Mult Dems: Please, kids, take away our toys

T.A. Barnhart

Last night, over 170 people showed up for the monthly meeting of the Multnomah County Democratic Party Central Committee. Even for Oregon’s biggest and bluest county Democratic party, that’s a huge turnout — two-to-three times what we’d normally get. Even larger than during the height of campaign season. The reason they were there? Vast excitement over the launch of my new website?

I wish.

No, almost half of them were there to be appointed as Precinct Committee People (PCPs). Why the sudden and mass desire to be a PCP of the Mult Dems? As much as it would be great to say that Joe “You lie!” Wilson inspired them to become official party activists, or that by becoming a PCP they would bolster Pres Obama’s support; the real reason most of them were becoming PCPs was Senator Margaret Carter.

Sen Carter is stepping down from her seat as state senator for District 22 in Northeast Portland. Her replacement will be chosen by the Multnomah County Commission, but before they can name a replacement, a nominating convention of Democrats in SD 22 must name a slate of nominees. And the only people who can vote at this convention are — PCPs. So 70-some people attended the monthly Mult Dems meeting so they’d be able to be part of the nominating convention on Sept 17th.

Those of us who are active party members and attend every month, supportomg the county party on an on-going basis, know that we will not see most of the new PCPs again. Most of those who signed up as PCPs have no interest in supporting the party; they simply want a say in who replaces Sen Carter. That’s cool. I was part of a similar effort in Benton County a few years ago, when Sara Gelser was one of a group of nominees to be sent to the Benton and Linn County Commissioners when the HD16 seat became vacant. It was a great event. Yes, we all knew Sara was going to be our new state representative, but it was a chance for a bunch of other folks to step up and state what mattered to them, why they felt they deserved to be a nominee, and for the rest of us to learn more about some of our fellow citizens. Everyone knew that whatever process we went through — nominating convention, Commissioner votes, a special election — Sara was going to win.

But in a democracy, the process matters more than the end result. The process is the end result. A democratic process will yield a democratic outcome. You cannot put a kettle of water on a burner and get ice. If you involve citizens in an open process, if you allow them direct access to the candidates, if you let them cast the deciding votes, you have a process that is (imperfectly) democratic. So appointing dozens of people who will do very little to support the Democratic Party in the manner expected of a PCP is, while somewhat disappointing, not something a good democrat will oppose.

But among those becoming PCPs last night were a handful who will and do support the party. (To note the lack of understanding of the position or potential value of being a PCP, neither Rep Chip Shields nor former Rep Joann Bowman, the two leading contenders for the seat, were PCPs before last night. That the party needs to grow awareness of the value of this position is a fact we’re all too aware of and that every single county party struggles with endlessly.) At the Mult Dems, we appoint new PCPs every month, albeit usually only a handful. These are people who decide they want some part of their political activism to be through the party. Cal ? moved back to Portland recently; a former staffer for a Massachusetts Congressman, Cal became a PCP as part of his commitment to supporting the Mult Dems. He was quickly given opportunities to help in numerous ways, including, last night, present what the role of a PCP in the Mult Dems can be.

And among the masses becoming new PCPs were a group of Bus people: half-a-dozen former Politicorps Fellows, Bus staffer Henry Kraemer, and a few of their friends. I don’t know how many of these young people will become active members of the party, but I know this: The work they do as new Bus staffers and with other organizations (one, for example, is with AFSCME for at least the next six months) is very supportive of the Party in that we are all working for much the same goals. To call us “allied groups” is, in Multnomah County, to understate how in sync we are in what we are working for. The Bus, of course, is non-partisan but it is also progressive, leaving it little choice but to work for Democratic candidates. (The moment the Bus can no longer support Democratic candidates, by the way, is the moment we in the Party need to ask why — the Bus, perhaps, serving as one touchstone for how well we maintain our present progressive direction.)

To those young people who came last night to sign on as PCPs, I would say this:

Did you look around carefully last night? Even among those who were there to become one-shot PCPs, did you notice anything most of us had in common? Yes, that’s right: We’re old folks. Now, even at the age of 52 (53 next month), I don’t consider myself old but just this week Joe Smith conferred upon me the honorific of “the Other Old Guy on the Bus”. If being an old guy is a source of pride for Joe, who am I to deny my elderosity? Old folks like Joe and me, and the millions of us around the country who expend our rapidly diminishing energy to elect good Democrats and fight back against the force of right-wing extremism (and the inadequacies of many moderates) are, to be sure, the current foundation of the Party.

But in a few years, most of us will be either dead or yelling at your kids to get off the damn lawn. You, as goes the refrain that has been repeated by one generation to the other for, well, generations, are The Future of the Party. Deal with it.

The exciting thing is that if you start showing up to the monthly meetings of the Central Committee (that is the committee that is composed of PCPs; it is the committee you joined last night), you can take over and shape, not just a county party but the region, the state, the nation. Let’s face it: Whatever we may feel about “partisan” politics, people will continue to run for office as members of a party. For a multitude of reasons, party affiliation is and will remain a valuable thing. What that affiliation means — who the candidates are, what they stand for, what they represent in campaigns and in office — can be shaped by members of the Democratic Party. By you, not only as PCPs but as the new leadership of the party.

Just because a lot of old people run the show now (nothing personal, KC, Susan, Sue, Laura, Lynn and Eric) does not mean that is the way it always need be. To be honest, the Party is in desperate need of young people. We’re doing pretty good right now — the number of incredible young Democratic electeds in our county is amazing, and allied activists even more so — but the party itself needs you to show up regularly, get involved and take over. This party is, in a very large sense, yours for the taking.

Granted, those of you who attended last night have a lot on your plates right now. You’ll be working to help keep the Legislature’s Tax Fairness Package in place — but so will we. You’ll be working to register voters — so will we. You’ll be fighting for good legislation, both in the upcoming 2010 session and 2011. So will we. There is virtually no area of political activism in which the organizations you work with and the Multnomah Dems are not working hand-in-hand. And given the importance of parties in our electoral and governing system, does it not make sense to become part of the leadership of the party so that in the decades to come, it continues to be a progressive party?

I have ugly time constraints this morning, so I am sacrificing my usual award-winning eloquence for a simple plea: Come back next month. You guys all know the saying about “those who show up.” Be the ones who show up. Make your local Democratic Party a regular part of your political activism. Help us remain strong, vital, awake, progressive and relevant. Feel free to move in and take over. You’ll learn a lot from the old folks (I highly recommend spending time with Sue Hagmeier or Laura Calvo, just to name two; either can be a source of both valuable information and of what personal courage is all about). You’ll be have a voice and influence; most of us regulars welcome the addition of new voices, especially those that belong to young, active bodies. (Hm. That sounds unnecessarily creepy).

Thanks for coming last night. Thanks for becoming Official Members of the Democratic Party. Please don’t make it a one-night-only event. Make it part of your life. Remember: this is the party of Jefferson, FDR and, now, Obama. This is a party to be proud of. Think of all the great accomplishments brought about by Democrats, and think of what is possible for Democrats in the future. Think of what the party can accomplish in the years to come.

Be the Democrats who create those accomplishments. It’s yours for the taking.

  • Jacob S (unverified)

    Nice to hear about a new group of people getting involved with their party. One question, being a somewhat young person that is certainly interested in progressive causes, when and where is next month's meeting?

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    The October General Meeting/Central Committee Meeting will be held on October 8th at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th Ave. (just north of Sandy Blvd.). Social hour at 6:00, meeting begins at 7:00. Meetings are monthly on the second Thursday.

    Multnomah Democrats

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    The Multnomah County Democrats meet the 2nd Thursday of each month (Oct 8th is next meeting)at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th (just north of Sandy on 40th Ave). Social hour/sign-in starts at 6pm, meeting starts at 7pm. Check out the website or Facebook page for more info:



  • Rep Chip Shields (unverified)

    Good post Todd. FYI, here's what I told the people I recruited to become PCP's:

    "Expectations of a PCP The minimum expectation of a PCP is that they canvass their neighborhood once each major election cycle to register people to vote and to encourage them to vote Democratic. Since there are often several PCP's per precinct, you should plan on canvassing about four hours or so on some Saturday as the next big election approaches in September or October of 2010. There are many other opportunities to get more involved, but that is the minimum I am asking of those I am recruiting to be PCP's."

    They wanted to help me get the Senate appointment, but all were involved in some way in the Obama campaign, and were pleased to be asked to help continue the momentum.

    I was also pleased to see new PCP's like Ms. Willie Mae Hart and Paul Knauls Jr., who've voted Democratic all their lives, opening their checkbooks to donate to the Mult. Dems and become Pillars of the Party.

    And in fairness to one of my opponents and me, we've both been PCP's in the past, and in my case I just inadventently let it lapse. Last year was a little hectic with a new-born daughter and may role as Assistant Majority Leader on the House Leadership team during the campaign cycle.

    But again, thanks for a very good post Todd.

  • OneAmongThem (unverified)

    Thanks, TA, for posting, and for your ongoing work for the party - and to all the party faithful who've dedicated their time to make Multnomah County a sea of blue.

    If you want us to keep coming back, hear this: make meetings valuable. Various County party meetings are notorious for being full of people pushing parliamentary arguments or positioning themselves as the most progressive, instead of strategizing about how to create meaningful change and making it happen.

    Last night's meeting, while not the worst example I've ever seen, was case in point.

    Tighten the ship, hold the rudder firmly, and you'll have a lot of sailors. Let it spin around, and we'll find better things to do with our Thursdays.

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    OAT, last night's meeting was actually very valuable. Defend Oregon presented their work & got volunteers. the PCP Bonanza was unusual; normally there would be a special guest or panel (i believe next month Rex Burkholder (sorry about the spelling?) will talk about the regional plan in more detail). we do our best on parliamentary procedure, but the general craziness last night kind of threw things for a loop. but you'll notice that despite that, KC and the rest did their best to make things fair as well as procedurally sound (thanks to Joe Smith & his lawyerly knowledge of committee work).

    no committee meeting is entirely fun, and the monthly meeting is a committee meeting. but given the work we do and who we are, simply being there and taking care of business is valuable. as with most of life, it's what you put into it that determines what you get out of it.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    Thank you Chip, for the shout-out about Pillars of the Party---the $10 monthly donation that keeps the County Party running.

    FYI, folks, you don't have to be a PCP to be a Pillar of the Party, so check it out. You can even designate that your donation be used for particular things, like rent on the new office or for Community Action, etc.

  • Rob Drake (unverified)

    My only criticism is parking sucks at the new headquarters and I didn't see any handicapped spaces. I was shocked to discover the new party headquarters was basically a residential house and didn't allow for adequate access for handicapped. Please keep that in mind in the future and correct the issue especially when we are so in want of healthcare reform.

  • LT (unverified)

    Dear One Among.....

    As a former party activist (older than TA), I want to respond to ". Various County party meetings are notorious for being full of people pushing parliamentary arguments".

    First of all, you are right that sometimes things get out of hand when people go off course to make themselves look better than anyone else. That is why there is a group of people in this state who got involved in party politics, worked on various party projects, accomplished their objectives to the extent possible, and then at some point moved on to something else. Those objectives ranged from general ideas like changing the direction of the party from "we've always done it that way" in the direction of new ideas and open minded attitude towards those Democrats who think differently, to specifics like rewriting delegate selection rules at the state level, to debating legislation or local issues, in some cases to changing the leadership of the local party, where meetings are held, etc. Party politics is small d democratic in all the messiness that brings to mind.

    But you need to be aware that "pushing parliamentary arguments" is what maintains order. I went to one party meeting some decades ago when people almost came to blows--a pressure group (most of them had never been to a party meeting before and never came again) showed up demanding the party pass a resolution. Former chair got up and very quietly moved to amend: said things like "I propose changing the last line of the 3rd paragraph to.... and changing the punctuation in the last line of the 1st paragraph from a comma to a period" --that sort of thing. His move was accepted What he had done was rewrite the resolution so it was more evenhanded and most people could vote for it. Many such organizations require amendments to be put in writing for the secretary so that there can be no oonfusion about the wording.

    It may sound trite that in an argument someone says, "the previous speaker was a total idiot and I ask the chair that...."

    But I once lived through the alternative. We had a county chair (one term, ended up even alienating former allies) who dearly wanted to pass a resolution, whether there was a quorum present, whether most of the people in the room supported it, or what. So how dare someone who was not only a pct. person but a member of the State Central Comm. from our county stand up and ask for a quorum!?!

    People agreeing with the chair insulted the person asking for the quorum call directly, even one saying "In my union, we never have a quorum call!". And the chair never ruled them out of order--probably liked what they were doing. There has been a big debate over the years whether one must be a union member to be a Democrat---some of the best people I ever met were active in unions, but also some of the greatest bullies I ever met.

    It is such nonsense which drives people out of politics, just as surely as a Congressman yelling YOU LIE at a presidential speech got landed on like a ton of bricks even by his own leadership.

    Protocol exists for a reason. Learn to use it and you will be very successful in politics at any level.

  • Glen Geller (unverified)

    Amen LT! While it's true that sometimes the Parliamentary rules can seem like a pain, using simple procedures like following Robert's Rules of Order, and having clear bylaws and standing rules makes it easier for the Chair or whoever is moderating to maintain order. Over here in Washington County we have had many spirited debates but our Chair(s) and Parliamentarian always seem to pull the discussion back from the brink of chaos. Having a microphone helps too, to be heard above the "discussion" when needed. Getting back to the original topic, we have had several conventions to select potential appointees to the County Commission, and there is always a slew of PCP applicants at the Central Committee meeting the month before. We try to impress on these new PCPs that besides choosing their new Senator or Rep, they can make a difference in the long run. We have gained several good members who stuck around or returned the next month, usually after getting a friendly phone call from House District Leaders or other officers in the Party: "Remember that meeting you attended? We want you to come back again and get involved!" And lastly, we'll be hosting a convention this Sunday to select a potential replacement for Rep Larry Galizio who resigned at the end of August. We will be sure to make a comment at the end of the proceedings, thanking the PCPs old and new for their service, and encouraging the new ones to remain active in the party. Details at

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    Rob, big parking lot in the back (41st Street side) - double doors for entry, ramp up. sorry that wasn't made clear - we should probably include that in the mailings.

    great service from TriMet, though. MAX is 5-minute walk. and i bike there, and that's pretty good, too.

  • OneAmongThem (unverified)

    I've attended and run meetings for 30 years. I know proper process has a place in contributing to a well-functioning meeting, and that common rules are helpful.

    However, there are people who just ramble or interrupt flow, without any sense of what they're doing. There are people who argue for the sake of arguing, instead of to improve the outcome. It wastes everyone's time, and I have no patience for it.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I've been a precinct rep in two counties. In both instances I was inspired after having worked in presidential campaigns (Carter and Clinton). I have to say that the inspiration can run down quickly in between elections, and the content of Central Committee meetings often doesn't help. So do your best to keep those new people involved and interested.

  • LT (unverified)

    Bill R and One Among----I understand your frustration! I went to a lot of Democratic meetings after being the volunteer coordinator for the local Hart 1984 campaign. We had almost enough pct. people to be critical mass in some central comm. (both county and higher) so we did have some control there before people kept dropping out.

    I'm in total agreement with the problem of people droning on. A friend of mine once quite active in both Democratic and union politics said the best meetings she ever went to were some group of women union members. All were busy, some had to make child care arrangements in order to attend. So it was a very strictly run meeting--agenda agreed to ahead of time, strict starting and ending times, with only a certain amount of time for each agenda item and each speaker.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)


    I think Rob's talking about the new Mult Dems HQ on 67th("residential house"), not the Hollywood Senior Center on 40th.

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    Hi T.A., all

    I appreciate the post. It was inspiring to see the diversity of PCP's in attendance on Thursday. After serving many years as a PCP I didn't renew due to my work at Oregon Action which requires my civic engagement to be nonpartisan.

    I remember spending many years coming to monthly meetings and recruiting others to come. I remember how hard it was to figure out the players and how to get your issues on the agenda. That didn't make me stop coming but I can empathize with those who faded away.

    I spoke to just about every new person in the room on Thursday and was a bit surprised how little they knew about the process they were being elected to participate in and how little many knew about the work of the Democratic Party.

    I am proud that the PCP's I signed up were well informed about the next steps in the process and have been encouraged to stay involved and engaged in the work of the precinct & party.

    The big question--how will the party engage all the diverse interests that showed up last week?

    Is there a mentorship program? Will someone reach out to them in between the meetings? Will we offer rides? Will we explain how to get a resolution on the agenda?

    There is great potential to make the MC Central Committee truly reflect the community we serve. Who will step up with the welcome mat and make sure that all that new energy and new blood is embraced as the Democratic Party moves forward?

  • LT (unverified)

    Really like Jo Ann's posted comment.

  • Fred Stewart (unverified)

    I would love to see Chip shields, Joann Bowman and a few others run for the open SD 22 seat. After witnessing what I saw on Thursday at the last PCP meeting I am even more convinced this is the best option for North/Northeast Portland and for Oregon. Can you imagine what just these two leaders could do for Portland by motivating minorities to get involved through the campaign process? This is why the Old House District was created and this has been the dream of countless people who have prayed for the day culturally different leaders would emerge to push Oregon forward.

    Appointing Chip or Joann to replace the out going Senator is a step back from inspiring more minority involvement. Political gentrification like this tears down communities . I feel if Chip and Joann could place what is best for Portland first. They would both urge the PCPers and the County Commussioners to chose someone to replace the out going Senator that will commit to not running for re-election. They would then start putting together their campaigns and motivating minorities to get involved. The primary is just 9 months away.

    No Black Person has ever defeated a white Incumbent in Oregon. Actually no black candidate for an Oregon House or Senate seat has ever defeated any incumbent. Stats like these is one of the reason so few minorities seek public office. The odds just do not add up for a favorable conclusion.

  • flyonthewall (unverified)

    TA, This has to be the longest apology I have ever read. Anyone with a brain could see what was happening last Thursday was nothing short of a political group, (the Bus Project) rolling a processes (Precinct Committee Person [PCP’s] appointments) to create a self serving out-come: Chip Shields for Senator, and Lew Fredrick (a long term Bus Project board member) as State Rep. TA, you were there and you saw it too, you are also very involved in the Bus Project also, are you not? Only four of the new PCP’s come from HD 44 (Rep. Koteck), the other 87 came from HD 43 (Rep. Shields). Unless all of these bright, new, young PCP’s do their duty and talk to their neighbors to get their opinions and vote their constituents desires, not the Bus Project’s desire, this process will be a failure with a illegitimate outcome.
    Like my grandpa use to say, the longer the apology, the bigger the lie they are trying to cover-up.

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    flyonthewall, if I'm not mistaken the "convention" has to forward multiple names to the County Commission (3? 5? 3-5?)

    From the description and the comments it seems likely to me that both Rep. Shields and former Rep. Bowman were turning out supporters apart from the Bus Project. If that is true, it raises a different question about why so few from Rep. Kotek's district.

    The suggest for some kind of guidance for new PCPs makes sense to me as one who had come intermittently since being appointed a year or so ago. I still don't "know the player" beyond a few, and am hazy about rules regarding say proposing resolutions. Even less clear to me is the relationship between the county Central Committee and the state party. The MCDP website used to have a good deal of such information available on it, at least in raw form (by-laws), but seems to have been stripped down in a major way recently. I hope that this is just a redesign possibly tied to the move of the new headquarter, but right now the MCDP is not very transparent even to CC members on the web.

  • LT (unverified)

    As I recall from being part of more than one replacement process like this, the law requires the pct. people to meet and choose 3-5 names. Then the county comm. meet and decide who to pick from that list.

    Having 2 strong names is a better process than some have experienced. Having 3 strong names is even better. There should be someone experienced explaining this all to pct. people.

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    jeez, fly, you gotta be kidding me! there were half-a-dozen Bus-related people there, several new to Portland (one from Salem) and all dedicated to progressive politics. the vast majority of those who showed up had nothing to do with the Bus. Chip did a great job of getting his supporters to the meeting so they'd be able to vote for him this week.

    the Bus must really have arrived: it's now being accused of controlling Party machinery in NE Portland. (i'm think it should win a Wheelie for that.)

  • Fred Stewart (unverified)

    If Rep. Kotek had decided to seek appointment as the next Senator for District 22 I am sure we would have seen a lot of her supporters there too. She would have done the same thing Chip and Joann did and reached out to her supports and urged them to get involved which would have brought even more minorities into the process.

    A race for SD 22 between Chip, Joann and Tina would be an even more attractive opportunity and I hope we get to see it. I am sure with an open seat we will see a diverse slate of candidates seeking elective office.

    I am sure the Bus Project has done a pretty good job explaining the process to THIER people. Jefferson Smith is a smart guy and one of our best leaders. He would not develop something like this unless he made sure everyone knew where he was going on it. If there is an open seat next year, I hope we can count on more elbow grease from the Bus Project helping get people involved.

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