BC Dems: Nothing to apologize for

T.A. Barnhart

A couple of months ago, I was so thrilled by and grateful to Sen Frank Morse for his stand on SB 1000, and on gay rights in general, that I was talking to my fellow Dems here in Benton County that we ought not to challenge him.  I went so far, in fact, to suggest we ought to endorse him.  When I made the suggestion via email to one of our party's leaders, she reminded me of some important things, like Morse's record on labor and the economy (very bad).  The League of Conservation Voters' 2005 review came out soon after that, and Sen Morse had a 17% rating.  In fact, apart from the one issue, and his courage in standing up for his beliefs on that issue, Frank Morse's stands on the issues are far from what I believe to be good policy.

I got caught up in the moment.  Frank Morse held a public forum on SB 1000, and it was a great event.  Ben Westlund came, as did another state senator from the Coos Bay area.  One local minister spoke about the nature of love, and many people spoke either of themselves or a family member suffering injustice simply because of their sexual orientation.  Of course others spoke from a dogmatic religious viewpoint, people with much the same beliefs as Sen Morse apart from their perspective on being gay or lesbian.  As we drove from that event back to Corvallis, I was so proud that Frank was my state senator.  Events like that are so thrilling to be a part of, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture.  And the big picture here is that while he may be good on this one issue (not merely good as a politician but as a human being), he's equally as bad on almost every other issue.

A number of my friends in the local party have fallen, it seems to me, into this same trap regarding Kelley Wirth: getting caught up in the moment.  These are not people with over-charged political sensitivities; in fact, their political motivations stem from the realization that politics is an important way to change the world.  My friends are involved in politics because they are caring, intelligent and highly ethical people.  They are compassionate, not ambitious.  One of these friends is the first person I saw on the day my mom died, and I will forever be grateful for the comfort she gave me. 

These people are upset about the Wirth situation not because they fear losing this seat to the Rs (c'mon folks; this is Benton County, and we simply do not elect Rs to anything, unless, like the Mayor of Philomath, they pull last-minute dirty tricks) but because they are angry to have their representative fail the community so badly.  Wirth was their representative; she was elected by the community to represent Corvallis.  To see her bring such shame on an office that is, in their opinion, an honor to hold, is almost too much.  They believe we need to do something, we -- the Benton County Democrats -- need to make a statement to the community not merely disavowing Wirth's actions but stating clearly that Ms Wirth did not represent Democratic values or actions in any way.

But this is just one small moment in time.  It's a terrible moment, but only for Kelley Wirth and her family will this be a long-term situation.  For the community, it's one small piece of our history.  In just two months the entire thing was over and done.  If Wirth is convicted of any crime, if (when, as is more likely) her attacker goes to jail, then the paper and news shows will remind of us these events; the Republicans are quite likely, in their desperation (they got nothing for next fall, nothing), to try and tar the whole party with this brush.  Ain't gonna work.  Most people will forget about Kelley Wirth very quickly. 

Some of my friends in the party report that people have asked them "How could you folks let this happen?"  Well, it's called an election and she won three of them.  She won a primary last year and she won a convincing general election.  That's how we do it in America.  Her problems with time management were known, but not any of the others.  Did we know she was dating a journalist?  That she had substance abuse problems (if she did at the time, and that's not known)?  We had no idea of this, or that it was possible, so Democrats in Benton County chose her as their nominee last May, and then voters in House District 16 -- with a turnout of almost 90% -- elected her to represent us in Salem.

And then a new moment comes, and it's awful, we feel its touch on us, and we feel dirty.  Well, we did not do anything wrong.  We have nothing to apologize for.  There are many horrible and corrupt Republicans around the country right now, from Karen Minnis to Dick Cheney and George W Bush.  That does not mean every person who identifies themself to be a Republican needs to apologize.  When their party leaders are found to be in the wrong over something, I don't think that the thousands of registered Rs in Corvallis are themselves corrupt or bad.  They have nothing to apologize to me for -- as long as they themselves repudiate those leaders in how they are living their lives.

And my friends in the local party are living lives that bring honor to their community.  They are very good people, and they have nothing to apologize for.  I have nothing to apologize for.  I voted for Kelley last November, but not last May; I feel completely cheated by her because, by voting her instead of abstaining, I gave her a second chance.  But she is the one who made all the wrong choices and performed so poorly in office.  I truly hope -- and I've said this repeatedly -- she and her family are able to get the healing they all need.  I wish her a good future.  But for the Benton County Democrats, as an organization of good citizens trying hard to make this a better place to live, her past is past.  Tomorrow night (Nov 22nd), we'll select three people to be considered as her replacement, and early next month, we'll have a new representative for HD 16.  This person will be under intense scrutiny, but will also be in the company of those who wish him or her well -- and will work to help make the interim term in office a good one.  We have a lot to learn here about being good citizens and participating more closely with our elected representatives, much to learn from the past.  But we have nothing to apologize for.

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