By Matthew Sutton of Central Point, Oregon who describes himself as "a committed father, husband and attorney, who is proud to be an American, though not so proud of our current leadership, a Christian, and a Democrat in the tradition of JFK and RFK."
Much has been made over the last year about undisclosed influence by lobbyists over our Oregon legislators. In 2008, the electorate will be able to express their approval or disapproval as to how well our legislature has responded to these concerns.
On the national level, the model seems to be that wide spread corruption results in significant reform. The corruption of the 1970's resulted in the Freedom of Information Act and many other efforts towards transparency and oversight. More recently, the so called "culture of corruption" resulted in sweeping ethics reform being enacted as one of the first orders of business of the new Congress controlled by Democrats. One would hope that we don't need more scandals in Oregon before substantial reform is enacted.
But what is the message for candidates running for office in Oregon and on the national level? Is ethics and transparency a passing fad or something that will resonate with the voters? Should our Oregon Democratic leaders be on the cutting edge of ethical reform, or wait for more scandals to spur them along?
At least one presidential candidate is making a point of making ethical reform a part of his campaign and showing that it is actually a political advantage. In the spirit of openness, he has published a book voluntarily airing his own "dirty laundry." Similarly, he is the only major candidate who has committed to release his tax returns. Don't his opponents know that voters will ask what income or donations they are trying to hide?
This candidate was one of the architects who, with Sen. Russ Feingold, introduced the aforementioned biggest national ethics reform since the 1970's. So it is not surprising that he is the only major candidate who has refused to accept donations from federal lobbyists and PACs.
The question then becomes, will Senator Barack Obama's example in this regard become the model for candidates in Oregon? Should Oregon politicians be advocates for ethical reform while modeling it in their own campaigns?
Early indications are that Oregon politicians better take heed. We all have heard about how Senator Obama received over 100,000 donations in the first quarter, bringing in more donations for the primary than even Senator Clinton. But a more significant sign is that in Oregon at least 43 groups of Obama supporters have already formed on his official website alone. One such group "Oregonians for Obama" already has 135 supporters registered. Obama supporters are organizing not only in Portland, but in more remote areas such as Eastern Oregon, the Illinois Valley, and Southern Oregon.
If this trend continues, Oregon politicians would do well by being proactive on ethics reform and ethical practices. Otherwise, come 2008, they may find themselves on the outside looking in.