Anti-Tax Group Helps to Give the Boot

A controversial tax vote nearly three years ago came back to bite Sen. Charles Starr — a staunch conservative Republican who narrowly lost his seat last week to a newcomer.

Winner Larry George, a property-rights advocate, says he couldn’t have succeeded without help from anti-tax group FreedomWorks. The organization’s political action committee spent more than $50,000 and put up a Web site hammering Starr for raising a host of fees and taxes.

Two years ago, FreedomWorks helped oust Rep. Vic Backlund, R-Keizer, one of 11 Republicans in the House who voted for a tax package that included a three-year income tax surcharge ultimately rejected by voters. The group played a lesser role in helping unseat Rep. Mary Gallegos, R-Cornelius, who also voted for the increase.

Starr “voted for a tax bill. This is a continuation of the purge,” says Gary Conkling, who publishes an online newsletter on state politics.

“He’s the last victim.”

Russ Walker, FreedomWorks’ state director, says George, 38, was a strong candidate on his own. The group’s PAC, Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy, merely highlighted how Starr’s legislative actions did not match his campaign rhetoric, he says.

“He’s gotten away with it for years,” Walker says. “If they’re going to run as a fiscal conservative, they have to vote as a fiscal conservative.”

Starr, 73, championed charter schools and home schooling. He opposed same-sex unions, claiming homosexuality has long been considered a mental disorder.

Starr says he voted for the tax increase in August 2003 knowing that voters would kill it, but saying lawmakers needed to seal a budget to go home. At the time, he said it was the most difficult vote he’d faced in his then-12 years in the Legislature.

Starr says he couldn’t fight this year’s attack campaign — and the many questions it raised in the minds of voters.

“It really looks bad on the face and it’s hard to explain. A lot of people asked me and wound up understanding but many, many didn’t ask. They believed everything they saw in print,” he says. “And the allegations were pretty substantial.”

The last time an incumbent was booted from the Senate was in 1998 — and Starr did the ousting. He beat longtime legislator Jeannette Hamby, partly by painting her as too liberal for the district.