Last Tuesday, a $350 million tax package was voted down by Oregon residents. The initiative's failure leaves the state legislature scrambling for funding for schools, law enforcement and social services. As a result, an estimated 50,000 low-income residents will be booted from the Oregon Health Plan in the near future.
But the failure of Measure 30 also offers a peek at what could happen during November's presidential elections. Although the "No on 30" campaign presented itself as a homespun, back-to-the-people movement, behind the scenes it was actually run by a well-orchestrated national organization. That organization, Citizens for Sound Economy (CSE), is essentially a reincarnation of Reagan-era mentality.
Ostensibly, the No on 30 campaign was led by Kaizer resident Russ Walker, who identifies himself as a "native Oregonian" and director for CSE Oregon. But dispel any images of a living room crammed full of volunteers rushing around like worker bees, and an organization rubbing together its two nickels for good luck. Instead Oregon's CSE is an outpost for a large, powerful national organization chaired by former House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey. Its board is filled with cronies left over from the Ronald Reagan and George Bush (Senior) administrations. (Walker did not respond to requests for an interview.)
CSE was so successful with its grassroots organization in Oregon they were even able to persuade Portland--which normally stands as a polar opposite to the conservative voting trends in the rest of the state--to vote against Measure 30.
Armey is a long-time U.S. Representative from Texas. First elected to office in 1984, he quickly established himself as a member of the religious-based Moral Majority and a proponent for flat taxes. Several years later, he also helped sink President Clinton's health-care plan and was a primary author of the 1994 "Contract with America." The Contract helped Republicans take control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years and pushed Armey unopposed into the position of House Majority Leader. Among other provisions, the Contract set in place a Draconian welfare-to-work program and cut social services in order to provide more funding for prison construction.
On CSE's Board of Directors, Armey is joined by George Bush's chief legal counsel, Boyden Gray, and Kenn George, another Republican from Texas who served in the Reagan Administration as Assistant Secretary of Commerce. They are endorsed by President George W. Bush and former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
For the past year, dressed in language that connotes a power-to-the-people empathy, CSE has been silently pushing a far-right agenda and weakening state's rights throughout the country.
They recently led a campaign in cash-strapped Alabama that mowed down a tax increase. The organization also takes credit for helping oust Gray Davis from his governorship in California. In addition, they've been running massive phone campaigns against presidential hopefuls Wesley Clark and John Edwards.
CSE's success in infiltrating Oregon politics--and convincing the normally progressive Multnomah County voters to switch sides--gives an early and ominous hint for what they plan to do during November's presidential elections. Throughout their campaign against Measure 30, CSE operated with near pinpoint precision. To stop the state legislature from enacting minor income tax increases, in December, CSE turned in petitions to place the matter in front of voters. Their signature-gathering boasted a remarkable accuracy--84%, a record high for the state and an indication of efficiency in CSE's campaign efforts. They know exactly who to reach and how.
It is a frightening concept because it means that conservative strategists have already dug their trenches and built an efficient infrastructure in Oregon--one that will most likely be utilized in the upcoming presidential elections.