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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended July 09, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 08Jul00

Summarized by Michael Nielsen

Smith campaign ahead of schedule
Portland OR Oregoian 3Jul00 N2
By Jim Barnett of The Oregonian staff

WASHINGTON, DC -- LDS Sen. Gordon Smith, R- Ore., is on the campaign trail even though his next election race isn't until 2002. With the television spotlight on him as he works on sticky campaign-finance legislation, and speaks against hate-crimes, Smith has the envy of other senators... especially those who are campaigning for election this year.

Even though Smith's race is two years away, he is on the campaign trail. As he sees it, doing what is right is what campaigning is all about. "For the ideologues among my opponents, I'll never be acceptable.... But for people who want somebody to fix things instead of fight things, they've got a good horse to ride in me," Smith says.

By politicking when he is not up for election, observers say that Smith is practicing good politics. When the 2002 race comes, Smith will not be seen as changing his tune for the benefit of re-election.

As every politician does, Smith has his detractors. He has managed to irk conservatives and more moderate voters along the way. Republican leaders have been disappointed when he has urged compromise on issues that some view as conservative litmus tests, such as gun control and nuclear testing. When he does step out of the party line, though, he has the good sense to tell the Republican leadership well beforehand, so there are no surprises.

This has given him a bit of independence that recently was put to the test in a high-profile issue. Republican leaders gave Smith the task of developing a campaign finance bill-- a hot-button issue any time, but particularly during an election year. The bill Smith drafted was co-sponsored by two-dozen other senators, and gave them an elegant way out of a sticky situation.

After a news conference celebrating the achievement, Smith went out to the Capitol lawn and stood next to Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man murdered because of his sexual orientation. Smith offered to support a Democratic initiative that would include sexual orientation in hate crime legislation. Later, on the Senate floor, Smith referred to Jesus, who saved a prostitute from stoning. "He didn't endorse her lifestyle, but he did save her, so why should we do differently?"

This stand has led some conservatives to question Smith's motives, as they point to Smith's fellow Mormon in the Senate, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Hatch opposes the hate-crime bill. Lou Beres, leader of the Christian Coaligion in Smith's home state of Oregon said "We thought maybe it was because of his background, Mormon discrimination and so forth, but evidently that's not the case." Smith responded by saying "I don't question his motives. I wish he would extend me the same courtesy."

The hate-crimes bill passed the senate June 20th. Observers say that even though it may frustrate Republican leaders, Smith's efforts on the bill probably help his standing with Oregon's broad-minded voters.

"I go to work every day trying to represent as many Oregonians as I can on every issue," Smith said. "I think that good government is good politics."


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