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Saturday, July 7, 2007

OR-Sen: Time for Mr. Smith to Leave Washington

Sen. Gordon Smith's recent approval numbers from Survey USA explain why the Oregon Republican is on every political observer's "Endangered Incumbent List" for the 2008 Senate campaign cycle.

Its important to note those dismal numbers were released BEFORE a recent spate of bad news for Gordo.

Recent developments have conspired against Smith successfully navigating his long-anticipated move toward the political center for the 2008 re-election effort. His meticulously manufactured moderate image (more on that a bit later) is fraying at an inopportune time. His close ties to the Dubya, Dick & Karl political machine are becoming a bigger liability with each passing week.

First, the WaPo resurrected the Klamath River salmon kill in their recent expose on FourthBranch Cheney. The water diversion (implemented behind the scenes by Cheney & Rove) resulted in the largest fish kill in US history. The devastating effects of the politically motivated diversion of water to aid ranchers and farmers still reverberate along the West Coast. The salmon fishery north of San Francisco has been practically shut down the past two summers. The economic and environmental devastation of the GOP 'win at all costs' philosophy and the revelations of Smith's role puts a serious dent in his carefully crafted moderate 'non-partisan' image.

Local Oregon blogs (Blue Oregon and Loaded Orygun) have seized on the reemergence of the story - and while the local media appears to be reluctant to report the details of Smith's role, the bloggers have dug in and look to be in it for the long haul. Loaded Orygun has filed FOIA requests to determine the extent of Smith's participation in the Rove/Cheney Klamath River Re-Election Coalition.

Public association with the politically radioactive FourthBranch Cheney would hurt in almost any state these days, but in Blue Oregon it could be devastating.

The War in Iraq - and Smith's inability to match his actions to his words could hinder his reelection effort. Smith made national headlines last December when he denounced the Bush/Cheney post-election Iraq troop surge, calling the strategy "criminal."

DECEMBER 2006: I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that any more. I believe we need to figure out not just how to leave Iraq but how to fight the War on Terror and to do it right.

Brave words? Or politically calculated? My bet is on the latter. Smith saw the midterm results and understood steadfastly supporting the administration's Iraq policy was as safe as a Sunday drive through Baghdad with the top down and no military escort. If Smith was troubled about the administration's war policy, wouldn't you think he'd work to influence his Republican colleagues or the White House about changing the Iraq military strategy? After all, wouldn't a moderate work to bring the two opposing sides closer together?

Not if you're a Gordon Smith moderate.

In March, Smith - to his credit - was indeed one of two GOP Senators (along with Hagel) to vote in favor of bringing the troops home, but in February he had voted against allowing debate on the surge despite his December statement. And, when push came to shove during the May debate over tying Iraq funding to benchmarks, Smith failed to walk the walk to back up his talk, voting with the administration.

So, let's get this straight - Sen. Gordon Smith thinks the handling of the Iraq War may be criminally incompetent, but he's willing to provide indefinite funding?

Come again?

Maybe Smith's Webster's Dictionary defines a moderate as: "(n) a follower; a skilled contortionist; an individual who rarely takes a strong stand, but if he does mistakenly wander into the land of leadership, he quickly realizes he's exposed, reconsiders, reevaluates and reverses until he's once again lockstep with the majority opinion."

The Libby Liberation provided Smith another opportunity to show Oregonians his contortionist skills (I didn't know Mormons practiced yoga!). The president's decision unfortunately (for Gordo) came while the congresscritters were home covorting with their constituents. When local television outlet KATU asked Smith about his views on the president's amnesty for good ol'Scooter, Smith was clearly uncomfortable. It was as if he only partially memorized the GOP talking points (poor Scooter was the victim of an overzealous partisan prosecutor, oh, and by the way the president can do whatever he wants so leave -him- me alone!). Like a good moderate, he remembered to share the Plames' pain, too. Watch the interview here. You can almost smell his panic.

"It is a very serious thing to not tell the truth to a federal officer and why he would have gotten in that situation I don't know, because he was not guilty of the charge of the case. But the constitution gives the president the lawful right to commute or pardon, he's exercised that, every president before has done that. I would have preferred to see this run the full legal course but I know Scooter Libby and he's a very smart and as far as I know a decent guy and I just don't know what happened here. It's just sad...I feel bad for everyone, even the Plames who were affected by this case."

One more word about Smith's moderation - he's got a lifetime rating from the ACU of 74.5 (GOP Sen Arlen Specter has a 44 - that's a moderate, in my opinion) and an ADA 2006 voting rating of 15%. Smith's lifetime voting record reveals the "moderate" label is nothing more than a marketing tool - a slogan to make him more palatable to the average Oregon voter.

DC insiders and Oregon activists see Smith as vulnerable, but many of the high profile Democrats on the DSCC short list have declined to run. Each week, there are reports in the local media about DSCC Chair Schumer recruiting another potential candidate. Currently, he's got House Speaker Jeff Merkley in his sight (Merkley says he'll make an announcement by July 31st) and many others are contemplating runs.

But, really, why is Schumer still searching?

There's a capable and proven progressive already in the race. Activist and lawyer Steve Novick deserves serious consideration from the ITB (Inside the Beltway) Crowd.

Novick has the resume. From his website:
  • After stops in law firms in New York and San Francisco, Steve joined the Environment Division (then known as the "Land and Natural Resources Division") of the United States Justice Department in 1987. He brought successful lawsuits against polluters for violations of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. He also served as lead counsel in the notorious Love Canal case. On that case in 1995, Steve and his team negotiated a settlement in which Occidental Chemical repaid the taxpayers $129 million in cleanup costs and interest. Announcing the settlement, Attorney General Janet Reno said: "Today we celebrate a transformation of an environmental disaster called Love Canal into a success story .... It [the settlement] stands for the principle that when people make a mess, they should pay to clean it up."
  • Returning to Oregon, Steve worked as policy director for Tom Bruggere's 1996 Senate bid. He then served as chief of staff to the Democrats in the State Senate from 1997 to 1999. Subsequently, he was Executive Director of the Center for Constructive Citizen Action, which spearheaded the fight against Bill Sizemore's Measure 91, which would have cut the State budget for schools, health care and public safety by more than 20%.
  • In 2002, Steve was policy director for Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski in his successful campaign. From 2004 to 2006, he worked for Citizens for Oregon's Future, an organization dedicated to providing taxpayers useful, reliable information on tax and budget issues. In 2005, Steve developed a "balance the state budget" classroom exercise for high school students, which was used by social studies teachers in Creswell, Springfield, Salem and Portland. The students' work attracted significant media attention.

He's a true progressive - a voice needed in Washington, DC. On the important issues, he's got the right answers. The netroots is embracing him, recognizing he's got the right stuff to take on Gordon Smith. Oregon is not a state we need to run a "blue dog" to win.

In the two months since Novick announced his candidacy, he has raised almost $200K and announced the campaign's recent hiring of two new staffers. There's no doubt that Smith is going to be well-financed - he had over $2.8 million in the bank at the end of Q1, raising $747K during the quarter. Back in 2002, Smith raised over $5 million and spent over $5.5 million in his re-election effort, so the backing of the DSCC will be critical to suceeding in the general. However, let's allow Oregon voters to select the best candidate to take down Gordo.

After all, the next Senator will be representing Oregon.

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