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News » Commentary

Hot Air: Election dialogue only inflames us

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If history is any indicator, Oregon's latest tax measures have an uphill battle at the polls.

The point was underscored, perhaps a little unscientifically at a town hall-style debate in Bend earlier this week when Rep. Phil Barnhart, one of the Measures 66 and 67 chief proponents, took on one of the measures' biggest critics, Sen. Chris Telfer on her home turf. At times the meeting, which was taped for broadcast on Bend Broadband's Talk of the Town program, had the feel of an ambush.

I knew that things might be rough for Barnhart when someone started handing copies of the recent Oregonian editorial page under the mock headline "Obamagonian." From what I could gather the purveyor was distributing this as evidence that even the liberal media was opposed to the tax measures - apparently unaware that the Oregonian's famously conservative editorial page also twice endorsed George W. Bush. I bit my tongue. While show hosts Jamie Christman and Dave Jones did a nice job setting up the show, which will broadcast Monday Jan. 11 on COTV (Ch. 11), the rest of the evening or at least what I could bear followed in the same vein. A mix of small business owners and citizens angry at the size of government queuing up to give Barnhart a piece of their mind. Never mind that a majority of them will be barely impacted by the new taxes, if ratified by voters, as Barnhart pointed out to one business owner who refused to believe that her taxes would go up by just $150 per year.

Somehow, the entire first half of the program went off without a single comment in favor of the measures or a pointed question for Telfer who claims to be able to close a $755 million shortfall in the state's General Fund with an impractical mix of union contract renegotiations, raids on dedicated funds and a tapping of the state's fledgling rainy day reserve. Oh yeah, and cutting off funding for the Portland Art Museum. (total savings: $.33 million)

Barnhart, a Eugene-area democrat with a snow white beard and a scholarly demeanor, found a largely hostile audience in Telfer's hometown where tax opponents sometimes jeered the out-of-town's rep's attempts to explain the finer points of a tax proposal that he helped author. A cerebral politician who has a law degree from University of Oregon and is a board member of the Oregon Bach Festival, Barnhart represented a sharp stylistic contrast to Telfer's platitude pushing pit-bull. And it didn't play well for the local audience, many of whom, including a sizeable contingent from the city to the north, came spoiling for a fight.

Here's hoping that the rest of Oregon sees beyond the rhetoric.

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