If Steve Novick’s politics match the leftist leanings of Oregon’s Third Congressional District, why does he think he can win statewide? And can Novick overcome his reputation as a tax lover to win in a state that has a dominant, and even populist, repugnance to most taxes?
These are a couple of questions that persist after reading a January 2006 biographical piece on Novick written by the Oregonian‘s Betsy Hammond. In fact, the latter question comes almost immediately to mind after reading the headline of the article: “Policy activist tries to share his love of taxes, spending”. (Unfortunately, the Oregonian does not offer this article in the free archive, which may belie its standing as Oregon’s paper of record.) The rest of the article focuses on Novick’s encyclopedic knowledge of federal and state taxes, which Hammond notes was borne of an early life that saw the closure of his high school due to a lack of funds and his subsequent full ride to the University of Oregon.
Hammond establishes a central theme quite early:
Novick loves taxes. He doesn’t tolerate them. He celebrates them.
Look for him on April 15, marching through Pioneer Courthouse Square with friends, toting signs that say “Thank You, Oregon!” and “Public schools 18.3 percent” and “Medicaid and related health programs 8.9 percent.”
Hammond explains that Novick works for a living by advocating for a higher awareness of where taxpayer money ends up. And laudably, he has put his expertise to work in recent years by leading opposition to disastrous anti-tax ballot measures that would significantly lower Oregon’s incoming revenue. In fact, until his run for Senate, it seems that the recent Novick agenda consisted of fighting against any attempt to lower taxes while pushing for increases in the capital gains tax. The latter part of that agenda lives on today in Novick’s stump speech in support of Senator Ron Wyden’s Fair Flat Tax Act, for which Novick implies he was somewhat responsible.
Surely, Novick’s advocacy for higher capital gains taxes and a better public understanding of government revenue is adamantly progressive. The intellectual authority with which he is regarded on federal and state taxation is a feature not only of his expertise but also his passion for government spending and programs. But even Novick, less than two years ago, expected that his background and ideology would make him well-qualified to represent Oregon’s most liberal congressional district.
Hammond’s article concedes as much:
But there is one thing he has wanted for long time and hasn’t come close to: a seat in Congress.
Unlike many Novick one-liners, this one is not a joke. He is determined to run for Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s Portland seat in Oregon’s most liberal district if Blumenauer steps down.
So if Novick wanted a seat in Congress, why not just wait until Congressman Blumenauer retires? Sure, a seat in Congress could technically mean membership in either the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, but political vernacular usually associates a Congress seat with the U.S. House (i.e. Congressman Novick versus Senator Novick). Perhaps he got tired of waiting for Blumenauer to run for something else, like Mayor or Senator. He states that he just couldn’t see Gordon Smith go unchallenged, but if he thinks that he’s a better fit for the liberal Third District, why not wait for that seat to open up?
In August 2003, the Willamette Week said that Novick would be a very intriguing candidate for the Third District:
The most interesting candidate for the congressional seat now held by Earl Blumenauer is not the gay dude with the moussed coif. It’s the short fella with the hook for a left arm.
Novick hasn’t officially announced as yet. That will wait until Blumenauer gets off the picket fence and runs for mayor in 2004, a move most expect within a couple of months. Then Novick will join Adams and an expected five or six others in a joust to fill one of the nation’s more solidly Democratic congressional seats.
That announcement never did come. All of this begs the question, if Novick truly desires the Third District seat, is his Senate run just an exercise in name-building and electoral practice? The Smith campaign could question Novick’s authentic drive to serve in the Senate when he has made many remarks about how he wants to run for the House.
Similarly, one can take the ‘potential weapon’ argument that the Novick camp has been using against Jeff Merkley and apply it here to Novick. While a progressive, pro-taxation stance would work to a candidates advantage in Portland, it is clear that Steve Novick would not be as well-received by the populist anti-tax forces throughout the whole of Oregon. This is a state that has shown its hostility to the sales tax at every opportunity. This is a state that rejected a highly necessary, but modest, tax increase to sustain state services in late 2002, and then rejected an even leaner version of that same proposal 3 months later. This is Oregon, home of the ever-popular kicker, land of 362 tax expenditures, where the last gas tax increase occurred in 1993.
In Oregon, we may love dreamers, but we sure don’t love taxes. And if Steve Novick has made a living on the promotion and celebration of taxes, Democrats need to recognize the potential weapon they would be turning over to the Smith camp to turn off all of those economically-libertarian independent voters on which so many close, critical elections of late have depended. If Steve Novick becomes the nominee, how often will we see Hammond’s headline and story about tax-loving Novick? And, more importantly, how often will Oregonians outside of Portland see that meme?
Steve Novick may want Oregonians to cozy up to the fact that taxes should be embraced rather than feared. But the string of anti-tax votes in localities of late, from Jackson County to Lane County, shows that his efforts have not been entirely successful. And it is certainly not a winning strategy for a Democrat to celebrate taxes on the stump, when one is least likely to be convinced that government spending is great.
Finally, the Boundary would also like to point out that the Hammond article describes Novick as a consummate insider. It mentions ‘top-drawer’ Democratic consultants Lisa Grove and Mark Wiener as two among Novick’s close friends. Hammond’s short biography of Novick may be indicative of his future descriptions should he become the nominee:
Novick, a political insider and communications director for a two-man nonprofit devoted to teaching Oregonians about government spending [. . .]
It is these consultants who wanted to help Novick ascend to Congress via the Third District seat. Finally, Hammond points out that Novick’s once-certain bid for that seat would not have been without a little help from his friends:
He plans to run for elected office on a slogan his friends, mainly professional political advisers, invented — “a fierce fighter with a hard left hook.” [. . .]
A tax-loving 4-foot-9 no-name faces an uphill battle, he concedes. But, he says, his politics match those of the 3rd District, he knows federal policy, and he has the right friends.
Suffice it to say that if Novick thought his candidacy for Congress in Oregon’s Third District would have been an uphill battle, the grade of his challenge on a statewide level may in fact be insurmountable. Certainly, it will take considerably more than the Portland political consultancy for Novick to overcome his tax-loving reputation in this tax-reluctant state.
(Ironically, today is October 15, exactly six months from tax day).
UPDATE: According to the FEC’s website, Novick even has a committee established to raise money for a Third District Congressional campaign. Apparently, he’s keeping it open for some reason.