Davey Crockett Against the Blank Check

By Dean Powers of Portland, Oregon. Dean is an editor and contributor at OpEdNews.com and a former intern at The Nation.

"HMOs and health insurers are behind Measure 50," the menacing voice on the television ad begins, "rewriting Oregon's constitution to increase the tobacco tax..."

It's the ad attacking the Healthy Kids Plan, ostensibly authorized by "Oregonians Against the Blank Check."

"Oregonians Against the Blank Check" has a nice ring. It sounds patriotic, like the Sisters of the Revolution. It conjures up some pack of fourth-generation Oregonians living in a mountain hovel whom history beckons every so often to defend our state from the evils of mass transportation or, in this case, children's health care. It suggests a populist revolt, led by the people for the people.

So who are these local frontiersmen? And where do I get my buffalo gun? Well, the campaign simply would not exist without millions of dollars from one source: North Carolina. I know that doesn't square with the layman's expectations. Why aren't these free-range coon-skin-cap-wearing Oregonians paying for the ad?

Apparently because the only people "Against the Blank Check" who actually live in Oregon (you can count them on one hand) would rather take money for their opinions then pay it.

Salem-based lobbyist Mark Nelson represents R.J. Reynolds and, in turn, can claim to be living in Oregon and also "Against the Blank Check." As we well know, Reynolds American Inc., the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., is paying for the campaign whose message is: Measure 50 is a cash hand-out to Big Insurance companies. (Couldn't have anything to do with the tobacco tax and possible decreased profits for Reynolds.)

It's ironic that Mark Nelson is the resident Oregonian "against the blank check." Down south of the Terwilliger Curves, Nelson's clients are typically any kind of business that can write him a blank check: Anheuser-Busch (Big Booze), R.J. Reynolds (Big Tobacco), and Adult Fantasy Video (Big Surprise). If there's any Oregonian in favor of a blank check, it's Mark Nelson.

Meet Jeffrey A Eckmann, Nelson's boss. Eckmann, as president of Reynolds American, is ultimately paying for the anti-50 campaign. He's kind of the "Oregonian" against the blank check that all the other "Oregonians" against the blank check obey; Davey Crockett, if you will.

You didn't know that Mr. Eckmann was an Oregonian? Well, he's not. Actually, Mr. Eckmann is from Raleigh, in the former plantation state of North Carolina. NORTH CAROLINA?!? Wait a sec...He's the leader of the pack! Where's his beaver pellet loin cloth? I thought we were going to defend the homeland together. Why isn't he in the Mt. Hood hovel?

Maybe his lavish income has something to do with it. Eckmann earned $5 million for his work at Reynolds American in calendar year 2006 alone, according to Forbes.com. Money like that... I bet his life is sanitized of common plebeians like us.

What's with this populist notion of "Oregonians Against the Blank Check?" I thought this was a popular revolt. So we've got Joe Sixpack "Oregonians Against the Blank Check" who are really just a couple of elite country club members from North Carolina. That's not really fair, is it? You don't see the proponents of Measure 50 calling themselves "Sick and Dying Children for a Miracle from God." There are 117,000 uninsured kids in Oregon; not a laughing matter.

Maybe Jeffrey A Eckmann ought to figure out a different name for his pet project. I was thinking "Elite Snob from North Carolina Against Oregon's Children."

It's a mouthful, but it has a certain ring of truth to it.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Keep bleating about the opposition; that way you don't have to defend a bold and regressive tax foisted upon the state constitution.

  • (Show?)

    Whether you support the measure or not, you gotta admit, the folks bankrolling the opposition are a bunch of lying scumsucking deathdealing whores. Would you not agree Kurt?

  • beatstreet (unverified)

    Oh! Goodness heavens! Not the Constitution!! Did not Jesus write the Oregon Constitution on a single tablet of stone? Never to be altered by the hands of mere mortals like you and I?!?

  • beatstreet (unverified)

    "A regressive tax foisted upon the constitution."

    A "regressive" tax would return the constitution to a former state. You see you can't attack Measure 50 as radical departure from the intent of our beloved forefathers and also frame it as a throwback to some bygone era.

    You mean a "progressive" tax. That's good. I like that. A "progressive" tax. Sounds really positive and exciting, and thanks for getting me pumped up about taxes.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Glen, nice try at framing the debate AWAY from the fact that this Measure is a single minded government grab of Healthcare - all at the expense of a single product. I already clearly stated I was no supporter of Big Tobacco.

    Lets keep the debate to the shrewd sleight of hand the 'progressives' have accomplished. When a tax measure fails to account for where the money is really going, how the funding base will be maintained and who will ultimately gain the most if said measure passes it should be voted against.

    The "Healthy Kids Act" fails the test on all counts.

  • (Show?)

    If I am remembering correctly, the principal reason M50 had to be a constitutional amendment was the intransigence of tobacco's allies in the legislature, and if so, it's really rather cheeky for the tobacco advocates to complain now about what an abomination it is to change the constitution.

    Kinda like the classic example of chutzpah: the boy who murders his parents and then begs for the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Sorry Stephanie, but the ultimate in chutzpah was basing an exponentially rising cost (healthcare) upon a declining tax revenue base (tobacco). Even the pro 0 folks try to tell us that they want decreased tobacco consumption.

    Who is more addicted here; the chain smoker or the tax hungry government?

  • John F (unverified)

    Uh, beatstreet....you've missed the meaning of regressive (which doesn't imply "throwback", but a nonproportional tax where the poorer you are, the higher percentage tax you pay).

  • anonymous (unverified)

    Let's be clear, what's going on here. The sole claim by the "Yes on 50" people here is that this letter hides the real source of the funding, and therefore the implicature is that the message should be regarded as invalid. That is far more deceitful than the deceit the "Yes On 50" side is alleging as their sole campaign tactic against this constitutional amendment.

    KATU has confirmed, to the level they confirm anything, that Ben Matthews is a real person, and that he is a first-grade teacher.

    The quite academically correct claims of the professor cited in their report, that his repeated references to being a "first-grade" teacher is political rhetoric meant solely to persuade, notwithstanding, Matthews has every right to refer to the professional status he has attained, and to use that to persuade for his political viewpoint.

    The letter states the reasons he is opposed to this measure. He cites a number of facts that he finds objectionable about M50 and (SB3) which can be traced to specific provisions of the bill, or are reasonable assertions from historical precedent. None are close to being provably false in any material way. In addition, KATU gave no proof that the reasons he states are not his beliefs.

    Furthermore, even though the letter does not contain any outright falsehoods, and even though it invites implicatures beyond the simple facts stated which are meant to be persuasive, nothing in the totality of the letter, or the implicatures, makes the total composition false argumentation or illegitimate political advocacy. The fact the source of funding is the tobacco industry through "Oregonians Against the Blank Check" does not make it illegitimate or unfair political advocacy. Political advocacy is not logical argumentation. There is no moral or ethical reason it should be (M50 would be a dead letter if there, were since the advocates have choosen to frame their entire campaign on this "attack the source of funding" approach) because people do not make political decisions based on critical reasoning. That is the one scientifically demonstrated fact about politics.

    Furthermore, there simply is no formal legal, moral, or ethical obligation in this corner of the political sphere to disclose every fact already on the public record. The source of funding for "Oregonians Against the Blank Check" is easily discovered through a Google search, or to anyone who reads the newspaper. We each have a personal obligation to be as honest in political discourse as we can, but likewise we each have a greater affirmative obligation to be reasonably informed. In this case, that means to determine who "Oregonians Against the Blank Check" is if we feel it is germane to our personal political decision making.

    Without question, the letter is political advocacy. But it is no way illegitimate political advocacy since it does not contain material falsehoods, the objections are honorable enough, and as far as we can tell they are the opinions of the signer (one has a legitimate and reasonable belief Matthews would come forward if this letter substantially misrepresents his views).

    Similarly, the "Yes On 50" people have every right to frame their campaign anyway they want to. That includes the attack strategy they have chosen that any opposition to the measure should be demonized and not considered on it's own merit, because it either is funded by the tobacco industry, or simply because they don't want to deal with the substance even if it isn't. They are asking us to do something, however, and the real question is why they chose to be so utterly deceitful and disrespectful in making their request?

  • beatstreet (unverified)

    I have read and re-read this last comment 200 times I still cannot determine what the heck it means or what side it's on.

  • John Kerndt (unverified)

    All I can say, is that anything to make smokers life miserable (beyond lung cancer), is o.k with me. Yea, Measure 50, you get my vote!

  • Dave Mayfield (unverified)

    Why should one consumer group pay for the health care of the kids of Oregon. Why not tax TOILET PAPER and let all Oregon people PAY.

  • Cay Borduin (unverified)

    I just got a letter from Carolyn Cannon (whoever that is), the owner of Peppers Deli (wherever that is) telling me that she has given this matter a lot of thought and she is voting against Measure 50. She got a little help she says from Oregonians Against the Blank Check.

    Carolyn did not leave me an address or any way to get back in touch with her. If I could, I'd say that I too have given this a lot of thought and that I have decided to vote YES on Measure 50.

    When it comes to healthcare for kids, I'm willing to accept the less than perfect plan required to navigate the political realities of Oregon.

    In fact, I made a video about it:

  • RealBizOwner (unverified)

    I also received a letter from Carolyn Cannon - funded by Oregonians Against the Blank Check. I am a real business owner here in Oregon, with a real family, and facing the realities of our underfunded public services. Oregonians need to consider the long-term effects of not adequately providing for our children, indeed all residents of the state. If we need to tax tobacco products in order to provide health care to our children and to provide other services that will help our friends and neighbors in need, then I say let's do it for the future of our state. Keep Reynold's corporate bottom line out of our decisions. I encourage all Oregonians to vote Yes!

  • Bill B (unverified)

    Whoever Carolyn Cannon is (the return address on "her" mailing is a Salem PO box that probably gets checked on alternate leap years in even numbered centuries), her mailing has a certain dexterity in getting under one's skin. I've listened to and read about the pros and cons on M50, and here's what it seems to boil down to:

    M50 will not fully fund a healthy kids plan in the first year. Ultimately it will fund a program which should genuinely help families hovering near the poverty level. That's a good thing.

    M50 is, in the most technical sense of the term, a "regressive tax" in that its impact is disproportionate to ability to pay. The income tax is not a "regressive" tax in theory, but I wonder whether R.J. Reynolds and its CEO pay the same percentage of their income that I do.

    Ultimately, however, M50 is NOT a regressive tax. It is that rarity among tax schemes. No one has to pay it who doesn't want to. You don't like the tobacco tax? Don't buy tobacco products. It's probably healthier for you anyway. Those who are ensnared by tobacco addiction will pay a horrible and needless tax anyway, simply by funding their habits, and the cost will be even higher when the health risks associated with smoking materialize into chronic and even fatal disease. So if M50 is a tax paid to the State of Oregon to help fund health care and feeding a habit is a tax paid to the pockets of tobacco makers and sellers, which is worse? I'll put my vote behind M50.

    And then there's the argument that M50 is a self-defeating tax since people may actually choose not to pay it and stop smoking. Golly, I'll buy that argument and tell you I think that's a good thing!

    Well, they say, we're just going to make criminals out of the folks who will sneak over the border to buy their tobacco in Washington or Idaho or California or somewhere and they won't pay the tax. Perhaps, but if just one dad and mom decide they can't afford to smoke any more and thereby their 2.5 kids aren't exposed to a house and car filled with second-hand smoke, on balance M50 has saved as many as 4.5 lives. Is that a bad thing? And just imagine what would happen if a hundred or a thousand or... well, if a lot of households decided smoking just isn't worth it!

    Oh, yeah, and about that constitution thing. A couple of decades ago I would have agreed with the idea that tax stuff doesn't belong in the Oregon constitution along with things like how the state government is structured and the basic rights of citizens, but then along came property tax restrictions and Measure 37 and a few other choice citizen initiatives that really screwed things up. Now I have to say that argument is decades overdue and cuts no mustard today.

    So, Carolyn Cannon of Peppers Deli, whoever you are and wherever your busiess is, your letter did get me to thinking and to writing, and now its going in the recycle bin from which I sincerely pray it won't be turned into cigarette paper.

  • Angelica Rehkugler (unverified)

    I also received Carolyn Cannon's letter and I am trying to hunt her down and write her back. Where is this deli because I want to be sure never to eat there. Does anyone know?

  • Angelica Rehkugler (unverified)

    Here is the contact info for Carolyn Casey: Home: 4252 Brooks Ave. NE, Keizer, OR 97303 The famous deli: 2752 S. Santiam Hwy, Lebanon, OR 97355

    Since she took the time to tell me what she thinks, I am going to tell her what I think.

    Please join me in bringing a little light to this woman's consciousness. Thanks!

  • Angelica Rehkugler (unverified)

    Correction to my last post. The address is for Carolyn Cannon (not Carolyn Casey.)

guest column

connect with blueoregon