Oregon's Great United States Senator: Ron Wyden

Jon Isaacs

I usually bristle at attacks from the right wing that accuse us progressives of being obsessed with a certain topic or emotion. It’s typical of righties to try and de-legitimize a progressive position by making us look overly emotional or unreasonable. Having said that, judging by the number of recent posts dedicated to the topic of Gordon Smith (including one by yours truly) I think we may seem a bit, well, obsessed.

And then just the other day I was talking with a political acquaintance who was making another one of these arguments I’m sure you’ve heard before – Ron Wyden will never help us beat Smith, in fact he’ll probably parade around the state helping Smith win re-election.....

To that I say phooey, hogwash, bullocks and so on and so on.

The truth is, no one has done more to help get Oregon’s Democrats get where we are today than US Senator Ron Wyden. And you know, he’s never asked for any credit for all of his hard work. So I think its time to give US Senator Ron Wyden the credit he deserves.

So let me start by asking a question – would you call Senator Wyden a partisan Democrat? Nine times out of ten when I ask this question, the answer is no. It’s usually this perception that drives the blogger types nuts. We tend to be the most partisan of the partisan and we want our Democratic elected officials to go out and fight to win. This is what leads to the aforementioned (untrue) criticism. Well, you know what, we need some partisan elected officials, but that’s not what we need in a Democratic US Senator – our most visible Democratic elected official. We need what Senator Wyden provides everyday – strong leadership.

The most important thing Senator Wyden does for Oregon Democrats is he gives every voter a reason to elect more Democrats like him. Think about it.

*Senator Wyden is arguably the most accessible US Senator in the nation. He continues to honor his original campaign promise to do a town hall in every county in Oregon.

*Senator Wyden rarely, if ever, engages in personal partisan attacks (in fact, I can’t think of a single example). He saves his emotions for offering bold solutions to the most important problems facing our country - Health care, fair taxes, consumer protection and foreign policy.

*Senator Wyden doesn’t just “vote the right way” on these issues. He leads. Take the time to go through Senator Wyden’s website. On these issues and others you will find some of the most innovative proposals in the nation. Some of Wyden’s ideas are down right gutsy. That’s strong leadership.

Now, here’s the thing, its not like Sen. Wyden doesn’t think electing Democrats is important. Senator Wyden understands that strong leadership also involves helping get others elected who will help move the state/nation in the direction he thinks it ought to be going. And in 2006, Senator Wyden made a decision that he was going to do everything he could to help Rep. Jeff Merkley and the House Democrats take back the Oregon House.

Ron Wyden did over 20 local events with Democratic candidates in the most important house races in Oregon. Again, he didn’t go around lobbing bombs or doing press conferences. He quietly went about his business doing local events with the most important Democratic candidates talking about issues that matter to Oregonians. I still find it to be extraordinary that our Democratic US Senator took the time to make himself available to do open to the public forum style events with state House candidates in some of Oregon’s smallest communities. Did I mention that Ron Wyden is the most accessible US Senator in the nation?

That’s strong leadership. That’s a great US Senator.

Most political strategists will tell you that very few public endorsements actually have an impact on the outcome of an election. That isn’t the case with Senator Wyden. His support for House candidates truly mattered to voters. Truly persuaded voters. Again, the reason he’s different is his genuine leadership. If Wyden spent his time as a US Senator playing high profile partisan political games (like, for example, former US Senator Rick Santorum) he wouldn’t have that type of credibility with the public.

Let’s also not forget that Senator Wyden gave his Chief of Staff, Josh Kardon, the time to move over and help with Governor Kulongoski’s re-election. In my view, the most important day of the Kulongoski campaign was the day the Jim Ross, Josh Kardon, Tim Nesbitt team took the reigns.

So the next time you see Senator Wyden at a public event, take the time to say thanks – not for being a great Democrat, but for being a great Senator and leader. That’s what makes him so great for Oregon Democrats.

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    good post, Jon, and good to have Wyden's positives highlighted. i have enjoyed the chance to talk to him in town halls here in Corvallis, but he's done this since his time in the House. this is s.o.p. for Wyden.

    the part that drives some of us nuts, though, is not whether he's out there pushing hard enough for the party but his occassional stands on issues that drive us frikkin nuts. his screw-up on habeas corpus was just dumb: trusting the Rs to play straight with him was a level of naivete he should be beyond. back in the 80s, he supported the goddamn Trident submarine program! and even though it made sense in many ways to partner up with Gordo, it's hard for those of us not working in the Senate to stomach.

    he may not want to, but he really does need to help defeat Smith. this will be the #1 race in Oregon in 2008, and we Oregon Dems have to do our part to secure the Senate for our party -- and Wyden has to help with that. if he doesn't, it just undermines all the good he does. that's neither fair nor smart, but it's the reality of things.

  • rtaycher1987 (unverified)

    "*Senator Wyden is arguably the most accessible US Senator in the nation. He continues to honor his original campaign promise to do a town hall in every county in Oregon."

    Doesn't Sen Feingold do this too?

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Wyden is excellent on internet freedoms.

    He should broaden that view to other areas as well.

    Bob Tiernan

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    he may not want to, but he really does need to help defeat Smith.

    I strongly disagree. Not only does he not need to overtly help defeat Smith, but I would argue that, as Jon argues in his excellent post, Wyden most helps defeat Smith by simply continuing to do what he does. Plus, I would argue that by taking a partisan side on Smith's re-election Wyden might actually harm his own cause.

    Think back to 2004 and all the howling on the Left when Republican Senators forsook (sp?) Senate tradition and went hard after Daschle. If Wyden were to do the same thing then that would simply be fuel for those who argue that Dems and GOPers really aren't all that different.

    Mind you, I'm an Indie. I don't have a horse in the Dem/GOP race nor do I want to. I'm just calling this the way I see it from my perspective. And I'll add that I am somewhat partial to the criticism that Dems/GOP are more similar than different. What I judge a candidate mostly on is actions and choices. Partisans can issue all the talking points they want and I'm going to largely ignore it because it's just biased rhetoric.

    Now, I don't have any stats to back this up with but... I suspect that the key to defeating Smith in the General Election is convincing Independents that he's not the best choice. Democrats are largely going to vote against him regardless. And Republicans are largely going to vote for him regardless.

  • Greg Tompkins (unverified)


    Great article and I wholeheartedly agree! I am a Republican but try to stay open minded, especially on important issues. I support Wyden and have voted for him twice. Your last sentence, "That's what makes him so great for Oregon Democrats" should really say, "for all Oregonians"!

    Thanks for the great post,


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    I just wanted to point out that Wyden has shown he can work hard to beat Smith already at least once: because he ran against him to get his own seat in the Senate.

    Of course, in 2008, if he's going to help or not is going to be largely dependent on whether there's actually someone running against Smith.

    BTW: I'd just like to point out that Wyden was one of the majority of Democrats on the Senate Intelligence committee who voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002.

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    Wyden may be a good guy and overall a good progressive, but his vote to assist George Bush in eliminating the writ of habeas corpus for certain disfavored people will go down in history as one of the worst attacks against personal freedom in the past 250 years. No amount of town meeting appearances will ever change that.

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    Here's the fundamental problem with Wyden overtly "going after" Smith:

    Out of every six years, Smith is "in cycle" for two years and Wyden for two years. If the two of them spent four years out of every six actively bashing the crap outta each other, nothing would ever get done for Oregon.

    We partisans spend our time thinking about the partisan and ideological fights happening in Congress. But a lot of that US Senators do is totally apolitical and nonpartisan -- like getting a local bridge built, dealing with low-tier regional federal appointments, etc.

    If the two Senators (and by extension, their staffs) spent four of every six years hating each other, refusing to talk or work with each other, all that "invisible" stuff wouldn't happen.

    Ron Wyden's doing a great job doing what he does. Where do statewide candidates come from? The legislature. By helping build a majority in the legislature (and, btw, he gave over $100,000 to candidates in Oregon) he helps us win statewide in Oregon -- including the US Senate.

    [Full disclosure: I manage Wyden's campaign website, but I speak only for myself.]

  • frank carper (unverified)

    hey everybody.

    wyden is the vice-chair of the dscc. its there job to find somebody to run against smith.

    i dont think we should mistake silence for inaction.

  • Bill Holmer (unverified)


    A very level-headed and insightful comment.

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    I'm not going to ask that Wyden personally attack Smith or even actively campaign against him. However, I must insist that he not go out of his way to assist Smith in getting re-elected or in creating his faux-moderate image.

    I must admit my one attempt to communicate my concerns about an issue with Sen Wyden was disappointing in the extreme. His reply (yes, he gets credit for replying, unlike Smith) showed a complete lack of comprehension of the issue and brought into question whether or not he had even read the bulk of my not-overlong e-mail. He concluded by implying (unintentionally, I believe) that I was a child molester. Since then, I have not been Wyden's biggest fan.

    While I generally approve of much of his work, particularly his recent health care proposal, Wyden is still someone I'm strongly ambivalent about. I think the next two years will prove very constructive in helping me form an opinion about what Wyden's really all about. If he can resist the urge to help Smith with his re-election and votes consistently in the interest of his constituents, the country, and his party, I'll come around. The Senate is so closely divided, we can't have anyone selling the party out (as Wyden did on habeas corpus), especially since his seat is not particularly at risk.

  • Anonymous (unverified)

    I agree that Ron Wyden is a great Senator. That said, this piece is just mindless fluff. Did Kardon give you the reach-around? Or at least some mouthwash?

  • Greg Tompkins (unverified)

    I have written to Wyden and Smith both on a few occassions about issues important to me. They are the ONLY elected officials that I not only got A RESPONSE from but they actually wrote it themselves! I haven't even gotten that type of response back from local officials in city or state representatives. I think Smith and Wyden are both examples of excellent politicans and I have the utmost respect for them.


  • Rebel Dog (unverified)

    Your use of "progressive" makes me bristle.

    A yellow dog is not a progressive, regardless of how you feel about either, Jon, and hasn't been since the 1930s.

    Progress is always progress from. You can't simultaneously be a part and away and you sound as much a part as any. People talk about progress being simply toward, but that is literally meaningless until you have defined what you are moving away from.

    Face it, it's a two-faced, one party system. Anyone that makes claims about "significant value differences" is raising money.

    Is "in cycle" anything like "in heat"?

    More and more, a significant minority are starting to say "good people don't need parties". How about that for a post? On balance- looking at all the effects good and ill- what is gained by having political parties? I'll argue they exist for only two reasons. Humans believe that anything they do in association with others is more meaningful than individual effort, and people don't want to have to understand every candidates' position before voting. Maybe if everyone ran strictly on their own merits, voter apathy would propel some decent candidates into office.

    And the Trident is not a historical error. It is still an operational weapons system; funding is voted regularly, so the mistake is repeated, not a matter of history. Trivia question: How many boomers does the US have actively stalking the globe, simultaneously? What would you do with, say, five? And how many are on active duty?

  • Rep. Peter Buckley (unverified)

    For the record:

    Ron Wyden is a major reason the Oregon House Democrats are the majority now in Salem. He campaigned for our candidates all over the state, stay involved all the way through.

    Thanks & Onward, PB

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Let's get a candidate for Senate and see what Sen Wyden does. Everything I've seen has indicated that he operates from a position of integrity and his mistakes have seemed to involve his thinking others did as well.

  • Steve Rankin (unverified)

    Can Comrade Wyden now name the prime minister of Canada? In his first Senate campaign, he was unable to do so.

    He also couldn't find Bosnia on a globe.

    But we shouldn't expect members of Congress to be familiar with such minute details, should we?

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    That was cute, Mr. Rankin. Best you can do is something from 11 years ago?

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    Wyden is good overall. I think Wyden's problem with acitvists is that many have a Wyden story where he told them what he wanted to hear but wouldn't stand up on their issues. For example, some long time prominent Democratic donors from Benton COunty told me that when Wyden challenged and defeated COngressman Bob Duncan who was fairly conservative on cultural issues, Wyden promised to support (or even co sponsor) Weiss-Waxman, an omnibus civil rights bill that included portection for sexual orientation. Wyden then refused to support it for years, even though Republican Bob Packwood was a public supporter of the senate version of the bill. I supported DeFazio over Wyden largely because of Wyden's support for NAFTA and other free trade bills, and because I love DeFazio's agressive populism. Still,I think that Wyden is a good senator and a good Democrat.

  • Pavel Goberman (unverified)

    Ron Wyden is Great US Senator? What good did he do for nation? Help our country with problems in Iraq? No! This moron is a Talking Machine, idiot, career politicians who many years is sucking taxpayers money. And he is violating, ignoring and criminal contempting the Constitution of the USA and the Code of Ethics for Government Employees and should be in prison for it for at least 2 years. He is not convicted yet criminal. It is "our" government. Shame!

    Pavel Goberman - Candidate for US Senator

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