The Island of Cornelius

Carla Axtman

"It's obvious there's a homosexual agenda out there. We need to stop it before it gets out of control.--Neal Knight, mayor of Cornelius, Oregon, which adopted an antigay rights law in 1993.

The City of Cornelius, Oregon is a quiet little burg situated along Highway 8 between Hillsboro and Forest Grove. It's not really an island--not in the geographic sense, anyway. But last week's election has the potential to put this small town in the unenviable position of being on opposite sides of most of the rest of Washington County and the Metro region.

Cornelius has generally been more politically conservative than its neighbors. But the conservatives that the electorate voted into office seem an awful lot like the proverbial cutting off a nose to spite a face. Despite implementing a Main Street Improvement Plan to fix sidewalks and make other improvements to attract business and shoppers (which languished since Knight was mayor in the early 1990s) , the addition of several new large and small businesses, a small but flourishing farmer's market, the creation of an economic advisory board and the updating of the city's charter and parks plan, voters chose to oust incumbent mayor Bill Bash.

By a squeaker margin, voters elected former mayor Neal Knight to replace Bash. Knight's former tenure as mayor was reported to be contentious and frankly, bigoted:

He's battled the building department, circulated anti-tax petitions and, in a former stint as mayor in the 1990s, led a charge that resulted in Cornelius becoming only the second city in Oregon to adopt a measure limiting the rights of gays and lesbians.


"It's obvious there's a homosexual agenda out there. We need to stop it before it gets out of control.--Neal Knight, mayor of Cornelius, Oregon, which adopted an antigay rights law in 1993.

Knight said recently that he would make that same decision today.

Knight says he wants to work with Metro to get more urban reserves land for the city. He complains that they "just want a few acres" to develop (624 acres of the highest quality farmland in the state, to be exact), and are being denied by LCDC. This attitude will most certainly stoke contention in the region. Given that Cornelius has 60 acres placed 4 years ago into the urban growth boundary that they have yet to annex, it's unlikely that the City can present reasonable justification for paving over farmland. Other land that had been under consideration near Cornelius is owned by Edmund Duyck--who is widely rumored to have pulled strings to keep his land out of urban reserves. Duyck's son Andy is the incoming Chair of the Washington County Commission.

Knight has long complained about regulations and fees in Cornelius. Presumably, he and the other two new city councilors (who ran together as a "ticket"), will work to slash both. The trio have no plans to generate additional revenue, which means improvement plans to bring new shoppers and business will once again languish.

There also appears to be a significant rift between Knight and current Cornelius City Manager Dave Waffle. Its widely speculated that Knight will try and oust the popular City Manager, a move that could be met with a great deal of push back by locals, causing a serious rift in the town. Knight's post-election comments about Waffle have done little to quell that speculation.

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    Wild guess...Knight is a Christian.

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      All Christians are not bigots and all bigots are not Christian. As an active Christian who does not agree with Mr. Knight's views, I resent your slander.

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        "Christian" should be put in quotation marks when applied to bigots like Knight.

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          Christianity means something different to everybody, there isn't one brand...that is the nature of faith-based ideologies. Slavery is in the Bible, is the Bible not Christian? It's not good that we in America often have to argue about what is or isn't Christian, opposed to what is or isn't right/ethical/moral.

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            Don't forget good ol' Leviticus 20:13, "The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have brought it upon themselves."

            It seems more on point.

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              Leviticus has almost nothing to do with Christianity, any more than rituatlistic washing of hands by old testament priests.

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                I'm afraid there are a lot of self proclaimed Christians who would disagree with you. Particularly regarding homosexuality. It seems to be the remaining bigotry deemed to be acceptable. Sadly.

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        John, I believe what you mean is "not all Christians are bigots", since it is demonstrably untrue that "all Christians are not bigots" -- some clearly are.

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        Ah yes, I remember the passage where Jesus said to resent your enemies, rather than forgiving them.

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    "All Christians are not bigots and all bigots are not Christian."

    You are correct, and that's not the inference I made. The inference I did make was that the vast majority of anti-gay bigots in Oregon are Christian. You resent the truth, not "slander." Anti-gay bigotry is a faith-based problem. Let me know when you find the organized groups of atheists working to deny gays equal rights.

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    Seriously, Joshua, what's your problem? Does every comment you make have to be about bashing religion. My goodness, give it up already.

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      Really.... "every comment" I make bashes religion? You may want to go back and look at my comments before you make another idiotic comment. Since you asked and can't figure it out on your own, I think religion is a big fu#$ing problem. I'm suppose as a Christian you would prefer that people like myself "give it up already." As long as religion acts as a destructive force I will continue to point out the problems that faith brings to Oregon.

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    "the vast majority of anti-gay bigots in Oregon are Christian"

    And the vast majority of anti-gay bigots in Oregon also use telephones, eat meat, sleep at night, wear deodorant, etc.

    What's your point?

    And more to the point: this line of discussion is boring and pedantic.

    Carla wrote a fascinating and well-researched post on an interesting topic. Let's actually discuss it, rather than throwing feces at each other.

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      I'm an anti-gay bigot and don't do any of those things.

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      My point Kari, is that there is a brand of lunacy impossible w/ out Christianity/religion and if liberals would allow religion to be under the same scrutiny other ideas go through maybe we wouldn't have so many faith-based problems like the war on gays. As we discuss faith-based problems and jerks like Knight I will periodically point to the underlying cause. Nobody is throwing feces, just talking about a problem that a lot liberals like would rather avoid.

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        Joshua, I get your point. However, you're making a strategic error with your broadbrush approach.

        1) It denies the existence of Christians of strong faith and progressive values. That only serves to demoralize them and undermine their efforts.

        2) You're contributing to a feedback loop that reinforces what you decry. By assuming as fact that there's a correlation between Christian faith and anti-gay bigotry, you communicate to faithful Christians that they have only one plausible position on gay rights.

        From a strategic standpoint (and a factual one), it's worth ALWAYS pointing out that a) bigotry has no theological basis in the faith of those who follow the prophet that taught "love thy neighbor", and b) there are plenty of good Christians who don't share the bigoted views of other Christians who do.

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          Pointing out the clear connection between the war o gays and lesbians and religious people/religion/faith-based ideology, does not deny, "the existence of Christians of strong faith and progressive values," nor does it "only serve to demoralize them and undermine their efforts."

          Same goes for point #2.

          People can pick and choose from the Bible what thy want to, i.e., "Love thy neighbor" to define Christianity the way they would like. Tthe fact is Christianity means something different to every Christian and it can be interpreted a billion different ways, that is the nature of faith-based ideologies.

          The fact is there is a double-standard when it comes to religion in this country. This post and your post on population adjusted maps provides excellent proof. Religion is ideology, it is not biology and we need to treat it that way regardless of how popular and how powerful it may be. There either is a supernatural creator of the universe or there isn't. The Bible is the word of this creator or it isn't. Religion either helps progress or hinders it. I obviously believe the latter and will continue to communicate it where I can. Other progressives ought to do the same if they would like a more progressive place to live.

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            Joshua, it appears by your use of language that you see no benefit from spiritual practice.

            Yet many people find that it benefits them in tangible and intangible ways.

            For example, spiritual practice appears to slow the onset of Alzeimer's disease. Wouldn't you say that's a benefit?

            Yes, there are religious people who use their religion in destructive ways, just as there are rich people who use their wealth in destructive way, sexual people who use their sexuality in destructive ways, and intelligent people who use their intelligence in destructive ways. That doesn't mean that those things are inherently bad.

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      Kari, it's hard for a thread with a sidebar quoting Knight's bigotry regarding homosexuals to not get sidetracked a bit.

      I don't understand your comparing Christianity to the use of telephones, sleeping, etc. either.

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        1. Fair point. Still, this post is also about land-use policy and city management.

        2. All of those things are things that vast numbers of Oregonians are/do.

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      I concur. My question is did this group win because the Latinos didn't vote or because they voted for him? Cornelius has a large Mexican community. I would love to hear from anyone who lives there who can explain the politics of the town.

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        Mexicans tend to be quite religious, more specifically Catholic. Could have just a little bit to do w/ their support for a religious anti-gay bigot. Just sayin.

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          Maybe. But given the other substantive issues (this guy didn't run on being an anti-gay bigot--he ran on the economy), that presumption seems highly doubtful.

          There's also not been a full analysis of the Latino vote in WaCo, that I've seen. So we don't know yet if they had any impact whatsoever in Cornelius.

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    Why should we care what % of xtians are bigots? 99.999% are hypocrites. Why listen further?

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    "Christian" churches supply the funds and the philosophical framework in the battle to deny civil rights to the LGBT community. They do it through the churches, for all practical purposes forcing gay and lesbian taxpayers to help finance an organized campaign to subjugate them. Fundamentalists, particularly Christians, have wrought death and destruction on humanity throughout recorded history.

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    Wow..this comment thread sucks.

    Does nobody actually give a crap that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters (who cares if this guy is Christian? BFD. It matters that he's a bigot. The rest is just BS.) are undergoing fundamental discrimination in this town? Talk about missing the point.

    Not only is this community likely to be deeply divided by this guy, it's quite likely to be cut off from the rest of the county and Metro region if he does what he says he's going to do.

    How about we talk about the failure of progressives to properly engage this community? Or the need to understand what drove people to vote for this guy--knowing that he's as corrosive and divisive as he is?

    Sitting around and lamenting religion doesn't fix anything. It's just more division and corrosion--and it certainly won't make things better for these people.

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      Maybe Carla, he's a bigot because of a particular ideology...that's the BFD. I give a crap about my gay and lesbian bros and sisters, that's why I talk about the problems that result from faith-based ideology.

      "what drove people to vote for this guy--"

      People's vote based o their morals/principles/values. Their morals/principles/values are formed from things like....religion.

      "Sitting around and lamenting religion doesn't fix anything. It's just more division and corrosion--and it certainly won't make things better for these people."

      If religion is part of the problem, it's certainly worth talking about. It's amazing the lengths people will go to to ignore the connection between religion and the actions/beliefs/policies of religious people.

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        I don't care WHY he's a bigot. I'm not even convinced that his religion is the root cause of it. And frankly, beating the sh** out of the guy's religion won't win the day with him or with anyone else of that religion--or likely others of faith. It's short-sighted and not especially constructive.

        People didn't vote for this guy because of morals and values. They voted for him, like pretty much every other GOPer this cycle, because they're scared and frustrated. And progressives did little or nothing to reach out to this community with solutions.

        It's not worth sitting around talking about religion when there are much bigger fish to fry. And frankly, it's counterproductive in this case.

        This comment thread was undeservedly and wrongly hijacked by arguments about religion--and that really sucks, IMO.

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          Carla, I hear what you're saying. However, what Joshua is talking about is the elephant in the room. I do think we need to focus on better ways to reach single issue voters. But dismissing the impact morals and values as espoused by segments of the Christian faith have on our politics is counterproductive as well.

          Joshua's persistence in calling out the shortcomings of religious belief I find laudable. It isn't going to fix things over night but I applaud his efforts. One positive effect of it is that liberal religious sometimes step forward to point out their disagreement with the bigotry of such as Knight. See Calhoun and I think Ryan? here at BlueOregon.

          My agreement with you is that I don't want to see BlueOregon turn into a discussion of the shortcomings of religion at every turn.

          I read P.Z. Myers for that. ((:-))

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            Greg: I'm not saying it should be dismissed. I'm saying it's inappropriate to make it the single driving focus in the discussion--which is what has happened in this comment thread, to our collective detriment, IMO.

            I'm all about calling out hypocrites, liars and those who use their alleged "morals and values" to bludgeon the rest of us to death (and agree with you on PZ Myers--who does so with humor and brilliance).

            All that said, I strongly believe there's way more to this community, how it voted and what it faces than a single-issue discussion, which this thread has unfortunately become. It's an injustice to the discussion and it keeps us from really digging to the nut of what's going on with this town.

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            The problem is that Joshua doesn't address the specifics of which segment of the Christian faith have been attacking the rights of gay people.

            Instead, he simply talks about "faith-based ideologies" as if they are all the same, and repeatedly refers to the as "superstitions."

            It's like lumping him in with Hitler and Stalin, since they are also atheists.

            The problem isn't religion, it's extremist thinking.

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        Joshua, do you believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi were great people? Do you believe that they accomplished things that made life better for many people?

        Can you acknowledge that, perhaps, their religions had something to do with what they accomplished?

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    "People didn't vote for this guy because of morals and values. "

    Utter nonsense. All politic is moral. People vote based on their morals/values/principles.

    Nobody hijacked anything. The war on gays and the people that wage it, i.e., Knight, are directly connected to religious ideology. That's a fact and it should be part of the conversation. Anybody can talk about whatever other aspect of this tragic situation they would like to, regardless of my focus on a root cause of it.

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      When was the last time you were in Cornelius, Joshua? When did you last spend any significant time talking with these folks?

      All politics is not moral. If that's the myopia with which you continue to view it, then enjoy your losses. They'll be coming in droves.

      And as long as you continue to hijack threads like this--and refuse to see the other parts of the discussion, the less constructive you will be. Your choice, of course--but there it is.

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        I recall you commenting at least a few times on the occupation of Iraq. I wonder, when was the last time you were in Iraq? How many Iraqis have you spoken with? I know, kinda dumb line of reasoning, maybe even myopic.

        My claim that all politic is moral is actually a science-based one held by cognitive experts who study politics and human behavior. You probably know George Lakoff, cognitive expert and political language/framing guru who has run a progressive think tank and currently teaches at Berkley. He’s a pretty smart cookie and has actually written a few books on this very topic…”Moral Politics” being one I highly recommend. He would LOL at your frankly stupid claim that people don’t vote based on their morals/principles. It is as I said, utter nonsense. Of course other factors play a part in elections, however people’s morals/principles is what drives their behavior.

        This thread and Kari’s on population adjusted maps provide perfect examples of the problem I have highlighted here at BlueO. Criticize religion, (not all religious people, not everything about religion) and feel the wrath of the pc mafia ready and willing to shield faith from scrutiny, hurling unjustified insults of “slander” and bigotry. Keep doing it at the expense of your ideals, the conservatives sure appreciate you helping them protect one of their most useful tools.

        And this idea of hijacking a thread is silly. You wrote a post about a anti-gay bigot who got elected by a lot of anti-gay bigots and I chose to put some focus on a root cause of the anti-gay ideology. Nobody "refused to see the other parts of the discussion." Please stop while your ahead. These unfair attacks are beneath you.

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          Wrong. I wrote a post about a town in Washington County that has elected leaders that are out-of-step with the rest of the County on a number of issues, including equal rights for gays and lesbians. But it also included land use and economic opportunities.

          This post was so much more than the hijacked thread you've tried to make of this. And that sucks.

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            But wasn't the implicit question "WHY is Cornelius an island? Why did this reprobate get re-elected, apparently against the town's interests?

            Joshua's reasonable thesis is that antigay bigotry is almost always religious in nature, and since the dominant religion is Christianity in Cornelius, it's also reasonable to suggest that perhaps this is part of what drove the voters. It's neither a hijack nor irrelevant.

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              If the whole post was based on this guy getting elected due to his anti-gay stance, that might hold water. But it wasn't. As I and others have pointed out, there's a number of key elements to this. To select only one and beat it to death while ignoring the rest, is very much a hijack.

              There's so much more of a larger question here--to make this simply about religion is a fundamental disservice to the thread and to future engagement in this town.

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          Joshua, I know we've had a few rounds before on this subject. I believe you are sincere in your advocacy for "gay and lesbian brothers and sisters." I can make common cause with that. And making common cause, building coalitions among diverse groups is what effective political advocacy is about. Tearing down coalitions by global attacks on religion in the cause of your personal anti-religion agenda simply undermines that sincere purpose and creates distraction and division with persons who otherwise are allies in common values and goals. Anyone who wants to further a progressive public policy in this culture will sabotage themselves and that purpose by inserting attacks on religion, whether it's gay rights or the environment or economic justic, or whatever.

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    "Tolerance of religious stupidity has a way of making liars and cowards of people who should have nothing to fear from the fruits of honest reasoning." Sam Harris

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    Thank you Carla for this piece on Cornelius. I am pleased to see that there is recognition of the hard work that Mayor Bash and the current city council (with staff support from Mr. Dave Waffle and others) have been making to evolve the community of Cornelius. This includes stabilizing the city finances and putting new plans into action as your article summarizes. There are many community volunteers serving on the various city commissions (ex. Planning Commission, Econonic Development, Parks, and Budget) who also contribute there time. Keep up the fact based reporting!

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    I'm not that familiar with the area...what's the R to D split? Was the incumbant's campaign poorly run? It's hard to understand why someone would vote out a mayor who has worked well with others and brought about positive change. I wish I knew more.

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    Thanks for the great article, Carla. I think part of the reason for the change this year is some of the national mood bled into local races. I also think that people in Cornelius have some frustration that their views and concerns are not given enough consideration on a regional level, despite the great work of Mayor Banks and others, and that they felt somebody with a more aggressive posture would be more effective. Not sure I agree with them on this, but I'm sure the election was about much more than social issues. Unfortunately for the citizens of Cornelius, if the new mayor choses to put social issues front and center, realization of their other desires and goals will likely be impeded.

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    The reasons the slate of three ran were municipal economic and control issues. It had nothing to do with gay rights, but a bit to do with Metro.

    There is a perception in parts of the Cornelius business community that at least some on the City management team are unreceptive to existing local small business concerns and fail to grasp the economics of doing business in the town. They believe that at times the management team, or parts of it, ignore or minimize the adverse impact of regulation on existing small business. Either in an effort to attract larger businesses, or because of basic competency issues. They also believe that too many decisions are made to appease personnel agendas as well as Metro and the Metro culture and style of growth management.

    Cornelius is in a difficult economic situation because of its lack of an industrial or commercial base to generate much tax revenue. So they depend on various taxes that fall on residents directly. This also makes the city more aggressive in collection and assessment of fees such as building permit fees and water hookup fees. Which in hard economic times, hit small businesses hardest.

    The new leaders of this city and its management need to find ways to allow small businesses, who've struggled with staying in business there, a chance to succeed while working to establish a more balanced tax base.

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