Of Climate Change and Campaign Donations

A Republican decides to vote for Kate Brown

I am a registered Republican who has worked with both Kate Brown and Knute Buehler. Based on this personal experience, although I wish Gov. Brown were more out front on issues, I will vote for her.   

I was excited for Buehler when he ran for secretary of state in 2012 because one of his top three promises was campaign finance reform. Oregon is one of only four states in the U.S. to not have campaign limits. On a per-capita basis, our political campaigns are expensive, with big money donors having a disproportionate say in election outcomes. This disenfranchises voters and threatens our democracy.

Knute lost that campaign to Brown in 2012. But in 2014 he won a seat in the Oregon Legislature, and based on his prior campaign I asked Knute to be a supporter of Senate Joint Resolution 5 in 2015 to refer campaign finance reform to the voters.

But “no,” he told me he’d changed his mind, saying he’d come to see campaign money “like hydraulics. If you stop it one place it just flows through another hole.” Of course, that waffle logic could be applied to just about anything worth solving.

Buehler once promised to reform campaign donations, but given the chance reversed course while at the same time Brown officially endorsed and testified during legislative hearings in favor of campaign finance limits. That bill failed because not a single Republican would join, including Buehler. 

I’ve also worked on several Oregon legislative climate change measures. Hoping again for a “moderate” Republican, I asked Knute for his support.

His “no” logic shocked me. He said he wasn’t worried about climate change, that if the snow loss shut down the skiing in Central Oregon, people could instead play golf, and if the snowmelt that supplied irrigation went away, then Central Oregon could draw on a massive underground aquifer. This matches his dismal record on environmental protection. 

It is the legislature that writes law, not the governor. But in her quiet way, Brown has been a steady hand at encouraging climate resilience, emission reductions and other critical reforms; she can be counted on to sign reforms into law. 

I wasn’t going to write this but was prompted by Buehler’s highly negative and misleading campaign advertising. Buehler’s portrayal of Gov. Brown is not the Brown I know. Buehler’s toxic campaign rhetoric may be protected speech — but it also cultivates division and diminishes our shared sense of common purpose.

Now he’s received $2.5 million from just one donor; how many votes will this negative campaign money buy?  

As someone who studies the political culture of Oregon, I can report with confidence that a strong majority of Oregonians, including a sizable percentage of Republican voters, supports limiting campaign contributions and reducing our statewide greenhouse gas emissions. The problem in the legislature is the current rigid tribalism combined with closed Republican primaries — and unlimited campaign donations. 

So is Buehler really a moderate? His sad legislative record on critical issues, as well as his current campaign negativity, says otherwise.

Someday we may get another progressive Republican like Tom McCall, but Knute has not distinguished himself as the one. Gov. Brown is clearly the better choice. Let her have a second term in office. 

Tom Bowerman is a fifth-generation Oregonian, a graduate of UO in architecture, a retired designer-builder and the director of PolicyInteractive Research. He writes this viewpoint as private citizen.

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