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Bill Berkowitz: Thinking Globally, Running Locally

Thinking Globally, Running Locally

Scott Silver hopes to take on Oregon's only Republican representative in November
Bill Berkowitz

As President Bush's poll numbers continue to plummet, the Democratic Party has set its sights on taking over Congress in the fall elections. Most pundits maintain that it is a near impossible task as there are so few House seats that are truly competitive. Thus far, the Second District of Oregon has not been seen as one of those seats that are in play. In fact, The Oregonian recently editorialized that “None of the four [Democratic primary candidates] has much chance of unseating the popular and well-financed incumbent in November.”

However, a primary victory by a longtime grassroots environmental activist may alter that perception.

Scott Silver, the co-founder and executive director of Wild Wilderness, a Bend, Oregon-based grassroots environmental organization, needs to win the mid-May Democratic primary in order to get a chance to pull a major upset. If he does get past his Democratic Party opponents, he'll face off against incumbent Republican Party congressman, Greg Walden - the state's only GOP congressman.

District 2 - the seventh largest district in the country -- is predominantly rural and covers nearly two- thirds of the state east of the Willamette Valley. It includes all of Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Hood River, Jackson, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, Wheeler counties and part of eastern Josephine County, along with some of the Grants Pass area.

In a recent e-mail exchange, Silver, commenting on the district's wide open spaces, wryly noted that for every 10 miles or so that he's traveled in the district - to speak at candidates' forums organized by the Democratic Party he's “gotten to communicate directly with one potential voter.” Elected to the House in 1998, Greg Walden has a two-plus decade history of political involvement. According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, Walden was press secretary and chief of staff for Congressman Denny Smith from 1981-1987, served in the Oregon legislature from 1989 to 1997, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998. He is currently a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the Resources Committee where he serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. Walden is also a member of The Republican Main Street Partnership.

Despite Walden's relatively low-profile, he is “tied up with the GOP Culture of Corruption,” according to the Web site of the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee. Rep. Walden “has a very cozy relationship” with the GOP Leadership: He received $12,462 from House Majority Leader John Boehner's "Freedom Project" PAC and $4,342 from Tom DeLay's ARMPAC; he voted with President Bush 87 percent of the time and voted the GOP “party line” 94 percent of the time.

Ironically, despite Walden's years of public service, Silver may be a better-known figure due to his tireless environmental advocacy - particularly his efforts to end the unpopular recreation fee program. Since the late 1990s, Silver has spoken at colleges and universities, and environmental conferences all across the country. Wild Wilderness, which started out as a small, locally- based group has become a high profile organization with an international reputation. Silver's regular online postings often served as an early warning sign for the environmental movement as his organization's focus grew from the concern over the “Recreation Fee Demonstration Program” to a broader analysis of the growing commercialization and privatization of America's public lands.

In a recent Earth Day-related piece posted at - the Web site of David Horowitz, the conservative entrepreneur/ provocateur - Silver was branded as one of those “Leftist watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside)” who are upset that “their carefully concocted anti-capitalist weapon, Earth Day, [has been] snatched away and used to celebrate capitalism.”

Silver's most recent campaign advertisement pulls no punches with its “Worse Than Watergate” theme. The ad features a picture of President Richard M. Nixon side-by-side with President Bush against the backdrop of the U.S. Constitution. Beneath the pictures and the “Worse Than Watergate” headline come the bulleted points: “a War based on Lies,” “Katrina Incompetence,” “Budget Disaster,” “a Culture of Corruption” and “Republican politicians Out of Control.” The tag line reads: “It's time to rein in Bush - It's time to replace Greg Walden.”

In a series of e-mail exchanges, Silver commented on why he decided to leave the world of environmental activism and engage in electoral politics, Rep. Walden's record in Washington, and the dangers wrought by Bush Administration.

Bill Berkowitz: Why did you decide to run for Congress in an overwhelming Republican district after years of environmental advocacy?

Scott Silver: For the past 18 years I've lived in a congressional district which has not elected a Democratic congressman since it was gerrymandered more than two decades ago. I knew that in the upcoming fight to reclaim the U.S. House of Representatives, my district would not be looked upon as “winnable.” I wasn't willing to accept that conclusion and felt compelled to ramp up my own activism to the next level. The way I see it, Congress and the president have been mortgaging our children's future not merely by failing to be good stewards of our democracy, our economy and our planet, but by aggressively pursuing agendas that are destroying those things and everything else Americans cherish. I'm running for Congress because I desperately want to rein in the increasing tyranny of the Bush administration and start the process of reclaiming our democracy and healing our nation before it is too late.

Berkowitz: You're obviously running a grassroots, get-out-and-meet-as-many-voters-as-you-can, type of campaign. Describe the district's voters, and why you think a Democrat can win in this historically Republican stronghold.

Silver: This district spans the gamut from urban to rural, from liberal to conservative and from rich to poor. Much of the district's population is thinly spread across a vast landscape. Many are engaged in farming or ranching and those in rural areas tend to be traditional Republicans. Our district is not polarized by the usually divisive wedge issues. People here mainly want to be represented by someone who will look after their interests and the interests of their community. My candidacy will appeal to such people.

Today, Republicans and Democrats alike are fed up with politicians who are failing the American people and are foreclosing upon our collective future. The people of my district know that America is divided not between Republicans and Democrats, but between the few whose interests are being well served and the vast majority who are being ill served. There are a great many voters in this district who expect better of their government than Greg Walden is capable of providing. I can win because the voters know the score and are ready to vote for positive change.

Berkowitz: How would you distinguish yourself from the other Democratic primary candidates? What are your chances of winning the primary?

Silver: I've been influencing both public policy and debate for over a decade and my efforts have attracted international attention and a solid national following. I'm ready to take the next step and move into government service whereas the other primary candidates have yet to wet their feet in the political waters. To the extent that I can communicate with the voters of my district, I can win their support. Yet with so many candidates running, there's a chance that the candidates will "split the vote" and the winner could be anyone.

Berkowitz: Why do you think you would represent this largely rural district better than Rep. Greg Walden?

Silver: Walden hasn't been doing a particularly good job of representing the interests of the people in this district. He has been little more than a rubber stamp for the Bush administration, voting for legislation that is downright detrimental to the people who elected him.

Walden offers rural Oregonians the occasional bone which he throws with a flourish and a down- home country smile. Yet when he votes on the House floor, more often than not, he is representing the interests of those who funded his re-election campaign and not those who actually voted in any election.

I intend to represent the interests of the people, not those of multi-national corporations and not those of narrowly-focused special interest groups.

Berkowitz: Your “Silver for Congress” Web site lays out your position on a batch of issues from the deficit to healthcare, from terrorism to the war in Iraq, and of course environmental issues. What is the focus of the campaign?

Silver: The focus of my campaign is personal security. I view the Bush administration as working feverishly to create a fearful, insecure and easily led public -- a public that won't feel sufficiently secure to challenge the many abuses of power now occurring. I want to restore and enhance those things that make us more secure in our own lives. When I speak of “personal security", I'm speaking about our jobs, our healthcare, our children's education, our retirement benefits and more. As a secondary focus, I intend to use my vote in Congress to directly counteract those in government who have forsaken the people and have pledged their allegiance to special interests and the interests of the ultra-rich.

Berkowitz: Why have you nationalized the campaign? Why the focus on the Bush administration? Do people in your district care about the goings on in Washington?

Silver: I've nationalized the campaign because voters are interested in the big issues, which they now perceive as impacting their own lives. In each of the many candidate forums in which I've participated, the overwhelming majority of questions asked have been about the War in Iraq, healthcare, immigration policy, the deficit and other national issues. In perhaps 90 percent of the forums, questions about impeachment or censure of the president has been brought up, to which I have replied "If articles of impeachment are drawn, I will vote early and often." I believe the time has come for the Senate to call for a full investigation of both Bush and Cheney, just as it called for the investigation of Richard Nixon following Watergate.

I've also nationalized this campaign because the congressional race in Oregon's second district needs to be placed upon the national radar screen and recognized as a contested seat, one that is fully capable of being the seat, which gives the Democratic Party a majority in the U.S. House come 2007.

Berkowitz: My guess is that you're running this campaign on a pretty tight budget. Who is funding the campaign?

Silver: We've run the primary with funding coming from friends, family and contributions from people who want me to win. I've received no funding from PACs or special interest groups.

Berkowitz: What have you learned about the political process? Would you encourage other grassroots activists to get involved in electoral politics?

Silver: I've gotten to see, up close and personal, how political strategists analyze and triangulate races by applying rigid formulas. I've learned how equations are used to pronounce which races are winnable and to plot a strategy for winning them. I've been told by far too many political "experts" that no Democrat can possibly defeat the incumbent whom I have challenged. The experts tell us that Walden can remain in Congress until he chooses to leave, because that is what the numbers tell them. I've learned that the experts don't know everything. I've discovered that voters emotionally bond with that exceptional candidate who is able to speak passionately straight from the heart.

The greatest rewards I have experienced on the campaign trail come when people thank me for running. They want change as much as do I and they truly appreciate that I am in this race to win. Their sincerity and passion is a match for my own. I'd encourage every person who is committed to making this a better and more just world, to run for political office. The people of this world need you. The planet needs you.


For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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