John Frohnmayer announces Senate bid


John Frohnmayer, who grew up in Medford and became chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1989 until he was asked to resign by then-President George H.W. Bush in 1992, announced today he is running for the U.S. Senate.

However, the man who comes from a long line of Southern Oregon Republicans and calls himself "very much a civil libertarian" and "a raging moderate" isn't running as a Republican or even as a Democrat.

Frohnmayer, 65, is instead seeking the 2008 nomination of the Oregon Independent Party, created earlier this year to provide a springboard for post-partisan candidates like Frohnmayer that are disenchanted with the two party system, giving them a guaranteed spot on the statewide ballot.

His pitch to voters: Partisan bickering has beset Capitol Hill, and Oregonians deserve "better than what we've got" in Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. Voters deserve a truly independent voice, he said in a lengthy interview Tuesday.

"They are much more interested in beating up on each other than they are in solving our problems," Frohnmayer said. "And, I don't see that changing unless there is a legitimate third force in American politics."

Among differences that Frohnmayer said distinguish him from Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley and political activist Steve Novick, the two Democratic candidates hoping for a chance to challenge Smith in November 2008, are his opposition to free trade agreements such as NAFTA that "take American jobs" and his unequivocal call to impeach President Bush.

The president has shirked his constitutional duty to enforce the laws of the land by choosing not to enforce more than 1,200 statutes &

whether by ignoring them or opting to interpret them, traditionally a function of the courts, said Frohnmayer, an ethicist and trial lawyer.

"Everyone in Congress &

Democrat and Republican &

is chickening out on this issue," Frohnmayer said. "They are choosing partisan advantage, as they see it, over honoring their oath of office to support the Constitution."

Asked about the war, now in its fifth summer, Frohnmayer said he is for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq, where more than 3,700 American troops have lost their lives since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath Party government.

"I marched against this war even before it started and I have opposed it every day since," he said. "Frankly, I am for cutting the military budget, or for using it more wisely. We spend zillions of dollars on all these high-tech weapons that are of very little use to us in a war against an ideology."

Frohnmayer, a volunteer history professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis, is the brother of former Oregon Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer, now the president of the University of Oregon.

He was pressured to resign from the NEA amid criticism from the religious right that he was allowing the arts agency to fund what critics called blasphemous and obscene projects. He wrote two books on the experience: "Leaving Town Alive" and "Out of Tune: Listening to the First Amendment."

As he sees it, the GOP has shed its traditional mantle as defender of civil liberties and advocate for temperate government spending instead donning the cloak of Big Brother since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and spending like a drunken sultan on a shopping spree.

"My family have been Republicans for years and the things that traditional Republicans really care about are things like fiscal responsibility, and look what Bush has done, turning a surplus into almost a $9 trillion deficit."

Smith is equally to blame, said Frohnmayer, who left the GOP in 1995.

"Gordon Smith has voted 90 percent of the time with President Bush, and his entire presidency has been a consummate disaster in every way you can think of," he said. "If I were still a Republican I would weep, but Gordon Smith is going to have to answer for all of that stuff that his president and his friend has done."

As for the Democratic hopefuls, he said the Democratic machine is "greatly underestimating" Novick and Merkley is mistakenly considered the front-runner simply because national Democrats have "anointed" him to be their party's standard-bearer.

Frohnmayer rejected the third-party spoiler role that he could be cast, saying that for him to be put in the same mold as Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate who many Democrats blame for handing the 2000 election to George W. Bush, suggests, "what we're doing now is the best we can do."

That is simply not the case, he said. Speaking of Smith specifically, Frohnmayer said, "It would be tough to do worse."

"There is a voters' revolution that's going to up-well in Oregon," Frohnmayer said. "People are going to say 'We aren't being adequately represented by the political parties and we can do better.'"

covers politics for the Daily Tidings. He can be reached at

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