Off with her head!

    Uncouth as it may be, I’m going to start this off with a little joke.

    Q: How many Karen Minnises does it take to vote down a bill she doesn’t like?

    A: None. If Karen Minnis doesn’t like a bill, it will never make it to a vote.

    OK, so it isn’t much of a joke. Actually, it’s pretty factual, and not even all that funny. Mrs. Minnis was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1998, became its majority leader in 2001, and its official speaker in 2003. During that time she’s become a prime target for progressives and liberal media in Oregon due to her history of using – or abusing – her position as speaker to block bills she doesn’t like, or considers irrelevant, or prefers not to talk about, like the fact that gays and lesbians in Oregon are unhappy with their status as second-class citizens. As a result, she is possibly the most vilified figure in our state’s politics today among lefties who would like nothing better than to see her removed from office and sent back to Wood Village with a pair of gardening shears and a gift basket. Among Republicans, anti-drug crusaders, and those who think even discussing gay civil unions would unravel the fabric of our society, her status is considerably higher. Each side correctly sees her continuing presence in or impending departure from office as crucial to their agenda, and with the state election less than a month away, the water is getting hot.

    Minnis’ challenger, Rob Brading, is a moderate Democrat who paints himself as progressive while treading lightly on controversial issues like same-sex civil unions, which don’t have the same cachet in places like Wood Village and Fairview that they do here in Little Beirut. Even so, and despite official endorsement, gay rights organizations like Basic Rights Oregon will no doubt be happy to see any Democrat wrest power from their nemesis. Brading may seem the underdog, but he ran against Minnis for the same position – in House District 49 – back in 2004 and did amazingly well for an under-funded candidate challenging a politically powerful incumbent, and he’s received a great deal more money and institutional support this time.

    The best thing that could happen for progressives in the fast-approaching election would be for Brading to oust Minnis and Ted Kulongoski to retain the governorship over challenger Ron Saxton. As usual, the Republicans are playing dirty and pulling out all the stops to prevent those outcomes. Saxton, with three times more money than Kulongoski, has been blasting the incumbent with radio and television ads (and sending out campaign booklets with the word “governor" misspelled). And Minnis outrageously accused Rob Brading of being responsible for children having access to internet porn, which turned out to be Republican for “he’s a member of the Multnomah County Library Advisory Board."

    The reason the Grand Oil Party continues to use desperate smear tactics, of course, is that they work. The Oregonian reported new polls last week showing Saxton “closing the gap" with Kulongoski in the wake of his assaults. Democrats don’t reply in like kind either because they don’t have the money to counter the ad campaigns, or because they’re too nice. Kulongoski said in a recent debate with Saxton that he respects the opinions of his Republican friends but has always believed they can come together across party lines to get things done. Hopefully his high-mindedness won’t cost him the governorship.

    Karen Minnis has a reputation for efficiency, supposedly acknowledged even by her critics, but “efficient" is one of those words that mean nothing without context. Minnis is efficient when she wants to be, or when lobbyists put a gun to her head. In the 2005 legislative session she moved business along briskly at some times and stalled it at others, smothering legislation she didn’t like rather than allowing it to see the light of a hearing. Using her power to block the members of the House from voting on issues she finds personally distasteful is unethical, cowardly, and it isn’t “American." Her main platform for this year’s election is “anti-meth," the latest incarnation of the right-wing War on Drugs that stretches back to Richard Nixon in 1971. That’s kind of like running on an anti-cancer platform, except that cancer actually is a problem. For each meth-crazed maniac beating someone up with a brick, there are a hundred others who simply wish to be left alone to destroy themselves in peace. I’ll give Karen Minnis an ovation when she leaves office. She is a bulwark in the way of progress and it’s time to kick her to the curb. We don’t need suburban soccer moms or their ilk legislating morality for us any more. Even if you’re a politically conservative student, there’s a good reason you should care, and it’s coming to a ballot box near you very soon. It’s called Measure 48.

    In some ways it’s a typical Republican measure, aimed at shrinking government by limiting state spending. But its effects would be drastic and dangerous, crippling essential services throughout the state and leaving no money for first responders in the event of an emergency. It would also undoubtedly have an impact on college tuition, and not the kind that works in the favor of already-struggling students. If Karen Minnis had graduated from Clark Community College rather than just “attending" it, she might be more sympathetic. She’s waffling in support of the measure at the moment, her deeply ingrained Republican instincts to reduce government spending perhaps conflicting with a dim awareness of how deadly the measure could be for Oregon. Regardless of how she decides, the fact that she’s even considering support for the measure should give pause to any public school student who isn’t independently wealthy. It’s possible to see the measure as part of a larger attempt by the right wing to slowly whittle away at post-secondary education and cripple the power of states, now that they have control of the federal government. Rob Brading, following the Democratic Party line, is opposed to Measure 48. If you attend PSU and think public schools are a good idea, you and all your families should just say no to crippling the state budget in November by voting no on both measures 41 (tax cut) and 48 (cap state spending).

    With the election just around the corner, those of us who would like to see Oregon reclaim its status as a state that leads the nation forward culturally have a chance to turn the beat around, by ridding ourselves of regressive forces like Karen Minnis. We vote by mail and probably get a pretty fair election, unlike Ohio, Florida, and other states where there is pretty strong evidence that Republicans (who preach morality but have no morals) have sunk to the level of fixing the vote, electronically or otherwise, to insure their victory. In Oregon your vote still counts. Use it and use it wisely.