‘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.

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