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A matter of notice.

Byline: The Register-Guard

A Republican activist's complaint against Mary Starrett is the best thing to happen to the Constitution Party's gubernatorial candidate all summer - presuming it doesn't result in her being kicked off the ballot. It also highlights deep fault lines in Oregon's political landscape.

Like all minor party candidates, Starrett is starved for attention. The complaint, filed last week by former state Rep. Kelly Clark on behalf of three voters, has been the subject of news stories statewide and has given Starrett a platform for attacking Republican nominee Ron Saxton. In the process, the complaint reminds voters of the sometimes pivotal role of minor parties in Oregon politics.

Kelly's complaint alleges "irregularities" in the process by which the Constitution Party nominated Starrett. The party, Clark claims, failed to advertise its nominating convention, held June 3 in Lake Oswego, in a "newspaper of general circulation within the electoral district."

Starrett or Constitution Party officials could make the complaint go away by citing the date on which a proper legal notice was published. They haven't done that. Party Chairman Bob Eckstrom says notices were published before county meetings at which delegates to the state convention were chosen. But the statute requires that notice be published no later than the 10th day before "any nominating convention."

John Lindback, director of the Elections Division in the secretary of state's office, says parties are generally given wide latitude in how they nominate candidates. If the Constitution Party's process is found to have been defective, the next question will be what kind of penalty is appropriate. Kelly wants Starrett's name removed from the ballot, but there are alternatives to the political death penalty, including fines.

The complaint is more than a technical matter. The notice rules are intended to prevent parties from falling under the control of a self-perpetuating clique of insiders. Clark alleges that this has happened to the Constitution Party. Yet if an infraction is found to have occurred, removing Starrett's name from the ballot would be an extreme remedy.

Starrett maintains that "we're squeaky clean." She accuses Kelly of carrying water for Saxton's campaign. Kelly says he's acting on his own, and Saxton denies all involvement. Everyone might be telling the truth - it's easy to imagine a loyal Republican causing trouble for Starrett without being asked to do so.

Starrett could cause real trouble for Saxton. She describes herself as the only real conservative in the race, favoring a no-compromise anti-abortion position and a new state spending limit. The appeal of such a candidate has been demonstrated before. In 1990, Republican Dave Frohnmayer lost the governor's race to Barbara Roberts in large part because many conservatives defected to Al Mobley, who offered hard-line positions on such issues as abortion and gay rights.

Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski, meanwhile, can watch all of this with satisfaction. The candidate who threatened to draw votes away from Kulongoski, independent Ben Westlund, dropped out earlier this month. That makes Starrett an even bigger threat to Saxton; the votes she siphons from him won't be offset by someone doing the same to Kulongoski. Starrett would be well-advised to expect more trouble from Saxton or from Republicans acting to promote his interests.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; A GOP complaint highlights minor parties' role
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 23, 2006
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