Attack ads against Senate Republican candidate Alan DeBoer by his Democratic opponent, Tonia Moro, have drawn stinging criticism from her supporters who were hoping Moro would continue the legacy of the late Sen. Alan Bates.
"In general, I was very disappointed," said Cathy Shaw, campaign manager for Bates, who died unexpectedly while on a fishing trip Aug. 5. "My hope is that she will pull this ad."
Moro, who often claims she wants to continue the legacy of Bates, approved a television commercial claiming DeBoer tried to ruin Ashland by cozying up to developers while he was mayor. But the video and a similar mailer provide no details or context surrounding the claims.
During his 15 years in the Legislature, Bates expressed a disdain for negative campaigning and negative ads, even though his opponents sometimes used them against him.
Bates' wife, Laurie Bates, a Republican, recently criticized Moro's ads in a guest opinion piece in the Mail Tribune:
"There is an adage that says, 'How you run for office reflects how you will serve in office,' and my husband, Alan Bates, modeled that belief: He said he would rather lose on the high ground than win on the low ground.
"This is why it was so disappointing to see Tonia Moro’s television ad and direct-mail piece targeting Alan DeBoer for two issues on which DeBoer had little or no say."
The ads attack DeBoer for his support of a proposed golf course on Billings Ranch in Ashland that would have used treated effluent from the sewage treatment plant to water the greens.
The ads also criticize DeBoer for supporting the Bemis project, a controversial mixed-use development in downtown Ashland that had many supporters and opponents. Both the Bemis project and the golf course ultimately failed to get built.
Shaw, who was mayor of Ashland prior to DeBoer, said she also supported the golf course on the Billings Ranch in order to save millions of dollars in upgrading the city's wastewater treatment plant. Water rights at Billings Ranch would have been pumped into Bear Creek to improve stream flow and fish habitat.
At the time, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality wanted the city of Ashland to cool down treated wastewater before putting it back into the creek. Also, the wastewater had high phosphate levels.
"The thought was: can we exchange our water for your water," Shaw said. DeBoer "did try to insert himself into the process, yes, he did, but I tried to insert myself into the process for years as well."
Moro said she's received complaints about the ads, which she said were an attempt to point out the disingenuous statements of her opponent and his refusal to stake out a firm position on issues.
"If there was any problem, it was the tone of it," Moro said.
Moro would not say whether she regretted approving the ads, though she did say that she "gets it" that people are concerned about the tone.
She acknowledged the ads don't clearly spell out exactly what specific issues are being referenced. Despite repeated questions from the Mail Tribune, Moro avoided saying specifically what developments the ads refer to, other than to point to two articles in the Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings, both published in 2004.
Moro said the ads refer to DeBoer's support for developers in Ashland while he was mayor in 2004. She said the ads didn't discuss the merits of the projects or get into the reasons why DeBoer supported them.
"It's hard to follow stories in a 30-second ad," she said.
Asked whether she would pull the television commercial in light of the criticism, Moro said the ad was scheduled to have its final showing last Thursday.
Moro said she does plan to continue Bates' legacy, despite his wife's sharp criticism of the attack ads.
"I have a great respect for Laurie," Moro said.
Moro's ads portray DeBoer as being in the pocket of developers, saying, "Looking out for developers, not for Southern Oregon."
"DeBoer pushed a massive, unwanted development ... DeBoer tried to hand environmentally sensitive public land to private developers," a mailer that was paid for by the Democratic Party of Oregon states.
"We need a state senator that will protect our community, NOT DIG IT UP," the ad states.
A Mail Tribune article of Aug. 22, 2004, referred to some critics who suggested DeBoer's involvement in the golf course was an example of inappropriate political influence.
Ashland historian and restoration consultant George Kramer was mentioned frequently in a Tidings article on March 25, 2004, that also was referenced in Moro's video ad. The article describes potential appeals of land-use decisions in Ashland.
"I don't always agree with Alan, but he is a community-minded, ethical guy," said Kramer, a lifelong Democrat who changed his voter registration to unaffiliated last summer. "In no way, shape or form does Alan deserve the ads Tonia is running against him."
Kramer said he remembers negative ad campaigns against Bates in previous elections, which Kramer believes did a lot of damage to the opponents' chances.
Kramer said he finds the attack ads against DeBoer vague and not accurately reflecting DeBoer's position on the issues or providing sufficient context.
He said DeBoer did take stances as mayor that were in opposition to the views of the council as a whole, but Kramer didn't think it meant DeBoer was in the pocket of developers.
"No, not at all, no more than any other politician," Kramer said.
Kramer said he has seen another Moro ad that portrays DeBoer as not supporting measures to address climate change because he sells cars.
"That seems thin to me as well," he said.
Kramer said he would describe DeBoer as an old-school Oregon Republican who tries to work with people and come to a resolution on issues rather than take a partisan stance.
Bill Mansfield, a semi-retired attorney and Democrat from Medford who supports Moro, said, "I don't consider those ads to be attack ads."
In a political campaign, it's fair game to bring up issues where you think your opponent is wrong, he said.
"I don't think Tonia attacked him personally," Mansfield said. "That's just part of a campaign."
Even so, Mansfield said he understands that some people may be turned off by the ads themselves.
DeBoer said he won't go negative in the campaign, though he expressed concern that third-party groups might launch attack ads before Election Day.
He said it has been difficult to watch the Moro ads, particularly around his grandchildren.
"Who wants to get dragged through this stuff that is taken out of context," he said. "There's no place for this in Southern Oregon."
Bates never would have approved of the kind of ads Moro is circulating, DeBoer said.
One of the ads about development in Ashland shows an opening shot of DeBoer's face floating in the Rogue River next to the Table Rocks.
DeBoer said the ad shows an image of a City Council that is obviously not filmed in Ashland.
He said the ads detract from discussing the issues that face Oregon.
"It's a shame because it keeps good people from running," DeBoer said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.