In the parlance of politics, a “gimmick” is a sneaky ploy your opponent resorts to. When you do it, it’s called “taking a statesmanlike position.”
Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, a Democrat, and Knute Buehler, the Bend Republican who’s trying to get her job, have been trading jabs over each other’s alleged gimmickry recently. It started with the Brown campaign calling on Buehler to accept a voluntary $1 million campaign spending limit. It’s understandable why Brown would welcome that; despite her advantage of incumbency, Buehler already has raked in almost twice as much as she has.
The Buehler campaign wasted no time calling “gimmick” on Brown. “A career politician who has raised and spent well over $6.3 million is calling for spending limits?” Buehler sneered in a statement. “Give me a break. To call this cynical is an insult to cynicism.” The challenger went on to brand the spending limit proposal “gimmicky” and a sign of “partisanship and desperation.”
But then, about a week later, Buehler got into the gimmick game himself. He proposed a series of reforms to the state Public Employees Retirement System – but that wasn’t the gimmick; everybody agrees PERS needs some serious reforming. The gimmick was Buehler’s announcement at the same time that, if elected, he won’t accept any of the state benefits he’d be entitled to.
Brown’s campaign promptly fired off a counter-salvo: “It’s great Dr. Buehler is wealthy enough to not worry about his retirement plan.” (Buehler is an orthopedic surgeon, and his wife Patricia is an ophthalmologist.) “However, most state workers are barely making enough to support their families, and some don’t even have basic health care coverage.”
If this gimmick game was football, we’d have to say Buehler is ahead by 7 to 0 at this point. Brown’s campaign spending limit proposal was, indeed, a little gimmicky – we strongly suspect she never would have made it if she were outraising Buehler 2-to-1 instead of the other way around. It was a fake punt that produced a first down. But Buehler’s offer to refuse state benefits was the equivalent of a double-reverse flea-flicker play resulting in a 70-yard TD.
Buehler’s gimmick cheapens the tone of the campaign and distracts from serious discussion of the important issue of PERS reform. He’s made some thoughtful proposals that deserve consideration; it’s unfortunate that he also felt he had to play to the cheap seats.
Worse than that, it was a nasty and underhanded smear against public employees, subtly pandering to – and promoting – the perception that they’re all lazy freeloaders sponging off the taxpayers. As the Brown campaign pointed out, it’s very easy for somebody with two physicians in the family to say he doesn’t need a state pension, health insurance or other benefits, but there are a lot of cops, firefighters, teachers, construction workers and other public-sector employees who aren’t so lucky.
So here’s THE BOOT for Dr. Buehler, along with some advice to both candidates to avoid future gimmicks and keep the debate about PERS – and the campaign in general – focused on substance.