OR-1: Thoughts on the Democratic primary

Carla Axtman

Having completed and published interviews with the three most competitive Democrast vying for the First Congressional District, I find myself not only a bit overwhelmed by the project--but grateful for the opportunity each campaign afforded me to spend their precious candidate time. Thank you to each of them.

I went into this project with my heart already leaning heavily toward one of the candidates: Brad Avakian. Each of the campaigns knew this prior to the candidate interviews. I felt it was only fair and honest to let them know where I stood. But I endeavored to conduct an informative interview of each of the candidates and feel confident that by most measures, this endeavor was a success. I worked very hard to leave my candidate biases aside and give readers at Blue Oregon each candidate's own personal perspective, ideas and priorities.

With that now complete, I feel it appropriate to share my own thoughts and perspective on this race.

First, I feel very confident that any of the three will be vastly superior to David Wu. Not only because I believe each of them can manage to conduct themselves ethically and honestly, but each of them appears to me to be a superior legislator compared to Wu--more capable of actually substantively representing the First Congressional District. I have long been of the opinion that Wu was not up to the job, and haven't cast a vote for him for him since 2004. I've been gritting my teeth, leaving that part of my ballot blank. I didn't find Wu or any of his opponents to be people I wanted representing me in the US House. I'm very pleased that this cycle, that has changed dramatically.

That said, these interviews have not only served to cement my heart with Brad Avakian, he's won my head over as well. I will be actively supporting him in this race both with my volunteer time and my money.

I've been represented in both the Oregon House and Senate by Avakian and by Suzanne Bonamici. Bonamici has done a good job and I appreciate her work. However, Avakian is, in my view, a vastly more effective progressive legislator.

Avakian's list of policy accomplishments as a legislator are much weightier and more ambitious than the other two. Well before he decided to run for Congress--I was impressed with his work as Labor Commissioner, as many others have been. Avakian has been a bulldog on civil rights issues--which makes me admire him even more. And while I don't agree with him on every policy position (let's face it--those of us who oppose the CRC aren't going to get what we want right now from any of these candidates), he's been the most open and candid with me--which I deeply appreciate. He's also worked very hard to recruit and nurture other progressive candidates and busted his tail to try and get them into office (with much success). I suspect that's why Emerge Oregon asked him to be a founding advisory board member.

From a more global perspective, I'm also very concerned about the lack of scrutiny of this race by the Oregon media. Especially in regard to Bonamici's connections to David Wu's previous campaigns--and her husband's aggressive work as Wu's attorney ardent support for him, well after much of the rest of Washington County was articulating strong doubts about Wu's behavior and ability to represent the District.. Bonamici's family had a livelihood for a number of years that was, to some degree or another, connected to Wu's issues. While I have my doubts that there was any nefarious or untoward activity--I'm alarmed that this story hasn't been fully vetted. In my view, it leaves her vulnerable in the General Election for the Republicans to take the story and run--spinning it in whatever direction suits them best.

A few years ago I gave my heart and my head to another candidate running in a tough primary: Jeff Merkley. I knew deep in my core that Jeff was going to be a wonderful US Senator for Oregon. As many readers know, I worked in a paid position for that campaign--but I didn't do so lightly. I gave up precious time with the people that I love to spend 80 hours a week in that job. I sure as hell didn't do it for the money--there's a reason that people my age aren't generally campaign staff. They pay what they can, but its not a king's ransom by any stretch. I simply knew he was the right person for that job and I knew that I had to do what I could to help get him there. In the years since Senator Merkley's victory, I have been reaffirmed in my beliefs about him many times over.

I'm not in a paid position with the Avakian campaign. Nor do I expect to be, should he win the primary. But I feel in my core--just as I did with Merkley--that this is the right person for this job. The constituents of the First Congressional District have not been represented appropriately for many years. Should Bonamici or Witt win the primary, I will cheerfully vote for them knowing that they will do a fine job. But in my view, the District deserves to be represented by the most effective progressive legislator--and that person is Brad Avakian.

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      I've known Suzanne Bonamici and her husband for a long time, too. I've been represented in the Oregon House & Senate by Bonamici her entire legislative career. I'm very fond of both of them, in fact. And I find the suggestion that asking questions about her ardent support for a guy who was disgraced and forced to step down is somehow out of bounds, pretty appalling.

      Steve Duin's article on this was hardly a vetting of the issue. It was a body check of Josh Kardon--for daring to bring it up. Nowhere was there a discussion about Bonamici's very strong support for Wu, especially relative to the very weak private support in Washington County.

      It's very disappointing to me to see Democrats discouraging any kind of substantive discussion here. The job of a primary is to vet the candidates on policy and leadership. Clearly Bonamici threw her leadership skills into supporting David Wu--well passed the time many others had long since walked away.

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        Many of us publicly supported Wu because he was the Democratic office holder, while privately hoping he would resign. Party loyalty is something Republicans have excelled at recently and demonstrated how they can successfully block legislation by doing so. Would the Democrats had exhibited this type of party loyalty in the face of the Patriot Act and the Iraq War.

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          For what it's worth, we agree on many items. I just comment when I have a different view on an issue, so it seems like I am disagreeing with you all the time.

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    It doesn't matter who the Democratic nominee is, because whoever it is will be associated with Wu in the general election.

    Rob Cornilles reportedly has reached the $500k mark, though not all of the FEC filings are currently online and up to date.

    Whether Avakian, Witt or Bonamici, the Democratic primary winner better get used to being fitted for a custom made tiger suit.

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      That's the Republican strategy, yes. Will it work? That depends on a number of things--not the least of which is a strong vetting (or lack thereof) by the Dems and the media in the primary.

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        The traditional democrat party insiders knew, or should have known that something was amiss with Wu. Rightfully they should be questioned in depth about this. the independents and 20-something voters who turned out to vote for ABB and turned to democrats are not going to be a counted upon vote this go round, so whomever ends up winning the nomination best be prepared for tough, repeated questions regarding the unwavering democrat support that kept wu in office when he clearly was not fit.

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      Bruce, while you're not revealing any big secrets regarding GOP strategy, you're doing your job in extending the message. The more voters associate the Democratic nominee with David Wu, the better for your guy. Guilt by (thready) association may be bunk, but I'm sure a chunk of that $500k is designated for some priceless media Wu-inizing of the Democratic nominee.

      Democrats should not take this lightly. While our 3 top nominees are clearly in line with the majority of voters in terms of economic policy and job retention & creation, and the apparent GOP nominee is just another Grover Norquist clone, the dominant message will win the day.

      ... and as Dems, we need to ensure the dominant message - despite the influx of SuperPac dollars for the rightwing candidate - will be the true one: it's the Democratic policies that favor economic recovery and will bring jobs to Oregonians.

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        Carla, I don't think anyone in the GOP considers Rob Cornilles (the presumptive primary winner) a "rightwing candidate."

        But you're right the election will be all about Wu and his Democratic allies who helped get and keep him elected in CD 1. The question is whether those voters have had enough of Democratic rule for nearly three decades and are willing to try someone else for at least one term.

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    I'm glad Carla edited her post.

    Candidates should not, in general, be criticized for the actions of a spouse. And everyone deserves competent legal help. Michael Simon is and was a top lawyer, including election law, and David Wu needed and deserved the best legal advice he could get.

    That's not the issue.

    The point that Carla makes - and with her edits, puts a sharper point on - is that Senator Bonamici was an active and ardent advocate for David Wu, going far beyond the tepid and perfunctory support that many other Democrats gave him (or didn't.)

    Personally, I'm still astonished that Bonamici never called on Wu to resign after the most recent allegations; and refused to run against him until he resigned. (Now, don't misread me -- I'm certain SB was just appalled as the rest of us. I just don't get why she didn't say that in public.)

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      Full disclosure: My firm built Brad Avakian's campaign website. I speak only for myself.

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      I'm not sure that Bonamici refused to run against then-Rep. Wu, as she stated several times prior to his resignation that she was interested in running.

      But I do know that Commissioner Avakian, for whom she has considerable respect (he helped her launch her political career), was very concerned that multiple strong challengers to Wu could allow him to slip through in a divided primary.

      Bonamici wanted to run, and she announced just about as soon as it was clear that there was no way her entry could pave the way for two more years of Wu.

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        I'm not sure that Bonamici refused to run against then-Rep. Wu

        Fair point. "Refused" is ascribing motivation.

        Let's put it this way: She didn't run for Congress until Wu resigned.

        That said, "Bonamici wanted to run" is also going too far. For months, all she would say was that she wasn't interested in discussing it until after the session. Then, between the end of session and her announcement, it was "considering" - at least in public.

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          There's a solid argument that when it was just Wu and Avakian in the race, entrance of a third candidate would probably have helped Wu, so a person could coherently have chosen not to jump in the race to improve the odds Wu didn't get the nomination.

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    Carla, thanks for your series of interviews with the candidates. I learned things from all of them.

    However, I was concerned about the strong focus on Brad Witt and Commissioner Avakian's legislative careers, while you spent most of the interview with Suzanne Bonamici on her background. Bonamici has been an effective legislator in her own right, most recently shepherding legislators through the redistricting process this year, and that received very little coverage compared to even minor votes Witt and Avakian took.

    I would also like to see stronger evidence of Bonamici's involvement in defending then-Rep. Wu prior to his scandal, beyond intimations about her husband, who is now a respected federal judge. The article you linked to does not include a word about Bonamici that I could find.

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      Thanks, Mark.

      I asked all 3 candidates the same questions, in order. The write ups are what the candidates chose for their answers. If you see a stronger discussion about the legislative record from Witt & Avakian, its because that's how they chose to respond to my questions.

      I'm not sure anyone has said that Bonamici has "defended Wu". What has been said is that she ardently supported him, well passed when others had begun to burn out or at least say that he was problematic. This is common knowledge in political circles in Washington County.

      As I've previously stated--I'm of the opinion that its highly unlikely that she's done anything nefarious or untoward. My issue here is that its just flat not being vetted and discussed in this primary. And if it's not aired out here--then you can be sure it will be aired out in the General Election. The Republicans will be thrilled to put their own spin on it, I'm sure.

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    I am confused by the hyperlink that replaced the reference to Senator Bonamici's husband. The text refers to "Bonamici's...ardent support for [Wu]" but the link you provide makes no reference whatsoever to Senator Bonamici or to any lingering political support for Wu. Can you point to anything that supports the claim that "Suzanne has been a vigorous supporter of Wu up until his resignation"?

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      You want me to provide a hyperlink to something that I'm saying nobody is discussing or vetting in the media--outside of skirting it?

      I can't provide a link that doesn't exist. This is my point.

      I live in Washington County and am extremely active in what's going on with local politics. I consistently go to town halls, speak with Washington County Dems, speak my representatives at all levels of government (including Bonamici and/or her staff) and friends/neighbors who are politically active. This is how I know what's happening in my area.

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        Why have you left the misleading hyperlink in your post?

        You have hyperlinked the text that reads: "ardent support for him, well after much of the rest of Washington County was articulating strong doubts about Wu's behavior and ability to represent the District."

        This gives the impression that you have evidence you are citing to back up the words in the post. You do not. You have admitted yourself, that you are relying entirely on anecdotal evidence.

        The linked article does not mention Senator Bonamici or refer to her alleged "vigorous" support of Wu in any way.

        If a casual reader does not click on the link or does not read the linked article all the way through, one might assume that the evidence is there. It is not.

        Are you intentionally misleading readers?

        Oh, and if you truly wanted to "update" your post, you would delete the words, not simply cross through them. Crossing through them merely allows you to "take the high ground" while still trotting out your attack line.

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    If you cannot link to something articulating Senator Bonamici's "ardent support for [Wu]" you probably should not hyperlink the words "ardent support for him..."

    An anecdotal reference to "vigorous" support rings pretty hollow to me.

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      I could see why it might "ring hollow" if it were a single anecdotal reference. But it isn't. And if you'd spent as much time in my county (and my Congressional district) talking with and listening to numerous folks about why Bonamici was so strongly in support of Wu--it would, I'm sure, be more understandable.

      The thing is--I live in the District. I work in the District and have for 15 years. So when you come here, Ryan--I'll take you around. You can hear the conversations and actively participate if you like--and learn all this for yourself. Cuz clearly nobody in the media is bothering with it. Until the General that is...should she win the primary and the GOP decide to use it.

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        But I think Ryan's point is that without any firmer evidence, it comes across as an Avakian supporter making intimations about a rival candidate, and even said candidate's integrity, based off idle gossip.

        If it's such common knowledge, then why can't you provide evidence to support your position?

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      While I personally commend Brad for initiating his campaign against the incumbent Wu, I think it is unfair to criticize Suzanne for not doing the same when the legislature was in session. She was chairing the redistricting committee and had to stay neutral on the CD-1 race until after that was resolved.

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        The legislature was out of session for two months before Bonamici made her announcement. That doesn't seem like a legitimate excuse to me.

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          I think Evan makes a good point--Avakian was making that argument. And I know that Brad Witt took heat for getting in.

          That said, Bonamici did know pretty early on that she was quite likely..possibly for certain...going to run. She said that this was her reasoning for not asking Wu to step down...she said it would have been "grandstanding". So I Sue isn't really that far off base.

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      i think you're going a bit too far in the opposite direction from which i think Carla goes too far. if SB did not ever call for Wu to resign, that's worth asking about. of course, everyone in the universe was pushing to the front to stomp on his corpse even before the body hit the ground, so maybe there's something to be said for moderation in the midst of a feeding frenzy.

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          She was never on the "resign" bandwagon at all, Evan. That's what so odd.

          An articulated champion for women, in a leadership position in the legislature, doesn't ask Wu to resign after all that went down, calling it "grandstanding"? That just doesn't add up.

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            "Never on the resign bandwagon" - that resign bandwagon lasted for four days out of 12+ years.

            What you leave out of your equation is... "someone who wants his job."

            Avakian, Witt, and Bonamici all had a personal stake in whether Wu resigned.

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              Of course they all had a personal stake. But only one of them thought it would be "grandstanding" to ask a Congressman was committing sexual misconduct with young women to resign.

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    T.a. - It isn't just personal, and it is a shame if you cannot see the big picture here. The situation I describe makes it perfectly clear that Bonamici is a Wu supporter through and through and was willing to use HER personal power to help him. Plus it makes clear she isn't always about helping women get ahead in politics, which is a point you have argued a lot. What else... also says to me she does hold women responsible for the actions of the husband.

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          I'm from Washington County, and I went to school with both Suzanne Bonamici's daughter and both of Commissioner Avakian's two children. I've met both Bonamici and Avakian on a number of occasions. They both strike me as impressive and committed progressives, and they both strike me as ambitious politicians.

          As I'm sure you've seen, The Oregonian is digging into this story, and I guess we shall see if anything comes of it. So far, we've got a couple of people denying Sandy's account, as well as an email from 2009 sent by Bonamici describing then-Rep. Wu rather blandly as "a family friend" and bringing up his business connection to Michael Simon, now a federal judge, as a reason why Bonamici wasn't inclined to host Sandy's husband at her house for an event.

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        And don't let the facts get in the way of perspective, TA.

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      you have proof of #1, right, Sandy? not just making accusations because it feels good?

      you sling a lot of mud, and at least you finally got around to making sure we all know about your personal grudge against Suzanne.

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      And therein lies the problem any democrat will face in the general election. Instead of voting for a potentially better candidate with the 'wrong' pedigree, you went with the lame incumbent just because of the little (d) behind his name. This will be a high hurdle for whomever the eventual candidate is. It may well be too high if Bonamici.

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    I'm actually enjoying this thread as both an outsider (I live in CD 3) and as a member of a protected class and endangered species (I'm a Portland Republican).

    The eventual Democratic nominee surely knows there are already GOP ads awaiting them featuring him or her next to Tiger Wu. There's no escaping the fact that this race is about Wu, just as the NY 9th was all about Anthony Weiner - not Bob Turner or David Weprin.

    And for those who are confident registration edge and history guarantee continued Democratic success in CD 1, just consider that the NY 9th was held continually by a Democrat from 1923 until Weiner's disgraceful exit, paving the way for Turner's improbable GOP win.

    Weiner and Wu, will it happen here, too?

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      Short answer, no.

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      Bruce, Corniles got beat by the Tigerman by 12 points in a "red tide" year. he's going to turn into Superman?

      his one hope: buy the election.

      because Avakian, Bonamici & Witt all are better candidates, better potential members of Congress, and better public servants. sneer now; that's gonna me a very sad frowny face Jan 31.

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        T.A. - True the Tigger beat Cornilles as we all know. But now we also know his staff and undoubtedly other prominent Democrats (including one or more running to replace him) kept from voters the truth about Wu.

        I doubt Wu would have defeated Cornilles at all if CD 1 voters knew the truth before the election, which is why this election will be a referendum on not only Wu, but also on the Democratic shield that protected him.

        So while you may say the GOP's only hope is to buy the election, that would be an improvement over Wu's and the Democrats' duplicity in stealing the last election by not coming clean until after the election.

        As a Portland resident, I've already seen how that works with the Sam & Beau Big Lie.

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      I'm sorry for what must be your perpetual frustration as a Portland Republican. If it's any consolation, your party produced some true statesmen in its day. And now I'm left wondering whether Oregon will ever elect a Republican statewide again.

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    I'm a long time cheerleader for the Simon-Bonamicci family and a supporter of Avakian in this race. Both my wife and I are politically active and mostly agree, but sometimes we do not. Any voter is on shaky ground when conflating the behavior and preferences of politically active spouses.

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    A picture is worth a thousand words.

    Carla's epic fail!

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    I wonder how the OR-1 primary will be affected by the protests sweeping across the nation and coming to Portland Thursday at noon just south of the Burnside Bridge in Waterfront Park.

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      ...and from WWeek's comment on the poll:

      Another point to note: 48 percent of voters chose none of the three leading candidates, so "undecided" is still the leader.

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      Emily's List

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      Like most folks, I'm not particularly inclined toward reporting on internal polls from advocates where the details on the polls aren't being released.

      I believe in and trust Lisa Grove and her team, so I have zero reason to believe anything nefarious going on - but internal polls are internal polls.

      You'll note that I didn't post on Avakian's internal poll back in May, either.

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        p.s. I'm also skeptical of the predictive power of polls that are conducted immediately on the heels of a candidate's TV buy.

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    I love watching Dem's play "Pin the Wu on the Donkey."

    Wait until January when the whole CD 1 general electorate is invited to play.

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