By Steve Hughes of Portland, Oregon. Steve is the state director of the Oregon Working Families Party.
Every election year, Working Families Party members evaluate candidates for office, and support the ones who will fight – really fight – for every day working families. This year, the WFP has cross-nominated or endorsed 47 candidates for office in Oregon.
But we’re a young organization with a limited budget, so we focus our efforts to make the biggest impact. Like earlier this year, when we took on Mike Schauffler, a “Democrat” who had stood against healthcare reform, opposed asking profitable corporations to pay even a penny in new taxes to close a budget gap, fought environmental regulations, and even accepted money from the Koch brothers. Our candidate, Jeff Reardon won. And people noticed.
Taking on Tea Party Politics
This fall we’re focusing on a race not too far down the road, for Democrat / Working Families nominee, Shemia Fagan in House District 51, which incorporates parts of Clackamas County, East Portland, and Gresham.
Shemia is locked in a tight race against a Republican incumbent. She has an inspiring story of overcoming poverty that taught her first hand the power of quality public education to give any child the opportunity to overcome adversity. And as a working mom, she has a real commitment to sticking up for families.
But there’s something else that makes this race an appealing one for the WFP — the chance to take on the Tea Party. It has been well documented how organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the Oregon Transformation Project want to remake government with a Tea Party-infused politics in local races. They have particularly targeted Clackamas County as an incubator for their policies, with an eye toward expanding to other local communities around the state.
Organize, Organize, Organize.
The WFP believes that the best way to counteract this organizing by deep-pocketed, corporate-backed forces is to engage in good old fashioned, shoe-leather organizing ourselves. And that is exactly what we are doing. We have so far knocked on over 10,000 doors for Shemia Fagan.
It’s more than just numbers though. Our organizers are finding something deeper going on. In this era where more and more people are disillusioned with the political process, when voters hear about the WFP and why we are supporting Shemia it is opening reluctant doors and starting powerful conversations.
Knocking on doors, if you do it right, you learn a lot about a community. In one sense, our organizers have been conducting one big “focus group” on the doorstep of voters in one of Oregon’s swing districts.
What we are finding is this: our party’s nomination actually matters to voters.
Our cross-nominations means a candidate has been vetted by more than one party, run through more than one filter, and found to be worthy of our support. We’re supporting her because we believe she shares our values. We like to think of our nominations as a kind of good housekeeping seal of approval for the candidates that meet our muster. And since it’s printed right on the ballot, voters can’t miss it.
Choosing Parties, Communicating Values
Political parties are in our national DNA. They can inspire devotion that is often passed down from one generation to the next. My mother is from a small town in western Iowa and my dad was an Irish Catholic kid from Philadelphia. They grew up in families that identified on a deep cultural level with the political visions of FDR and JFK. Neither of my parents were party activists or attended party conventions, but they always voted, and it was their political party identification that informed their votes all the way down the ballot.
At their best, political parties articulate ideas and communicate those ideas to voters in a form of shorthand on the ballot, placing a party label next to the candidates of their choice. Thanks to Oregon’s fairly new fusion voting law, voters now have access to new information on the ballot. And if our experience on the doors in House District 51 is any guide, this information can be a powerful and effective tool for those who are interested in fighting back against corporate funded Tea Party politics.
Make no mistake – the outcome of this race is far from a sure thing, and a ton of money is getting spent against us. But Fagan is a compelling candidate, and she’s working hard. Because she will be a champion for working people, and because she shares our values, the Working Families Party will be working for her till the very end.
Nov. 01, 2012 | |