instead dedicating the money to drug treatment and education. Ironically, once the measure passed, seizures dried up. Law enforcement had little interest in pot-related property seizures if it wasn’t seizing the money for its own budget. Measure 53 would again allow some seizures without a conviction and would allow the money to go to law enforcement. But if it wasn’t a public safety priority when the cops wouldn’t get the money, why should it be one now?