A quandary

Carla Axtman

Do I dump a guy who is awesome on the biggest issue the job he's running for deals with because he's bad on an issue they have almost nothing to do with right now..but could in the future?

This week, I found myself in what is for me, an epic quandary.

As many readers know, I've spent the last couple of years studying and writing about land use in this state. For me, this is one of the issues I find most important as an Oregonian. Decisions about how land is zoned, developed and used affect every part of our quality of life from where we live/work, how we get from place to place, what we eat and even how much the taxpayers will have to spend to complete infrastructure projects.

In Oregon, the County Commissions are the governing body that generally have the most to do with decision making on land use. If there's to be a zoning change or permits or planning, those entities are, to use a Bushism, the deciders. The people that are elected to serve in these jobs have a serious and powerful responsibility both to those that seek to develop land and those citizens who live, work and play in the region. This kind of work takes up a good portion (if not the vast majority) of the Commission's time and resources.

For years in Washington County, the County Commission has been heavily weighted toward more development. Despite significant push back by local citizens, the Commission has nevertheless chosen to consistently favor handing over large swaths of land to commercial and residential developers, leaving the county with massive traffic and other infrastructure problems. Local taxpayers are left in turn with the decision to either pay to complete huge infrastructure projects or continue to limp along with the currently overwhelmed system. Neither is an especially inviting prospect, in my view.

Washington County Commission is made up of five members: four district commissioners plus the Chair. Two of the districts seats and the Chair are up for election this cycle. It's a key opportunity to fundamentally change the way Washington County has been managing land use.

I've been very supportive of the candidacy of Greg Malinowski, a farmer in District 2 who very much reflects my own concerns about Washington County. Malinowski has been an ardent defender of farmland and is extremely knowledgeable about county decisions and their impact on the community. Greg is very thoughtful and smart on this issue as well.

Last week, I discovered that Greg had filled out a form for the Oregon Family Council's Voter Guide. While I haven't been able to get my hands on the actual form or speak with Greg yet, a number of Washington County folks (and a number outside of the county) have contacted me with information that Malinowski noted that he is anti-choice. At least one of the people I spoke with actually had the form in front of them while they were speaking with me on the phone. I did manage to have an email exchange with the campaign manager about if this was really the case, and I was told that I would need to speak with Greg directly about it. So for the moment, I'm working off the premise that Malinowski is indeed anti-choice.

Reproductive choice issues are huge to me. To my knowledge, I have never supported an anti-choice candidate. On my personal priority list of issues, its very close to the top. When I heard about the form and Greg's alleged answer, it felt like a punch in the stomach.

So besides trying to suss out Greg's actual position on choice, I began to study how much impact the Washington County Commission has on local health clinics that provide abortion. The answer I've been able to get so far: none. They do some funding for health clinics in the County but as far as I can tell, none of them provide abortions. In fact, Chair Tom Brian said that in the 12 years that he's been on the Washington County Commission there has never been a time where abortion services has been an issue. Not to say it couldn't happen, but it doesn't appear for now that the County is doing this work.

So if the County isn't working with reproductive health issues, what's the problem? It's possible that the County may have this issue in front of them. With the federal government getting more and more aggressive about cutting off abortion funding, even for private insurance, its not unreasonable to believe that pro-choice communities will start to look toward a local solution. Further, County Commission positions can be a major stepping stone toward other office where abortion funding and services are relevant to the job.

I'm already getting messages from friends saying that this makes Malinowski a non-starter for them and they can't understand why I'm struggling. But I know how difficult it is to find people who have the depth and breadth of knowledge on land use and are willing to serve without handing out zoning changes and permits like they're bubble gum.

Do I dump a guy who is awesome on the biggest issue the job he's running for deals with because he's bad on an issue they have almost nothing to do with right now..but could in the future?

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    It is an interesting conundrum you have placed yourself in Carla. Litmus test politics has led to more and more adversarial reactions than collaborative and positive outcomes in the past 45 years.

    Great Britain may actually be seeing the light in their latest round of national elections, perhaps leaders within the two major parties can learn from across the pond.

    Both parties have their standard bearers and litmus test ideals. It seems that yours would prevent you from voting in someone who would have an excellent impact on what you want a County Commissioner to be most involved in.

    I wish you the best as you wrestle with your idealogical and practical considerations.

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    Carla, why base your opinion and vote on hear-say? I have seen the voting guide in question and it provides neither questions nor candidate responses, it simply has a check-list of right wing hot button issues and candidate ranks. Dick Schouten declined to respond to the questionnaire but they provided responses (some of them inaccurately representing his positions) anyway, Greg Mecklem didn't return his and they stated "he refused to respond". The beauty of local politics is that you have access to the candidates. Why not ask Malinowski yourself? As someone with an amplified voice in the community, you would be providing a valuable service by digging beneath the surface and perhaps resolving your personal dilemma.

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      I intend to speak with Greg, Ron (I haven't voted yet). Normally something that gets at me this much would be better done in person, but both Greg's and my schedule have made it really tough to do that. I hope to speak with him on the phone before I vote, to really understand his position.

      If he turns out to be a hardcore, anti-choice guy--I honestly don't know what I'll do. That's something that's completely against my values and reflects an authoritarianism that may leach into other issues as well (which I'd likely need to question him on, too).

      I can't see that it's okay to simply vote based on litmus tests or to simply vote based on pragmatism. I don't see it as either/or. I think there's a mixture of both..the tough thing for me is finding how to balance it.

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    In politics there is never a perfect candidate because most of us aren't able to vote for ourselves. Each voter creates his/her own checklist of required and acceptable positions, and somewhere, there is a line in the sand.

    Some folks take a yellow-dog philosophy ("I'll vote for a yellow dog before I vote for a Republican"); some will hone in on a particular issue. Somewhere along these lines we decide how much we can support the less-than-perfect candidate.

    The choices will always be limited; the verdict will always be winner-take-all, and there are never any guarantees about what future decisions those elected may face.

    The more astute and informed the voter, the more s/he suffers through the deliberative process of casting the vote in particular races. Ultimately, though, the question does become a choice in best alternatives. So, when presented with a negative in our favored candidate, we do end up addressing the cliche "lesser of the evils" scenario.

    KUDOs to you, Carla, for not addressing this in the simplistic "I'm done with ---'' fashion, but by revealing your own conflicts in a forthright manner.

    As your follow-through continues, it's a great lesson for all of us.

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    Hear, hear, Carla! And Ron, you are correct in your analysis as well. I have weighed in on the Facebook posting of Carla's article and invite others who know of this race and support Greg to do the same.

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      I actually really meant to say "hear, hear KC!" (her real name is Carla too:)

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      Karen, better to post your comment here in a public forum.

      Only people who are friends with Carla can post a comment on her Facebook or read those comments. It's often hard to remember, but each person's Facebok profile is essentially a semi-private space.

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    Thank you, Carla, for this thoughtful post.

    It's a tough one. Obviously, there are two extremes in this analysis.

    At one end: the candidate who is great on an issue you care about, but is, say, a white supremacist. I'm sure you'd agree with me that such beliefs would say so much about his values that you couldn't for him.

    At the other end: the candidate who is great on an issue you care about, but lousy on another issue you care somewhat less about -- say, for instance, the way a lot of folks felt about Barack Obama when he was the only presidential candidate with a health care plan that was non-universal. Problematic, but something to live with.

    The question is: where on this spectrum does the Malinowski situation land?

    The answer will be different for each of us - depending on how much you value his positions on other issues, how much you despise his positions on these issues, and how you personally balance all that.

    What's interesting to me is the thought process. I wonder how other BlueOregon readers do this sort of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand analysis.

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    Your candidate has nothing to do with choice in the office he's seeking, but everything to do with land use issues. No candidate is every going to line up perfectly with our own policy viewpoint. Purity is for ineffective ideologues. Go with your total judgment on the man. For this office "Choice" should not be a deal breaker.

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      The office may not deal with choice -- but does his position on that issue tell you something about his values?

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        And is this post a rung on the latter to other potential elected offices where a different set of issues (in this case abortion) is more front-and-center?

        Some elected offices are seen as launching pads to higher office.

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    It would be nice to isolate the issue and vote land use, but I'm suspicious of the depth and consistency of his land use views, if he is anti-population control. That's as anti-environment as you can get. Anti-choice isn't necessarily the same thing as anti-population control, but good land use policy isn't necessarily the same thing as being pro-environment, if you want to split hairs.

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      I suspect the vast majority of people don't think of abortion in terms of "population control". In fact, it probably doesn't even occur to most people.

      It's quite a leap to be suspicious of someone's position on land use because of an anti-choice position. It's like saying that someone who is lactose intolerant must be a cow-hater.

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    Thanks for the post, Carla.

    I think for me (and I don't live in Washington County, so I don't have to make this choice), it would come down to the fact that choice is such an indicator of other values and ideals.

    If he is in fact anti-choice, that brings up a whole slew of other things for me. If he doesn't think a woman can make her own choices about her own body, then what else does he think women shouldn't be able to do? If he is anti-choice, can you really trust him to make fair and equitable decisions about land use - that directly impact our communities, and especially affect poor folks and people of color? I can't.

    Just because the county doesn't deal directly with abortion access on a regular basis, it doesn't mean funding for family planning in county clinics, healthcare/Oregon Health Plan access, etc aren't part of their portfolio.

    And again, while land use planning can seem far removed from "social services", it's not. There may not be a better candidate, but it would certainly give me pause.

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      I don't think that most if any people who oppose abortion do so because they want to deny a woman control of her body.

      I've been watching the abortion issue closely for years. I've observed both the pro and anti sides and their arguments for and against.

      The one fundmanetal differences I see between the two sides is when they think life starts. That is, is it just tissue or is it a living human being? People who are anti abortion believe in their heart of hearts that the cell that is created by the fusing of sperm and ovum and all subsequent cellular activity up to and including a live birth is in fact a human being. In that light, abortion is no different than walking down a city street and killing someone in cold blood. That's why they are against abortion, not because they want to tell women what they can and can't do with their bodies.

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        Then the Catholic Church's position doesn't enter into the issue. When cannon lawyers discuss the theology, they don't talk about when life begins. All I have EVER heard them discuss is "people doing as they please" and "having no consequences for illegitimate sex". Maybe check out Karol Collymore's column on "With This Ring You'll Have Sex" to see a lot of heart rending stories of abuse and brutality committed under cover of "promoting life".

        I respect the few that reason it out as you do, but you are still a minority. Most who hold your position are all too willing to take that life in colonial escapades, at the behest of the State as punishment for crime, through slow poisoning of the environment, and as guinea pigs testing anything that might save corporate America $.02.

        I'm sorry, but I really can't see how you can be so logical to think the issue through for yourself, yet not see that most are doing anything but.

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          There are contradictions all over the place and in all things. I was addressing issues specific to the pro/anti abortion debate and why most of the people who I've heard against abortion hold that position.

          A person's position on colonialism, environmental issues, the death penalty, etc. has nothing at all to do with their position on abortion either pro or against.

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        Actually a vocal segment of the anti-abortion crowd do want to control women's bodies and view sex in a moralistic "sin" frame of mind.

        Furthermore, whether they view it as such, the bottom line is it IS in fact attempting to control women's bodies.

        Do women have sovereignty of their body or can they be compelled by the state to donate the use of their organs against their will, or not?

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    I am a candidate for County Commissioner 2 in Klamath County, running as a Democrat. I have taken very outspoken positions on pro-choice, anti-discrimination in all aspects of race, gender and sexual preference and have done so repeatedly.

    When I received the questionnaire in the mail I read it, laughed and set it aside with an "I don't think so" comment. Upon receiving a second request I 'declined' in writing.

    I just looked at the guide and find 4 questions were answered for me, extrapolated from my stances. They are accurate, as they go.

    Perhaps next time I am asked ... I'll play. It would have been a long string of NOs.

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