Republicans Backlund & Starr supporting Democrat Chuck Lee

There's some partisan cross-pollination going on in House District 25 (Salem/Keizer).

Democratic candidate Charles Lee has secured the support of two well-known GOP lawmakers: outgoing Senator Charles Starr (defeated in the May primary by Lee's opponent, Larry George) and former Representative Vic Backlund (defeated last time around by fellow Republican Kim Thatcher.)

Lee will host a tribute to the two as a campaign fundraiser. Tickets to the fundraising event start at $100, presumably hoping to draw many of Backlund and Starr's fans to an event supporting a Democrat.

The Statesman-Journal mentioned the event:

Thatcher speculated (on the radio Sunday morning) that Starr and Backlund are bitter over their primary losses, and retaliating against the party.

Question: How does this sound to you? Principle or pique? Discuss.

  • Jim Nelson (unverified)

    Over at NWRepublican they have posted a letter from Senator Starr stating that he has backed-out of the event. If you read nearly 100 posts over three blogs on the topic you will find Starr got pounded by the GOP faithful.

    He implies that he was lied to about the event.

    But my question is what are Democrats doing hosting a tribute to Senator Starr, a radical right-winger who has made crazy, homophobic statements while in the state senate. Do we really want to celebrate that kind of career? Is that what the Democrats hold up to the community and say we support?

    Starr's career has been one of extreme anti-union, anti-environment, and gay-bashing activism. He basically wants Christianity as the state church.

    On the NWrepublican they state that Charles Lee is a pro-life, anti-tax Democrat. Is that they kind of person we want inside our House caucus? What is that all about?

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)

    Indeed, now that Starr has backed off attending this event, this could blow up in Lee's face. Having a $100 per plate dinner to honor a Republican who refuses to show up while denouncing his involvment is not a recipe for good fund-raising.

    Meanwhile, Jeff Merkley or whoever runs the FuturePac website may want to do some quick HTML editing before Lee's party turns into a PR nightmare.

    As for Lee being solidly pro-life, what would one expect from the president of a Catholic school, whose Board of Directors include Kevin Mannix and Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz?

    • Wes
  • wayne (unverified)

    Clearly Starr and Backlund are very bitter, and not a good reflection on them personally or professionally. I would be pissed if they were Democrats, but it is funny happening to the righties. But looks as if Starr lost his nerve.

    My question is why didn't this candidate Charles Lee have this event confirmed, now he looks either incompetent or unethical. In a seat that is overwhelmingly Republican, a misstep like this can be fatal. How do you explain that your honored guest didn't understand that he was coming to your fundraiser, even after the invitations went out?

    Maybe I am listening too much to the rumors that Starr and Backlund aren't the brightest bulbs:maybe they are really smarter then people think and set Lee up on this.

  • SFT (unverified)

    Assuming the letter on NWRepublican is correct, there could be some major fall-out.

    Starr and Backlund look like angry men trying to get even with some folks that took them out, but then caved-into like wet-paper bags under the political pressure.

    Charles Lee looks like he can't run a competent campaign, or else he lied to some old men.

    Republican leadership looks like a bunch of thugs that strong-arm people.

    Future Pac looks like they support and endorse having disingenuous tributes to anti-union, anti-environment homophobes if it makes political points (great to know they will pander even before they get the majority) -- and o'yeah, and they don't have good management over their campaigns.

    Wow, Oregon politics is really entertaining. It's like watching the Keystone Cops in color.

  • (Show?)

    First, let me set the record straight on this event. Senator Starr was approached in good faith in a completely up front manner by Charles Lee about this event. While no one in the Lee camp wants to or is going to publicly criticize Starr, the fact is he's not being honest in his withdrawal statement. He agreed to participate in this event exactly as it was announced. He withdrew after he received heavy, heavy criticism and pressure from Republicans not to participate. Which leads me to my second point both in response to Jim Nelson's comment above as well as a comment on our website and numerous e-mails I've received....

    If you're looking for the answer to why genuine bi-partisan cooperation is in short supply, look no further than this event. I understand why some folks don't like Starr. I agree with him, and the caucus I work for agrees with him on well, just about nothing. He has taken many positions and made many statements I find even outrageous. However, Charles Lee has a long respectful relationship with both Starr and Vic Backlund that goes beyond partisan or party labels. Lee has many good relationships with Republicans that he has developed as both a local leader in Keizer and as a statewide Catholic leader. Frankly, that's one of the top reasons he as a legitimate shot at winning in a district with a 14% Republican registration edge.

    But the reaction to this event has been crazy - from the right wingers over on the Republican blogs absolutely trashing Starr for even looking the same direction as a Democrat even after they helped defeat him in the the far left criticizing Lee and the entire House Dems caucus for being sell outs for even thinking of doing an event with a Republican. Folks this is nuts. I work for one of the most progressive, principled, fighting for working people caucuses in the nation. They work together amazingly well and care passionately about the issues I see discussed on this blog everyday. The caucus I work for is also smart. They realize that they can't get Oregon turned around unless they make room for Democrats from across the political spectrum like Mr. Charles Lee and finally take the House majority after 16 years of absolutely awful Republican control.

    It's simply amazing to me how all the really great progressive stuff the House D's have been pushing and the truly strong grassroots campaigns being run by our candidates that a large number of "progressives" go straight to vociferously criticizing Lee and our caucus.

    I realize that there is an element of hypocrisy in me giving anyone a mini-lecture on bi-partisanship being in an extremely partisan professional position. I'm okay with it because I firmly believe that with the current dispositions of Democrats and Republicans only Democrats are capable of moving an agenda that has broad support from Republicans, Democrats and Oregonians in all parts of the State.

    But folks at some point this has to stop. At some point we have to be okay with leaders who work on things we agree with 85% of the time, but not so much 15%. And we have to accept that in general, the strongest leaders - in the truest meaning, have a real desire and capability to have strong, respectful relationships with other elected officials they disagree with most of the time. Aren't we trying to move away from having a bunch of Tom Delays running the country? Because that's what it seems like many of you want - as long as the Tom Delays agree with you.

  • SFT (unverified)


    I appreciate you idealism, but be real.

    <h1>1 Charles Starr is crazy. He called homosexuality a "mental disorder," he doesn't believe in the separation of church and state, and he has a ZERO rating with OLCV. Couldn't you guys find a Republican who was from this planet? Is it really an attempt at bipartisanship if you are just using someone's bitterness for your political advantage?</h1> <h1>2 You better tell the truth about Starr, because your candidate is going to be trashed. Right now the question is why would Senator Starr ever agree to such a fundraiser when he is one of the most right-wing members of the legislature? Furthermore, why against Kim Thatcher (who he has always supported). You better explain why Starr would agree to such an event, and then tell the truth about the fact that he is not being truthful. Right now your candidate looks sneaky.</h1> <h1>3 There is a very big difference between the Tom Delay, character assassination type of politics and legitimate issue differences. This is not a good example of trying to solve this problem. Starr's whole career is attacking people with terrible public statements, Tom Delay style. I am guessing that he agreed to do this event because he was trying to get back at somebody. Am I right? Can you say Charles "Delay" Starr?</h1>

    Jon, we appreciate your work, but didn't you guys think this through? Your candidate is already branded as an anti-choice, anti-government conservative Democrat, and then you get the most right-wing member of the legislature to do a fundraiser for him? With a 14% R advantage, you still need a few Democrats to vote for him.

    I know it may have sounded like a good idea, but it wasn't. This one mistake likely cost you a shot at this seat, but you guys are doing great work and have a good chance to change the state. Sorry this sounds harsh, it wasn’t meant to be. You really are doing good work.

  • BlueBerri (unverified)

    Where can I jump in with... [off-topic comment deleted. -editor.]

  • Walter T. (unverified)


    What you are not understanding is that this was never a bipartisan event, it was a crass opportunistic political event.

    Everybody looking at Starr and Backlund just saw sour grapes. They knew your event wasn’t a tribute to Starr and Backlund, but a political stunt to promote Mr. Lee.

    We all (D, Rs, et. al.) see traitors…not non-partisan statesmen. It is a good attempt at a political stunt by FuturePac, but as some noble attempt to be above partisanship, it was not. Don’t believe your own press release.

    Starr and Backlund turned their backs on his own party because they are bitter, nobody can respect these two men’s motivations.

    You had to try to take advantage of the situation, that’s is politics. But when you work with snakes, sometimes you get bitten. These two politicians are snakes, so nobody likes the situation.

    Take this as a life lesson, there are very few traitors in history you can trust and few that are respected. Keep up the good work and don’t let this get you down.

  • (Show?)

    Is candidate Mr.Charles Lee Oregon's Joe Leiberman?

  • The Other Shoe (unverified)

    Interesting story, Jon, but from what I hear the House Dem's fearless leader told Mr. Lee in no uncertain terms he would see no support from the caucus because of his pro-life stance. So much for a big tent and your much-flaunted "tolerance"...

  • (Show?)


    Thanks for your post. What too many people forget is that there are times when you can get past raw politics and support people you may not agree with on positions, but admire as friends. Most of us have family members or work associates we believe are political Neanderthals. Yet we break bread together, attend weddings, funerals, and graduations. Sometimes those ties are deeper than political policies, sometimes not. I got money for my campaign from people who disagreed with my politics, but respected me. Too many partisans today do not understand that kind of logic, but we will not have a healthy society until we can get back to the time when Republicans and Democrats could share respect for each other in spite of policy differences.

  • (Show?)

    A couple of final comments on this, and then I'm going to back to persuading regular folks to vote for Democrats -

    1. I think the only one's being pragmatic here rather than rigidly ideological is the House Democratic leadership. Please don't lecture me/us for being idealistic. In the real world, leaders of both parties work together often.

    2. Of course there is political opportunity in this event. It looks great for a Democrat to have genuine bi-partisanship running through his veins. And frankly, we still feel great about it. This thing was supposed to be a celebration of bi-partisanship and was going splendidly (and frankly it still will) until Wayne Scott and Ted Ferrioli shot hyper partisan Republican politics into it.

    3. The Other Shoe is completely misinformed.

  • (Show?)

    The Other Shoe is totally off base. I manage a campaign for a Democratic house candidate, and I see both Mr. Lee and his campaign manager at most every Future PAC event and training I attend. My candidate (and the others, beside Mr. Lee, as far as I know) is proudly pro-choice, yet there is zero tension/animosity there.

    But I suspect everyone already knew that.

  • Anon (unverified)

    The Other Shoe is not "off-base" he is a freaking idiot. The FuturePAC leadeship and staff are the best run caucus elect/reelect effort ever seen in this state. I have been intimately involved in Oregon politics for over 30 years and nothing compares to Isaacs and his staff. They are exquisitely qualified to bring victory to House Democrats. So unless you really know what you are talking about Other Shoe....put a sock in it!

  • (Show?)

    I'm going to post the same quote from Crashing the Gates that I posted back in March.

    Here's where things get complicated. We want an America where a woman, not the government, has control over her own body. We want a world where a woman's doctor, not the theocons, can care for her reproductive health. We support the party that has enshrined abortion rights into its platform, not the party that has vowed to criminalize it. And who is in a better position to protect those rights -- a lone pro-choice Republican or two within a governing party hell-bent on destroying those rights, or a lone antiabortion Democrat or two in a governing party determined to protect those rights?

    Would you rather have a pro-choice Republican voting to put Karen Minnis in charge? Or a pro-life Democrat voting to put Jeff Merkley in charge?

    Personally, I'll take a lonely pro-life Democrat putting Jeff Merkley in charge. (Of course, Kim Thatcher's a wingnut prolifer - so there's no upside at all to her candidacy.)

    This is an easy one. Given a choice between Chuck Lee and Kim Thatcher, I'm for Chuck Lee.

  • Walter T. (unverified)


    But this was not "genuine bipartisanship." Neither Starr nor Backlund would give FuturePAC the time of day had they won. They lost and they are lashing out, this was sour grapes -- pique.

    I don't mind a conservative Democrat as our candidate, and I don't agree with some of the statements above. My problem is with Mr. Starr. He is one of the founders of the OCA, this very session he said some inflammatory bigoted statements on the Senate floor, and he has a terrible record in everyway. On this one individual (not all Republicans) we should reject his style, his record, his bigotry, yet you were going have a tribute for him. Are we going to have tributes for Mr. Mabon and Mr. Sizemore while we are at it?

    It just smacks of the worst type of politics, using their bitterness to our advantage, while paying "tribute" to careers that we should all celebrate are over.

  • spicey (unverified)

    Jon Isaacs - thanks for the sound post above. It's great to hear about individual races here. It's how I keep track of what's going on this election cycle. Much appreciated - your work, and news about candidates.

  • Tuck (unverified)

    Hey knee jerks who can barely find newberg on a map - do the math. Chuck Lee can't win without peeling off conservatives.
    And Kim Thatcher is to the right of George W. Bush. This is, as best, a long shot race. What do you care if some long shot candidate in a right wing Republican district has this event? Don't you have enough to be morally indignant about? Hasn't someone criticized Erik Sten somewhere this week for you to go reactionary on? There are some places where your dream liberal will never, EVER, be competitive. It's a long shot seat where you'll never live that probably won't be in play. But if it somehow gets in play, this sort of oddball effort probably helps - it can't hurt. Not every race is a test of liberal purity - and btw I am pulling for Ned Lamont. The next time most of you extreme liberals are smart enough to pick a battle will be the first. When was the last time the D's controlled the house? Thanks to folks like those who blog here, probably will be a lot longer.

  • Anti-Tuck (unverified)

    Wow took that a little personal. This discussion is about the motivation of Backlund and Starr (go back and read the original post). Sour grapes.

    But is the way to get our people elected is to embrace a founder of the Oregon Citizen's Alliance? Win at all cost, praise bigots and give tributes for homophobes?

    If you were in the South would you justify a tribute for David Duke (you could sure pull a bunch of R voters with that move), How far will you go to win?

    This discussion was pretty civilized, and then you come over the top and attack all liberals, could you be a relative of Backlund or Starr? Do you want good Democrat money to be spent in a 14% R seat where even the Democrats are righties just so you can make a point? You are seeking revenge for a loss, but we have to weigh if it is worth spending our resources on a lost cause. And celebrating bigots is nothing I would be proud of.

  • What? (unverified)


    This is one of the most Repbulican seats in the state. There is only one way to win this seat, run as a Republican. So when you say: "The next time most of you extreme liberals are smart enough to pick a battle will be the first." I must say that you picking Newberg, St. Paul, and Keizer (wow found it on a map) doesn't help your argument. These are the most Repbulican and the most conservative Republican towns in all of Oregon.

    I think it is great to help a candidate to help draw the money from the Repbulicans to defend Thatcher, that is ok. But to hold tributes to these two specific politicians only hurts our cause statewide.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Partisan cross-pollination is nothing new in Oregon. Remember when most the unions and Democratic officeholders abandoned Demo nominee Harry Lonsdale to support Mark Hatfield for US Senate. Lonsdale is now referred to by labor mouthpiece Our Oregon as "one part-time Oregon/California donor."

    I have been accused numerous times on these pages of supporting unions reflexively and unconditionally. It may be worth something, then, when notice that Our Oregon and AFL-CIO head Tom Chamberlain are misleading Oregonians about Lonsdale personally and the two campaign finance reform initiatives that have recently qualified for the ballot. Labor often complains of being disrespected by Democrats. It seems labor is quite capable of treating Democrats with equal disrespect.

  • LT (unverified)

    Thanks, Tom

    In 1991, I was at a Dem. State Central Comm. meeting and happened to sit in the same row as Harry Lonsdale. One of the leading members of the body sat in the same row. When he gave his speech, he said something like "I have always supported unions, but unions should support Democrats". When he sat down, the man who had just given the speech said "that line was for you, Harry".

    I was very proud to be an active Lonsdale supporter in 1992 and 1996 (voted for him in 1990 on the basis of one excellent speech and one excellent ad) and recall the "Democrats for Hatfield" mailer being passed around. It had been mailed to a Democrat actually supporting Lonsdale (who earned the same vote % in 1990 as Wayne Morse did the year he ran against Hatfield, as I recall). Iknow what Tom says is accurate.

    It is possible to question whether the limits are too low on the campaign finance reform measure (in a geographically large district, how much time which could be spent talking to voters might have to be spent dialing for dollars just to get the gas money [esp. if gas is around $3 a gallon] in order to travel the district?) and still believe in the concept of campaign finance reform.

  • (Show?)

    OK, enough about Harry Lonsdale and campaign finance reform. This is NOT a post about campaign finance reform.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    [Off-topic comment deleted. -editor.]

  • (Show?)

    Paulie asked... Is candidate Mr.Charles Lee Oregon's Joe Leiberman?

    Nope. He's Oregon's Bob Casey.

  • (Show?)

    Kari, I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Darrell Fuller (unverified)


    Fun to read, guys. Charles Lee visited my National Night Out party in Keizer last night. He will make this race interesting.

    Didn't the Democrat National Committee refuse to let Gov. Casey speak at a National Convention because he was pro-life? Might be an even better comparison than you thought.

  • (Show?)

    Didn't the Democrat National Committee refuse to let Gov. Casey speak at a National Convention because he was pro-life?

    No. The DNC didn't let him speak because he refused to endorse the nominee, Bill Clinton. Other pro-life speakers spoke that year.

    And we're talking about his son, the state treasurer, who is running for the US Senate.

  • Proudliberal (unverified)

    "This is one of the most Republican seats in the state. There is only one way to win this seat, run as a Republican."

    Remember Harry Truman's maxim that when voters have a choice between a real Republican or a Democrat posing as a Republican, they will choose a real Republican every time.

    Another good maxim to remember in this case is when you lie with dogs, you get up with fleas.

    I wouldn't be counting too heavily on Mr. Lee helping us gain control of the OR House.

  • LT (unverified)

    Proud Liberal, one of 2 things is true: a) you tried unsuccessfully to recruit someone else to run in Dist. 25 b) it is OK with you if Kim Thatcher is re-elected.

    Which one is it? Or are you just one of those ideologically pure Democrats who live in a county where there are lots of other Democrats so you needn't speak to anyone who isn't of your party?

    Democrats will take control of the House when they win elections in counties where there are lots of Republicans.

  • Dennis Higginbotham (unverified)

    It is disappointing to see comments questioning the motivation for Charles Starr and Vic Backlund not supporting the GOP nominee.

    Although I have not supported the campaigns of these two men, I do know that they are honorable people who have been caught in the web of the modern Republican party to turn on office holders who are not in lockstep with the party 100% of the time.

  • yeah right (unverified)

    Dennis -- I mean Mr. Backlund,

    If you had not been beaten like an ugly school child by your own party, both you and Mr. Starr would be loyal Republicans today. You wouldn't be helping us, that is for sure. Instead, you have changed your entire political perspectives because of your losses, because it hurt your egos. Everyone can see it.

    Thanks for the helping our candidate, but don't expect loyalty from us. Describing yourself as honorable is a joke. We didn't like how you voted in Salem, and we don't trust you either.

  • (Show?)

    "yeah right" - (and is it just me who finds these flippant handles irritating?)

    Who do you claim to speak for about loyalty? And...when did Backlund ask for your loyalty? And...what makes you so sure Dennis H. is really Backlund? And...when did Backlund describe himself as "honorable"? And...are you really saying that Oregon progressives never liked his votes?

    Bill Sizemore, of all people, claimed otherwise. Looks like Backlund broke with his party to vote for tax increases, despite the political consequences.

    Kulongoski had him serve on a task force.

    BlueOregon covered his party affiliation change last December, describing him as a moderate.

    Maybe there's a darker side to the guy too, but you haven't done much to draw it out.

    Our tent oughtta be big enough to let somebody like this in for a visit once in a while.

    <h2>What's the story behind your sour grapes?</h2>
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