Peter Nordbye’s campaign
Peter Nordbye’s campaign for the House District 52 seat in the Oregon legislature is unique and welcome in this bizarre election year brouhaha over campaign financing. The U.S. Supreme Court decreed in its Citizens United decision that, in effect, “corporations are people.” They now have all the rights and privileges of people. Corporations now have carte blanche when it comes to how much and to whom they can make financial contributions during election campaigns.
Enter Peter Nordbye, a retired teacher and principal, ending his professional education career after lengthy and successful service at Parkrose High School. Nordbye has the audacity of accepting contributions only from residents within HD52 and not to exceed $50. How nutty is that?
Yet it is to this decision that HD52 residents respond most favorably on his door-knocking canvassing of district neighborhoods.
“Again, a limit on campaign donations is the issue most people are interested in discussing. . . .People seem tired of big money and negative ads,” Nordbye recently reported on his campaign website. He also noted that people consistently respond well to his sharing his positions on jobs, education, women’s rights, the environment, encouraging support of small business, and developing the local economy.
Mark Johnson, Nordbye’s Republican opponent who is seeking election to a second term in Salem, often mentions his service on the Hood River School District Board of Education. Johnson wants to lower the cost of public education by looking to alternatives such as online education and charter schools. He has not explained how this would lower school funding and, more importantly, how it would improve the education of Hood River students. This sounds uncomfortably like a major national candidate who says, when asked for details about his various plans for the country, “You will just have to trust me on that.”
However, what is most disturbing to me is Johnson’s response to Nordbye’s self-imposed contributions policy. Johnson, apparently, fully embraces the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling and willingly accepts unlimited donations, including those from beyond the district.
The best he can do to defend this position, apparently, is to imply that Nordbye is unrealistic and naïve in his seemingly quixotic tilting at the windmills of unlimited campaign financing. Yet Nordbye continues to enjoy the favorable response of the public to his stance.
On the other hand, Johnson’s position on campaign financing raises a serious concern about his repetitious claim that he is a committed bipartisan legislator. He has accepted contributions from at least three major players in the tobacco industry: Altria (Sacramento, CA) and Rai Services Company (Winston-Salem, NC), each of which represents tobacco companies and tobacco sales, and Philip Morris (Richmond, VA), one of the largest tobacco product firms in the country.
In a state that has a record of contentious confrontation with the tobacco industry in recent years, what do these three companies in Sacramento, Winston-Salem, and Richmond expect in return for their contributions to Johnson’s campaign?
Johnson also has accepted a $1,000 donation from Koch Industries, Inc. Charles G. Koch is co-owner, chairman of the board, and chief executive officer of Koch Industries, Inc., the second largest privately held company by revenue in the United States. In 2011 Charles Koch was ranked 18th on the Forbes World’s Billionaires list. His brother, David H. Koch, owns 42% of Koch Industries, Inc.
With their combined wealth of billions of dollars, Charles and David Koch are among the wealthiest people in the world. They have taken advantage of the Citizens United ruling by donating hundreds of millions of dollars to advertising campaigns favoring right-wing candidates throughout the U.S. They also own or sponsor “think tanks” and other organizations that support right-wing candidates and offer drafts of legislation favoring conservative agendas.
So Mark Johnson has receive $1,000 from Koch Industries, Inc. Not a great sum, actually. It is a microcosm of the national discussion being waged regarding the enormous amounts of money being contributed by the Koch brothers and others to various campaigns across the country. It also raises the question of just what do these contributors expect for their largesse. What, exactly, do the tobacco industry, the Koch brothers, and other “outside” donors expect from Mark Johnson in return for their contributions? My guess is they are not thinking about putting more teachers in Oregon’s classrooms or helping to extend light rail to Milwaukie.
It is no small concern that Mark Johnson is a card-carrying member of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC meets behind closed doors with global corporations and state politicians to try to rewrite state laws based on “model laws” provided by ALEC. These “model laws” reach into almost every area of Americans’ rights, and they often directly benefit huge corporations.
Mark Johnson stated in a recent public meeting, when asked about his affiliation with ALEC, that he is simply a member and is not actively engaged in ALEC’s activities. Then why bother to maintain his membership in ALEC with its specific agenda of influencing legislation if he is not an active participant? How does his ALEC membership benefit those of us who live in his district? Do ALEC’s “model laws” reflect our needs or ALEC’s own unrelated agenda?
The more I discover about Mark Johnson’s financial support base, the more alarmed I am about having him represent me in the Oregon State legislature. It would seem he is beholden to representing the interests of his Big Money sources. Having political debts to people and corporations who know little and probably care not at all about HD52’s citizens and have their own ideological right-wing agendas unrelated to Johnson’s constituency, well, I shudder at the implications for our future. If it was me having such backing, well I would feel . . . um . . . dirty.
Peter Nordbye offers a breath of fresh air on the campaign and legislative fronts. He is running a clean campaign based on the simple notion of transparency. His educational credentials and track record are exemplary. His voice and vote are needed at a time when the problems of improving the quality of public education and its adequate financing are approaching critical mass. His other concerns also resonate with the majority of us who live in HD52, as well as with the concerns of the whole State of Oregon.
My vote goes to Peter Nordbye, a man in whom I have complete trust, who promises me transparency as a legislator, and who is not beholden to national (and international) contributors.
Sincerely, Thomas Layne