Eugene Weekly : News : 9.6.07

The Little Guy Runs
Novick still seeks U.S. Senate seat

Steve Novick is not the U.S. Senate candidate who is getting the big political endorsements. Gov. Kulongoski and former Gov. Barbara Roberts along with six state legislators have decided to support his only opponent thus far in the Democratic Primary — state Speaker of the Oregon House Jeff Merkley. But Novick, who was in town for some informal campaigning last week, seems to relish his underdog position. In fact, turning apparent drawbacks into assets seems to be one of Novick’s hallmarks.

Steve Novick

Novick relies heavily on punchlines and clever commentary as well as a anti-Gordon Smith stance. “He’s a nice man, but a bad senator,” he often says, in an allusion to the moment in the Wizard of Oz when the man behind the curtain declares, “Actually I am a good man; I’m just a very bad wizard.”

When it comes to other Democrats, from Peter DeFazio and Ron Wyden to his opponent Merkley, Novick gives praise where it’s due. Merkley, he says, “is a good guy,” but he calls him a “traditional politician.” According to Novick, Smith himself is a “highly talented traditional politician,” and it’s going to take something a little different to beat him. Novick compares himself to people like the now deceased Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota whose grassroots campaign was successful despite his being outspent.

Wellstone, he points out, didn’t have the advantage of the Internet. “If Paul Wellstone could win, I have no excuse for losing.” Novick, in addition to his blog and website (, also has Facebook and MySpace pages, a route neither Merkley or Smith appear to have gone.

Novick is indeed a little different. He’s a 4′ 9″ junior high school dropout who graduated from the UO at age 18 and Harvard law by age 21. He has a metal hook where his left hand would be, and he sports shiny Doc Marten boots to give him ankle support since, in addition to the missing arm, he was born missing the fibulas in his legs. He describes himself as “inherently memorable.”

He may lack a resume in holding a political office, but his history – from lead litigator against the polluters responsible for New York state’s toxic Love Canal to his role as a key figure in reinvigorating the Democrats in Oregon’s State Senate – is impressive.

He wants to parlay his background in Democratic activism into a U.S. Senate seat, using slogans like: “Because the working people need a senator who will fight for them, and a fighter needs a hard left hook.”

He follows that one up quickly with another one-liner: “Every politician says he’s for the little guy, but when I say it you can believe it.” Novick’s lower legs are so short, they don’t reach the ground when he sits in a chair.

But when Novick starts talking about the issues, it’s his intelligence and political analysis that are noticeable, not his stature or left hook. He has concrete answers on his four main issues: health care costs; global warming; the war in Iraq; and taxes and balancing the budget. It comes as no great surprise that many of his answers are quite the opposite of Smith’s policies.

One of Novick’s innovative budget answers is his suggestion to stop funding the International Space Station. According to Novick, 50 percent of the public says to cut the space program. He says the Space Station costs “billion of dollars over time” but has “no scientific value.”

On the subject of global warming and the environment, his caution in responding to questions about logging may come from his youth in Lane County’s timber towns like Yoncalla and Cottage Grove. “Timber jobs paid a decent wage,” he says, and logging towns “are hard hit.” At the same time he also says “I’m rather dubious about cutting more old growth” and “there are ways to increase the timber harvest without cutting old growth.”

Can the underfunded underdog (he’s raised $200,000 to Smith’s $3.5 million) win the primary, let alone beat the incumbent Smith? Novick thinks so. Comparing himself to DeFazio, he says, “Only a short, fiery populist from Lane County could beat Gordon Smith.”