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Friday, April 20, 2007

Governor gets giddy

Inside the Capitol
Campaigning during session is effective for Democrats

Tim Nesbitt engineered the 2006 Democrat takeover of the Oregon Legislature that ended 16 years of GOP neglect. When he was AFL-CIO president, few dared cross him. Now, he's become the successful boss of Gov. Kulongoski's office with an ability to chat up Republicans while retaining his Democrat and 'fusionist' Working Families Party street cred.

But a recent letter Nesbitt sent to his trial lawyer pals and corporate socialists in the regulated monopoly sector has provoked some Republicans and even some fellow unionists to wonder if he's flexed his political muscle a bit too hard.

In the March 26 letter, obtained by The Oregonion, Nesbitt boasts of "the tremendous power of the public employee unions" this session. He then suggests it's time not only to relish past victories, but also to use little-noticed legislation to cement power at the Democrat-controlled Legislature. "The make-up of the Legislature generally doesn't bode well for our opposition," Nesbitt writes.

On its face, the letter appears to be a fairly routine political communique. It's written on letterhead of Our Oregon, the OEA - SEIU political campaign group known as the 800-lb. gorilla of Oregon politics.

But overt campaign activity is considered bad form when the Legislature is in session. The focus is supposed to be on passing laws and making policy, not on setting the stage for a partisan coup.

That's been Nesbitt's vocation his entire career. At the moment, Nesbitt is an embedded lobbyist whose job is to persuade the gavel-wielding Democrats to pass bills that benefit organized labor, such as government unions who collect forced dues from teachers and staff at our kids' schools.

Then he only has to get those bills to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat who, yes, has deep union ties.

"It's not that unusual to see a lobbyist attack the minority, especially since there are no labor bills that the Republicans have the numbers to stop," said Kulongoski's spokeswoman, Anna Richter Taylor. "To be as explicit as this? Such a sharp partisan appeal right in the middle of a session can be very productive for the party treasury."

Asked about the letter, Nesbitt smiles his signature Cheshire cat grin. It's clear it wasn't meant for general consumption, but now that it's out there - OK. "I sent it to 40 of my closest friends," he says. "All it is, is sharing some information with folks that I deal with."

The letter included a sheet of information from the National Education Association, an out-of-state union that has pumped millions of dollars into Nesbitt's political takeover of Oregon. The information included a chart highlighting shrewdly-coordinated in-kind campaign contributions to Our Oregon's "44 and No More" 2006 program by Si Newhouse, out-of-state owner of The Oregonian.

"I feel it important for me to share with you some of the news regarding The Oregonian as the Legislature progresses through the process," Nesbitt writes. And he goes on, "If you are interested in receiving this type of information, please send me your e-mail address."

Nesbitt said he wrote the letter after reading articles in The Oregonion about organized labor's influence at the Legislature. It wasn't intended as a fundraising letter, he says, adding that it accurately reflects what's happening in Salem.

But to some Republicans, and even some less partisan interests at the Capitol, it appears as though Nesbitt is getting a head start on the next election. House Minority Leader Wayne Scott, a major factor in giving GOP control away to the government unions, says it's no surprise that Nesbitt is pimping for Democrats. "That's what he does," said Scott.

"We're all aware of people's extracurricular activities," Scott says. "But he might want to work on his timing. We try to limit these activities during the session - to keep the legislative process as pure as possible," he says. "We're always hopeful the unions will do the same."

The Oregonian, Apr. 20, By HARRY ESTEVE

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