Thursday, October 30, 2003
I guess we’re all supposed to recoil in horror that one group trying to overturn Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Legislature’s billion- dollar tax increase is based in, egads, Washington, D.C. Oh, Citizens for a Sound Economy has extensive grassroots in Oregon (12,000 members) and a state director with deep Oregon roots. But the fact that somebody on the East Coast signs Russ Walker’s paycheck and a California firm is involved in some signature gathering has the state’s spending lobby in a snit. Not since the freedom riders descended on Dixie has there been such a stir over outside agitators. Spare us the disingenuous provincialism.

The fact is that non-Oregonians can’t sign one of the 50,420 signature spaces needed to refer the billion-dollar tax hike to voters. The fact is that non- Oregonians can’t vote on the tax hike if it gets to the ballot. The indisputable fact is that Oregonians and only Oregonians will decide the fate of this tax increase come next February — just as they did the Measure 28 tax increase last January.

I’d almost accept help from the devil himself to get this tax to the ballot. Here’s why: One, this tax increase is awful medicine for what ails jobs-poor Oregon. Two, it’s an insult to Oregon taxpayers and voters who rejected a $750- million tax increase in January. Three, it’s a bipartisan betrayal by Republican legislators who broke ranks and voted with Democrats for higher taxes and by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who broke his no-new-taxes pledge. Four, Salem’s tax-hikers have gone out of their way to stop Oregonians from voting on their tax increase.

In short, many Oregonians would probably welcome all the outside help they could get to protect them from the Oregon insiders who inflicted this billion- dollar stinker on them. But that doesn’t seem to be quite necessary. Salem’s huge tax boost has generated a groundswell of Oregon-based opposition. Indeed, there’s a level of frustration, anger and activism I haven’t seen in years.

“It’s incredible,” says Kevin Mannix, Republican Party chairman and sponsor of four earlier initiative drives. “I’ve never seen the kind of enthusiasm for petition signing I’ve seen for this one.”

He notes that the state GOP office received 2,000 calls for petitions, and the central committee voted 86 to 6 to oppose to the tax increase — a kind of virtual unanimity you just don’t see among Oregon’s squabbling Republicans. “I think it’s telling that Democrats meeting recently in Sunriver wouldn’t take a position on the billion-dollar tax increase,” Mannix says.

It’s telling, too, that even GOP congressional candidates are running against the tax increase. In the First District, for example, Tim Phillips and Goli Ameri, topnotch candidates and successful business folks both, are opposed to it. . Their only debate may be over who’s doing more to kill it.

Ameri has gone a long way toward winning that debate. She has mailed out 40,000 referral petitions to voters and launched a two- week radio ad campaign asking listeners to sign petitions to stop the tax increase (petition orders available at ameriforcongress.com).

How does she square running against a state tax with running for a federal office? “There’s a reason I’m running. I don’t think our representative in Congress has done well by the people,” she says. “Oregonians are suffering. Unemployment is high. We have a problem in this state. How can we hope to improve the situation . . . if just when the Bush tax cut goes into effect, we slam another tax increase on Oregonians. You’ve got to put your money where you’re mouth is. If you’re talking about leadership and creating jobs, you’ve got to do something about it, and that’s what we’ve done.”

It’s certainly a smart way for Ameri to distinguish herself in this race, and she seems to have tapped into something elemental here. She’s already gotten back 8,000 signatures and picked up 400 new campaign contributors. Ameri also reports that “the phones have been ringing off the hook” since her ad started running.

“If Republicans are for lower taxes, what are we doing voting for higher taxes?” Ameri asked Wednesday.

It’s a good question — a question that the GOP jellyfish who joined Kulongoski and Democratic tax-hikers should have asked and answered a la Goli Ameri a few months back. Next February, they’re likely get a very dramatic answer, and it won’t come from just Republicans. Or from people outside Oregon.

David Reinhard, associate editor, can be reached at 503-221-8152 or davidreinhard@news.oregonian.com.