Suzanne Bonamici Meets the Wayne Morse Test

Les AuCoin

As I watch the special election campaign unfold in Oregon’s First Congressional District—the seat I captured for Democrats for the first time 38 years ago—I think of advice the iconic Senator Wayne Morse gave me in my first campaign in 1974.

In the darkness of his car at the end of a long day of campaigning, the old warhorse tapped me on the knee and said:

“Young man, always remember who you are and what you’re willing to lose an election for! The one who cannot will do anything to win. And that’s a dangerous man (sic)—because he will always put politics above principle and self above country.”

The reason the memory returns is that the Wayne Morse standard so perfectly distinguishes the Democrat in this race, Suzanne Bonamici, from her contortionist Republican challenger, Rob Cornilles. Bonamici is an unapologetic Democrat who will put government back on our side—to create “trickle up” policies, to protect the environment, to safeguard Medicare, to stop wars of choice rather than necessity, and to make the very rich pay a fair share of taxes to help reduce the deficit.

Her weather vane Republican challenger is posing as a moderate, for this season at least, because he knows it’s the only way he can win against Suzanne, a former Federal Trade Commission lawyer and state legislative star. So he talks about a flat tax when only 16 months ago—in a different political season—he supported the Bush tax cuts that added $2.5 trillion to the deficit to benefit the 1%.

Bonamici has explicit ideas for cutting the budget deficit: cancel Bush tax cuts for millionaires bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and close loopholes for established industries like Big Oil.

Cornilles? His plan is to—ta da!—pass a Constitutional amendment to outlaw that darned red ink. Of course, he was instantly criticized for this position because it would take years to get a two-thirds vote from Congress and agreement from three-fourths of the states to enact the gimmick. Meanwhile, the U.S. could become a financial Greece. But wait! There seems to be no problem that Cornilles can’t solve with pixie dust; thus, he now says the enforcement of Constitutional mandate, once passed, (I’m writing this through tears of laughter!) would have to be “phased in” so as not to be too sudden of a jolt to taxpayers or the Pentagon.

The differences go on—Bonamici, the steady adult, protected consumers as a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission. Cornilles, the artful dodger, exploited his workers by failing to pay his share of their payroll tax—for which the government slapped him with an $83,000 federal lien. Bonamici will protect Social Security and Medicare; Cornilles told the Daily Astorian (January 2010) that he would cut those programs before he’d cut the Pentagon budget. That was before he said he’d save them with “reforms” he refuses disclose but sound like “optional privatization” to me.

The January 31 election should be a no-brainer. But it will have implications far beyond my former congressional district. As that day’s only federal election, pundits and prognosticators alike are ready to declare the outcome an omen for things to come.

I agree, and trust me on this: should Cornilles win, he’ll bask in the warm embrace of House Speaker John Boehner and his Tea Party obstructionists, as they use the election as a mandate to step up their war against the middle class, the environment, civil liberties, and safe abortions.

(By the way, on abortion, the Artful Dodger wants us to believe that abortion is an issue in which the House “has a very limited role to play.” Which is sort of a surprise to me because I could swear I spent hours in debate on the House floor, protecting women’s reproductive freedoms against Henry Hyde and his anti-choice acolytes. If elected, given his bobbing and weaving, where do you suppose Rob Cornilles would land?)

A Bonamici victory, on the other hand, will be an unmistakable call to stop the rise of Republican Religious Ayatollahs and Wall Street flimflam artists who almost destroyed the U.S. banking system and created our current economic mess.

With the memory of Wayne Morse as my witness, I assure you that Suzanne Bonamici is the only candidate in this race who puts “principle above politics.”

Disclosure: 14 months ago, my wife and I moved to Bozeman, Montana to spend our remaining good years close to our granddaughters. But having started the Democrats’ 38-year hold on Oregon’s First District, I have one last duty to my former constituents—to help Suzanne Bonamici give them the representation they deserve.

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    Well said! Thank you.

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    Thanks, Les for an astute and timely comment on our race here in the First CD.

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    Congressman AuCoin,

    Your analysis of Mr. Cornilles is close to my own accepting that Mr. Cornilles' policy choices appear far too right-wing progressive for the taste of the Tea Party.

    With kind regards,

    Geoff Ludt

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    While I'm supporting Suzanne, neither candidate would make a significant dent in our deficit. Look at Obama requesting to reorganize some departments, saving so little money it's not even a rounding error in the annual budget. Democrats and Republicans got us here, and I don't see them leading the way out.

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      Bob, you've described a generic problem with modern U.S. politics, about which I've been giving a lot of thought--namely, that political discourse in general seems pinched and smaller than the existential problems the states and the nation face.

      And we can't lay it all on the politicians. I was appalled, frankly, at the superficiality of most questions asked of Bonamici and Cornilles by the Portland City Club. And further appalled by fundamental questions that went unasked:

      -Should "Too Big To Fail Banks" be broken up, so that no financial institution(s) can run debts that exceed the revenues of the government? If so, how?

      -Under which circumstances, if any, should the U.S. use force against Iran to prevent it gaining a nuclear capability?

      -If the EuroZone Crisis creates a contagion that triggers a global depression--perhaps worse that the collapse of Lehman Bros--what uses of the federal government, if any, would you use to respond to the double dip recession/depression?

      -Should the U.S. go forward with a "National Missile Defense" system, given cuts in store for the Pentagon? Should U.S. policy seek the demilitarization of space?

      -Are Israeli settlements in the West Bank an obstacle to peace in the Middle East? Should the U.S. condition its foreign aid on halting them?

      -What role does the federal government have, if any, in preparing an educated workforce to compete in the global economy when 2nd world and 3rd world nations are using their comparative advantage (low wages) to displace workers in traditional U.S. industries?

      ... and so on.

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        The problem is, once you ask these questions of candidates, they start to answer with some generality and spend their time thinking about how they get to their canned answer they were told to respond with by their campaign advisors. Which of course never answers YOUR question.

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