Must Oregon Settle for a Blue Dog?

By Andy Kerr of Ashland, Oregon. Andy Kerr is a renowned conservationist and activist, cited by High Country News as one of "the fiercest and most successful environmentalists". Learn more at

I’m sick of incumbent nominal Democratic Members of Congress who often vote like Republicans on the tough issues. Is it worth it to continue to back a Democratic incumbent, after having casting their first vote each Congress for a Democratic speaker, who then promptly goes south on some key issues during the rest of the Congress?

In 1980, a young activist on senior issues decided—before the word was coined—to “primary” the Democratic incumbent in Oregon’s third congressional district. Had the coalition been formed at that point, then incumbent Rep. Robert Duncan would have been a very blue dog.

When Wyden first stepped up, we went to lunch at a very unnatural red pagoda palace off NE Sandy and discussed the Oregon’s natural environment. At that point, Wyden’s views on and interest in wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, old-growth forests were neither deeply held nor well-developed, but he was willing to learn. Most importantly, Ron Wyden wasn’t Bob Duncan.

It turned out that a lot of people and interests—more than myself and public lands conservation—were dissatisfied voters and interests in the Oregon’s 3rd. The rest is history. Wyden turned out to not just be less bad on the environment than Duncan, but a true champion for nature.

Blue Dog Coalition co-chair Rep. Kurt Schrader joined with my congressperson, Rep. Greg Walden, to pass legislation in the House that would have effectively privatized over a million acres of federal public forestlands in western Oregon to facilitate industrial-strength clearcuts—just like Oregon’s private timberlands. As a former aide to the last Republican US Senator from Oregon told me, “we would not have even allowed ourselves to even dream such a thing.” Fortunately, in the Senate Wyden wouldn’t aid and abet the Schrader-Walden public land giveaway.

The New York Times recently reported that only two other Democratic Members of Congress vote with the Republicans more than Schrader. Oregon Democrats can do better.

While the Oregon’s 3rd of 1980 and the Oregon 5th of 2016 are different in time, place and registration edge, perhaps there are lessons to apply. Given the increasing inability of Republicans to offer viable candidates for federal office, a left-of-center (hell, make that merely a center) Democrat might well be able to defeat a right-of-center Democrat in the Oregon’s 5th primary—and most importantly go on to win the general election. It’s certainly worth pondering and polling.

If a credible Democratic challenger steps up to take on Schrader, while I can’t vote for them (oh, only if Ashland could be made a disjunct island of any other Oregon congressional district but the 2nd), I will max out contribution-wise and urge my friends and allies to do the same.

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