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Wehby TV ad has surprise endorser

Figure in same-sex marriage lawsuit backs GOP rival, but others back Democrat Merkley


Republican Monica Wehby unveiled a surprise endorsement in a new TV ad for her bid against Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley for the U.S. Senate.

The ad features Ben West, who was part of a same-sex couple that sued in federal court to secure the right to get married in Oregon.

“Whether it’s standing up for equality, for the unemployed, or for the next generation, we need leaders who have the courage to do what’s right,” West says on camera. “That’s why I support Monica Wehby for Senate.”

West and Paul Rummell were one of the four couples that sued the state, whose top officials did not defend the ban that voters approved on same-sex marriages in 2004.

Wehby said during her primary campaign that marriage by same-sex couples was not a matter for government, but didn’t take a stand on the lawsuits. Her GOP opponent, state Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

But three other couples involved in the pair of lawsuits quickly endorsed Democrat Merkley, whose record in Congress and the Oregon Legislature they say merits their support.

In a statement distributed by the Democratic Party of Oregon, they say they welcome Wehby’s support of marriage by same-sex couples. But they question why Wehby did not weigh in on the issue before a judge ruled against Oregon’s 2004 ban — or while supporters sought a ballot initiative to repeal it. (Supporters decided against proceeding with it after the May 19 ruling by Judge Michael McShane in U.S. District Court.)

“We’re with Jeff Merkley because he has fought for our rights and our freedom to marry for a long time, not just in an election year,” they say. “He’s been a champion for our community, and he has our full support in his race against Monica Wehby.”

Pro and con

The ad began broadcasts on Wednesday, but was unveiled by the Wehby campaign Tuesday.

Because Oregon has more registered Democrats than Republicans, Wehby needs to win over some Democrats and voters not affiliated with either major party to win. The ad is part of her effort to demonstrate that she can be independent of her party, many of whose voters have been critical of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The participation by West and Rummell in the lawsuit “is inspiring and embodies the spirit I will serve with as Oregon’s next senator,” Wehby says in a statement accompanying the release of the ad.

“My commitment to the families of Oregon begins with providing more jobs, a stronger economy, and better education for families like Ben and Paul’s, who think our current path is the wrong one.”

The Democratic Party of Oregon countered with a statement from the other parties in the pair of lawsuits: Bill Griesar, Bob Duehmig, Deanna Geiger, Janine Nelson, Christine Tanner and Lisa Chickadonz.

It says in part: “How is our community expected to trust Monica Wehby when she’s taken so many different positions on marriage equality since the start of her campaign?”

Those couples say their support of Merkley is based on his record, not just a question of Wehby’s timing. Among those actions were his leading role in winning U.S. Senate passage of 2013 legislation barring job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and his help while Oregon House speaker for 2007 laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and creating domestic partnership rights for same-sex couples.

The Senate-passed legislation is stalled in the House, and President Barack Obama issued a more limited executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors. Merkley supports that order.

Oregon's 2007 law goes beyond the federal bill and presidential order in banning discrimination in housing and public accommodations.

Wehby hasn't taken a public stand on the matter.

Merkley already has been endorsed by Basic Rights Oregon and the Human Rights Campaign, two leading gay and lesbian advocacy groups.

A Merkley campaign spokeswoman says Wehby’s attempt to show she is a different Republican is inconsistent with her support for other national Republican positions and her candidacy benefiting from anti-Merkley ads financed by a committee associated with industrialists Charles and David Koch.

Lindsey O’Brien says: “The Wehby-Koch agenda would gut the Clean Air Act, give big tax breaks to millionaires, and make it cheaper and easier to ship jobs overseas, and couldn’t be more damaging to Oregon’s families.”

State of the race

A physician from Portland making her first bid for public office, Wehby seeks to regain some momentum for her campaign.

Results of recent public opinion surveys put Merkley in front of Wehby, 48 percent to 35 percent in Rasmussen Reports — it was 47 percent to 37 percent in a post-May primary poll — and 51 percent to 39 percent in a CBS/New York Times survey.

A political committee associated with the Koch brothers has weighed in independently with ads against Merkley. But a spokesman said last week that committee ad buys on Oregon stations for October have been canceled. The buys could be rescheduled later at a higher cost, but the implication is that Wehby will have to make some headway against Merkley in the polls.

Some Republicans say there are closer races involving Democratic incumbents in other states that are more likely to favor Republicans.

Republicans are hoping to make the net gain of six seats they need to wrest a majority from Democrats and their allies in the Senate. The House is likely to remain with a Republican majority.

pwong@PamplinMedia.com

(503) 385-4899

twitter.com/capitolwong


Clarifies scope of federal and state nondiscrimination legislation. Add a comment