Labor Day traditionally marks the start of the “real” fall election campaign, but a flurry of dueling press releases and an unusual telephone poll shows that the closely watched race for Oregon House District 54’s open seat is already starting to gear up in intensity, just as the experts predicted.
With the Legislature so closely divided by party, the focus on the generally urban district that encompasses Bend and Deschutes River Woods to the south was apparent since last fall, when veteran Republican Tim Knopp decided not to seek another term. As of early August, there were 14,688 Republicans, 12,349 Democrats and 8,893 non-affiliated voters among the 37,286 registered voters in District 54, according to the Deschutes County clerk’s office.
Last week, Democrat Judy Stiegler joined fellow Democratic candidates in proposing a plan (bendbugle.com/?p=17543) to curtail the influence of special interests in the Legislature. It would require that lobbyists and special interests turn in itemized reports twice each legislative year for public review, putting them online. It also would ban lawmakers from being paid to lobby the Legislature for a year after leaving public office.
Around the same time, Stiegler, a local lawyer, and Libertarian candidate Tristan Reisfar were anonymously sent copies of a fund-raising letter that Republican candidate Chuck Burley, a timber industry representative, sent out, apparently to lobbyist “colleagues,” that sought their help in winning his race.
“If the May primaries were any indication, the elections in November will be close,” the letter said, in part. “We need donations from the lobby in Salem that works on many issues for voters every year. DIG DEEP INTO YOUR POCKETS FOR THIS ONE!”
“I am looking forward to continuing to work with you in the coming months in Salem,” Burley also wrote in the letter.
Stiegler issued a news release Sunday, citing a similar comment Burley had made in an e-mail to lobbyists, and noting Burley’s comment to a newspaper reporter that he doesn’t see what the problem is with legislative ethics.
“It’s only August, and Chuck Burley is already attempting to cozy up to the powerful special interests that dominate the agenda in Salem,” said Stiegler’s campaign manager, Katy Gullette. “If it wasn’t clear what his priorities were, it is now – serving the big guys at the expense of the rest of us.”
Poppycock, Burley responded.
“As a legislator, not only do I represent everybody in this district, but I fully intend to work with everybody,” Burley said. “I would have an open door – I don’t care who it is, if they have an issue and want to come to talk to me about it.”
“I’ve got a lot of support from what I think is a very broad cross-section – interest groups, individuals, small business, agriculture, restaurants, senior assisted living facilities,” he said. “The list of (fund-raising) letters that I’m sending out is very long.”
Two candidates trade barbs as third watches
Burley’s letter also noted that an unnamed Libertarian (Reisfar) had entered the race – District 54 has 346 registered Libertarians, by the way – who is “confusing voters with their off-the-wall message.”
After reading the letter, Reisfar said he thought, “I’m against taxes, more government spending – what’s so off the wall about that? Then I realized – oh yeah, Chuck is for those things.”
Burley followed up with his own news release on Monday, in which he “offered his Democratic opponent a solution to her concerns with political action committees (PACs) and what she calls undue influence of `special interests.'”
Burley’s release suggested “that if Ms. Stiegler finds the intention of these groups inherently bad, she should show the public right now who has contributed to her campaign, give back the donations from PACs and `special interests’ and pledge not to accept any more of their money.”
Burley’s campaign spokesman, Bryan Iverson, said, “It’s rather hypocritical of her to criticize their undue influence while at the same time taking their money. Judy, open up your donation list today to the voters in District 54, return all special interest money and don’t take any more.”
Burley’s news release also stated that he doesn’t share the “gloom and doom” of his opponent.
“She says the system is broken,” he said. “I say working together, there is enormous opportunity for the future, and that state government can restore credibility and accountability and have responsibility to our children, our businesses and our environment.”
Stiegler didn’t continue the news-release fight with another salvo. But asked about Burley’s suggestion regarding her campaign donations, she said, “That wasn’t the point of the whole exercise. I don’t think Chuck gets it. My contributions are all transparent” – indeed, all candidates must report their campaign contributions and expenses by state-set deadlines during the fall election period, the first ending Sept. 27.
“It’s about accountability during lobbying” of the Legislature, Stiegler said.
Burley said he expects “you’ll see a lot of union support” in Stiegler’s campaign contributions, along with groups such as the League of Conservation Voters.
Reisfar, meanwhile, was quite content to let his two foes fire on each other.
“The unfortunate aspect of this discussion is that these two are slinging their arrows, and it isn’t even Labor Day yet,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to seeing what the next two months will bring us.”
Reisfar said he’s promised not to spend more than $10,000 in his campaign, and that lobbying “is an unfortunate part of politics today. … When the size of government is significantly reduced, the lobbyists will have nothing to gain from spending large amounts of money trying to influence elections.”
“Until then, electing representatives like myself, who will represent the individual citizen of District 54, and not special interests, is the best solution,” he said. “Adding further regulation to the already overwhelming election process would only make it harder for the average person to get involved.”
Reisfar also claimed Republican candidates were being urged by state party leaders not to participate in any joint forums where a Libertarian takes part. “They’re fearful,” he said, adding that Burley had “bailed” on a Sept. 15 Rotary Club forum for that reason. Burley denied the charge, saying his decisions are based on his schedule. “I’m trying to rearrange my schedule” to attend that event, he added.
Poll parcels out barbs on candidates
Meanwhile, some District 54 residents have been called in recent days for a 15-minute telephone survey by Mountain West Research, that asks which of the three candidates the respondent would vote for, but also offers negative statements on both Stiegler and Burley, and asks if those raise minor or major doubts to whom they support.
The surveyor noted, for example, that Stiegler, while on the state Board of Education, “allowed athletes to play with failing grades” and questions whether she’s “too liberal for the area,” having supported Measure 30. “If elected, she could not be trusted to not raise taxes,” the caller suggests.
As for Burley, it pointed to his role on the Bend Metro Park and Rec Board and states he supported a “Taj Mahal” recreation center. Regarding his day job assisting the timber industry, the surveyor said he “opposed a federal ban on cutting big trees” and “is in the lined pocket of corporate interests.” It even brings up the lawsuit brought against the park district by fired executive director Carrie Ward and says that could cost the district’s taxpayers $100,000.
On the positive side, the pollster listed various reasons to support Stiegler, both on the issue of closing corporate loopholes and that she would “work to hold corporate polluters responsible.” It also asked if the fact she “grew up in a poor family, lived in a trailer and knows struggling” to make ends meet would mean the call recipient viewed her more favorably.
At first, all three candidates denied any involvement in Mountain West Research’s survey – and in fact, Reisfar’s wife, along with a Bend.com / Bugle reporter, were among those who received the calls. Tina Reisfar noted on her caller ID that the call had come from Provo Utah, and asked for a female voter (the reporter’s survey call asked for the male head of household).
Gary Schiers, director of Mountain West Research in Pocatello, Idaho, confirmed that his firm was the one doing the survey, but said he could not disclose on who’s behalf. As for the style of the survey, he said, “They do it for a reason – list the positive and negative for every candidate.”
Stiegler said Tuesday she had inquired about the survey and learned that indeed, “that was my poll,” on behalf of her campaign. She said she wasn’t aware at first because the polling firm they hired was in Washington, D.C.
“That must be who they hired to do that actual survey,” she said. “I honestly hadn’t known. I’m only the candidate. It was all left to the researchers.”