State Rep. Sal Esquivel denounces what he views as a misleading hit piece mailed to voters that signals the start of a negative campaign by his opponent in the Nov. 2 election, Lynn Howe.

State Rep. Sal Esquivel denounces what he views as a misleading hit piece mailed to voters that signals the start of a negative campaign by his opponent in the Nov. 2 election, Lynn Howe. "It's unfortunate she's elected to take that road — the lower road," said Esquivel, a Medford Republican and incumbent in the race for House District 6. "I was somewhat shocked that she went this route." The campaign literature cites a Mail Tribune article from Nov. 6, 2008. Part of a sentence near the bottom of the original article is displayed as a headline under the Mail Tribune masthead. "Esquivel has proposed ... a 5 percent sales tax," the headline on the flier states. The full sentence from the 2008 article read, "Esquivel has proposed cutting income and capital gains taxes and replacing those with a 5 percent sales tax." Howe, a Medford Democrat who is in her second campaign to unseat Esquivel, stands behind her decision to send out the mailer, saying the voters need to know Esquivel's three-term record. "He is supporting a sales tax," she said. "He has supported a sales tax." She said the mailer indicates the day the article ran and the ellipsis in the quote is included to let voters understand that they need to look carefully into Esquivel's stance on a sales tax. "The ellipsis is there for a reason," Howe said. "It makes it very clear that you want to read the rest of the story."

Howe's mailer goes on to say that Esquivel wants to tax milk, eggs and other staples. However, the original bill that Esquivel was discussing excluded food products from a sales tax. "Where I come from they call that not being forthright," Esquivel said. "It's an out and out fabrication." Howe said she welcomes Esquivel clarifying what he would or wouldn't exclude from a list of items he would like to tax, but she didn't make any apologies about including a statement that wasn't correct. "It's a good question — what actually would be excluded," she said. "I'm happy to have a discussion about any of this." Esquivel said he would only support a sales tax if the overall taxes that most Oregonians pay are reduced in the process. In addition, he said any sales tax proposal, which would be part of a comprehensive tax reform in the state, would have to go before voters for approval. He said the bill being considered was just a proposal that ultimately never went anywhere and didn't make it out of committee. Esquivel said voters weren't necessarily adverse to a sales tax, but they didn't trust government to handle the new taxes. "I wouldn't have supported a sales tax if the people didn't want it," he said. Many Democrats have supported a sales tax previously, and Esquivel thought it interesting that Howe was trying to paint him as a tax and spend Democrat. He says his record shows he is a fiscal conservative. Howe said Oregonians have rejected a sales tax nine times, so any attempt to push for a sales tax shows how out of touch Esquivel is with voters, who are suffering with the downturn in the economy. In ads and other campaign literature, Howe said she will continue to point to Esquivel's record so voters can see how he really stands on issues. Howe said she hadn't conducted any polls to show how well she is doing against her opponent. Campaign finance information from the Oregon Secretary of State's Office shows the Howe campaign listed $20,433 for surveys and polls since January, but it is not known what they were for. Allen Hallmark, chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee, said he had only a cursory knowledge of the mailer. "She (Howe) told me it was all based in fact," he said. Hallmark said the main thrust of the mailer appears to be true that Esquivel proposed a sales tax. Nick Smith, a spokesman for Oregon House Republicans, said Democrats butchered the original sentence from the article to create a hit piece against Esquivel. He said the tone of Howe's mailer and television ad is negative and misleading. "Lynn Howe knows she has to resort to negative attacks because she knows that is the only way she can win," Smith said. Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail