23 February 2011 by Published in: Opinion No comments yet

Troubled Times for Oregon’s First District and Its Congressman

by Deborah Steele Hazen

No, I’m not going to say “I told you so.”

The latest news about our congressman, David Wu, is sad and troubling for him personally, for his constituents, and for Oregon’s First Congressional District.

When the news broke last month that at least six high-ranking, long-term members of Wu’s staff had resigned, it was a good bet that sooner or later we were going to hear why.

Timed to hit the front page along with reports of President Obama’s visit to Oregon, The Oregonian reported Saturday that “Three days before the Nov. 2nd election, U.S. Rep. David Wu’s most loyal and senior staffers were so alarmed by his erratic behavior that they demanded he enter a hospital for psychiatric treatment.”

The Willamette Week had a similar report.

Now speculation and blame are flying in various directions – calls for Wu’s resignation, aspersions against his staff for covering up his problems until after the election, criticism of the “liberal media” for not reporting Wu’s problems until now – when he has almost two more years in office.

The Chief has repeatedly reported Wu’s weaknesses – those of which we were aware – his ineffectiveness in responding to the needs of his constituents, the embarrassing “Klingons in the White House” speech, his arrogance and rudeness to constituents, his nonsensical responses to questions, etc. Those were plenty of reasons not to re-elect him – especially when he was being challenged by very credible opponents in both the primary and general elections.

We have no explanation as to why Democrats didn’t nominate someone else – specifically David Robinson, whom we endorsed as a good choice for liberals in last year’s primary. Apparently, the majority of the first district’s Democrats have just not been paying attention.

But, we’re honestly disturbed by the responses of some Democratic-diehard bloggers who have written in response to the online articles about the resignations and concerns of Wu’s staff, that any Democrat – no matter how ineffective and erratic – is better than any Republican, no matter how intelligent, articulate and capable – for instance, Rob Cornilles, Wu’s 2010 general election opponent.

That kind of thinking is how we got where we are today – with a possibly mentally ill congressman  creating a situation in which we are virtually unrepresented in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Wu has never been very effective nor respected by other politicians of either party in Washington, D.C. Now, with the president and his staff undoubtedly aware of the big bold “Wu’s odd behavior alarmed staff” headline above The Oregonian’s coverage of “Obama peers into future at Intel,” our congressman will be completely written off in our nation’s capital.

Oregon’s leaders have been distancing themselves from him for several years.

At least in his last couple of terms, whenever Wu’s office has accomplished much of anything, it has been due to the efforts of his staff. That same staff covered up for his erratic behavior prior to the election, while secretly trying to get him into a mental ward, then resigned after he got won re-election because of his erratic behavior – then went to the press. What a system!

Local leaders lobbying for federal help for Northwest Oregon issues – the dike re-certification problem is one example – now must try to get the attention of U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, or enlist the help of other members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, who represent other parts of the state. I hope they recognize our plight and respond.

Although I have never agreed with him politically, I did like David Wu personally for his first two or three terms in Congress. I appreciated the fact that he would stop and visit with a small-town newspaper editor whose headlines do not have the impact of those in The Oregonian. He seemed aware of and concerned about the issues of the rural portions of his district, as well as Portland, and that also was important. I knew of several cases when he (or his staff under his instructions) reached out to help constituents who were experiencing problems related to the federal government.

But gradually, we noticed a change in his attitude. Two years ago, during a visit here about which we have reported several times in this column, he was so rude, so arrogant, so detached from his constituents’ issues, so wrong in his assumptions,  so assinine in his answers, and, subsequently, so out-of-line in insulting – at a port conference in Washington, D.C. – his constituents in Clatskanie, that I resolved to do whatever I could to expose his weaknesses and to elect someone else to represent Oregon’s First Congressional District.

Now, I am just sad and concerned.

Mental illness had not occurred to me as a possible explanation for the changes I have seen in him, but I can see now that it is a possibility. The staff who worked with him daily for years are the ones who have raised concerns about his mental health.

David, for the sake of your constituents, resign.

For your own sake, and that of your family, get help!

(On Tuesday morning, after the above was written, Wu was interviewed on ABC television’s “Good Morning, America” program. He acknowledged having some problems  related to stress and family issues before the election, and stated that he was under medical care and was “in a good place now.”

How much he has recovered and how well he will be able to serve his district, remains to be seen. We continue to believe that it would be best for everyone – his constituents, his children and himself – if he voluntarily resigned. Wu’s issues go back far beyond his divorce and a stressful 2010 election season.)

Proper Role of Government: Banning Bags and Setting Prices?

by Todd Wynn

One of the most controversial debates in Oregon’s state capitol this year is banning single-use bags, Senate Bill 536. There is something more important to add to the debate than just the rhetoric from environmental activists, politicians, paper companies and grocery stores.

The question of whether government has the right to ban a product and to force retailers to charge a government-created price is an important one to consider, and it has significant implications for government involvement in Oregonians’ lives.

In addition to an outright ban on plastic bags, SB 536 forces retail stores to charge shoppers wanting a paper bag a minimum price set by the government. Currently, for convenience and ease at checkout, stores usually offer “free” bags to shoppers but embed the cost of these bags into the price of other products purchased at the store. SB 536 advocates want to attach a direct price to the single-use bags in order to reduce consumption.

In this case, the Oregon government would impose a minimum price of five cents per paper bag. It is interesting to note that there has been little political backlash regarding this escalating power of government. Since when have Oregonians thought that it was the “right” of government to set prices on products or not to allow stores to embed the price of a product into the overall cost of doing business?

Businesses embed prices all the time. Grocery carts, coffee cups, fast food packaging are all examples of embedded prices. Shoppers are not charged for their usage directly but pay for them through higher prices on food or coffee.

If SB 536 passes, Oregonians essentially would be allowing government to force retail stores to redo their business model and set prices for a product. This sets up a precarious precedent that government can have the right to impose prices on every product it deems harmful to society.

This also would mean government has the right to impose maximum prices for products as long as politicians argue that it would be for the common good. This is eerily comparable to price controls in Cuba and the former Soviet Union, and we all know how well that works out.

Although on the surface the government-imposed price on paper bags looks fairly harmless, it is truly a dangerous overreach of government.

What about the outright ban? This is an equally destructive and dangerous encroachment of government. Many reasons cited for the ban are questionable environmental claims, but advocates also claim that this would be a job stimulus program for the state because of Oregon’s paper industry.

Even though those claims have been found to be false and there would actually be a net job loss, there is a more important underlying issue.

If we allow government to ban a product because some politicians deem it bad for society or, in this case, good for job growth, what is next? Government could have the right to ban all fruit not grown in Oregon or all cars not manufactured in the state.

If Senate Bill 536 passes, Oregonians are setting a standard that our rights can be trampled on. Giving the government the right to force you not to purchase a product and to control prices is much scarier than the existence of plastic bags, contrary to what some environmental activists may believe.

Todd Wynn is vice president at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He was formerly climate change and energy policy analyst at Cascade.


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