The Bus discovers the new Bend

T.A. Barnhart

The urinal in the tree? Unusual, even for a Bus trip. 4,000 doors and 1,000 voter IDs? Just business as usual for the most progressive organization in Oregon politics.

The Bus Project does at least one overnight trip each election season. Two years ago, it was Newport and Coos Bay, walking for Jean Cowan on Saturday and Arne Roblan on Sunday. This year the destination was Bend, House District 54, and both days for challenger Judy Stiegler. For those of us who ride the bus to these events, there’s a lot of fun involved — including inner tubes on the Deschutes in the dark — but for Judy and her campaign it’s a large injection of volunteer power.

It may be, in fact, just what turns this race.

Bend in 2008 is a whole new country. It’s not Bend 2004: the Democrats now have a slight edge in registration, but more importantly, the issues that seem to be driving voter preferences and choices are not any different than what we find in uber-blue Portland: the economy, health care, the environment, Iraq.

Coming back from Bend, Henry Kraemer, Bus Trips Manager, spoke of the common goals and beliefs he sees as the Bus visits different parts of the state: “Talking to everybody, this trip has shown me how much every part of the state wants to move forward. Our hope for progress is really uniting the state. I think we’re really going somewhere.” Politicorps Fellow Jacob White, like me, learned something new: “I thought there was a divide between Portland liberals and everyone else. But the more you talk to people, the more you find they share in common.”

Even, gasp, in Bend, Oregon.

PrayerflagsHere’s what I found in the two different neighborhoods I walked this past weekend: Tibetan prayer flags and 1-in-6 voters having moved since the last election. The prayer flags were noticed by other Bus people: from tiny strings at the front door to large displays in their living rooms or on their patio, there seem to be a lot of people in Bend with a view of the world much in variance with liberal Oregon’s preconceptions — which, I confess, I share(d). I was surprised at what I found, at any rate. But the number of people in transition was a surprise only until I stopped to recall that the state’s economy has not come close to recovering from the 90s recession and is unlikely to do so anytime soon.

In the meantime, voters in Bend deserve a representative who’ll give them her all: the incumbent, Chuck Burley, was absent-without-leave from Salem over 20% of the time last session (and check his campaign website: nothing there past November 2006). Fortunately Judy Stiegler, who lost to Burley in 2004 by only 500 votes, is back to finish the job. And that’s why the Bus went to Bend: to help Judy win the House District 54 seat. And in doing so, we accomplished the usual Bus magic:

over 4,000 doors (that’s a serious lit drop if nothing else)
over 1,000 voter IDs

As I wrote previously in BlueOregon, that’s a month or more of walking and knocking for a candidate, even one with the energy and commitment of Judy Stiegler. She’s an exceptional candidate, and we not only learned more about her — especially at the door, talking to the folks who know and support her — but discovered the energy that Central Oregon has for change, for working to make the whole state progressive.

Defeating an incumbent, however, takes more than having a superior candidate or a lot of “support.” Incumbents are defeated by mounting a stronger, more effective campaign. And in Oregon House elections, the #1 means of being stronger and more effective is to talk to voters, face-to-face. That’s what the Bus does so well and why it’s the biggest jolt of power any campaign can hope for. In Bend this weekend, 41 volunteers from Portland, Gresham and even Sandy joined a dozen Deschutes County volunteers to get the name and message of Judy Stiegler out to people who have not been paying attention to politics in the geeky way we do at BO and the Bus. In another month, with the kids back in school and the Olympics in the rear view, the Presidential campaign will be in full-throttle mode (and would this be a good time to mention that Bend seems to digging Obama, and who would have figured that four long, sad years ago?) and more people will begin to think about November. As Steve Novick reminded us in Gresham recently, at some point, they’ll connect the name of Judy Stiegler with the smiling, enthusiastic face at their door on that hot summer afternoon. They’ll remember that some stranger thought so highly of Judy that they gave an afternoon just to come to their door. And when they think these thoughts, they will realize that they want to give their vote to Judy. They’ll tell their spouse, their friends….

Ah, were it so simple. But it starts there: the face at the door, smiling and enthusiastic. “I’m a volunteer with the Judy Stiegler campaign.” And over the coming months, more smiling, enthusiastic volunteers will come to those doors, or perhaps the candidate herself. The goal is to get face-time with the voters, to personalize this vote and overcome both the negative ads and the power of incumbency. That’s why we got on the Bus to go to Bend — ok, it’s also a ton of fun. But the fun means so much more because we know we are doing real democracy just by showing up, walking and knocking, smiling and sharing what we believe to be true: “You gotta vote for Judy.”

Get on the Bus!But that was then; the Bus rolls on. On Sunday, August 24, we’re going back to Clackamas County to walk for Brent Barton. September 13, it’s a “Women in Leadership Day” trip to Sandy for Suzanne Van Orman. We’ll be back in East County and Clackamas in September, and who knows where else before this year’s journey rolls to a close on November 4th. (If you’re in the Lane County area, you have your own Bus. Get on it.)

In politics, one of the most common and trite memes is "the future." It’s also one of the most vital truths: We do this stuff for the future. And sometimes the future does its own damn work. Brittany Bonnet summed it up perfectly: “I can’t vote — I turn 18 two days after the election — so my preference isn’t going to be counted. But I can get 50-60 people to vote. And so many people my age don’t vote, I want to deal with people who do care.”

Brittany cares, and the Bus gives her a chance to prove it. That’s why I ride: I care. My kid is scheduled to go to Iraq next year; you’re damn right I care. Riding the Bus lets me do something real. Call Henry (503.233.3018) and tell him you care, too, and you want on the Bus. There’s always room.

(Oh, yea: the urinal in a tree. A half-sized urinal. Bolted 20 feet up where a willow got topped. I gotta start carrying a digital camera.)

  • Travis Wells (unverified)

    I think everything you said sums up how I feel about Bus trips, but the one thing you left out are all the amazing people you meet, from people at the door to amazing volunteers you ride on the Bus with. Oh, and the Bus Project will also be going back to districts 49 and 50 for Nick Kahl and Greg Matthews on Sept. 6th.

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    TA --- Keep bringing us these Bus stories. Great stuff.

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    Kari, thanks, i appreciate that. but how about you get on with us & write your own story? Sept 6 - Gresham (and Nick & Greg) await!

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    An excellent idea. I'll consult the schedule!

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    I have to say that some of my most fun political activities have been long trips with the bus - to Bend as part of the '03 Oregon Summit and an '04 trip to the coast to canvass for Jean Cowan.

    I wish I could have gone on this trip, but I'm focusing on Gresham this year - Nick Kahl, Greg Matthews, Laurie Monnes Anderson, police levy, and my own campaign.

  • mlw (unverified)

    Way to go Bus! It's good to feel the energy picking up as the elections approach. I used to live in Cowan's district, which was reliably R for years, until she came along.

  • peter ferris (unverified)

    good work, T.A. and the bus volunteers! Too bad that you're unable to canvass a population that is unable to hear political speech because candidates like Judy and Brent and Toby Forsberg can get into mobile home parks. And given that every Republican in Salem voted against legislation last year that succeeded in spite of their votes and that enabled five cities and Clackamas County to protect these vulnerable citizens when their communities close, these homeowners have good reason to vote Democrat in the fall. See our website at and click on Editorials to get the particulars.

  • peter ferris (unverified)

    sorry about that last post--it should read "candidates like Judy and Brent and Toby Forsberg CAN'T get into mobile home parks." Thanks Bruce for the heads up.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Back in 2005 at a State Central Committee meeting, a researcher did a presentation on the 2004 election and voting patterns. She reported that she was surprised at finding Democrats east of the Cascades. I went up to her and told her it was highly insulting to be discussed in those terms. Why in the world would anyone start with the assumption of my non-existance? Why would anyone think that an entire political spectrum doesn't exist everywhere, the variance being the relative strength of one side or another. Has there ever been a contested election where one side got 100% of the votes - NO!

    So Barnhart you surprise me.

    Why do some Western Oregon liberals deny the existance of liberals/progressives West of the Cascades? What is the mentality of discrimination that only urban people can be liberal/progressive?

    I really don't get why "progressive" people discriminate to the point of denial of existance.

    There are Democrats, liberals, progressives everywhere in Oregon. From our cities to the smallest crossroads corners of this State. We are gaining in numbers, but we have always been here.

    Good God I hate having to write this same message 10 times a year to this group. Get a clue.

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    Of course Steve B is correct that there are "Libruls" in every area of the state, from B&B owners on south 97 to lonely progressive building contractors in Fossil and Baker City to the anti-war, human dignity activists in The Dalles.

    Bend, however, is a different sort of place, having been settled in succeeding waves since the early sixties by "furriners with money, from California, The Hated Willamette Valley, and other suspect Points of Origin.


    It's my hometown area and I was over there a couple of weeks ago myself enjoying all of the safely Lefty hang outs like McMenamin's, Deschutes Brewry, the Saturday Market and so forth; as well as a few of the remnants of the Old Central Oregon, like Sergeant's Cafe and the rapidly vanishing slum of Deschutes River Woods. Sisters, of course is a total lost cause, a total kitsch Black Hole just six miles from Black Butte Ranch.


    Bottom line? The Bend, Redmond, and Sisters triangle now reminds me demographically of Clackamas County with the Sunnyside and Wilsonville exurbs and the Lake Oswego/West Linn upscale burbs, and the servant class living in rapidly vanishing mobile splendor in little pockets scattered through the trees. The only additional asset they have is perhaps the most beautiful mountain backdrop in the entire nation.

    Every day I wanna move back but as Chrissie Hines once said, "My City was gone", and on the ground it looks like every other damned Malltopia in the country.

    Oh, Oh, way to go, Ohio........

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    Steve, i cop to having wrong attitudes and information -- and you scold me for having wrong attitudes and information? why the frikkin' chip when i am admitting my Pdx/Western OR-centric views needed a whack up side the head?

    bfd: you write the same message 10 times a year. and therefore everyone knows exactly what you know? i'm sorry some of us are so stupid we evaluate the world based on what we find in our own experience. if i said it was quaint to find libs in Bend, or weird, then i'd think you'd have room to bitch. but when i say what a dope i was, as part of telling the Bus' story of grassroots activation, that's a pretty lame time to piss on me, man.

    i have no fucking idea against who or what i am discriminating here. none at all.

  • Joel H (unverified)

    Well, this sounds like good work, but as Pat Ryan hinted at it's pretty easy to guess which part of Bend you were in.

    I'm gonna guess you went nowhere near Deschutes Market Road or Tumalo or anywhere on the east side of 3rd St. or Deschutes River Woods, and certainly not Redmond or La Pine... but if you saw an abundance of Tibetan prayer flags, you can only have been somewhere between COCC, downtown and Colorado Avenue. I'm not trying to show off, but the people who live here are very different, politically speaking, from the rich Californian conservatives and the more rural conservatives you'll find in the rest of town. There are, of course, some scattered progressives and, well, hmm, let's say, folks with poor political representation outside of the center of town as well, but I'd guess your efforts would be hit or miss there.

  • LT (unverified)

    Steve is right about the stupidity of "Back in 2005 at a State Central Committee meeting, a researcher did a presentation on the 2004 election and voting patterns. She reported that she was surprised at finding Democrats east of the Cascades."

    The "researcher" in question was uninformed and deserves to be slammed. How could a "researcher" not know about State Reps Bernie Agrons (D-Klamath Falls) Wayne Fawbush (D-Hood River) (also a st. sen.) Mike Nelson (D-Baker) and a young man named Payne who I think preceeded him.

    St. Sen. Mike Thorne (D-Pendleton) Fred Heard (D-Klamath Falls)

    who served in the 1980s and 1990s? Or don't those people matter because the way things have "always" been is only within the memory of those who have been involved in politics since the Republicans won the House majority in 1990, or more recently the Snodgrass, Minnis/Scott years? Some here might not have liked the politics of some of those members, but they were Democrats from E. of the Cascades and someone in their districts got them elected. Seems like there was also once an appointed legislator from K. Falls who later became Dem. State Chair.

    Some of us who worked on "forgotten" campaigns in our downstate communities all over the state (too lousy an R to D ratio to be taken seriously, as if Howard Dean's "show up everywhere, contest everything" did not apply to Oregon House races where Future Pac knew better what was needed) and got very tired of hearing we were less important than races like the ones in the Portland area.

    Some of us had a part in electing Democratic legislators prior to the last decade and didn't like being told a Democrat "couldn't" win in our district simply because one hadn't won there recently. 20 years ago my state senator and state rep. were both Democrats, even if those positions have been held by Republicans in recent years.

    After the 2006 close losses of Peralta and Gilbertson in "impossible" (Yamhill County and E. Oregon) districts, some of us have been very vocal in letting Democrats know we should never have another campaign year where people in certain downstate districts were told they lived in "impossible" districts with "lousy R to D ratios". It is even possible that one reason Open Primary got on the ballot was people angry with legislative caucuses telling them whether their legislative district mattered or not.

    So it was refreshing to see on the Oregon Democrats blog recently that some of these "forgotten" candidates and districts are getting attention early this campaign year--Jason Brown, Hanten Day and others in districts which just might provide that 36th Democratic House seat if they are taken seriously.

    Search BO comments (and posts?)and you will find comments (like the ones some of us have encountered during face to face conversations) along the lines of "Mult. Co. is the most important county because it has the most people" or someone from that area implying they know better how to win in a downstate district than the people who actually live there.

    Last week in the extreme heat there were grass and brush fires, incl. along I-5 where the ignition may have come from something as simple as a spark when a piece of metal from a truck dragged along the highway at high speed and caused sparks.

    Some political ideas are like that too. McCain sounds frustrated that not all Americans join him in saying that Iraq has been a glorious war and all good Americans cheer when he says "the surge worked". As if no American has the right to disagree with McCain. (If you didn't hear Republican State Rep. Boquist's speech on the Iraq War from his point of view as a veteran in 2007, it was an amazing speech. McCain would find it very uncomfortable debating an Iraq veteran like Boquist.)

    By the same token, those of us who have long grass roots experience in our districts have been told for more than a decade that we don't really count, that there haven't been many (or any) Democrats elected to the legislature from our area, therefore it must be impossible. That someone active in the community without vast connections to professional lobbyists or other fundraisers shouldn't bother running for the legislature because money is really all that matters. That "professionals" looking at statistics about our districts on paper actually know more about our districts than the folks who actually vote there.

    This anger has been around for so long that all it takes is a small spark to ignite it. I'm glad Henry Kraemer, Bus Trips Manager, now realizes that "this trip has shown me how much every part of the state wants to move forward."

    There have always been people of that persuasion all over Oregon. If asked, some of us could have told Henry that. Even when they had to fight the "established order".(DCCC thought Kopetski didn't have a chance in 1988, but after the recount they changed their tune and in 1990 a liberal Democrat defeated Denny Smith handily in one of the few races where an incumbent was defeated that year.)

    Believe it or not, we elected some darned good Democrats to the legislature back in the days when campaigns were locally controlled rather than having the caucus-run campaigns we've had recently.

    TA, glad you had a good trip to Bend. But you should be aware that when Judy Stiegler, lost to Burley in 2004 by only 500 votes, she was one of 3 women candidates who were seen to have gotten a raw deal from the caucus establishment, and who lost narrowly.

    Finally downstate folks are being taken seriously after years of being told (from what it seemed were all sides in a party which seemed to be acting like only those on a political payroll or with titles knew anything and those people didn't need to explain themselves to ordinary activists) that they should just shut up and take orders.

    Being a current or former county chair, a member of state central comm. etc. didn't matter because "professionals" were the ones with the knowledge and power. Of course some of the people who had that nonsense inflicted on them were going to be angry (you should talk to some of the people I've had this conversation with in person!).

    The days of "Everyone should give respect to Democrats from Mult. County because they know more than anyone else" are OVER.

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    LT, as a Mult Dem (and formerly a downstate Dem as well), i'm pretty certain few of us are saying we are the best or the leaders anymore. we stand as equals with Dems across Oregon. what we do have is bulk: there is a shitload of us, and how the Dems of Multnomah County (and the indies) vote, is pretty much how a lot of the statewide races go (in conjunction with Washington & Clackamas Co's, of course). it's a numbers thang.

    but numbers aside, most of us who are active have immense respect for all those Dems who have taken leadership roles outside the "liberal" areas of the state and proven that Dems don't just exist in every part of the state, they are out kicking right-wing butt. we have our job to do here in MultCo (lots of votes for Obama, lots of votes against the shitty ballot measures, and put Nick Kahl & Greg Matthews into the House), but we are just part of the team. that's why i went to Bend: my Rep, Carolyn Tomei, is shoe-in. Judy Stiegler isn't. it was my privilege to walk for Judy, whatever damn part of town we were in.

  • LT (unverified)

    TA, thanks, I thought you used to be downstate.

    When it comes to legislative races, there will never be 36 votes as long as someone in a central office (FP or elsewhere) is making decisions looking at information in an office rather than talking to people who actually live in the districts.

    3 friends of mine ran admirable campaigns in the last couple legislative election cycles. In 2004, a friend who had been in politics for decades was being told by young twerpy staffers that she shouldn't use her own experience and judgement, she should jump through the hoops all candidates should jump through because every district was like every other district.

    The district that friend ran in was decided by several hundred votes and a Democrat won it the next time around. There are potentially 3 legislative races in this area this year which might flip to Democrats---even if the people who ran in them in 2006 were ignored, forgotten, told they should know how to raise money if they were going to run (as if all local citizens learn that stuff in their daily lives), told other districts were more important than theirs, etc.

    The single best thing anyone in Mult.Co. politics could do is keep their ears open. And if they hear ANYONE use language like "lousy R to D ratio", remind them that:

    a)that sort of nonsense is why some people distrust Portlanders and consultants/paid political staffers

    b) people registered outside major parties can vote in general elections (in some cases can knock a supposedly secure incumbent down to a victory margin below the number of voters registered outside of major parties) and the whole "if you want to vote in a primary, you have to register with a party" attitude may explain where the signatures came from to put Open Primary on the ballot.

    I knew Phil Keisling when he was a legislator. Norma Paulus was my state rep. Neither of them was part of a "my caucus right or wrong" voting bloc--just the opposite.

    In the early 1970s, the financial and other laws regarding women were so behind the times that in some cases it was hard for women to be business owners or otherwise financially independent, esp. if married. A bloc of 10 women state reps (across a political spectrum as wide as in this decade being from Kate Brown to Karen Minnis) decided to change that during Norma's first session. It was a 31-29 session, and a bloc of 10 had real power. I believe Phil and Norma want Oregon to return to those less polarized days, and their presentation before the Public Comm. on the Legislature was impressive.

    There is a whole wide world out there, folks. Elections in the past have been decided by simple things (the local government person who got the stop signs at a dangerous corner and earned respect from voters, the neighbor who has people over for a candidate coffee and lo-and-behold 45 people show up, friend convincing someone to go see a candidate in person and make up his own mind, "I'll tell a positive story about my candidate and you can then tell a positive story about yours" from someone who knows full well the other candidate doesn't have any positive stories, etc.).

    A couple of decades ago, the Democratic Party (then with the state party office in Salem) was much stronger across the state. Theories abound about why that changed. But 20 years ago a "researcher" claiming to be amazed by Democrats E. of the Cascades would have been laughed to scorn by friends of Bernie Agrons, friends of Wayne Fawbush etc. among the folks who regularly spent time in the state party office. Fawbush was first elected state rep. long before Peter Courtney, and in the early-mid 1980s we had a very interesting Oregon House with Agrons, Fawbush, Courtney, Darlene Hooley and others. With any luck we will have a similarly interesting House again in 2009.

    I didn't know Steve Bucknum until recently, but he is very much like a lot of the people I knew when I was on State Central Comm. 2 decades ago. He writes what a lot of us old timers have been thinking for years.

    There is an old saying, "Once burned, twice shy". It is important for Democrats to truly be an open party, open to ideas like a 36 county strategy, respecting the diversity of Democrats across the state. Sometimes people from Portland say things which they may not realize hits the ears of others as harsh. We do best when the diversity of Oregon Democrats is realized.

  • Joe Smith (unverified)

    Never underestimate the ability of some Democrats to find a reason to pick a fight. I was the last person to be elected D.A. as a Democrat, and had a fairly significant part in Mike Thorne being elected to the State Senate four years later, in Umatilla County, and remember my then spouse almost bursting into tears when a Portland liberal referred to our living "in the hinterland," so I think I have some understanding of the so-called "urban-rural divide." (From my experience it is something encouraged in no small part by folks on the right who find it useful to have a bugaboo -- the "urban liberal" -- to blame things on.)

    T.A. acknowledges he and others have had a learning experience, and that becomes an excuse to condemn them for their prior ignorance! Yikes.

    C'mon folks, aren't there enough things that deserve fighting about that we don't need to be looking for opportunities to criticize each other like this? Joe Smith...or maybe I should say "Bob."


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