Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Jessica Gomez ends the honeymoon.

Her video introduction was lovely.  Smiles, everyone happy, community.  That's over.  She is a politician now.

She is defending a tax loophole to help "small business." Most of the benefit goes to the very wealthiest.

It turns out she is a Republican after all.
Jessica Gomez posted in Facebook that she is disappointed that the legislature passed, and Governor Kate Brown signed, a bill that closed a loophole in the Oregon income tax. 

Gomez is making the transition into the hard slog of being a politician.

The new federal tax law allowed certain kinds of businesses characterized as Pass Through entities to get a 20% tax deduction for Qualified Business Income.  

Only some people qualify for the deduction, because it isn't based on being a small business, or jobs created, but rather whether a business is organized as a "pass through" entity or not. Wage earners don't get it. Some types of business aren't eligible, some very big businesses are. Lawyers and accountants are scrambling to see if their clients can reorganize their ownership in order to qualify. Some can, some cannot.

Oregon, by default, would normally adjust its tax rules to comply with the federal code, creating for those lucky people the 20% deduction on the taxes they would pay to the State of Oregon. Senate Bill 1528, signed by Brown, stops that, leaving Oregon's rules as they were. No special treatment for LLCs on Oregon taxes.

In Salem this was argued as a "small business tax increase", and Republican legislators opposed it.  In fact it was a benefit for a certain kind of business structure, neither large nor small, and the Senate Bill kept the status quo in Oregon.

Gomez acted like a Republican soldier here. All Republicans opposed the bill, meaning they wanted the provision extended to Oregon taxes as well. She is a member of the Republican tribe.

Who was really helped by the change in federal law to create the special tax cut for pass through businesses, and should Oregon incorporate that into Oregon law?

The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation published a report. It showed that almost all the dollar benefit goes to the top 2 percent of taxpayers, and with nearly half the benefit going to people earning $1,000,000 or more a year.  That is the small business getting the special tax break federally, then urged by Republican legislators to be extended to Oregon.
Click for the PDF file

This is a problem and opportunity for Gomez. There is a case to be made that very high income people in Oregon feel over-taxed, and they need a courageous new legislative defender, and Jessica Gomez can play that role. Jessica Gomez can make her case that people with incomes above $1,000,000 should have more tax breaks, like the one closed by Senate Bill 1528. Having made out so well with a federal tax cut, they should also do well with a reduction of state taxes. 

It could be a tough sell to the general public. Most Oregonians don't think people making a million dollars a year are "small" anything.

Selling the pass through loophole details on its merits has the difficulty that some people get it and some don't, with no apparent reason in equity or policy. If it is worth doing, why do it via a deduction for certain business organizations, but not others? Is a pass through organization any better for Oregon than a sole proprietorship or C-Corp. A business person whose company makes a medical device might qualify, but if he has multiple stock holders would not.  Why benefit a businessman making a million dollars a year who can organize his business as a pass through, but not a physician working on salary at La Clinica, earning a fraction of that? Is that fair?  The special treatment isn't for "small business." It is for businesses of any size whose accountants can manage to shoehorn their business organization to fit the law.  Forbes Magazine explains some of the quirky inclusions and exclusions:  Click: Good Forbes article  
Click for the lovely video

Jessica Gomez is on record wanting to preserve the Tax Code 199A exemption to the Oregon income tax, that is both haphazard and which primarily benefits the very richest taxpayers. 

She has a problem whatever she does.

If Gomez attempts to wiggle away from defending the special benefit for pass through entities on its merits, she would look weak. She does not have credible GOP primary opposition, but, still, she cannot let herself look disloyal to her GOP team. 

On the other hand, if she defends the special benefit for pass through entities, presenting it as a benefit to "small business" when in fact something with primary benefit to the richest Oregonians she can be made to look out of touch with the average Oregonian. Most Oregonians don't think people with $200,000, $500,000, and $1,000,000 incomes need tax breaks. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A close look at campaign Meet-and-Greets

They are important. They aren't a mystery.

President or local office, it is about the same. Meet and greets are a classic way to build a network of supporters. I look closely at two of them.

Presidential Meet and Greet in New Hampshire

I attended a meet-and-greet event for Chris Christie in September of 2015--four months before the New Hampshire primary election. He was considered a likely frontrunner at that point. Donald Trump got bigger crowds, but Trump, then, was considered a novelty candidate, getting crowds because he was famous and controversial and said things that surely made him un-electable. The prevailing thought was that Trump would implode and Chris Christie would be the experienced successor and beneficiary.

Meet and Greet phase
Chris Christie had a meet and greet. It was advertised widely. I attended.  It would be a chance to meet the next president, maybe.

Here is what I saw:

1.  Widespread advertisement of the event, and the clear goal was to get people there. Invitations were published in the Candidate Tracking news sites and Republican newsletters. It was advertised to the public and the public was invited. Come and meet Chris Christie!

2. The venue was an upper-middle class type private home with a big front yard on a Sunday afternoon. The hosts served desserts, cheese, crackers, pate, chips, all things that could be eaten without a plate. They served wine and beer and sparkling water in plastic cups.  My estimate of the food cost for the Christie event is $250. There was food for fifty or sixty.

3. The hosts were politically active; the husband a sitting County Commissioner, which in New Hampshire is a part time job paying about $20,000 a year. The host was an attorney.

4. When guests arrive they were met by campaign volunteer staff, who captured the guest's name, address, phone, willingness to volunteer. 

5. Time table for the 90 minute event:
  35 minutes: Informal wandering around and chatting between candidate and guests.
It turns out he is not the next president.
   5 minutes:  Host goes to raised spot, he thanks everyone for coming, and then the host says nice things about the candidate.
  15 minutes: Christie goes to the raised steps, thanks the host, then gives his stump speech saying why he should be elected president. 
  15 minutes: Candidate takes questions by the attendees. (I asked him about Bridge-gate.  He said he barely knew the perpetrators.)
   5 minutes:  A well-regarded guest goes to the steps, thanks the candidate and then then does the "ask"--i.e. a call to action in the form of general support or a financial donation.
  20 minutes: Christie leaves amid people wanting to buttonhole the candidate.

6. No media attended, although photographer David Kennerly was there on assignment from some news magazine to take photos only.

7. Headcount: about 40 people.

Michelle Blum Atkinson 

What happened at the event for Michelle Blum Atkinson? Essentially the same thing.

Michelle Blum Atkinson arrived early, bringing lawn signs and donation envelopes. Two campaign volunteers also arrived early and set themselves up to help greet and log in guests. Guests arrived approximately on time. The candidate made the rounds greeting people. Guests ate the food and drank the wine--more red than white.

After about 35 minutes a former county commissioner (i.e. me) introduced the candidate. She spoke for about 15 minutes and answered questions for another 15. Former State Representative Peter Buckley went to the microphone and urged people to support her--i.e. "the ask." Current State Representative Pam Marsh spoke about how useful it would be for this seat to be held by a Democrat and re-affirmed the call for support for the candidate.  

Then the candidate resumed visiting with guests.

No media attended, although photographer Allen Hallmark was there as a volunteer taking photographs, including all the photos shown here. (Thank you, Allen.)

Time: about 90 minutes. Headcount about 30 people.

What was different? We had live music playing during the meet-and-greet period by a band that called themselves "No Collusion" consisting of Rick Millward, Art Baden, and Tom Fuhrmark, who volunteered their service. The music defined the event as a bit more informal and party-like than it would have been without it.

Democracy in America. This is how it is done. The events cause networks of "endorsements", i.e. the hosts are communicating to the many people invited that they like the candidate, then people who attend tell others that they saw and liked the candidate. People often contribute financially in response to the call to action. and write checks, take lawn signs, etc.

The most important element to the meet-and-greet gathering is the invitation.  The New Hampshire county commissioner and the Republican party in the area placed advertising, associating the county commissioner and Chris Christie and inviting the public. Thousands of people would have seen the invitation. 

In the event for Michelle Blum Atkinson, I sent an invitation to a hundred local attorneys, to 250 people in my email address book, to 200 Democratic precinct committee people, and to hundreds of local Facebook friends, totaling perhaps 800 people. This is fewer than were reached by Chris Christie, but still significant. The invitation is a kind of endorsement advertisement and referral.

Photos of the event:


Former Rep. Peter Buckley did the call to action
State Rep. Pam March praises the candidate
Attendee Lee Murdoch
Lawn signs available for pickup

Refreshments are traditional. 
Left to right: Baden, Millward, Fuhrmark.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Greg Walden: Safe from the Right.

Greg Walden sounds moderate but votes hard right. The GOP moved, and Walden moved with it. He protected himself on the right.

But he still sounds like Good ol' Greg Walden. Nice guy. Unflappable.

The Greg Walden in the popular mind of many Republican voters is the mild-mannered, Main Street, Chamber of Commerce Republicanism of Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, Mitt Romney.  In the District he looks and sounds the part.

Mild and calm amid angry crowd.
Primary Threat. Some Republican incumbents are facing competition from the populist Trumpist right. Polls show GOP voters back Trump, and the winning GOP style is Trump populism-nationalism. Steve Bannon threatened a primary attack on every Republican Senator except Ted Cruz. Incumbents watched Richard Lugar in Indiana lose a primary election, and up and coming House leader Eric Cantor--with a presumed 30 point lead in the polls--lose to a Tea Party insurgent. The word went out: the real risk to an incumbent in a safe seat was from an insurgent on the right.

Walden was theoretically vulnerable. His tone is not Trumpist. He is mellow-establishment, not insurgent. Primary challenges to people like Walden are emerging. For example, Mark Sanford, GOP Representative in South Carolina, faces Katie Arrington, an unabashed Trump-supporting Republican, who calls Sanford the "Jeff Flake of Congress."  The shooting in Parkland, Florida created pressure on GOP incumbents to be "flexible" on gun registration and on assault type rifles, which creates a risk. Anything less than a pure "A" rating from the NRA gives a GOP incumbent's opponent an opening to attack from the right, but which might leave the incumbent looking insensitive to gun violence.

It is a dilemma. CNN reports the comments of a GOP strategist in Florida: "Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  If you don't, you may not win the nomination. If you do, you may not win the general election."  Click 

A strong Republican primary challenger might have pushed Walden to the right.  

Greg Walden has no primary threat. 

Paul Romero, Jr., who calls himself a Constitutional Conservative, filed against him as a Republican. A person with a "Constitutional Conservative" label would be the trademark signal of an opponent on the Tea Party insurgent Trumpist right.  

Romero shows no sign of a viable campaign. He holds no public office and has what he calls a "low budget, grassroots campaign" using his own personal funds. He cites some issues, none of which are a real threats to Walden. Romero wants to protect Social Security, citing a 1999 vote by Walden. Romero says he opposes illegal immigration, supports good federal land management, says he supports more jobs, wants to lower taxes, supports the 2nd Amendment, supports keeping dams, and supports term limits. All of these are standard GOP positions, none of which are directly a threat to Walden, except term limits. On the hot issue, guns, Walden has an "A" rating from the NRA. and is one of the top recipient of NRA financial support. 

Romero's only real criticism of Walden is that Walden has become wealthy and powerful while serving as a Congressman, and that he can no longer relate to his constituents. It is a powerful argument if he could make it with force, and it echoes what Democrats are saying.  But he is nearly invisible. I see no sign of campaign beyond a few personal appearances, the Voters Pamphlet, his website, and a personal Facebook page. 

Webpage:    Facebook:  Click: Romero Facebook 

An Independent candidate, Mark R. Roberts, is the sole filer on the Independent ballot slot, but at this point his campaign focus appears to be running a write-in campaign on the Republican ballot. He has both an active web page and frequently updated Facebook page.

Roberts' billboard
Webpage: Shake a Million Hands  and  Facebook: Mark Roberts  

The activity of his Facebook page suggest an intent to run a real campaign, but his omission from the Voters Pamphlet suggests the opposite. In any case, billboard advertisements urging people to write in "Roberts" instead of voting for Walden is not a viable insurgency.

If Roberts could raise and spend money he might be a significant factor. He has detailed policy positions and he makes direct criticisms of Walden.

What this means for the general election 

It means Walden is safe in presenting himself to the voters as Mr. Nice Guy moderate. The near invisible agitation from the right helps Walden. Walden gets to tell donors that he has been pressured from the crazy Tea Party fringe, which positions Walden as some kind of responsible centrist within GOP establishment donor circles.  

Every Democratic candidate has a parallel criticism of Walden. The Democratic message: Walden isn't what he appears to be. He became a captive of the Trump-Tea Party-GOP caucus. Look what he did on the ACA. Walden is part of the Republican House disfunction that cannot even keep a Speaker. 

It would have been an easier argument to make if Walden had needed to protect himself from the right and have associated himself with Tea Party radicals. But he didn't.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Four quick items for Sunday

Jennifer Neahring. Internet by phone. Subscription Costs. Candidate Expunged.

Click to read editorial
1. Jennifer Neahring endorsed by Bend Bulletin. Their editorial suggests that Neahring is positioning herself toward a moderate position on forests issues ("She doesn't believe the federal government has struck the right balance in managing its public lands to ensure wildfires don't devour any chance to carefully log. She has reservations about the idea of charging for and putting new limits on access to wilderness.")  It is a hint that she is running somewhat more as a centrist, with words like "balance", rather than from the Democratic left flank.

2. The internet has gone mobile.  Desktops are the past, apparently, at least based on the people who read this blog by going to the site:

Readers on a mobile device: 70%
Readers on a desktop:          18%
Readers on a pad                    9%
Other/unknown                        3%    

Renew at 75% off.
The blog now routinely gets over a thousand readers a day.

3  Mail Tribune Subscription Costs.  People call me to report what they pay per year and everyone is different, with most being above $300 if they just pay the bill they are sent. Some pay $440/year to renew.

I thought the huge disparity in pricing for renewing subscribers hurts the Tribune's credibility, and I suggested they create some price discipline so neighbors aren't surprised when they compare notes. At the Pear Blossom Festival the Tribune had a booth selling subscriptions for $110 a year. What about renewals, I asked? The nice people there told me simply to come back every year and renew for $110. Subscribers who are passively trusting that the bill they get in the mail and are paying is the "fair" one likely pay much more than the price paid by "shoppers."  Don't pay more--unless you want to.

4. I expunged all records of a candidate. I have eliminated all references to any Republican opponent of State Senate candidate Jessica Gomez. Feedback I received on prior posts about her opponent left me very uncomfortable. I now consider her to be running un-opposed.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Michael Byrne: A Poet, and his pathway to victory.

"To earn the trust of the voters in Oregon's District 2 one must have a basic set of experiences that define us, and this place."

                                         Michael Byrne, the stone mason guy

A reader wrote me:  "After reading about all the candidates and who they are, I really believe that the best one has the least chance.  That would be the stone mason guy.  He would make a great representative for the country."

He is informal, unpretentious, lighthearted. He has a profound case to make: that representation in Congress is about representation. 

Michael Byrne says Greg Walden is not our representative, not anymore. Walden is an actor who has broken character and has been revealed as a lobbyist. Byrne says Walden is fake, and credible populism cannot be faked. It has to be lived. "My District 2 backstory will get me elected. I am who Greg Walden pretends to be while he enriches himself at the public's expense.. . . District 2 is looking for a representative that can be trusted; with shared values and experience. Greg Walden has posed as that representative."

Michael Byrne writes campaign material the way Walt Whitman wrote poetry. Readers may remember reading Whitman's blank verse in high school. 

Byrne writes a modern "Song of Myself, done new for this era of Trump.


Byrne writes:

"Congress is a Millionaire's Club that neither cares nor knows anything about us.

To earn the trust of the voters in Oregon's District 2 one must have a basic set of experiences that define us, and this place.

In no particular order:

*Own a pick up truck
*Can field dress a deer, catch a steelhead, set up camp
*coached Little League
*gone years without health insurance
*have less than $1000 in savings
*have a nephew or son in the military
*your spouse worked a dead end job so your kids had health insurance
*looked up at the mountains and knew you wouldn't live anywhere else
*driven 200 miles in the middle of the night because there was a bed available in a   drug treatment center
*volunteered in your kids public school
*lived on a dirt road
*taken your family to the coast, because you could.
*attend the high school football games
*grow vegetables
Vietnam anti-war Byrne
*have some college
*went to school with Native Americans
*attend church irregularly
*know that a cord is 128 cu ft
*change your own oil
*has an elderly family member in a nursing home

It is too late to acquire this particular set of experiences, just as it too late for me to graduate from college at the top of my class.

My District 2 backstory will get me elected.  I am who Greg Walden pretends to be while he enriches himself at the public's expense."

This is a political blog, not a poetry blog. 

Can Michael Byrne actually win the election?

Byrne understands the circle of frustration he is in. "Part of the problem of not being taken seriously is you don't get taken seriously."

He seems marginal as a candidate because he doesn't have a crowd in front of him. Paul Simon or Bob Dylan would draw a crowd and be taken seriously. Whitman is a classic and professors call him a genius, or egotist, or revolutionary, but in any case they study him and assign him in class.

Without the cheering crowd there is nothing to draw a cheering crowd.  

Byrne spent the past week hosting a voter registration event in Hood River for the Latino community and teaching apprentice bricklayers about stone. There were no crowds.

Soccer Coach
Byrne is what voters think they want: a genuine representative who understands them and the problems of the district and who wants to fix them. Someone who who has a good heart, and who is a trustworthy neighbor, someone on their side. 

Here he is, if people want it.. If people don't vote for him, it is on them. .

Friday, April 20, 2018

Jeff Golden: Pathway to victory.

"In this District, this year, organization beats money."

Jeff Golden has an active campaign.  He tells me he has some 400 individual contributors to his campaign, he has campaign volunteers, he is out talking with voters, he knows the issues, he has an experienced campaign manager, and he has been in the public eye doing politics here for some 40 years.

Golden sounds optimistic.

Golden took a risk when he announced that he would not accept PAC money from any source. It shut off one potential source of money, but Golden has an alternative.  A large body of people have been contributing for decades, either to him or causes that he has promoted: public radio, public TV, his TV show Immense Possibilities, and his own political campaigns. That is where the 400 contributors came from.

The real risk to not taking campaign money from PACs, Golden says, is that political endorsements are tied to wanting and accepting the money. "The matrix of party leaders and PACs who fund campaigns are overly comfortable with the way things are now," Golden said. "A PAC chairman told me 'you better rethink this PAC thing, Jeff. If you stick with your position of not taking money the endorsements will go someplace else.' He was right."

Golden says he doesn't want to be in a position where some lobbyist thinks he is owed a vote. He wants to be able to vote his conscience and the interests of his District. "Critical thinkers, who have well thought out independent views of the issues, are likely to be annoying to those upstate PACs."

Candidate Kevin Stine questioned Golden on whether he would be as conflicted by individual contributions as would be a candidate who got money from "good PACs."  Golden said there is a huge difference. He said his three contributions greater than $1,000 came from personal friends and people who have been supporting his Immense Possibilities show for years, and like his approach to public issues. None of his 400 contributors are lobbyists, he said. They don't spend their workdays at the Capitol building, and their jobs don't depend on slipping into a legislator's office and getting him or her to add a word or sentence to a bill as it works its way through committee. 

"Mine is the cleanest money possible in an imperfect world," Golden said, "money from individual citizens who agree with me and trust me."
At a forum in Ashland

So far his reported contributions exceed the contributions of Athena Goldberg, his nearest competitor. She has been the candidate who has secured PAC endorsements and contributions. She has noted those in her Voters Pamphlet page.

The money he is raising is going to campaign organization, printed material, and to Facebook, not TV, radio, or newspaper ads. The official state record of campaign contributions and expenditures show that Golden has spent some $1,983 on Facebook ads. Athena Goldberg has spent $2,434. Julian Bell has spent $451. Kevin Stine shows no Facebook ads yet. Traditional media payments are zero for all four candidates.

Jeff Golden said he realized that the Primary election winner would likely face a tsunami of advertising from Jessica Gomez, the presumed GOP nominee. 

I asked him how he would deal with that. Other Democrats would presumably take PAC money and try to match the GOP advertising dollar for dollar. I asked if that might make them stronger general election candidates.

From Golden's Facebook promotions.
Money won't matter, he said. Turnout is what will matter, he said.  A giant money-driven campaign will backfire, and that would be true for the Democrat, as well, if they go the big-money route, he said.

"The Koch Brothers talked about investing $400 million in various state races in 2018," he said.  "Republicans spent $800,000 in Alan DeBoer's election campaign in 2016 and Gomez might spend two million dollars.  It wont matter because if she does spend that much, then 1.5 million of it would be wasted."  You can only spend so much money, he said, and when you spend too much on mailers, TV, and radio you just call attention yourself as being indebted to your contributors. It bolsters my case for independence and integrity, he said.  

Democrats need to turn out, and will, Golden said. Golden said that he has a long track record of supporting progressive Democratic values, that this is a Democratic district, and no amount of money will convince Democrats to vote for a Republican, not this year. Republican ads--and Trump--will just motivate Democrats. He expects them to turn out.

And he has the organization to do it.  He said that Cathy Shaw, his campaign manager (and former wife) "has regularly beat campaigns that spent far more money."  She does it by getting our voters to vote.

[Note: I consider myself open minded about this campaign. There are things to like about each candidate. Like other long-time residents of the area, I have known Golden for years and have contributed to his various campaigns, as well as to public radio and public TV when he was soliciting funds, and I donated to Immense Possibilities. I have not contributed money to his political campaign this year, but I did give to Julian Bell and Kevin Stine. As I have said in other disclaimer notes, my giving money doesn't represent fealty; it represents respect for the hard job of raising money for political campaigns, so I frequently give to several, including anyone who asks. I am not a cheerleader for any campaign. I consider myself a centrist Democrat.  All four of the Democratic candidates are a little too liberal for my taste. I voted for Hillary in 2016, but I predicted Trump would win.]

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sweet are the Uses of Adversity

Democrats do not lose to Republicans.  They lose to apathy.  

Local Democrats are finally doing something interesting.  Before, it was just a game of scrimmage.  Now they are keeping score.

Political observers underestimated Donald Trump because they thought politics was the governing business. Trump understood that politics is show business.  Governing is the by-product. 

Local Democrats are in "turmoil", writes a local newspaper. They editorialize that Democrats should settle down, get through this "patch of turbulence," put questions to rest, and "move on." There are some factions and suspicions rising within the local party.  I say, so what? And of course! Factions and disagreement are the nature of politics.

There is no need to end turmoil and turbulence. Do the opposite.  Be interesting. Raise questions. People who do so aren't making turmoil. They are making democracy.

Golden video. Scroll down to April 8 post
Kevin Stine questioned whether the large personal contributions received by Golden were perhaps proof of "influence" just as much as had they come from NARAL or any PAC. It is a fair point, and one that Gomez's campaign would have the ability to hammer on, if Golden wins the primary. Jeff Golden presents himself as a new kind of candidate, one who walks-the-talk of clean government, a courageous politician who values leaders who are "grown-ups". Therefore, he refuses money from PACs or other interest groups, getting money from individuals only. He presents in video as a good and clean politician with exactly the kind of refreshing integrity we need in government.  

Stine suggested the opposite point--that maybe those contributions are as "politically interested" and dangerous as would be a contribution from the Sierra Club or the Oregon Teachers Association. I certainly can see how distinctions can be made between a $10,000 gift from a friend versus a $10,000 from a PAC, and yet Democrats have complained about the corrupting influence of individual contributions from the Koch Brothers, from the Mercer family, from Sheldon Adelson, etc., so it is a point that Golden will need to be able to defend.

[Blog post revised.  I have removed all references to any Republican opponent for candidate Gomez.]

I welcome controversies being aired and people discussing real issues, which means people need to be newsworthy.  Whether PERS can be improved in any way is an issue worth discussion. Gomez brought it up and Stine and Bell weighed in. Whether Jeff Golden's method of campaign finance is better for democratic government than gifts from PACs is worth discussing. Whether Gomez is "Republican-enough" to be a Republican is worth discussing. Issues of health care and taxes and immigration and abortion funding are worth discussing.

Candidates are raising issues. It may look like turmoil to some, but to me it looks like democracy, and news worth watching and reading.