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The Race is On!

Does Nike make horseshoes?

Everyone knows the difference between a horse race and a political race, right? In a horse race, the whole horse races!

It’s been barely a month since the Oregon Legislature closed up shop. Now the 2018 campaigns are in full swing. RUFKM? The filing deadline is still nine months away!

The governor’s race will draw the most attention next year. I doubt Kate Brown will see any serious contenders in her Democratic primary. Maybe central Oregon’s Knute Buehler will be her Republican opponent in the general. Could it be a rerun of the 2012 Secretary of State (SOS) race?

First Buehler will have to survive a Republican primary election next May. Two strong constituencies within the Republican Party, the gun lobby and the anti-abortion religious right, are lukewarm to him. Two Republican candidates have already registered campaign committees for the May 2018 primary, and another Trump trumpeter, conservative radio host and state Rep. Bill Post, is being urged to run.

No one should be surprised by Phil Knight’s $500,000 contribution to Knute. This is the same guy who gave political unknown Chris Dudley $400,000 in the 2010 governor’s race. He even gave Knute the Unknown $50,000 to run against Kate in the 2012 SOS race. And he spent $330,000 on Republican state legislative races in 2016, including $25,000 to Rep. Julie Parrish, the right wingnut currently gathering signatures to defeat the recently signed bi-partisan medical provider tax passed last session to save Medicaid for 400,000 Oregonians. As a reminder, Medicaid pays for half of the births in Oregon.

Measure 97 apparently threatened Uncle Phil’s place as the 28th richest person on the planet and moved him further to the right. He personally spent over $75,000 to defeat the measure. Besides its atrocious workers’ rights record, here’s another reason why I’ve boycotted Nike for 30 years. 

The only oddity about the billionaire’s contribution is its timing. Why so early? I’m guessing Uncle Phil’s doing it to keep those more conservative candidates out of the Republican primary next May.

Buehler is a surgeon from Bend. Prior to 2012 he had never run for office. But there’s something about arrogant Republican physicians.

Remember Dr. Monica Wehby’s run against Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate in 2014? Remember Dr. Bud Pierce against Gov. Kate in 2016? What did they all have in common? They all filed directly for a statewide race without any prior experience running for public office. And all three lost their first race. Brown beat Buehler by 9 points in the 2012 SOS race. 

 Buehler believed running for local office or the state Legislature was “beneath” him in 2012. Unlike Wehby and Pierce, Knute took his political advisors’ advice after his loss to Kate and ran for the Oregon House successfully in 2014 and 2016. Once elected to the House, Knute cast some pretty atypical Republican votes.

 Knute tried to build his credentials as a moderate Republican; he supported an expansion of birth control access through pharmacists, and he voted for an anti-coal bill that was strongly opposed by most Republicans. He even took on the NRA and OFF, the Oregon Firearm Federation. (“Oregon’s Only No Compromise Gun Rights Organization,” according to their website). He co-sponsored a bill with Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward that would have limited firearm access for people with mental disorders. Not a bad idea. He pissed the pro-gun lobby off, but his bill didn’t go anywhere. 

 Knute is no moderate; he has a 91 percent approval rating with the NRA. Apparently he’s from the schizophrenic branch of the Tea Party. Sure, he voted for a bill to increase access to birth control by allowing pharmacists to expand their prescription authority. Then he voted against the reproductive rights expansion sponsored by Rep. Julie Fahey. 

 Gov. Brown calls Buehler a “Trump-in-Waiting.” All last legislative session, Buehler colluded with his Republican leaders, House Minority Leader Mike McLane and Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, to obstruct the Democrats while offering nothing as an alternative. This guy is Paul Ryan; he’s Mitch McConnell; he’s the Donald. Not a sincere bone in his surgeon’s body.

In the coming months we’ll discuss the other races and ballot measures. The governor’s race and the Oregon labor commissioner race and important local legislative races are shaping up … nine months to the primary. A pregnant moment. 

I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide if these are horse races or political races. Stay tuned.

Former state Sen. Tony Corcoran of Cottage Grove is a retired state employee.