Gordon Smith's obsession with furniture

The Oregonian slaps down Gordon Smith's latest attack ad - which obsesses about a recent remodel in the State Capitol. The silliness of his ad is appropriately met with sarcasm from the O:

Given how few serious problems face the United States in this election year, it was inevitable that Oregon's U.S. Senate campaign would get to the issue of furniture.

Not to mention rugs.

Two-term GOP Sen. Gordon Smith is running for re-election on the charge that the Democratic candidate, House Speaker Jeff Merkley, was part of spending too much on the state Capitol remodeling project. Smith's new TV spot laments the Legislature buying $4,000 walnut desks and $2,700 leather sofas in refurbishing the Capitol, for a total of $2 million in furniture. We can sympathize with his point. There's a certain appeal to the idea of state legislators assembling their own office furniture from Ikea.

Except that 150,000 Oregonians a year visit the Capitol, producing hard wear on its furniture and rugs. In the last purchase, when the two new legislative wings were added 30 years ago, the state went cheap, with predictable results. This time, a bipartisan committee of six legislators concluded it would be better to buy furniture likely to last 50 years.

The O notes that the project is on-time and under-budget -- unlike, say, the U.S. Senate project that Gordon Smith is part of:

Still, there are reasons Smith might have been startled by the whole state Capitol remodeling project. After all, Oregon's effort is being finished in time and under the original $34 million budget, leaving $4 million to fix ceiling leaks that hadn't been addressed in the original plan.

During most of Smith's time in the U.S. Senate, Congress has been building a visitor center onto the U.S. Capitol. Four years late and $325 million over its original $300 million budget, it's scheduled to open in December -- reportedly because Congress didn't want it getting too much attention before the election.

During most of the construction, Smith's Republicans were in charge of Congress, and Smith himself was on the key Senate Committee on Finance and Upholstery.

Spending advice from Washington, D.C., is always welcome, but you could see why the Oregon Legislature's performance might make Smith want to sit down. Still, it's hard to see him getting startled by a $2,700 sofa.

After all, consider how many millions he's spending to try to keep his seat.

Meanwhile, on the news side of the House, the Oregonian's Harry Esteve breaks down the anatomy of a campaign hit.


  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Material here for a response ad from Merkley.

  • Jonathan Radmacher (unverified)

    Can't someone in D.C. PLEASE get some pictures of Smith's office furnishings? You can bet that it cost more than the stuff that's being purchased for the State.

  • Jack Sullivan (unverified)

    It's been a few years, but I'm pretty sure Gordon Smith swapped out the furniture in the Senate President's office when he was there.

    Did he pay for it himself? I doubt it.

    Hopefully someone in the media will do the actual research to figure that out. Could be a heckuva story.

  • (Show?)

    I remember first going to Salem and thinking, "Lord have mercy, this is ugly carpet!" I was relieved to find out - via negative ad - that this stylistic problem was being remedied. Worked for me, totally voting Merkley.

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    Well, they do say that negative ads are more information-rich than positive ads... :)

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)

    I'm with you on this one, Karol.

    Luckily, when I was working at the capitol in 05, I was on the House side. The carpet there was merely a hideous green. The Senate side, however, had bright, flourescent orange carpet that can probably be seen from space.

    Many of the most conservative legislators that I know were fully supportive of renovating the capitol building. I also recall the air circulation being particularly poor there, and I even got sick multiple times during the 05 session, probably because of the poor air quality.

  • naschkatzehussein (unverified)

    Someone may have posted this already so my apologies, but Gordon Smith is one of a handful of endangered Republican senators who are going to give their own convention a pass this year. After being a plantation slave (one of Clinton's better phrases) for the past 7 or 8 years, all of a sudden Smith is an Obamacan.

  • (Show?)

    This coming from a guy who spent over a million dollars on three golf clubs -- used clubs at that! I saw an entire set of new clubs at Joe's recently for just a few hundred dollars, Smith could have bought those and saved a ton of money.

  • (Show?)

    Nice one, Glen. There's the core idea for a new ad right there. Except that I would also emphasize that the clubs at Joe's would be buying local instead of enriching someone outside of Oregon.

    Which, come to think of it, is part of the issue here. The furniture Smith is criticizing is "made in Oregon". Where is IKEA furniture made?

  • John Mulvey (unverified)

    Yup, this one's a nonissue, and it really just makes Smith look weak. Hitting the Speaker because they bought new furniture while he was in charge is so bush league it makes the Senator look pathetic.

    What's the deal with his media team these days? Is he not being handled by the same people who made him look like a cross between John Kennedy and John Denver for all those years? This years' ads make him look all tired and cranky.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to post about was the equally rotten pro-Merkley ads the DSCC has been running. They're right to hit the Smith-Bush thing as hard as possible, but the ads they're using look cheap, ghastly and unimaginative.

    With all the creative people in Oregon, wouldn't there be a cleverer way of getting the same message across, using something with a small amount of an Oregon sensibility? Where are the people who did that Jim Hill ad from a couple years ago, in the coffee shop with the kid rapping? Or the famous Pete DeFazio dodge dart commercial? Or, for that matter, the Novick beer bottle ad?

    Team Merkley needs an injection of just that sort of thing.


  • Greg D. (unverified)

    I do have some reservations over the fact that the new Salem furniture will be made by convict labor, instead of by unionized shops on the outside. But I guess the guys pointing the shotguns at the convicts while they made the furniture were probably members of one state employee union or another, so all is well. Maybe.

  • But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough. (unverified)

    (CNN) -- In 2006, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public. When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    This is a sign of a desperate campaign.

    Bob Tiernan

  • springfielder (unverified)

    That's a pretty silly issue to pay good campaign ad money on.

    Nevertheless, if I read that right, the state went cheap the last time, and the stuff lasted 30 years. Not bad, if you ask me. The complaints I hear in the comments were about the colors. It seems they could have updated to contemporary designs and color schemes and still gone 'cheap'.

    Not that it matters anyway.

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    Springfielder wrote "...the state went cheap the last time, and the stuff lasted 30 years." Don't confused "lasted 30 years" and "was there 30 years", as they are two different things. That's like saying the Coliseum in Rome has lasted over 2000 years - if you look real close, you'll notice it's more than just a little frayed around the edges. Sure, people still visit it, but there are no games, no concessions, no usable toilets, no skyboxes...

  • Ted (unverified)

    I have to agree with springfielder, and this is no way a defense of Gordon Smith, who I think has been a disaster for Oregon and America. There are offices and facilities all over Portland with metal desks that are 50+ years old. Go to City Liquidators and you'll find a whole lot of them for cheap. That's not to say Oregon's state capitol should have cheap looking stuff, it's just to say that there are much cheaper materials with equal durability.

    The second lame part of this defense for profligate spending is that it doesn't consider the time value of money. What's the opportunity cost of this investment? Well, it could be social services, schools, etc.

    And by the same logic state legislators are using, maybe some of that money should be reallocated to state offices where state employees are working in dilapidated cubicles, on old desks, etc. Seriously, walk into some of the state offices and look around. These people represent Oregon and many of these facilities have a large volume of visitors, too.

    Vanity is biparitsan.

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    Green and orange! Ah, the 1970s...

    Or was it compromise between Ducks and Beavers?

    Not having bought office furniture recently, and particularly not in bulk, it is a bit hard for me to evaluate Ted's quite sensible question about opportunity costs. On the other hand, I'm not sure the the 50 year old metal desks actually were cheap in their day, either, and if you were to make those new now?

    When I worked at OPB a few years ago our project (grant-funded) bought Anthro furniture for the staff -- good ergonomically, well designed functionally, not sure how the hard plastic bits holding stuff together or the particle board (I think) surfaces are likely to hold up over time.

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    My Dad worked on the construction of the Capitol back in the 30's. Since he passed away when I was a child, I value the Capitol maybe differently than others. I love visiting there and think such a treasure should not look as if it was furnished "on the cheap". Many tourists visit the Capitol and I think it should make a good impression.

  • Nici MIller (unverified)

    I'm sorry. When our libraries are struggling to stay open, our police forces are being cut, our schools are in desperate need of repair, is this truly where the states priorites are? I don't really give a damn how ugly the carpets are when our school children needs books and decent classrooms. I wonder how everyone would react had republicans been in charge when that decision was made . . .BUT I'm sure NO ONE here would complain about $34 million in wastless spending. It's obviously NO BIG DEAL . . .

    Very dissappointed in my fellow Oregonians

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