‘Tis a Puzzlement: Deciphering Carrick Flynn

A political unknown in Oregon not long ago, Carrick Ronan Morgan Flynn burst on the scene when he announced on Feb.1, 2022, he was running in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s new Congressional District 6 seat.

From that point forward his persona has been defined primarily by a barrage of television advertisements paid for largely by a political action committee, Protect Our Future PAC. The PAC is funded largely by a crypto billionaire, Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old American “Master of the Universe” who lives in the Bahamas. 

The ads, including his first on Feb. 1, are largely slick campaign messages, delivering party and poll-tested messages and portraying his life to date as sort of a Horatio Alger story of hard work and achievement succeeding against challenging odds. 

But with only a few days left until the May 17 primary, and some ballots already cast, who is Flynn?

There’s a well-worn Washington saying, “The most dangerous place in Washington is between New York Senator Chuck Schumer and a TV camera,” portraying him as is a ham, a publicity hound, a quote machine. 

That doesn’t seem to be Flynn’s style.

He also tends to avoid the quick sound bite, seeming to enjoy an intellectual debate, even when it would be more to his advantage to be brief or shift the subject.

Only 35-years old, the baby-faced political neophyte recites his brief pre-packaged campaign messages fluently and in a practiced manner in his television spots. If anything, he comes across a little stiff, like he’s still learning how to appear sincere on camera instead of like a character in Madame Tussauds wax museum. 

Which I better, I guess, than Bo Hines, a Trump-backed 26-year-old former college football recruit often compared to Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina. Hines is running for a U.S. House seat in North Carolina. As with Oregon, the primary vote is on May 17. In 2005, long before he could even vote, when he asked about his goals he responded, “Governor of North Carolina, and the ultimate goal would be president.” No humility there.

It may be too late to really figure out Flynn before the the May 17 primary vote, but I recently listened in full to a 49-minute Oregon Bridge podcast interview he did on April 13, 2022, that sheds more light on his thinking. 

In the podcast he is exposed as sort of an odd duck, more expansive and more real than in his television ads. A fan of the brief anecdote he is not. His rapid-fire delivery would have challenged any note-taking reporter trying to keep up.

He talked freely about re-energizing the economies of small towns, the opportunities presented by more work-at-home jobs, reshoring, the danger of the United States being too dependent on Taiwan for microprocessor production, bringing more small manufacturing work, such as medical manufacturing, back to the US, the benefits of free trade and more. 

Flynn also said he favors drug decriminalization (Putting people in jail and prison for drugs “is a huge waste”), marijuana legalization (“It’s pretty innocuous as a substance.”) and the relaxation of zoning ordinances to spur the construction of more housing stock. (“Some people think you need an enormous amount of money to build more public housing. No, you actually don’t. You really just need to rezone.”)

A lover of the sound bite and the brief anecdote he is not. Instead, he comes across as intensely curious and thoughtful as he ruminates about various topics. But that openness can trip him up, as other politicians who have mistakenly told the truth have discovered to their chagrin.

In the Oregon Bridge podcast, right at the start Flynn professed no initial ambition for elective office.  “It was not my idea,” he said. “I had, I think, five or six friends, independently of one another, tell me I had to run.” There’s some political wisdom in this comment because it serves to downplay any raw ambition on Flynn’s part,

At the same time, it strains credulity a bit to think he jumped into the race with no clear source of financial backing, particularly when the race featured some other much better-known opponents with deep Oregon roots and/or pots of money.

The Protect Our Future PAC came to his rescue with millions in spending on a wide range of activities, including radio, television and digital ad production and time purchases, lawn signs, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote phone calls.

True, the Carrick Flynn for Oregon campaign committee had also raised $910,100.43 as of April 27, 2022, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), but I doubt Flynn would have broken through as he has without the jump-start from Protect Our Future.

The Oregon Bridge podcast also revealed another aspect of Flynn, a tendency to say too much.

A review of a book about fashion maven Anna Wintour told of how, when asked by then long-time Vogue editor Grace Mirabella what job she would eventually like to have at the magazine, Winter replied simply, “Yours.”  No such direct, concise answer to a question would likely come from Flynn.  

For example, asked to comment on the complexities of timber politics in Oregon, and the social problems that arose in timber-dependent communities because of spotted owl restrictions, Flynn offered a lengthy response:

“I grew up in the spotted owl days and it was terrible,” he said. “I think there is a part of me that still feels indignant or angry. The notion that you have these people in the city who are ‘Hey look, there’s an owl. Isn’t it cool? We’re going to destroy all of your livelihoods in your community because we like this owl.’ Well, wait, can we talk about it? No.” 

More thought should have been given to how to keep the owls alive and keep logging sustainable, Carrick said.  

Was placement of the spotted owl on the endangered species list a mistake? “I think the process and how it played out was terrible and the dialogue around it was really bad,” Flynn said, even if the spotted owl probably belonged on the list. Moreover, before something is put on the endangered list, the economic repercussions of the action need to be considered and minimized, he said. 

You might think his views on the spotted owl/timber issue are open-minded and balanced, but in the black-and-white world of much of today’s politics, his remarks outraged some environmental groups 

“We are stunned and deeply saddened to hear Carrick Flynn, a Democratic candidate running for Congress, make comments mocking critical environmental protections… and referring to our state’s iconic land use system as ‘insane,’” said a statement signed by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Wild Conservation Leaders Fund, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Renew Oregon Action Fund and RiverPAC of Oregon. 

“Flynn’s comments are far out of step from the values of Oregonians, who care deeply about protecting our natural legacy,” they wrote, saying Flynn’s comments were “disturbing.”

Left unsaid was that the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and  Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste had previously endorsed one of Flynn’s opponents, state Rep. Andrea Salinas, in the 6th District primary,

In an effort to recover, Flynn ‘s campaign manager Avital Balwit told Willamette Week that Flynn “… simply meant to express empathy with working families whose livelihoods have been disrupted,” but the damage was done. 

The fact is Flynn’s background is more that of a policy wonk/academic vagabond. As a Research Affiliate with the Future of Humanity Institute, he co-wrote “Policy Desiderata in the Development of Machine Superintelligence,” and as a Research Fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), he co-wrote “Multilateral Controls on Hardware Chokepoints.” Not exactly political fodder.

In many respects, Flynn seems better suited to a Washington, DC think tank conference room than the cramped office of a freshman congressman on Capitol Hill. We’ll see on May 17 what Democratic voters think.

Pharmaceutical Industry Steps Up for Kurt Schrader As Primary Battle Nears End

A river of money is flowing into the Democratic primary race in Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District. 

Who’s buying Congress this week?”, Primary School, a site that follows the financing of primary races, asked on May 5.

It answered its own question, revealing independent expenditures made by outside groups in congressional races using data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). 

A standout is the activity of dark-money political action committee (PAC) Center Forward in support of Congressman Kurt Schrader.

“America is neither right nor left. Republican nor Democrat. Red nor blue.,” the PAC says in its Our Mission statement. “The mainstream values and principles that will move us forward come from where they always have – the center. The center is where we leave our political labels and baggage at the door, to find commonsense solutions to America’s great challenges.”

Bull!

Center Forward put $650,000 into television ads attacking Jamie McLeod-Skinner, bringing the PAC’s total spending on pro-Schrader/anti McLeod-Skinner efforts to $1.04M.

Critics says Center Forward is heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry and concentrates on obstructing efforts to rein in the pharmaceutical industry.

According to The American Prospect, an online and print magazine “dedicated to American liberalism and progressivism,” not long ago the PAC “…kicked off an ad blitz championing six Democratic House members, nearly all of whom went on to lead the charge to undermine Democrats’ flagship drug pricing reform bill,… while also jeopardizing the Biden agenda bill being considered under budget reconciliation.” One of those six House members was Kurt Schrader.

Center Forward, as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, doesn’t have to publicly disclose its donors. However, a  review by Sludge, which investigates money in politics, concluded that a significant portion of its funding in recent years has come from a drug company lobbying group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). 

Schrader’s close ties to the industry are a primary attack point for McLeod-Skinner. “Kurt Schrader claims he’s fighting to get big money out of politics. I’m calling on Schrader to stand by his word and tell his Big Pharma donors to take these ads down,” Jamie McLeod-Skinner told Sludge

Is Carrick Flynn’s Money Going To Do The Trick? Maybe Not.

All those millions donated to Carrick Flynn and a new poll shows he is, at best, tied with Andrea Salinas in the Democratic primary for Congress in Oregon’s 6th District.

On behalf of Salinas’s campaign, Public Policy Polling, a respected and reliable polling firm, polled 591 Democratic voters in the district earlier this week. Across the district, 18% of potential Democratic voters supported Salinas, 14% Flynn and no other candidate exceeded single digits.

The margin of error of the pole was +/- 4 percentage points, so it’s possible Flynn and Salinas are actually tied.  Salinas’s lead increased to 39% to 23 % among voters who have already cast their ballots, according to The Hill.

Of those who had already mailed back their ballots, Salinas led Flynn 39% – 23%, but that may not mean much because fewer than 10% of Democrats had returned their ballots by Thursday. 

Carrick Flynn’s crypto-financed rise in the polls has run into a few potholes lately. 

After the Democratic House leadership campaign arm, the House Majority PAC, injected $1 million into Flynn’s campaign, the other candidates lambasted the action.

Six of the nine Democrats seeking to win the Democratic primary rapidly issued a statement denouncing the House Majority PAC’s donation to Flynn. “We strongly condemn House Majority PAC’s unprecedented and inappropriate decision…” the joint statement said. “We call on House Majority PAC to actually stand by our party’s values and let the voters of Oregon decide who their Democratic nominee will be.”

Then CHC Bold PAC , a Democratic-aligned PAC supporting the election of Hispanic Democrats to Congress, condemned the House Majority PAC’s donation to Flynn. The PAC reminded  others that Latina women have been critical to Democratic victories and the PAC’s support for Flynn ignored a highly qualified Latina, Andrea Salinas, was in the primary battle. 

“HMP is tasked with defending the House Majority by boosting Democrats and holding Republicans accountable, not with spending critical resources against a woman who has spent decades fighting for progressive causes and who will excite Democratic voters in November,” a Bold PAC statement said. Bold PAC then put its money where its mouth was, donating $1 million to Salinas.

Flynn may also have undercut some of his momentum by making some politically ill-advised comments questioning environmentalist’s support for spotted owl protections. According to E&E News, Flynn said protecting the owl made him “indignant or angry” because it hurt livelihoods.

Rubbing salt in the wound, Flynn was accused of expressing sympathy, on  a podcast “Oregon Bridge”,  with Timber Unity, a group formed to oppose climate change policies, and was later accused in Mother Jones of having  “… had no qualms associating with violent extremists and far-right groups.”

In a May 4, 2022 , Willamette Week article, Flynn disputed allegations he had shown support for Timber Unity. “So, I’m emphatically not a Timber Unity supporter,” he said. “I do have concerns about the economic effect conservation had on timber communities. But I have concerns about economic effects of any large economic trends or any government regulation on communities.”

To bolster his case, Flynn urged people to listen to the April 13, 2022 podcast and hear what he said.  He’s such a fast talker on the podcast he can be hard to follow, but his remarks are, in fact, not consistent with the characterization of his views by critics as anti-environmentalist.

Nevertheless, with nuance hardly a hallmark of political debate, E&E News headlined its story, “Ore. Democrat slams spotted owl protections, rakes in cash,” and a group of Oregon environmental organizations issued a joint statement blasting Flynn, saying they were .”..stunned and deeply saddened to hear Carrick Flynn, a Democratic candidate running for Congress, make comments mocking critical environmental protections.” 

Willamette Week’s disclosure that Flynn has rarely voted in Oregon probably hasn’t helped him either. Reporters Nigel Jaquiss and Rachel Monahan discovered that Flynn has voted just twice in the past 30 elections and did not vote in 2020despite being registered to vote in Oregon since he was a teenager. “I’m not political,” Flynn said on the Oregon Bridge podcast. “I’m solutions oriented.” Flimsy excuses for his voting record, essentially “I was out of town,” haven’t helped either.

“That raised questions about, why people are dropping $7 million, $8 million for this candidate who seems to have very little connection to the district?” said James Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University. “Who is this guy, and what’s going on?”

Vance Day: A Real Oregon Horror Story

Like Jason coming back to life in the Friday The 13th franchise, Vance Day has reappeared in Oregon’s political universe.

A former Marion County Circuit Court judge, Day is a candidate for Judge of the Court of Appeals, Position 3 this time around. Day served as Chairman of the Oregon Republican Party from 2005-2009, but the Court of Appeals job is a statewide, nonpartisan position. 

“Equality. Freedom. Rule of Law” Day proclaims boldly on his campaign website, a truly ironic message to highlight given his history, which, in case you’ve forgotten or never knew, is a real horror story. 

In January 2016, the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, dealing with a 13-count complaint, found Day had violated the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct on eight of the counts relating to his judicial and public behavior. The Commission unanimously recommended Day’s removal from the bench and filed its recommendation with the Oregon Supreme Court.

The Commission also took issue with efforts by Judge Day to tie the Commission’s actions to his refusal to perform same-sex marriages.

In so many ways, Judge Day’s actions seemed to be less about principles than testing his boundaries.

Declaring that he’d been denied due process and his freedom of speech and religion had been violated, Day aggressively pursued vindication, even appealing his suspension to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Day also faced criminal charges, two counts of illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts of first-degree official misconduct, for allegedly allowing a felon he knew to handle a firearm.

Day argued that he was being persecuted for his Christian beliefs. “Throughout the Commission’s prosecution of Judge Day is an open disdain and hostility towards the religious beliefs of those whose faith honors marriage between one man and one woman,” his attorneys said in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Prior to the hearing in this case,  Day engaged in an organized media campaign designed to create the impression that the only reason for the investigation of his conduct is his position regarding same sex marriage,” said the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability’s Commission’s Jan. 25, 2016 Opinion. “To this end, Judge Day made repeated public assertions that he was being unfairly attacked by this investigation due solely to his religious beliefs concerning same sex marriage. Judge Day made these statements despite the fact that his position on same sex marriage was not discovered by the Commission until after the investigation was well underway. His assertions in this regard were intentionally deceptive to the public.”

On Sept. 3, 2015, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission approved an application to create a legal defense fund for Day, permitted under an Oregon law that allows public officials to create a trust fund to defray the cost of legal bills related to their duties.

Subsequently, Randall J. Adams, a Mt. Angel, OR attorney, established the Vance D. Day Legal Expense Trust Fund with Adams as its trustee.

A Defend Judge Day website also went up saying Day’s defense “will likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars” and soliciting donations.

In the beginning, donations didn’t exactly roll in by the barrel. In the July 1 – Sept. 30, 2015 quarter, contributions totaled just $25,880. Contributions continued to dribble in through 2016 (Q1 – $7,893.53; Q2 – $5,300; Q3 –  $345; Q4 – $4,275).

The fundraising effort ramped up the following year, not long after the Washington Times ran an article headlined, “In Oregon, the left targets an evangelical GOP judge.”

But the key to increased donations was bringing on board on May 1, 2017 Eberle Associates, a Virginia-based professional direct-mail fundraising company, a real juggernaut in the money-raising business. 

Eberle came with stellar conservative liberal bona fides. It had raised money for multiple conservative political groups and campaigns, including Oliver North,  American Border PatrolFreedomWorks and Pray In Jesus Name.

Donations flowing from Eberle’s work on behalf of Judge Day escalated rapidly as bushels of contributions began to roll in from across the country.

By Q3 2017, with Eberle churning out direct mail appeals, many featuring Day’s refusal to perform same-sex marriages, revenue increased to $254,803.51.

By Sept. 30, 2018, fundraising revenue totaled $2,008,658.54. The whole effort seemed like quite a success story.

But fundraising expenses, including $1,290,383 in payments to Eberle and $6,021.38 in payments for other related services, totaled $1,296,404.38.

That means Eberle chewed up 64 percent of all fundraising receipts. According to NonProfit Quarterly, “The agencies that set acceptable fundraising percentage limits say that on average an organization’s fundraising expenses throughout the year should not represent more than 35 percent of the donations raised, and most organizations come in significantly below that benchmark.” Some professional fundraisers say the best practice target should be 12-20 cent per dollar raised.

After all the fundraising payments, that left just $712,254.20 for other expenses, principally for lawyers. And there was a slew of lawyers at the trough. The two firms pulling in the most money were Hart Wagner Trial Attorney, Portland, $167,640.96, and Sherlag DeMuniz LLP, Portland, $161,827.63.

All the money, lawyers and investigators sounded pretty impressive. How could Judge Day lose with that kind of firepower?

But he did.

  • Despite Day’s efforts to explain and defend his behavior, the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability unanimously recommended his removal from the bench
  • The Oregon Supreme Court imposed a three-year suspension, without pay, on Day.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Day, leaving in place the three-year suspension against him imposed by the Oregon Supreme Court.
  • Criminal charges against Day were dropped, but only because  a key witness declined to participate.

Day tried to salvage the whole mess by declaring, “I’m the first person to ever push back against the decades of liberal elites in Oregon government.”

Now Vance is aiming for a resurrection with the same message of opposition to “liberal elites”.

Oregon deserves better.