Ted's fire: too late?

T.A. Barnhart

Ted Kulongoski came to the campus of Oregon State University yesterday, and the fire and the passion were there — at last. My question: Where has that fire been for the past four years? Why now, with the governor's office within reach of Ron Saxton and not January 2003, when Ted had just taken over?

And a second question: Is it too late?

To answer the second question first, Probably not. Ron Saxton is a schmuck and his schmuckiness comes through more clearly the longer the race goes on. The more opportunity he has to open his mouth, the more emptiness he reveals. Saxton needed the election to end the first week of October, when his millions of dollars had done their best work spreading his lies. But their short-term effect is wearing off, and Ted is kicking it into gear — at last. Finally, the Gov's money and, more importantly, the fire in the Gov's belly is having the necessary effect: winning re-election.

Go to one of his campaign rallies here in the final week and see what I mean. I went to OSU yesterday and came away with a hope that goes far beyond one election.

The rally began with a bit of a surprise on the OSU Quad. I never expected anyone would have the guts to cover "Time" from "Dark Side of the Moon", but then there's a lot about this election year I wasn't expecting. So Pink Floyd being played by a local cover band in front of the OSU Memorial Union on Halloween — with every local Democratic candidate within a 40-mile radius inside and waiting for the governor — was as good a choice for background music as any.

OSU, if you're not aware, is possibly the least politically active campus in the nation; perhaps BYU is less so, but I couldn't tell you for sure. What I do know is that the student who takes the plunge and decides to lead the OSU College Dems each year faces a Herculean task. I don't know if current College Dems President Russ McDonald is fully of aware of his challenge, but the guy spent several years in the Mideast doing intelligence work with the Air Force; at the very least, he's an intelligent and responsible person. And he has a plan: To get his fellow Beavers to recognize that those things about which they do care have a political component — and they need to take an active stand on making sure their elected officials represent them.

So having Gov Kulongoski and Sen Wyden drop in at lunchtime could only help Russ' cause. By noon, with Imaginary Friends working their way from Floyd to the Beatles, and the Raging Grannies sticking their aged and wise tongues out at Bush and the neocons in song, the main room of the MU was full of local candidates and their community supporters. Students, on the other hand, were in short supply. Welcome to politics at OSU.

Pete DeFazio showed up early, blending into the crowd as he's capable of doing. Pete is a great Congressman, but he's not a huge physical presence. Nor is he plastic, a slick and professional politician you know you will keep you at least an arm length's away. You can walk up to Pete, say "Hi" and address him by first name; and then you realize that in one week, he may be one of the most powerful members of Congress. No wonder he's known affectionately as "Our Congressman" — even by those of us in Hooley's district.

Living in a small town like Corvallis, you get to know a lot of people, and you see most of them at events like this. The MU was filling with dozens of friends and fellow travelers by the time the official rally began. As the Raging Grannies sang their anger, I greeted and chatted with folks like former State Senator Cliff Trow; Jen Gilbreath (former President of the College Dems and now DeFazio's campaign manager); State Rep Sara Gelser (who now owes me a birthday cake in addition to other debts); House candidates Sam Sappington, Jason Brown and Farmer Dan Thackaberry; Albany Mayoral candidate Loyd Henion; the soon-to-be Mayor of Philomath, Jay Sexton; and I finally met Corvallis Gazette-Times political reporter Bennett Hall to whom I expounded on the value of school band — "It made all the difference in my son's life" — not-so-subtly encouraging him to get his middle school kid an instrument.

(And I got to have a huge laugh as a friend, who shall remain nameless because I am cool like that, told me that it just "killed" her to find out she's older than me!)

And at some point, Ron Wyden slipped into the room. Amazingly, he was wearing an OSU hat. The pols started lining up to get their pictures taken with him, Loyd Henion, a former manager with ODOT, zooming to the front, demonstrating his astute instincts and proving, I would think, his worthiness for election.

Then the Governor arrived with his uniformed and plain clothes guards, although at least one of them had to be a campaign aide. A standing ovation, and Russ McDonald took the podium to introduce State Rep Sara Gelser. She exhorted people to work hard for the remaining week of the campaign: "There's a lot to do," she said, simplicity being enough of a message. Then she introduced possibly the most popular politician in this part of the country, and certainly in the room, "Our Congressman" Peter DeFazio.

Pete reiterated Sara's concise exhortation: "There's a lot of work to be done between now and next Tuesday. ... We need to give Ted a state House and Senate he can work with." Speaking about the national election, he noted that "54 of the top 60 races are Republican-held seats — the American people have awoken from a very long sleep."

And then of Nancy Pelosi, who stands to become the first woman Speaker of the House, he said that in the first 100 hours after she takes the gavel, the Democrats would "drain the ethics swamp." On Day 2, he said, "we begin to deal with inequities", especially a real increase in federal minimum wage, not linked to massive tax cut. Reaching out to the students who were in attendance, and the parents trying to pay for college, he promised the Democrats would "undo the damage [the GOP] did to student aid this year" $14 billion in cuts to student aid that paid for tax cuts for those who made money in the stock market. "We will undo that," he vowed.

"Thank you for your energy. They're going to pullout the sleaze machine. [But]
they can't buy your enthusiasm. They can't buy your vote. We're going to take back America for all citizens next Tuesday."

Then Pete introduced Sen Ron Wyden, who had just come from speaking to the entire student body at Corvallis High School. As a talented professional politician, the Senator got right to his first task, sucking up to the crowd:

"It's pretty clear today that Beaver Nation and the Democratic Party are a great partnership." And after another cheer for the NCAA Championship baseball team, he made what can only be seen as a hyperbolic prediction: that OSU students would lead in voter turnout. We'll see, but the encouragement is needed if OSU is ever to have a decent turnout among their apathetic student body (although, to be honest, many of the students are registered in their home towns and simply do not change that registration; however, voting and registration rates at OSU are unacceptably low).

Wyden's job was to introduce the governor, and he took that job to mean that the people in the room needed to understand the choice facing Oregon: "We can support people who will make it easier rather than harder to go to college. ... The person who is going to lead this fight for us ... is just the right person. He's a Marine. He's used to being a leader."

And then we had a reminder of the challenge Ted has faced in his re-election bid. Ron did his best to get a chant of "Four more years" going, but it just didn't happen. The sad truth is that as much as people don't want Saxton, the enthusiasm for Ted really isn't there. Perhaps, however, what happened next changed that for many of those in attendance.

"This is the time you and I do that gut check, when we find out why we have been Democrats." Being a Democrat, he said, was about out-performing the Republicans, to re-take the House and Senate, both locally and nationally: "Doesn't "'Chairman DeFazio' sound good to you?" he asked, and it did. For Pete, there's always a huge cheer around these parts.

He spoke little about himself and more about the party he represents as political leader.

"It's always been the party of hope and opportunity for the American people. If you give the people a living wage for them and their family, most of the problems go away."

He spoke with passion about health care and about how Democrats are the ones who "step up and defend this country — we are as proud and patriotic as anyone in this country." Suddenly, Ted had the crowd on their feet , cheering and clapping as he spoke. Tremendous energy; tremendous pride in who they were as Democrats and Americans.

He turned his words to Oregon State University: "Take pride in this institution ... it reaches out to all parts of Oregon." But, he warned, it needs the funding to retain its quality. "We have to see that you have the opportunity and affordability to attend this institution. When we invest in you, we invest in Oregon's future."

Ted believes, as he said to Thom Hartmann this morning on Air America, that Oregon can lead the world in developing alternative energy technologies. He'd had the chance to recruit Al Gore as an investor in alternative energy in Oregon; this is something Saxton couldn't do, and probably wouldn't. "Oregon is uniquely situated to be the national and international leader in alternative energy ... we just have to see the future."

And from the potential sublime to the patently ridiculous: "I see my opponent analogizing himself to Tom McCall on the environment." He half-resisted the temptation to invoke "I knew Tom McCall..." letting the obvious joke complete itself as the crowd laughed.

More seriously, he denigrated Saxton's market-approach to governance with his own analogy. "Every governor is a steward of this state. When every answer is 'let the market decide' then you don't know stewardship."

Finally, as every candidate must do, he urged everyone to work hard in the final week of the campaign. "There's much at stake," he said, so get to a phone bank, walk your neighborhoods, get your friends to turn in their ballots.

His final words were a great line, and I hope whoever thought of them gets the credit they deserve (including Ted; maybe I should be giving the most obvious credit).

"Republicans look out the rear view mirror and think they're going forward. The future is out the front."

And after one final plea from Russ to vote, to sign up for campaign duties, and a pitch for the OSU Dems, a series of photos on the dias, the politicians scattered, and we were left to get back to local business

I spoke to Russ McDonald later, after we'd gathered up the rally signs and eaten the last of the VIP Room snackage. I've known his predecessors in that job, and I wanted to know what he hoped to accomplish in this near-thankless task of politicizing OSU students.

"I'm passionate about [politics]," he said. "A lot of students are passionate but those passions are not translated to political will." He wants students to work to elect people who will take their issues as passionately as they do. After serving in the Mideast in the Air Force, he came to understand the need to "take care of our democracy. I'm just trying to give [other students] a chance to understand that. ... I would have liked to have seen more students, but all in all, I was glad to see the turnout. And I didn't trip off the stage."

Passion in a young person is exciting; it gives you hope for the future. But for the present, seeing the passion in Ted Kulongoski makes me hopeful that he overcome all his difficulties and wins re-election — and then carries that passion into the next session, no matter what the results in the House. If the man I saw on stage yesterday shows up in Salem in January, no amount of anti-democratic action by Minnis and Scott will be effective. Gov Kulongoski with this fire, burning near to rage at times, is finally the ex-Marine we hoped he could be. I just long to see it in action in Salem next year.

(The rally was co-sponsored by the OSU College Dems and the Benton County Democrats.)

  • (Show?)
    He's a Maine

    I know we dislike Rs around here by and large.. but I think an r is missing there in Marine.


  • LT (unverified)

    Ted Kulongoski came to the campus of Oregon State University yesterday, and the fire and the passion were there — at last. My question: Where has that fire been for the past four years?

    I saw the same thing at the State Central Committee meeting in Salem. Thank you TA for saying this.

    There is no one to blame but those who earlier in the year treated anyone as some sort of heretic for interest in or support of either a primary challenger or Westlund as more inspiring . As my friend Julie has said for decades, "when they act like that, you know they know they are losing".

    Repeat after me: The reason that Barak Obama is so popular these days is that he inspires people. Politicians who inspire people have a power that all the money, all the consultants, all the political power in the world will never match.

    I hope it is not too late. When Republican friends of mine say they are unhappy with Saxton and thus will vote for Ted, I suspect that Ted will win because no one is excited about Saxton.

    But let this be a lesson to all who intend to run statewide in future years. It really is true that hubris is followed by nemesis. When a candidate doesn't show up for primary debates, refuses to explain actions in office or appear in front of audiences to do Q & A ---not to mention disparaging a popular 3rd party candidate & that person's supporters, that person is not going to have enthusiastic support.

    We deserve more inspiring statewide elections than this one has been. The Constitution still begins "We the people" and I hope no candidate will ever again be stupid enough to have a campaign manager say to a roomful of Democrats (who have just heard a spirited Q & A by a primary challenger) "the Governor is doing what Oregonians want done". First of all, how could he know that without dialogue--polls?

    Secondly, that sounds like "you don't matter, you're just voters, and we know what is best" which is what a number of Republican legislators have tried to tell us for years.

    The above may anger some people here. Tough luck. Already there are activist friends who are having discussions of how Democratic politics needs to change in the future or why bother being a member of a party outside of the nomination process (which one can be involved in by changing from NAV to Dem. when one finds an inspiring candidate).

    I have done volunteer work for 4 local legislative candidates this year (and a lot other years going back decades). I have a pretty good idea what works and what doesn't. I overheard a comment at a political event recently that Ted is "just like Kerry--brings in the talented people in September and then wonders why he isn't farther ahead" or something like that. So don't think I am the only person with concerns in this area.

    Many of us have lives which can easily be filled by something other than spending our spare time helping someone who said "this is the candidate you are supposed to support without asking any questions".

  • IndependentAndy (unverified)

    TA - great analysis on Saxton - schmuckness. I hadn't thought of that, but it is pretty appropriate. Another reason I voted for Ted, I just had not called it that. But I'd point out that the other major story of the day - John Kerry, illustrates schmuckness too. Kerry is such a schmuck. Nice to see well reasoned Ds asking him not to come campaign for them after his most recent gaffe. Kerry shows his true schmuckness every time he opens his mouth it seems...I still remember the incident when he was running for president, he collided on the ski slopes with his secret service detail, and all he could do was call the poor guy a son-of-a-bitch for running into him. I hope this current controversy dooms his 2008 chances so the Ds can nominate someone who isn't a schmuck!

    Compare Kerry's mouth with Ted K's behavior toward the military...he makes it a point to attend the funerals of every Oregon soldier who gave his life in the Iraq quagmire. Ted definately isn't a schmuck.

  • Myranda (unverified)

    Hi, T.A.Barnhart and others. I sure don't get the point of this post. Kulongoksi has done tons of work for Oregon and Oregonians over the last four years, in very trying fiscal times and with an R House and a nearly R Senate. His hard work surely must take some fire and energy. Maybe it's you who weren't paying attention--weren't close enought to feel the heat.

  • (Show?)

    Ted is now reinstated as a leatherneck and not a nor'easter

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    I had considered voting against the Gov. in the primary, but was so impressed with him in the KGW debate agaisnt Hill and Sorenson, that I remembered why I had supported him in the '02 primary. Yes, he has shown the right stuff this year. Let's hope it carries into the '07 legislature.

  • scott (unverified)

    "Maybe it's you who weren't paying attention--weren't close enought to feel the heat." - Myranda

    Are you serious? I know a lot of elected Ds in the legislature that were pretty damn close to the heat and wanted the Governor's leadership, but he was nowhere to be found. Ted strikes me as someone who enjoys campaigning, but has very little interest in governing. I am afraid, if he is reelected, he will go into hibernation again until Spring of 2010. This D's vote is still going to Saxton. He is a crappy politician, but I think he will provide desperately needed leadership.

  • LT (unverified)

    This D's vote is still going to Saxton. He is a crappy politician, but I think he will provide desperately needed leadership.

    Scott, if Ron wins (esp. with a D legislature) we will see if your hope comes true.

    I will believe Saxton capable of hiring good people (Jim Scherzinger quality, not Ben Canada quality), writing a budget where he has to put actual numbers on paper rather than just soundbites about efficiency, and generally doing the actual work rather than preaching to us that he has all the answers---when I see it.

    If elected, Ron will discover there is no magic wand, and even if the great Ron Saxton is sworn in as Governor, he still needs 16 Senate votes to confirm any Gov. appointee, as well as 31 House votes along with the 16 Senate votes to pass legislation.

    "Here is what Ted did wrong" has a shelf life now of less than a week.

    It could be that a Gov. Saxton would rival McCall's effectiveness and reward all those who have faith in him, but I doubt it. My friend who has voted for people in both parties over the years (Kitzhaber and Gordon Smith, for instance) make a remark like "Ron Saxton just oozes" and said he is voting for Ted. So it is not just hard core Dems. that a Gov. Saxton would have to win over.

    And he does realize that if he wins he will have to EARN public support for his proposals, doesn't he? Or does he believe "I'm Gov. Saxton, you're supposed to agree with all my ideas" will get him the support he needs? Can he be that out of touch?

  • Sally (unverified)

    "Ted strikes me as someone who enjoys campaigning, but has very little interest in governing.

    Hmmmm. I have exactly the opposite response, and have since the last campaign where he barely showed up including to the victory party on election night. It seems the enthusiasm or public display of same was kicked out of Kulongoski some many years back. Maybe the years in Goldschmidt's circle required any idealism to be replaced by resignation. Maybe it was harder knocks in tougher times past.

    This independent is not voting for Mr. K this time around, though I think his campaign tactics and managers have gotten excellent while Saxton's are flailing. My money if not my enthusiasm is on K to win.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    All things considered, Ted's campaign is much more energetic than it was four years ago, when people wondered where he was and if he was really running. And yes, Saxton is quite a schmuck, and a dweeb. May I add - a mamma's boy. When he appears in his own ads, he loses votes.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    K's lucky that Saxton isn't Mannix. Mannix is the best campaigner of the 3.

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: scott | Nov 1, 2006 9:22:30 PM I know a lot of elected Ds in the legislature that were pretty damn close to the heat and wanted the Governor's leadership, but he was nowhere to be found.

    Like who?

    Name some.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    How about nearly every Democratic State Senator when they voted AGAINST SB-1037 and, meanwhile, Kulongoski was sitting their phonebanking FOR 1037!

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    their = there

  • Dan (unverified)

    Ted's fire?

    How about Ted is on fire....

    The breaking news out of Willamette Week casts doubts on Ted's past.

    <h2> WW Link</h2>

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