HD45: Michael Dembrow

By Michael Dembrow of Portland, Oregon. Michael is a candidate for House District 45. Learn more at www.MichaelDembrow.com. Yesterday we heard from Cyreena Boston.

MichaeldembrowThe subject of global warming comes up a lot in my door-step conversations with HD45 voters, but so does the subject of jobs and the need to create jobs that won’t eventually be shipped offshore. These are both issues of great urgency and concern, and they really are potentially intertwined.

Scientific consensus says that we need to cut greenhouse gases by 80% by the year 2050 to avoid the worst effects of global warming. This is an important goal, and one that is now close to home--I just saw this morning that the Multnomah and Clackamas County commissioners have signed onto it. Having a long-term goal, though, can create its own problems: it can lead to a postponing of immediate action.

We need to fight against the human tendency (also a political/bureaucratic tendency) to put off work on a problem until the deadline approaches, and then find a way to postpone the deadline. With respect to global warming, that would be disastrous. Because of the way that global warming functions, every month that we wait to work on this problem, the more serious the problem becomes, both as an environmental issue and as a health issue (particularly for poor people around the world). That’s why we have to take action immediately. It will make our work in the future that much easier--and cheaper.

The effort to combat climate warming is also creating new opportunities. Taking immediate action to combat global warming also has the potential to create valuable new alliances that will take us more quickly down the road to reversing the negative effects. These new alliances—between labor, environmentalists, social justice activists, and educators—are essential if we are to deal with global warming in a progressive manner.

We all know that historically there has been a lot of conflict between the environmental community and the labor community over the issue of “jobs vs. the environment.” I myself have at times been caught in the middle of it, particularly when family-wage jobs in unsustainable industries are proposed to be replaced by minimum-wage jobs at WalMart. (I’m President of the Portland Community College Faculty Federation and a long-time labor activist. I’m also the endorsed candidate of most of labor and also of the Sierra Club and OLCV.)

Fortunately, there is growing recognition that “jobs vs. the environment” is a false dilemma and that the effort to combat climate change—if done right—can lead to good family-wage jobs. This year’s Oregon AFL-CIO convention passed two historic resolutions that I submitted, one requiring sustainability standards for construction in schools and colleges, the other promoting sustainability through support of the Apollo Alliance (the national effort bringing together environmentalists, unionists, and social-justice activists).

Yes, there will continue to be disputes, but labor leaders and frontline labor activists are increasingly talking about positive ways in which unions can be part of the climate-change effort. Along with their support for sustainable building construction, many are becoming strong proponents of energy retrofitting projects for public and private buildings. These projects would have an immediate, substantial effect on reducing our carbon footprint, and they would produce good family-wage jobs. Jobs that cannot be outsourced. And if we can attract more “Green Industry” to Oregon so that the requisite parts and supplies are manufactured in Oregon, then the dollars invested in these projects will have an even greater positive effect on our economy, employment, and state budget. Having the unions on board with this effort will make it much, much more likely to succeed.

But we’ll also need to build a skilled workforce to handle these new jobs. This will require targeted investments in education, it will require revitalized skilled apprenticeship programs, it will require greater outreach to women and minorities, and it will require some real cooperation between the unions and the colleges.

To do the necessary retrofitting and manufacturing, we’re going to need a new generation of skilled workers, technicians, and engineers: a “Green Corps” of frontline workers in the effort to combat global warming. It’s an idea that I recently raised with my colleagues on the Oregon State Board of Education. I believe that when young people (and older people thinking about retraining) begin to see themselves as part of such a corps, they’ll become much more excited about working in the skilled trades, which are running into serious worker shortages, despite their being well-paid and secure.

Having more trained workers in sustainable practices, and having the capacity to train even more workers, will feed the momentum for positive environmental change-- attracting more industry to Oregon, encouraging further improvements, and building better, healthier lives for many. Our economy will benefit, and our planet will benefit.

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    Michael, a question:

    I am with you all the way in support of "green" jobs and training in Oregon. We should do our part, try to serve as a model, and compete to export "green" products and services from our state. But that will not be enough to prevent global warming. Should we in Oregon do more? Consider the following quote that Michael Klare, author of "Rising Power, Shrinking Planet", made on National Public Radio recently (here):

    "China does have one source of energy in abundance, and that is coal. China is the world’s leading user of coal. And it intends to use much more coal in the future. By the year 2030, it is expected that China will use half of the world’s coal. And unfortunately China intends to use kind of primitive, by modern standards, coal burning facilities to generate electricity. And, if this continues to be the case, we are all hostage on the planet to China’s coal use, because this will be the leading source of green house gas, carbon dioxide producing emissions. And there will be no hope of averting the worse global climate change disasters. So, we have all got to work with China. This is really a catastrophic phenomenon. We have got to work with China to either abandon its reliance on coal or to adopt more modern, less carbon dioxide emitting coal facilities."

    So, Michael, what can we in Oregon do to work with China? Should we teach more Mandarin and send more students to study in China as a long term strategy? Should we fund sending more technical experts to China immediately? Should we boycott products made in China until they get their coal use under control? Or what should we do? Or is it enough that we just make Oregon greener and leave dealing with China to our national government?

  • Teri Mills (unverified)


    I wish I lived in your district so that I could vote for you. You are absolutely right in your plan to expose the next generation of workers to Green Corps and ways of finding employment that protect the environment and economic security of our country.

    On another note, having worked with Michael for the many years, I can personally vouch that he is a team player and is one candidate who will work well with others to make positive change happen for Oregonians. A vote for Michael Dembrow is a vote for yourself and your family!

  • Alan Moore (unverified)


    Its refreshing that Oregonians have an opportunity to vote for a candidate who is willing to confront the major problems that we face, rather than running from them, and to support real solutions that bring together diverse constituencies (rather than pander and offer up appealing non-solutions). I'm proud that 2 organizations that I belong to have endorsed you (the Sierra Club and the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals). Best of luck in the election, I hope you soon represent us in Salem!


  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Perhaps Mr. Dembrow could tell us how he feels about liquified natural gas terminals. I note that the building trades unions have strongly endorsed building LNG terminals. A consortium of unions ran a full page ad in The O recently expressing such support.

  • Bean Gilsdorf (unverified)

    Michael, thanks for your commentary. It really is refreshing to hear from a candidate who cares about forging alliances that will impact our community for the better. I'm interested in hearing more from you about training and re-training workers for a "Green Corps".

    I agree with you that we can't wait. It's important to have people at local and national levels of government who are committed to protecting the environment---and the people who live in it---NOW.

  • AR31 (unverified)

    Michael, This all sounds nice, but how are you going to make sure that children are able to get to the point where they're ready to enter these "green" jobs? It sounds like you're basically running on higher education and labor, which are the two primary sources of your support/money.

    If kids aren't growing up in safe, supportive environments they're less likely to make it thru high school. If I'm electing you as my state representative I'd like to know you'll actually be representing me and I don't quite see that.

  • Diedre Cain (unverified)


    I am thrilled that I live in House District 45 and get to vote for you! Even though I have known you as a colleague for years, you still surprise me with the breadth and depth of your interests,insights and commitments.

    You are correct that we need to resist the temptation to see a divide between the environmental and labor communities over the issue of jobs vs. the environment. Your awareness that these two "camps" are not necessarily at odds is refreshing in light of so much of the fabricated "us and them" mentality found in the political arena and the media.

    I am confident that your much-needed efforts to promote environmental sustainability will be fruitful.

    Go Michael!

  • Cliff Morgan (unverified)

    I continue to be amazed and impressed at the motivation, dedication and insight I think Michael would bring as a Representative for HD45.

  • Fred (unverified)

    I was initially very skeptical about Michael Dembrow and his candidacy. But then Michael called me on the phone and we had a great conversation. He actually listens to what others have to say! He's not some young greenhorn getting his feet wet in politics, using the statehouse in Salem as a stepping stone to higher office. Why would a guy in his late 50s, with grown children, compete for a job that pays $19,000 when he could be playing golf and bouncing his grandchildren on his knee? I think it's b/c he truly cares about the future of Oregonians!

    Interesting to see the themes in the postings so far. One guy asks what Michael would do about the LNG terminal (which will be built, so get over it), while someone else asks what Michael will do to get China to burn less coal (suggesting, I guess, that Michael has no power to do anything truly effective to combat global warming). Well, hello?! There's your answer! Our energy has to come from somewhere, so it either comes from safe, low-polluting sources like LNG or it comes from coal, which we possess in abundance in the U.S. I challenge someone to name one major or even minor LNG accident that has occurred in the U.S. or around the world. You can't. (Note that I'm not speaking for Michael on this issue - I have no idea what his position is. But I think it's why unions have taken a look and decided to support the idea. I don't think a union would ever support a project that compromises the health or safety of its members or its members' families.)

    Another posting by "AR31" asks what Michael would do to ensure people will get green jobs. That's simple: he'll vote to fund education fully! What more do you want him to say? Education funding is probably the biggest power that legislators in Salem have, so if you want an educated workforce, you should vote for someone who knows education, and that would be Michael.

  • Mari Anne (unverified)

    Happy to have a candidate out there that can see the big picture and connect the dots. Good luck!

  • Sebastian (unverified)

    I am reading this blog semiregularly, as I no longer work in Oregon, and I didn't ever comment here before, but I would like to address the people who suggest that Michael is "bought" by the Labor movement and/or other powers.

    I had the opportunity to experience Michael in his capacity as a board member of AFT-Oregon and I must say that Michael was probably the most independent person on the board and one of the few to challenge anyone when he thought some decision was not right. I strongly believe he is one of the few people that cannot be bought.

    That said, the other striking quality of Michael is his ability to listen and his compassion. He will work to find solutions that are fair to everyone not just one group- and he works to support those who are less well off. You can see this, in particular, from his work for part-time workers at Portland Community College.

    In short: Michael will not be bought by you, but he will listen to you and try to convince you why his decisions are the right ones.

  • Steve Nash (unverified)

    Fred, the legistlature is part-time, so he'll still have plenty of time to play golf :)

    Personally I want someone who knows HD 45. Anyone of the three candidates will vote for education funding, I want the one who has experience working in the K-12 system. Anyone of the three candidates can try and convince me why their decision is the right one, I want the one who doesn't have to convince me because I know they made the right decision.

  • AR31 (unverified)

    Personally I find it offensive that you would attack Cyreena Boston as a "greenhorn getting [her] feet wet in politics".

    And you wonder why young people are hesitant to get involved in politics...

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    I'm glad that Dembrow is running (and has both OLCV and Bike. Walk. Vote.'s endorsements).

    But I do want to clear something up about LNG:

    Our energy has to come from somewhere, so it either comes from safe, low-polluting sources like LNG or it comes from coal

    LNG isn't as clean as domestic natural gas, which is another option. In fact, LNG has a lifecycle greenhouse gas impact 30% higher than domestic natural gas because it is liquefied, shipped and re-gasified. Moreover, if we consume the LNG, it's possible China and India will be pushed into using coal instead of LNG.

    I challenge someone to name one major or even minor LNG accident that has occurred in the U.S. or around the world. You can't.

    Skikda, Algeria LNG export facility. 2004. 27 dead, 74 injured. Shattered windows up to 5 miles away.

  • (Show?)


    I agree with you on that. I know I get tired of people looking at those of us under the age of 40 and assuming that we're brand new, don't know anything, haven't done anything, etc.

    I get it all the time, and when I point out I've been involved in local politics for 18 years and national politics for 16, it catches them off guard.

    Just because you're "young," doesn't mean that you haven't been involved in politics and in your community.

    I've known Cyreena for more than two years now. I consider her a friend and a great community and Democratic activist.

    For disclosure's sake: I worked on the Friends of Cyreena Boston web site, but I speak only for myself and not Cyreena or the campaign.

  • Dave3544 (unverified)

    Before we get too far down the road, I think it is important to clarify that it was a commenter, not Michael, who used the phrases "greenhorn" and "feet wet." Whether or not that was meant to be an attack on Cyreena Boston or not is up to Fred to explain.

    I, too, have worked with Michael in the labor movement and, while we have not always seen eye-to-eye on every issue, I have always found him approachable. More importantly, he listens to arguments and acknowledges good points and interesting ideas. I have seen him work very hard to find a way to bring a room together to get something done. These are qualities that I look for in a politician and I think he'd do very well in Salem.

  • Ivan Mancinelli-Franconi, Ph.D (unverified)

    I find it appalling that so many people attack the person and not the issues. Whether MIchael said this or that about his opponents is petty - he knows what he said and so did his opponent. What needs to be addressed are his views on the issues he represents and is passionate about in his candidacy. We are bickering over who said what to whom when we need to be supporting our candidates for their skills and willingness to represent their constituency. Let us focus on what each person will be contributing to the district and what his/her views are on especific issues. Isn't this what running for office is all about --- an opportunity to unbderstand their positions on important issues that affect all of us?

  • AR31 (unverified)

    Dave, sorry if I made it unclear, but yes I understood it was the commenter who made those statements, not Michael. So I'm not sure what Ivan is getting at in his comment, but I agree with him on what we should be doing. Which is why my only point is that yes, the two men in the race are fine citizens who both feel passionately about why they're running, but in my opinion as a native resident of NE Portland I believe that Cyreena Boston is the most passionate about my district, and will do the best job representing the needs of its constituents to the fullest.

  • Stuart Fishman (unverified)

    When Michael met with members of my union he had done his homework and got right to the point on the issues important to us. I think he's gotten right to the point again with an inclusive vision that ties together some of most pressing issues for all Portland neighborhoods and all of Oregon. The increasing cost of higher education tuitions is of real concern because ALL education is so key to a healthy economy; attracting new industries, new companies and new jobs to Oregon. Connecting groups and people who support labor, a better environment and education will greatly increase the chances of a more sustainable Oregon economy.
    I wish all the excellent Democratic candidates for the HD 45 seat could win but, since a choice must be made Michael, in my opinion, is the best choice.

  • Robin Bloomgarden (unverified)

    I have known Michael since 1996, as one of the original organizers of the Cascade Festival of African Films at PCC Cascade, an 18 year old all volunteer organization.

    Since I have been working with Michael on the festival, he has always been accessible and supportive of my small efforts at helping to put it on.

    I have seen him work with many people from around Portland in all walks of life and nationalities in relation to festival participation. He has a real nice way with people, accepting all at face value. They know he respects who they are and most are ready to work with him on whatever he is working on. He is a pleasure to work with!

    I look forward to Michael turning the Legislature around next year. As far as LNG is concerned, my guess is that he is NOT gung-ho about it in Oregon, especially since most of it will go straight through to California. That makes us a sacrifice zone. CA turned it down for that reason.

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