Vote 2002

If you listen to Charlie Ringo’s campaign, his Republican opponent Bill Witt is a mean-spirited extremist trying to distract voters from an ultra-conservative past with an inaccurate list of bills he’s passed in two sessions as a legislator.

From Bill Witt’s camp, you hear that Ringo is an ineffective and partisan Democrat who has sued schools and hospitals and now wants to increase taxes.

The Senate District 17 candidates agree on one thing: The other is lying.

In the dwindling days of the election, candidates across Washington County complain about what their opponents — and political groups not directly tied to the candidates’ campaigns — are claiming in millions of dollars worth of TV ads, mailers and nightly phone calls.

Many voters feel the same way, wondering what to think as they work their way through ballots due Nov. 5.

“Candidates end up focusing on what the other guy is doing, and how different they are from that other person,” said Jim Ellison, a 63-year-old retiree who lives in Bethany.

“I would rather a guy tell me exactly what he stands for and why. But you don’t get that today. When you ask, ‘Why should I vote for you?’ it’s ‘Because that other guy’s a jerk.’ ”

Political experts say campaign tones seem no more negative than usual, but the mass of mailings and TV ads may be on the rise as candidates’ coffers grow.

Voters grumble about being hit with ads over the airwaves or through their mailboxes created by political groups they don’t recognize or that don’t list who paid for the ads.

Recent mailings with “Portland P.O. Box 1754” as its only identifier question the political stances of John Scruggs, the Republican candidate in House District 34, and the attendance record of Keith Parker, the Republican candidate in House District 28, at meetings held by civic groups of which he was a member.

Future PAC, a group supporting Democrats, says the Scruggs and Parker slams are theirs. Melissa Chernaik, the group’s campaign director, said a printing error caused the group’s name to be left off the mailers’ return address.

“A court decision nixed the requirement to list ‘paid for and authorized by’ on mailings, so we just use our name on the return address,” Chernaik said, adding that her group is so well-known, further description isn’t necessary. “That’s sort of common practice.”

She says fliers mailed since her office realized the printing mistake about two weeks ago include the group’s name.

Scruggs’ campaign against Democrat Brad Avakian and Libertarian Kevin Schaumleffle also draws criticism from his opponents’ supporters, especially for one recent flier.

“Brad Avakian Sues School Districts and Fire Departments,” the mailer says. It suggests Avakian’s lawsuits cost cash-starved agencies money to fend off or settle. The mailer also says Schaumleffle was “Convicted of two felonies.”

Avakian, a civil rights lawyer, acknowledges that he has filed “fewer than 10” lawsuits against districts and agencies on behalf of employees who claimed their employers treated them unfairly. The ad is similar to one used by the Republican’s Leadership Fund against Ringo, also a lawyer.

Schaumleffle, whose Libertarian tax-reduction stance could siphon votes from Scruggs, acknowledges he spent 90 days in jail 10 years ago for taking his two young children after his ex-wife was granted sole custody of them. Acknowledging he was wrong, Schaumleffle says he was warned by Republican campaigners this year that the issue would be brought up if he didn’t get out of the race.

Scruggs, meanwhile, chafes at an Avakian mailing claiming the Republican flip-flopped on his no-new-taxes pledge by supporting a referendum to increase the state cigarette tax.

Such tactics don’t sit well with some voters.

“People should be upfront, tell me who they are and why they represent a particular candidate or cause,” said Jeanette Broemeling, a Forest Grove resident.

Broemeling, 57, said she was confused by a call from someone based in Louisville, Ky., claiming the best representative for seniors in House District 29 is Chuck Riley, the Democratic candidate running against Republican Mary Gallegos. When Broemeling asked who the group was and with whom it was affiliated, she said, the caller was unclear.

James Davis of the Oregon State Council of Senior Citizens, a 33-year-old group representing retired union members’ interests, says the political arm of his group approved the text of the call. He says the American Federation of Teachers, a teachers union, paid for the ad and likely used the service of an out-of-state call center.

Citizens for PERS Reform, an offshoot of the national group Citizens for a Sound Economy, mailed fliers last week claiming Jeff Barker, the Democrat running against Parker in House District 28, sent $500,000 from a pension fund to a sex offender in prison. The ad refers to a former Portland police officer who received disability payments in prison after he was fired and convicted of sex abuse.

Barker, a retired Portland police officer, confirms that he served on that board, but not until 1990 — six years after the officer was granted disability.

“I’d expect Republicans to hit with, ‘He’s evil: He’s pro-choice,’ something factual,” Barker said. “To say I gave money to a sex offender, that’s an appalling lie.”

Parker says he had not approved or seen the flier.

In the hotly contested race for Senate District 17 between Rep. Bill Witt, R-Cedar Mill, and Rep. Charlie Ringo, D-Beaverton, accusations are flying.

One mailer created by Witt’s campaign says Ringo “failed to pass any new legislation to improve Oregon.” It says Witt sponsored and passed 25 laws.

Witt says his count is based on the number of successful bills on which Ringo was a primary sponsor. Ringo’s campaign tallies 16, counting bills on which he was either a chief or co-sponsor. Ringo says there is no distinction between the two; Witt disagrees.

A Ringo TV commercial says Witt voted against a bill banning guns from school buses.

During the 1999 legislative session, Witt voted against sending Senate Bill 59, which also would have forbidden firearms in courtrooms, mass transit buses and trains, to the House floor. He says he was reluctant to send the bill to a floor vote because the committee hadn’t had a hearing on it. Ringo says Witt’s vote helped kill the bill.

Russ Dondero, a Pacific University political science professor, says voters can expect candidates and political groups to continue down the same road until Election Day.

“They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work,” he said. “And the fact is that it does work.”