SD-17: A thought on progressive activism, or lack thereof

Carla Axtman

While I'm not especially discontent about the outcome of the Senate District 17 appointment, I can certainly understand why many Washington County Precinct Committee Persons are. On December 11, each of us gave up a good chunk of an evening to sit through a meeting and in good faith, voted to send Rep. Chris Harker as the first choice of the senate district democrats to fill the seat. The way it was explained to us at the meeting, the commissioners generally appoint the first choice of the PCPs.

I think a lot of the sentiments were summed up well by Kim Goddard (who works for Chris Harker, incidentally):

In reality what I witnessed today was a Republican appointment to my Senate district; we had Multnomah Commissioners split evenly; Shiprack and Cogen for Rep Harker and Smith and Kafoury for Elizabeth; Washington Commissioners were split on party line with Malinowski and Schouten voting for Rep Harker and the three Republican Commissioners, Duyck, Rogers, and Terry, voting for Elizabeth. Say anything you like about Rep Harker or Elizabeth, but the fact remains Republicans intervened and picked someone the PCPs had as their second choice.

This seems right to me.

I've often thought that progressives in Washington County have a weakness when it comes to hyper local races. We're generally good at the legislative level and higher, but when it comes to races like County Commission, City Council, Water Board and other very local seats, we drop the ball.

I hope that this appointment is a wake up call to progressives: in Washington County there are a LOT of conservatives who now hold office at the very local level. It's tough to track what they're doing because media coverage out here is extremely weak--and it's difficult to know what's going on. You have to go very far out of your way to get news on what they're up to.

This means showing up to County Commission meetings, including the ones that happen during regular work hours. It means closely tracking what they're doing..and spreading the word. I guarantee a lot of progressives will be extremely unhappy when they start sorting out what's going on at the County level. That's not to say that aren't a few good things, but there's plenty to dislike.

Three very conservative Washington County Commissioners are running the show out here. Until progressives engage strongly at this level, it won't change.

Conservative County Commissioner Roy Rogers is up for reelection this cycle, fyi. I haven't heard that he's drawn a progressive opponent. That'd be a great place to start, in my opinion.

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        I've "liked" both T.A. and Carla's posts because they both have good points to make. Steiner-Hayward should not be seen as some kind of Republican mole just because of the circumstances of her elevation. But the circumstances of her elevation supports Carla's point that progressives/liberals in Washington County don't pay sufficient attention to races below the state lege.

        This should change.

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        The process for filling interim vacancies is designed to protect the "rights" of the political party holding a seat while preventing that party from filling the seat through an internal process. That is as it should be, since partisan pcp's are not the only stakeholders in who fills this vacancy. Some may not like the result in this particular instance, but to suggest that the commissioners somehow intervened in, or interfered with, that process is clearly false. The system worked exactly how it was intended to work. The Democratic PCP's gave the Commissioners a list of acceptable candidates, and the Commissioners made a selection from that list. That's the process. It may be imperfect, but I would argue that the process probably does a better job at reflecting the will of the people in the district than one that simply lets the activist core of a political party make the decision without any check on their power to "pick the winner".

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          It's not "clearly false" at all to say that the Commissioners intervened. They didn't do so outside the process--but clearly they intervened.

          There's a reason that the three conservative Commissioners in Washington County voted this way.

          Local activists in this county need to pay attention to this commission.

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            It is no more true to say that these commissioners "intervened" in the PCP nominating process than it is to say that general election voters "intervene" in partisan nominating processes during the regular election since the role of general election voters (picking a winner) is identical to that of the commissioners.

            Here's a question... Would you complain if the Multnomah County Commission selected the most moderate candidate from a list provided by Republican PCP's, or would you see that as "just doing their job"?

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              Would I complain? Not at all. When Washington & Clackamas County Commissioners selected Matt Wingard a few years ago--I thought the process was flawed. Not because the Commissioners chose poorly, but because the PCPs did such a lousy job of sending three candidates. It was clearly rigged for Wingard--the other two candidates wrote letters asking for Wingard to be appointed.

              But the Commissioners ultimately chose the #1 choice of the PCPs--which was the right thing to do.

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                Why? People who register as pcp's are not a representative sample of the general electorate. Their role in the process begins and ends with preserving the rights of the political party that "holds" the seat that was vacated. It is the commissioner's job to protect the interests of the general electorate. One may disagree with their choice, but clearly the process is designed give the commissioners actual discretion.

                Anyhow, merry Christmas.

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      Kim - Is the problem that we have 3-2 decisions, or that these 3-2 decisions in Washington County are resolving themselves "the wrong way" from the liberal point of view? Replacing a Republican with a Democrat is not going to change the underlying "problem" you have identified, namely that decisions decided along party lines will invariably resolve into a binary choice that favors one of the two sides. I continue to believe that what is needed is some kind of countervailing force that rewards candidates from both parties for moving towards a principled, public interest center.

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        I agree we must look for a way to change the current dynamic that pits “one side” against the “other side”. For me, that involves electing a Democrat because I feel they are more likely to listen and build consensus with their Republican peers, as well as engage and listen to the community they serve. I'm not opposed to other party affiliations; if we could ensure thoughtful deliberation of the issues and commitment to engaging the public, any qualified candidate would be better than what we have now.

        Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the “countervailing force that rewards elected officials from both parties” would look like. How do we move past party affiliation and towards identities that connect us to those who disagree with our thoughts?

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    Elephants usually win when they fight donkeys ;)

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    I disagree with the premise that Washington County activist are not paying attention to county and city races. The real issue is there are insufficient activist that will do any actual work.

    There are approximately 100,000 self-identified Democrats in Washington County. Of those, less than 5% will do anything other than vote. Many of those who do give of themselves and their resources are motivated by a candidate and give very late in the process of electing someone to office. We have a cult of personality that drives the system. You can see this in the hordes of people who turn out for Obama, Kitzhauber, Merkley and others. Almost none will band together for a period of time, pool their resources, and work to ensure there are many potential candidates for the low profile offices.

    Groups exist to recruit candidates and the successful ones have paid staff to work on candidate recruitment. Finding a candidate can be extraordinarily difficult. And, with a reluctant candidate, there has to be some sort of promise of help. The legislature takes care of itself but there is nothing for county or city level offices. Just keeping track of these offices is a daunting task as there are hundreds of them in Washington County.

    Roy Rogers is up for reelection but there is no organized effort to recruit a challenger. The only one I know working on recruitment is Dick Schouten. Beating an incumbent will take a pile of money and a horde of volunteers to canvas, phone bank, and organize a campaign. I know of no one that will undertake such an effort. And, Betty Bode has announced she will challenge Schouten which almost ensures that Rogers will have no organized opposition.

    So, who wants to organize a campaign committee, raise a few hundred thousand dollars, hire some staff, and recruit an outstanding candidate to challenge Roy Rogers? How about everyone who is reading Blue Oregon?

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      I don't know how you can say, "I disagree with the premise that Washington County activist are not paying attention to county and city races. The real issue is there are insufficient activist that will do any actual work.." at the opening and then say, "Roy Rogers is up for reelection but there is no organized effort to recruit a challenger. The only one I know working on recruitment is Dick Schouten"

      That's pretty big evidence that in fact Washington County activists aren't paying attention to these local races.

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        I'm unclear on how "activist" is being tossed around in this discussion. I know activists who do nothing but focus on the hijinx of the WashCo Commission, and who coalesced around the candidacies of the two Gregs in 2010. I know activists who've been trying to recruit a candidate to run against Rogers since last spring. It's a tough sell, he's got the enormous advantage of incumbency and name recognition, and unfortunately that's usually enough in races in which the voters, not activists, pay little attention. So it's not for lack of trying, or focus, on the part of activists. D3 is easily the most conservative county commission district in WashCo, which also can be daunting.

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