HD 49: John Nelsen's war with himself

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

The race to succeed Karen Minnis has taken a bizarre turn.

Over the weekend, the Oregonian endorsed Republican John Nelsen. Why? Because of his courage in speaking out in favor of a sales tax, despite his party's orthodoxy.

Nelsen's deep roots in the district, his call for reasonable bipartisanship, and even his willingness to use what he calls "the s-word" (sales tax) when talking about revenue reform make him a far different type of Republican than Minnis was.

And it's true. Nelsen stakes out a position that's rather at odds with his party. The evidence is clear - Nelsen says he'd support a sales tax. Watch the video:

And just to make sure you heard it right, here's part of the transcript:

If fair and moral is the criteria we’re looking for, then sales tax is the answer. ... Sales taxes reward us for saving and investing. That's what this nation needs.

OK, so Nelsen supports a sales tax. He says it's the "fair and moral" thing that "this nation needs." And as a result, the Oregonian endorsed his candidacy.

Great. What's the problem? Well, this is where it gets bizarre.

Nelsen says he doesn't actually support a sales tax.

Really. Here's his press release, posted at Oregon Catalyst:

John Nelsen, candidate for State Representative in District 49, today made a legal request that Comcast stop airing an ad purchased by the Committee to Elect Nick Kahl because it contains lies about Nelsen's position on a sales tax. Kahl's TV ad falsely claims that Nelsen supports a sales tax. In the ad and three other mailings sent by the House Democrat's political action committee, Kahl sites a statement made by Nelsen at a Gresham Chamber of Commerce forum as proof of Nelsen's support of a sales tax. Footage of the forum shows that this is patently untrue.

So, how do we explain all this? Some possibilities:

Another question: How does the Oregonian justify endorsing a candidate on a policy basis that he's renounced?

Well, I don't get it. I really don't get it.

Go help Nick Kahl with a donation of money of time.

Update: The comments include a lot of discussion about Nick Kahl's ad. I figure it might be helpful for everyone to actually see it. Check it out:

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    Nelsen tells each person what they want to hear. I'm honestly starting to think he's done so much spinning this election cycle that he's made himself too dizzy to remember what he's said to whom. Sales taxes (and we can debate the wisdom of them another time, another post) are deal-breakers in East Multnomah County. Nelsen knows that which is why he keeps swearing he NEVER said he'd support a sales tax. The people know the truth. Nelsen sent out a mailer demanding that people call Nick's campaign office and demand he stop "lying" about Nelsen's stance on sales taxes. Guess what---out of a district of 27,000 registered voters, only 12 called in---one Nick supporter and 11 people who seemed suprised to learn about the video but were happy to go check it out.

    As for the Oregonian, I'm very disappointed in their endorsement of Nelsen. For one thing, they don't have a lot of praise for the man:

        <i>Nelsen himself says Republicans can no longer operate the way the caucus 
           used to, and he says he resented the sliming of Democratic challenger Rob 
           Brading in the 2006 cycle. Unfortunately, Nelsen has adopted a repellent 
           campaign tactic of his own, approving a wildly incoherent and unfair attack 
            ad against Kahl. Nevertheless, Nelsen is not a scorched-earther. </i>

    Apparently, the fact that Nelsen put out a "wildly incoherent and unfair attack ad" isn't enough to put him out of the running for the O's endorsement---after all, he's not a "scorched-earther". Nice to know where the O draws the line. Personally, I have a higher standard for those who would represent me than "hey, he lies, he's unfair, and he makes no sense, but wait---he didn't completely nuke the other side". I prefer someone who, in his ads, has gone after the issues, telling us how he'll represent us, presenting his plans point by point to people in District 49. Someone who is proud to say he supports a woman's right to choose, raising corporate taxes, and fighting for the working class people of East County. Someone who wants to go to Salem and actually represent US for a change. Nick Kahl is that person and he WILL be the next State Representative for House District 49. No matter who the Oregonian endorses.

    Thank you, Kari, for this post and for encouraging people to donate time and/or money to Nick!

  • (Show?)

    I'm not exactly sure how it's Republican orthodoxy to oppose a sales tax. It's usually coupled with a reduction or elimination of the income and capital gains taxes, among other revisions.

    Minnis may have opposed a sales tax (at least one proposed by Democrats), but there are any number of Republicans who have supported a sales tax in this state, including Rep. Scott Bruun in an Oregonian editorial last winter, and Ben Westlund's supported a sales tax since he was a Republican. I believe there were at least a couple of other Republican co-sponsors on SB382.

  • Hal (unverified)

    Nice thread and good reason to Vote for Nelsen.

    Of course he, like many Republicans, would indeed support a sales tax,,,IF,,,, it replaced another.

    This R would gladly trade the property tax for a sales tax. Or the income and cap gains tax for a sales tax.

    But every single Democrat proposed sales tax was simply adding the new tax while producing a net tax increase. Naturally there were claims of revenue nuetrality or even more absurd claims of tax savings but that was only so much trickery.

    Unfortunately the Democrat party is beholden to the entitlement class, and their votes, so they see their primary mission as one that raises taxes any and every way possible on those who are required to support the entitled.

    Vote for Nelsen. He makes sense.

  • Hal (unverified)

    Is the Bagdad having a debate gathering again?

    I am thinking about joining you all.

  • (Show?)

    Darrel -- you're right that there are some Republicans that argue for a sales tax to replace other taxes. (At the nat'l level, there's been some talk of a 17% sales tax to replace the income tax -- a horribly regressive idea.)

    My point, though, wasn't to get stuck on the orthodoxy idea - but rather to talk about how John Nelsen can't seem to be consistent about what he stands for.

    Hal, you say that Nelsen makes sense. Which Nelsen? The one that favors a sales tax? Or the one that opposes it?

  • PanchoPDX (unverified)

    Nelson compared the fairness of a sales tax to a property tax or income tax. That's a lot different than saying he'd give blanket support to a sales tax. It's more like saying, "in a perfect world we'd have a sales tax rather than property and income taxes."

    Most Republicans would agree with him on that. Regardless the chance of swapping the property/income taxes for a sales tax is nil.

    I appreciate the straight talk from Nelson, but it is clearly a mistake to talk about tax theory during a campaign where opponents are looking for every opportunity to imply that you are talking about a political reality.

  • (Show?)

    Pancho -- If he supports a sales tax to replace the property or income tax, then why did he say this in his press release:

    Kahl's TV ad falsely claims that Nelsen supports a sales tax.

    That's not true, right? If what you're saying is true, then Kahl's TV ad correctly claimed that Nelsen supports a sales tax - though, perhaps, leaving out some particular nuance of Nelsen's argument.


  • (Show?)
    Darrel -- you're right that there are some Republicans that argue for a sales tax to replace other taxes... My point, though, wasn't to get stuck on the orthodoxy idea - but rather to talk about how John Nelsen can't seem to be consistent about what he stands for.

    That's fine, but the prominence of the claim that he's bucking the GOP on this was apparently important enough to you that you placed that claim in the second paragraph of your write-up.

    It's not just that "some Republicans" support a sales tax. Pretty much every sales tax proposal that's come through the state has been shepherded by members of the GOP. The Oregon House sponsors of the last couple have been almost unanimously Republican, with a couple of Democrats joining in in the Senate sponsorship.

  • (Show?)

    Seems to me that Darrel is right on the money (so to speak), backed up by the first clip and the comments from our Republican commenters, and that both The Oregonian and Kari are taking Nelsen out of context.

    The O makes it sound as if Nelsen is taking a courageous position about undefined "revenue reform" which I suppose in their overall editorial view has to do with arguments about stabilizing the revenue stream and perhaps increasing it a bit. From the original clip, it is pretty clear that PanchoPDX is right that he was addressing general principles of taxation & the morality of different tax systems.

    Against his view of morality most of us around here would be more focused on the issue of regressivity and the relationship between benefiting from the system and ability to pay relative to basic needs. (If we're really going after conspicuous consumption, it's a luxury tax rather than a sales tax we should be talking about.)

    Kari's rendering of Nelsen's view simply as "he'd support a sales tax" also takes his argument about "morality" in taxation out of context. It is similar to Jack Roberts' disingenuous argument on a different thread about timber payments attached to the Big Finance bailout in its partialness. Saying "he'd support a sales tax under certain circumstances" actually is quite different.

    However, I think Nick's ad is different from Kari's rendering, because Nick's ad also is about the morality of different taxes, cast in terms of tax fairness and what constitutes paying our fair shares. It is pretty clear to me that Kahl thinks that working class "East County Families" will understand that a sales tax would shift more tax burden on them, even if other taxes were reduced for "neutrality" in the size of the revenue stream.

    It isn't quite clear to me from the first clip, in light of his comments about political realism, whether Nelsen has said that if he's elected, he'll actually propose substituting a sales tax for reduction in income or property taxes, or was responding with an argument in principle to a question about principles.

  • PanchoPDX (unverified)

    No Kari. You are putting words in his mouth.

    I'll agree that he left himself open for this kind of misleading attack by talking favorably about sales taxes vs property/income taxes, but make no mistake - it is clearly an attempt to mislead people.

    In this day where every statement is taped, it doesn't behoove any candidate to talk about anything that could somehow be used against him later. Professional handlers will tell you to stick to the sound bites because every extemporaneous thought is a potential gaffe.

    What I took from Nelson's statement was that he thinks a sales tax is more morally defensible than either property or income taxes. It was an abstract statement that most people would agree with. It was a statement of how he views tax burdens not a plan to establish a new one.

    Kahl really stretched the truth with his argument: "Nelson's new sales tax? No way! It will break the bank for families."

    It implies that Nelson has a defined sales tax proposal (that he's "selling") where clearly none exists.

  • (Show?)

    "What I took from Nelson's statement was that he thinks a sales tax is more morally defensible than either property or income taxes. It was an abstract statement that most people would agree with."

    Sorry, Pancho, but you're sucking that out of your thumb. If it were true why haven't conservative activists put up a ballot measure that deeply cuts the income tax and substitutes a sales tax? "Most of my friends" (i.e. your friends) is not the same as "most people."

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    Regardless of the nuances of Nelson's perspective, this conversation works to Nick Kahl's advantage. The more campaign time spent talking about to what extent Nelson favors a sales tax, the more turned off Republicans will become.

    They know McCain will lose in Oregon. They know all the statewide Republicans will lose (with the possible exception of Gordon Smith). Why bother voting for a Republican who favors a tax increase?

  • (Show?)

    What I took from Nelson's statement was that he thinks a sales tax is more morally defensible than either property or income taxes. It was an abstract statement that most people would agree with.

    Huh? That's absurd. If Republicans think they can win a statewide sales tax vote by abolishing the income tax, they're welcome to spin their wheels trying. As Chris points out, the fact that they haven't is proof that the numbers aren't even close.

    As for this notion that we're somehow taking his words out of context, I suggest you watch the video clip again. He gets up from his seat, gives the answer, and then starts walking away. We provided the ENTIRE answer to that question.

    <h2>Nowhere in that answer does John Nelsen suggest that his plan is any more complex than a new sales tax. We can speculate about what was in his head, or the nuance that he might have meant to mention, but his words are clear. And now he's backpedaling and spinning.</h2>

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