If Democrat Peter Nordbye were simply running a legislative campaign to prove it could be done without large sums of money and outside influence, then he could walk away today claiming victory. Yes, it can be done.

Through door-to-door visits, neighborly visits at homes throughout the district, a well-orchestrated letter-writing campaign (not to mention the eyesore of political signs), Nordbye and his company of volunteers have successfully raised his candidacy out of obscurity and into the spotlight of a true contender.

Nordbye is the candidate who accepted only $50 donations from individuals who live within the boundaries of the sprawling House District 52. He didn’t accept money from political action committees, saying if elected he wouldn’t be beholden to anyone but his constituents.

But there’s a problem with that scenario.

Still beholden

In Norbye’s own words, “I’m a liberal Democrat.”

While he has not been purchased by outside influences, you can safely bet that Nordbye, if elected, would vote in a way that favors those interests all the same.

Example: Nordbye is a staunch supporter of public employee unions, and we suspect he will be just as staunch a follower of the whims of the Oregon Education Association — the most powerful lobby group in Oregon — just as if he had taken its campaign donations.

That isn’t to say we disagree with Nordbye on every position he would take: He’s a strong advocate for women’s rights, for example. That’s a good thing.

Too much to lose

Mostly, with Nordbye, we fear what we would give up if he were to win this election.

Gov. John Kitzhaber couldn’t donate to the Nordbye campaign because Nordbye wasn’t taking donations from outside the district. But Kitzhaber easily could have opted to just stay out of it. Instead, the Democratic governor sent Nordbye’s opponent, Rep. Mark Johnson — a Republican — a $500 check. Political insiders will argue that was a gesture to depict the governor as nonpartisan, and also to repay Johnson for his help on advancing the governor’s education agenda. But we think it also sent a message that the Democrats know and respect Johnson; that they view him as a friend in the Republican Party; and that Johnson is willing to work across the aisle.

In his first term in the Oregon House, Johnson distinguished himself as leader on education issues, which earned him the endorsement of Stand for Children Oregon, an organization that believes all children, regardless of their background, should receive a high-quality public education. Stand for Children lists Johnson among its “education champions,” a group of 10 lawmakers (six Democrats and four Republicans).

It was Johnson who was able to use his knowledge of education, gained as a school board member, to advance a new system of evaluating public school principals. The bill, supported by Gov. Kitzhaber and Stand for Children, was killed in committee by the OEA. Johnson, as a point person on education in the House, and with the help of the governor, was able to persuade the State Board of Education to implement the rules, essentially sidestepping the legislative process. The end result is that school principals now will be evaluated on more stringent criteria, among them a measure of student growth and academic achievement. That’s good governance.

The bottom line

The Nordbye campaign would have you believe that because he didn’t accept large campaign donations that he will be more representative of the people than the incumbent. To the contrary, he will be beholden to the liberal Democrat agenda — money or no money.

Meanwhile, we have come to view Mark Johnson as responsive to his constituents, engaged across party lines and a valued leader. We see no reason why he shouldn’t be returned for a second term.

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