Ron Saxton was the bright moderate hope of Oregon in 2002. As a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, Saxton was an alternative to the dependably right-wing Kevin Mannix.
As the Republican nominee for governor in 2006, it is less clear who Saxton is and exactly what he hopes to accomplish. The transformation of Saxton was crystallized by an incident reported by The Oregonian Wednesday. It seems that Saxton on Tuesday met with a gathering of conservative groups at a Phoenix Inn in Wilsonville. While a representative of the right-wing Brainstorm magazine was allowed into the meeting, a reporter from the state's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, was excluded.
Saxton said that wasn't his decision, but we all know that's not how it works.
It is tempting to say that the inclusion of Brainstorm and the exclusion of The Oregonian is a metaphor for how Saxton would govern. In other words, it appears that Saxton as governor would take his cues from right-wing lobbyists, much as House Speaker Karen Minnis has operated.
Once a man or woman is elected governor, he or she must lead, and that simple truth often clashes with former alliances he has made. For instance, Gov. Ted Kulongoski defied his core constituency of labor by leading the drive to reform the Public Employee Retirement System. In the May Democratic primary election, the PERS issue cost Kulongoski labor votes.
During the primary campaign, Saxton's challenge was to woo the religious right wing that holds sway. That crowd is a relatively small portion of the Oregon electorate, but it is enormously pivotal within the GOP.
It may be that Saxton calculates he can win the governor's office by aligning with the group that wants to penalize the public schools or outlaw abortion. This makes for interesting inside baseball, but it isn't the leadership that Oregon needs in 2006.
Oregon has fallen behind in two critical areas: infrastructure and education. Unless Saxton is prepared to lead us out of that dark zone, his shenanigans with the right wing would mean only one thing: Four more years of deadlock, inertia and retrogression while the world moves on.