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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Super-majorities and campaign money

In my column two weeks ago, I made a factual error. I said that Jessica Gomez, candidate for State Senate District 3, had switched her party affiliation only after incumbent Sen. Alan DeBoer brought her onto his staff. Alan called me that afternoon and said she had switched before. I told him I would send in a correction unless he wanted to, which he did. It ran last Saturday.

I both like and respect Alan. Even before he won the seat he is now relinquishing, I mentioned in a column that he had long been dedicated to public life and service, and to my knowledge always displayed personal integrity. His current stint as our state senator did nothing to change my mind. He has been his own person in Salem, even to the extent of devising a unique plan to raise revenue.

Besides correcting my factual error in his Tidings piece, Alan made two assertions I want to address, because they have large implications.

One assertion is that we shouldn’t want either party to attain a “super-majority” in Salem, which the Democrats will have if our seat reverts to their party. No Supermajorities PAC has given Gomez $20,600 to avoid that outcome. My more basic question is why a super-majority should be required at all. Why shouldn’t a majority vote suffice to pass tax bills as well as all others? While the Bill of Rights correctly protects minorities from personal oppression by a majority, why should our federal and state constitutions frustrate the majority when it comes to public policy? If a policy proves to be mistaken, a majority can subsequently undo it. In the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell used the mere threat of a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome, to scuttle the progressive agenda the nation was demanding after the 2008 economic meltdown.

Alan also asserted that I had impeached the integrity of elected officials by saying that Gomez has already signaled her readiness to vote the economic interests of her big donors. What I said of her was true, but it wasn’t necessarily an indictment of her integrity or that of elected officials in general. All donors give to candidates they think are sympathetic to their interests, and if those candidates win, their donors want their expectations fulfilled. That’s why I donate to candidates, and when they disappoint me, I let them know, as I did in the case of Kate Brown’s refusal to oppose the LNG project.

The issue of integrity arises when the private interests of donors frustrate the public good. Even then, if elected officials vote those interests without realizing that they are more private than public, it isn’t evidence of corruption. Gomez may truly believe that her pledge of no new taxes is good public policy, even though it would continue to starve Oregon of the revenue it needs to do the things she says she wants, like improving public education. And since it takes a Senate super-majority to raise taxes, in this election the two issues Alan raised converge.

Unhappily, in all too many cases, especially at the national level, big money has indeed corrupted those who govern us. Republicans are worse than Democrats, but my choice for poster boy is Max Baucus, a former Democratic senator from Montana. Even while he was conducting hearings on health care reform in 2009, he was accepting campaign donations from the insurance companies. They got their money’s worth.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Daily Tidings every Saturday.

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