Wave of mail from GOP PAC wont be the last in HD29, where fight is fierce

EyreUngerVoters in Forest Grove, get ready: You’re in for a wild autumn.

With Labor Day a fading memory, the race for the Oregon House is fully underway, and House District 29, which stretches from Brookwood Avenue in Hillsboro to the western subdivisions of Forest Grove, is in the center of a political storm.

Democrats statewide are targeting house districts where Republicans won in heavily Democratic districts two years ago and Republicans are already playing defense.

Over the last week, Promote Oregon Leadership PAC, the main political action committee funding the House Republican re-election effort, has sent a pair of mailers to voters in the district attacking Democrat Ben Unger, who is running against state Rep. Katie Eyre (R-Hillsboro).

The pitch? Unger is a political consultant who wants to graduate to state representative.

In order to make that argument, the mailers take some liberties with Unger’s resume.

n One mailer says Unger has no private sector experience, though he currently runs his own political consulting firm. Before that, Unger worked for OSPIRG (a consumer advocacy group), at Safeway and at his family’s berry farm.

n Another mailer, which contrasts Unger’s experience and politics with Eyre’s says “his only job has been to run partisan political campaigns.” That’s not true. Unger has also worked on non-partisan campaigns for Measure 49 and school bond efforts.

n The same mailer says Unger doesn’t have any small business endorsements. It’s not true. While Eyre has locked down the endorsements of numerous business coalitions, including the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, Unger has endorsements from small business owners Adam Campbell of Elk Cove Vineyards and Rod Fuiten who owns Fuiten Mechanical in Forest Grove, among others.

n One mailer claims Unger supported “higher taxes on small businesses...working families [and] Oregon seniors.” That's a reference to his work on behalf of a Portland School bond that would have raised taxes on all property owners, not just the ones highlighted in the campaign mail.

Republicans stand by charges

Nick Smith, spokesman for Promote Oregon, said the group stands behind the assertions made in the mailings.

“We can quibble whether Unger's time at Safeway counts as professional experience,” Smith wrote in an e-mail to the News-Times. “And we can quibble whether OSPIRG is partisan (I think it is). Let the voters decide if Unger's background as a professional activist, campaign manager and partisan operative qualifies him for the Oregon House of Representatives.”

Unger said he was disappointed by the angle taken in the mailers.

“The sad thing is they didn’t have to lie. They could have just told people what my record is,” Unger said. “I have advocated for school levies to get more money into the classroom because the legislature has done a bad job of taking care of the basics.”

Whether or not the direct mail efforts work to shore up support for Eyre is a dicey proposition said Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University.

“These mailers reinforce prior voter preferences,” Moore said. “The issue for both Eyre and Unger is that most voters probably do not know anything about them."

Both candidates are raising money like mad in a rush to change that. So far this cycle, Eyre has raised $136,708, including a $10,000 check from the Oregon Beverage PAC and another from the Oregon Realtors Political Action Committee. Eyre has $51,004 on hand.

Unger has so far managed to out-raise Eyre, pulling in $222,256 this election cycle, including a $5,000 check from Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and a $2,193 check from former Oregon Attorney General John Kroger. Unger has $67,453 on hand.

With the rest of the state watching Washington County to see if the Democrats can win a seat like Eyre's in order to break the 30-30 stalemate in the Oregon House, more money will likely flow in. And either candidate could decide to spend money on television advertising in October. Until then, more mailers are likely to hit mailboxes.

"Mailers like this," Moore said, "if targeted to strong Eyre supporters, will ensure that they cast their votes for Eyre. If targeted to undecided voters, the mailers will sow doubt about Unger that Unger will need to counter. If sent to all voters, the Unger voters will see the mailers as propaganda and have a negative impression of Eyre.”

Count Douglas Fischer in the last category. Fischer, a former teacher and unaffiliated voter was frustrated enough by the Promote Oregon mailer to write a letter to the News-Times.

“Saying that he has no endorsements from small businesses, that’s not accurate. Saying the only thing he’s done is run partisan political campaigns, that’s not true either. He’s a hard working guy,” Fischer said. “He’s done some things that are important. He ran a non-partisan campaign for the school district in Portland. He worked on a farm.”

Fischer, who lives near Unger in Hillsboro, said he met Unger when the candidate knocked on his door during the spring primary. Unger was looking for Fischer’s wife, a registered Democrat, but struck up a conversation with Fisher — the only one at home.

“He didn’t tell me just general things. He told me very specific things,” Fischer said.

Since then, Fischer has volunteered to canvass in his neighborhood on behalf of Unger’s campaign.

“I’ve been doing that as a non-affiliated voter,” Fischer said. “I don’t belong to a political party. Political parties have become too partisan.”

Schools in the crossfire

The Promote Oregon mailers also highlighted Unger’s advocacy for a pair of Portland school tax levies which The Oregonian calculated would have raised property taxes by 15 percent in the district. One mailer painted Unger’s advocacy for the school measures as support for “higher taxes on small businesses and working families” and “higher property taxes on Oregon seniors.”

As property taxes aren’t levied selectively, the Portland levies also would have taxed registered sex offenders and out-of-state corporations — two reliable political punching bags — at a higher rate.

Neither mailer mentions that the tax increases would fund schools. Moore said that’s a crucial omission.

“Many school districts in House District 29 have passed bonds,” Moore said. “Voters support this tax increases for schools, much of the time.”

Eyre said as she’s been talking to voters during the campaign season, the conversation around school funding has changed.

“The education conversation is not just about funding but it's about funding and educating our students. It's not just more money it's let's get more money in the right place,” Eyre said. “It's kind of an interesting twist.”

Eyre said she felt the tax discussion on the flyers was factual. She said seniors on fixed income are hit particularly hard by big shifts in property tax rates.

“They are particularly vulnerable to any mild change in their property tax bill,” Eyre said.

But Eyre also said she wasn’t in control of the Promote Oregon mailings.

“If something came out that was not factually correct, I think I would challenge it,” Eyre said. “They certainly do not have to ask my permission at all. You could send anything out about anybody.”

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