I recently attended the State Candidates Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and was disappointed by Jason Conger’s unethical antics.
There were four candidates on the stage, two for the Oregon House and two for the Oregon Senate. Conger is Bend’s Republican incumbent in the House. The moderator posed a series of questions which each of the four candidates was to answer within 90 seconds. Time-keepers raised a yellow card when15 seconds remained and a red card when time was up. On his first answer, Conger talked past the red card; not a significant or unique violation, but a harbinger of what was to come.
While answering a later question, Conger pivoted from a legitimate reply to challenge Nathan Hovekamp about his so called “attack ad” that claimed Conger had voted for special interests. Conger stood self-righteously over a seated and fittingly silent Hovekamp, glaring down at him until his time ran out. Conger’s actions clearly violated the forum rules. The moderator should have told Conger “you’re out of order,” but he said nothing. Conger evidently realized that he could get away with cheating. He immediately blew off the next question and directly challenged Hovekamp a second time, standing over him and glaring down as a long silence dragged on. Again, the moderator said nothing. Finally, Hovekamp responded by citing two bills Conger had voted for. At that point, the moderator mumbled something about this not being a debate and ended the discussion. I thought I was watching yet another NFL game with substitute referees. (By the way, if you think that Conger’s first challenge was spontaneous instead of calculated, then I have a bridge I want to sell you. Conger may be ethically challenged, but he is clever, and he is not stupid.)
Later on the moderator asked an unintentionally ironic question: “Why is there so little civility in the Legislature?” He could have looked in the mirror and at Jason Conger to answer it for himself. Civility requires voluntarily adhering to rules of conduct, which are fairly administered by competent moderators, referees, or chairpersons. Civility, like fair play, is undermined when the media, supporters, and general public reward or ignore incivility or cheating, instead of holding the offender’s feet to the fire. The Bend Bulletin, which has endorsed Conger, rewarded him with headlines for his performance and nary a word about his unethical behavior.