Top Oregon Republicans filed an ethics complaint Thursday against two House Democrats for violating the public trust in a deal to secure a pro-tax vote from state Republican Rep. Greg Smith of Heppner.
Republican Party Chairman Bob Tiernan and Andrew Over, the state party's executive director, filed the complaint with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, accusing House Speaker Dave Hunt and Democrat Rep. Peter Buckley of trading millions of taxpayer dollars for Smith's vote to increase personal taxes on Oregon's wealthiest citizens.
Smith was one of only two Republicans - along with Rep. Bob Jenson of Pendleton - to vote for a personal tax increase that cleared the House on Tuesday. Smith said this week he voted largely on the condition that millions of dollars for Eastern Oregon projects be included in the 2009-11 budget. He also asked support for extending a tax break on logging equipment.
Hunt, the House Speaker, and Buckley signed a letter making those and other promises, but have denied they were made in exchange for any vote on Smith's part.
Tiernan called the described deal "not only inappropriate, but illegal" in a letter to the OGEC.
"This is the kind of 'pay for play' politics which Oregonians hate,"?Tiernan said in a released statement. "Our ethics commission complaint against the speaker is intended to expose the pork barrel practices of the Democrats in Salem which have made Oregon one of the highest-taxed states in the country."
Ron Bersin, executive director of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, said the commission is reviewing the complaint and will prepare a response shortly.
The two Democrats aren't the only ones facing heat over the matter. Smith and Jenson have drawn the ire of other state Republicans after their votes on the income tax hike, plus Jenson's vote for a corporate tax increase. Both tax bills passed the House and Senate this week.
Republican Sen. David Nelson of Pendleton gave his impressions of the situation swarming around Smith.
"I think people are trying to make an issue out of it," Nelson said, referring to the vote deal.
Nelson also expressed skepticism about threats from Tiernan and Russ Walker, Oregon Republican Party vice chairman, to unseat Smith in the next primary. Because they are in the Portland/Salem area, Nelson said they just don't understand the political math in Eastern Oregon.
Real legislators, Nelson said, have an uphill battle "all the time," and he, Jenson and Smith find ways to represent their districts, even if those ways differ among the three. That's all Smith has done, Nelson said.