Smart Cookie

T.A. Barnhart

If I had to pick two words to use about Annabelle Jaramillo, they might be "smart cookie." This is an old cliché, but there's a lot of old school about Jaramillo. She knows how to do politics, and she's both fearless and bright. So why did she attempt to destroy her career last year.

In early 2004, after Multnomah County had made international headlines by allowing same-sex couples to obtain wedding licenses, the Benton County Commission considered following suit. They initially directed the clerk to allow gay marriage licenses starting on a date in the near future.  But following the Attorney General's rulings that brought into question the legality of that action and a threat of legal action against the clerk if he took action, the Commission took a different tack: they stopped the issuance of all marriage licenses. You wanted to get married? Fine; enjoy the drive to Albany.

This step seemed pointless to many people, and almost as damaging politically as letting gays and lesbian marry. The latter act challenged state law; the former seemed to deny a basic right to a group no one doubted had that right. And more, the three commissioners were putting their political futures into jeopardy. Both Jaramillo and Jay Dixon were up for re-election later that year, and not surprisingly, a recall effort was begun against Linda Modrell. Why would a sharp cookie like Annabelle Jaramillo do something that seemed so dumb?

Jaramillo is a political veteran with great experience. When the Benton County Democrats are trying to determine what's the best path to take in a campaign or other action, her input is always sought.

"Annabelle is a key resource to the local party," said Biff Traber, Treasurer of the B.C. Dems, "both organizationally, politically and in representing the values we are trying to move toward."

Jaramillo sees the big picture; she never lacks an in-depth understanding of possible outcomes. She knew that any stand on marriage equality, whether it was opening marriage to all persons, or closing it to all, would bring outrage from the religious right and other conservatives, as well as a lack of understanding from moderates that can easily lead to electoral catastrophe. And this with the probably of a "defense of marriage" ballot measure looming in the fall.

But Annabelle Jaramillo is not just smart and tough; she possesses the third element of a great politician, one that few have the guts to act on: She'll always try to do what's right. Standing up for the rights of gay and lesbian Oregonians was politically risky, but she knew it was the right thing to do. All three commissioners, people of vastly different backgrounds, were united on this point: Marriage is the right of all citizens. If the state would not act properly, then the county would - and political results be damned.

Maybe Jaramillo was smart enough to know that in her county, strongly Democratic and progressive, her stand was not that risky. In the end, the recall against Modrell never gained enough votes and both Dixon and Jaramillo won re-election. As the state struggles with the aftermath of Measure 36 and the possibility of providing civil unions (a bill sponsored by Benton County State Senator Frank Morse, a Republican), we can be proud to know that leadership in this county is willing to put what is right ahead of what is expedient. In a time when politics is being bastardized by the likes of Karl Rove and Karen Minnis, I'm heartened to live in a county where I'm represented by a person of the quality of Annabelle Jaramillo -- whatever you want to call her.

  • Jeff Bull (unverified)

    Amen to this one. When compared to Multnomah County's over-reach, Benton County's tack counts as a stroke of genius. It drove home the central point of the gay-marriage debate: how would you feel if this happened to you?

    In the end, that's the message that supporters of gay marriage, or even equal benefits for gay couples, should harp on (or on which they should harp?).

    It was a smart move. Moreover, it was hella creative politics.

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    Great post, T.A.

    I've know and worked with Annabelle for nearly 20 years (yikes!). Annabelle was Treasurer of the State Party when I was Executive Director (from 88 to 92) and in 96, Annabelle, Blue Oregon vet Leslie Carlson and I did the Oregon Clinton/Gore reelect.

    You absolutely speak the truth about her political passion and brains. (And like Jeff, I wish there was more of that on the Multnomah County Commission.) The only thing that I think you miss in your post T.A., is on top of everything you cite, Annabelle is one of the kindest, nicest, most genuine people I know.

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    While we praise Benton County for its careful handling of marriage law, we have to remember that the issue wouldn't have come up if not for the Multco Commishes' move. It is yet another example of an unintended consequence.

    What I liked particularly about Benton County's decision was that it instantly put straight couples in the shoes of gay and lesbian ones. Of course, gay and lesbian families couldn't just drive to Albany--or even Portland.

  • Ron Deming (unverified)

    Mass punishment. Brilliant.

    It's this kind of in-your-face, "we didn't get our way so we'll show you" arrogance that gives the extreme right something to chew on.

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