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.