GOP governor bid heats up early

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – The 2006 governor’s race is still well over a year away, but among contenders for the Republican nomination, the gloves have already come off.

Soon after Portland attorney Ron Saxton announced that he would be making a second run at the nomination, likely GOP rival Kevin Mannix said that Saxton’s ties to former Democratic Gov. Neil Goldschmidt will be used against him.

Goldschmidt, a former governor and longtime Oregon powerbroker, admitted in May that he had had sex with a 14-year-old girl three decades earlier. He has since disappeared from the public stage in Oregon.

Saxton was "bonded together at the hip with Neil Goldschmidt," said Mannix, a Salem attorney and the Oregon Republican Party chairman.

"I can’t answer the philosophical question of, should it matter," Mannix told the Statesman-Journal of Salem. "I can answer the practical question that it does matter."

Saxton finished surprisingly well in the three-way GOP primary for governor in 2002.

With fellow moderate Jack Roberts opting against a rematch, Saxton’s prospects in a two-way, 2006 race against Mannix figure to improve.

But that 2002 race was announced during a fundraiser at Neil and Diana Goldschmidt’s home. Saxton also counts Diana, a Republican, as a friend, key supporter and legal client.

Saxton, a partner at Portland’s Ater Wynne law firm, also collaborated with Neil Goldschmidt on a successful project to extend the Portland area’s light rail system to the Portland International Airport.

Soon after Goldschmidt agreed to be the front man of a Texas investment group’s utility buyout of Portland General Electric, Ater Wynne abruptly switched to represent the Texas group in the deal, after first representing the city of Portland in its effort to buy PGE.

Saxton said that the only people bringing up his ties to Goldschmidt are from the Mannix camp.

"Trying to smear an innocent person with the sin of someone else is pretty despicable," Saxton said.

Saxton admitted that he was "very close" to Diana Goldschmidt.

But Saxton said that he hasn’t been in contact with Neil Goldschmidt since the sex scandal went public and has only spoken once with Diana.

State Rep. Jeff Kropf, R-Sublimity, predicted that voters will be more concerned with politicians who remained close to Goldschmidt after his sex crime went public and will excuse the many people who worked with him earlier.

Saxton’s ties, Kropf said, "are professional relationships that had occurred before the allegations and the admissions of Neil Goldschmidt, and his downfall."