War of Words Erupts in Ore. GOP Primary

Posted January 28, 2004 at 5:59pm

Two Republicans vying to take on Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) in the state’s 1st district appear to have called a truce in an e-mail war that erupted between them and left both demanding apologies.

“We’re moving on,” said Renne Cannon, campaign manager for Tim Phillips.

The other candidate, Goli Ameri, is now busying herself with efforts to defeat Measure 30 — the referendum that would raise Oregonians’ taxes by almost $1 billion.

The flap between the two highly regarded business owners — which some GOP leaders fear could be repeated throughout the campaign, and hurt the party’s chances of denying Wu a fourth term — started with a heated exchange over immigration policy.

Ameri distributed an e-mail earlier this month praising a Homeland Security Department program to fingerprint and photograph foreigners.

Phillips immediately began circulating a letter that Ameri, an Iranian immigrant, wrote in 1998 blasting a similar but smaller-scale program.

Phillips accused Ameri of “flip-flopping” and charged that she was putting “her personal interest ahead of the interest of the nation and is only changing her tune because she is a candidate for Congress.”

Ameri countered with an open letter to Phillips that read, in part: “Your suggestion… is the very worst kind of fear mongering and ethnic slur.

“How could I support the interests of a regime that has imprisoned and persecuted my family, caused severe heartache, suffering and anguish to me, and executed dozens of my family’s friends?” she asked.

She then demanded an apology.

Phillips countered that he was raising a valid question that she had not fully answered and insisted that he was in no way race-baiting.

Then he demanded an apology from her.

Ameri decided that was not enough and circulated a quote from the local Republican chairman.

“Negative attacks such as these from the Phillips campaign only make it harder for a Republican candidate to win in November,” said Jeff Smith, chairman of the 1st Congressional district Republican Party chairman. “And I am committed to a Republican candidate being elected in November.”

Ameri and Phillips were set to meet Wednesday night at a debate organized by the College Republicans, but Ameri backed out, citing a scheduling conflict with an anti-Measure 30 event. Ameri has latched on to the tax issue as a way to appeal to party conservatives. She has begun airing ads urging voters to reject the ballot measure.

“We’re disappointed,” Cannon said. The debate would have been “a chance to discuss issues and move on.”

Nevertheless, Cannon called Ameri’s position on fingerprinting foreigners “a legitimate issue,” and said, “we have no regrets about bringing up a legitimate issue.”

Neither candidate seems satisfied with how things ended but neither candidate is pressing the matter further either.

“Goli is very hurt” and would still like an apology but doesn’t expect to receive one, said Stan Pulliam, her political director.

Phillips does not think the question was fully answered and would also like an apology, but is not holding his breath, Cannon said.

Meanwhile a third Republican candidate, Jason Meshell, has stayed out of the fracas.

He’s focused on running an “upbeat, issue-driven campaign,” says Jerry Brooks, Meshell’s communications director.

Both Ameri and Phillips have nothing but kind words for Meshell, who trails them both in the money chase and is the underdog in the primary at the moment.

“Jason’s a good man; he’s a good guy,” Ameri’s Pulliam said.

Phillips’ Cannon agrees: “He’s a very nice young man.”

Cannon says the controversy is not a big deal and that the general voter is not paying attention to it anyway.

“It’s all inside baseball right now,” she says.

Ultimately, it’s a “spat” that sparked a few newspaper articles but will not hurt either Ameri or Phillips in the long run, says Carl Forti, the National Republican Campaign Committee communications director.

“The primary will make sure the strongest candidate emerges and if they air all their dirty laundry in the primary, there won’t be anything to talk about in the general election,” Forti said.

Closer to home, the state party considers the issue closed as well.

“I hope this is a short-term discussion and that they will be able to move on to other issues,” Oregon Republican Party Chairman Kevin Mannix said. “I’m encouraging them to move on to other issues.”