Here's what came to mind after I read today's excellent Statesman Journal story by Whitney Woodworth, "City Council campaign spending breaks records, $200K in contributions."
(1) We need local newspapers. I'm a frequent critic of the Statesman Journal. In-depth reporting on local issues has been lacking for a number of years. But Woodworth's story made me feel better about Salem's daily print newspaper. Temporarily, at least.
Sure, five days ago I'd written about this same subject.
Being a part-time unpaid blogger, though, limits what I can do compared to a full-time professional journalist. It was great to see the quotes in her story from council candidates that Woodworth had spoken with, notably Vanessa Nordyke and Reid Sund, some of which I'l share below.
There may come a time when the Statesman Journal is unneeded or irrelevant to Salem. This could happen if the online Salem Reporter grows in significance. In the long run, daily print newspapers face a host of problems that could doom all but the major newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times.
That day hasn't come yet. I subscribe to both the Statesman Journal and Salem Reporter. Consider doing the same (that said, the Statesman Journal keeps raising its subscription price, while lessening the quality of the paper, so I understand why many people have given up on it.)
(2) Conservative campaigns are sleazier than progressive campaigns. I've been closely following Salem City Council campaigns since 2014, four election cycles (half of the city councilors are elected every two years). People aren't shy about emailing me nasty mailers that they've received, or telling me about negative TV ads.
I've never heard about a sleazy mailer or ad supporting a progressive city council candidate. So far as I know, only conservative campaigns are marked by the sort of falsehoods and half-truths discussed in today's Statesman Journal story.
The chamber's political action committee seems especially opposed to current councilor Vanessa Nordyke. They posted a video attacking Nordyke for allegedly supporting a payroll tax even during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Candidate Reid Sund says, the last thing we should be talking about is a payroll tax," the video says.
Nordyke says the video and mailers are misleading and untrue. She joined her fellow councilors in voting to take the payroll tax off the ballot.
The video posted online showed a clip of her saying she understood the need for the payroll tax but cut off her remaining remarks saying the devasting economic impact of the pandemic demanded it be removed from the ballot.
The allegations made in the mailers sent out that she supports the payroll tax despite the pandemic are flat-out untrue, Nordyke.
I joined my colleagues in unanimously voting to withdraw that payroll tax from the ballot," she said. "Now that we are over a month from that meeting, the economic forecast is not looking any better. It's only getting worse."
She said she does not see supporting a payroll tax anytime soon, especially during the pandemic.
"Voters deserve to make informed decisions about who they want to represent them," she said. "That's why I believe it's important to stick to the facts so that voters can make informed decisions based upon the facts."
She also pointed to another pro-Sund mailer that used an old photo of downtown Salem with homeless camps clustered around the former Nordstrom site.
The outdated photo misleads voters who haven't visited downtown in past the two months into believing there are still these encampments, Nordyke said.
On a recent visit, the sidewalks were clear.
It's one thing to take issue with her voting record, she said. But it is a whole other issue to mislead people about her record.
"Ads that are misleading are a disservice to the public," Nordyke said.
The mailers and ads were especially dismaying after she and Sund agreed earlier this year to leave negative campaigning out of the election.
Well, this goes to show that Reid Sund can't be trusted to keep his word.
A brief bit of Googling would have informed Sund that on March 23 the Salem City Council voted unanimously to support removal of the proposed payroll tax from the May ballot given the coronavirus crisis. So Sund either made a conscious decision to mislead voters about Nordyke's position on the payroll tax, or he is horribly uninformed about this issue.
The first possibility strikes me as by far the most likely.
(3) Spending on City Council races needs to be reined in. I heartily agree with a quote from Jim Scheppke in the Statesman Journal story.
Scheppke also pointed to in-direct, high-dollar contributions like a $25,000 contribution made by Mountain West Investment Corp. to the Create Jobs PAC, another Chamber-back political action committee, in January.
Create Jobs PAC then gave the majority of the money to the Build Jobs PAC, which contributed to local candidates.
These campaigns keep setting records, he said, adding that he hopes the trend will end with this election thanks to a recent Oregon Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for campaign contribution limits.
Pricey campaigns will just exclude those who aren't wealthy or backed by powerful PACs, he said.
"Who is going to want to run for city council with the idea that you are going to have to raise $20,000 or $30,000 to be competitive?" Scheppke said. "It means normal people aren't even going to try."
For sure. Especially since city councilors get no pay for the many hours they put in on their public service.
The City Council needs to seriously consider putting a limit of, say, $500 on how much an individual, organization, or PAC (political action committee) can contribute to a campaign, either directly or indirectly through an independent campaign contribution.
If this isn't legally possible for the City Council to do, then Salem voters should be asked to pass a limit on campaign contributions similar to what Portland voters did in 2018 by amending the city charter.
For now, here's my recommendation on how people should vote in the May 19 election.