OREGON VOTERS issued a rebuke to corporate lobbyists, the right, and the Oregonian's editorial board on Tuesday night, January 26, by upholding a 2009 decision made by the Democratic legislature to modestly increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
Statewide news outlets called the election just 15 minutes after polls closed on Tuesday night, when the "Yes" campaign led with a 54 to 45 percent margin. The tax increases will patch a $730 million hole in the Oregon state budget. State employees and service providers were bracing for severe cuts in the case of a loss.
"In the course of this campaign you have been maligned, you've been disrespected," Steve Novick—the former Democratic candidate for the US Senate and a spokesman for the "Yes" effort—told the ecstatic crowd packing the victory party at the Wonder Ballroom. "You've been cheated, you've been mistreated. But tonight, the voters of Oregon let you know that you are loved."
The crowd broke into thunderous applause, stomping the ballroom floor, screaming congratulations, and ultimately singing "Oregon, My Oregon," the state song. What began as a statewide election captured national attention over the past week, following the defeat of Democratic senatorial candidate Martha Coakley in Massachusetts. A Fox News blog noted on election day that the Republican National Committee had lent out a staffer to the "No" campaign, hoping to "build on the momentum" of the Massachusetts result. "What happens here may be closely watched elsewhere," wrote William Yardley in the New York Times, on Sunday, January 24.
The union-backed Vote Yes For Oregon campaign outspent its opposition group, Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes, $6.8 million to $4.56 million. Its volunteers knocked on over 300,000 doors statewide and called over a million people to boost voter turnout.
The campaign grew increasingly bitter as election day neared. The state attorney general's office began investigating local teabagging group Americans For Prosperity on Monday, January 25, after it paid for robo-calls to voters on the federal "do-not-call" list. Secretary of State Kate Brown also rebuked lobbyist Mark Nelson of the "No" campaign in January, after he mailed out campaign material that resembled fake ballots.
Three days before the election, "Yes" Campaign Director Kevin Looper described Oregonian Publisher N. Christian Anderson III as "chickenshit" after Anderson's advertising staff censored a "Yes on 66/67" ad in the state's biggest daily, claiming that it was "misleading." On the other hand, the paper allowed misleading claims in the "No" campaign's ad to be printed without a hitch—their ads falsely claimed the measures protected salary increases for state employees and would lead to massive job losses statewide.
Looper's censored ad took on the paper's endorsement of a "No" vote in the election and suggested that Anderson's recent hiring from a conservative paper in Orange County, California, swayed the Oregonian editorial board. It also attacked Anderson's change in the paper's policy on running front-page "spadea" ads from political campaigns, which could confuse some voters.
The next day, in a publisher's note, Anderson printed a denial of allegations that he was a "right-wing nut." The paper's editorial page editor, Bob Caldwell, also called Looper's claims that he is "terrified for [his] job" a load of "pure B.S." Managing Editor Therese Bottomly said her reporters had not been told to avoid mentioning Anderson's name in their stories, either, as Looper had suggested.
It also emerged on Monday that the Oregonian's General Advertising Manager Debi Walery sits on the board of the National Grocery Association, the largest donor to the "No" campaign and the group that also wrote the check for the two Oregonian front-page "No" ads. Walery did not return a call for comment by press time. Adding to the advertising controversy is a recent change in state election law that made the price of political advertising less transparent. As of January 1, Oregon political campaigns no longer have to break down how much they spend with specific media outlets. The Oregonian eventually caved to pressure and coughed up the price of the two ads bought by the "No" campaign: $44,700 in total. Looper's ad, he said, cost $20,000.
The Mercury recommended a "yes" vote on the measures ["Stop The Chicken," News, January 14].
"I hold in my hand, from June 21st, the Oregonian headline saying 'Democrats Bet Against History on Tax Hikes,'" said Looper, prompting boos and hisses from the crowd at the victory party. "If this victory says anything, and I think it says a lot, it says that when leaders actually have the courage to stand up for the little people, when they give them something to vote for, the people are with them."