The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for Shemia Fagan

By Steve Hughes of Portland, Oregon. Steve is the state director of the Oregon Working Families Party.

Every election year, Working Families Party members evaluate candidates for office, and support the ones who will fight – really fight – for every day working families. This year, the WFP has cross-nominated or endorsed 47 candidates for office in Oregon.

But we’re a young organization with a limited budget, so we focus our efforts to make the biggest impact. Like earlier this year, when we took on Mike Schauffler, a “Democrat” who had stood against healthcare reform, opposed asking profitable corporations to pay even a penny in new taxes to close a budget gap, fought environmental regulations, and even accepted money from the Koch brothers. Our candidate, Jeff Reardon won. And people noticed.

Taking on Tea Party Politics

This fall we’re focusing on a race not too far down the road, for Democrat / Working Families nominee, Shemia Fagan in House District 51, which incorporates parts of Clackamas County, East Portland, and Gresham.

Shemia is locked in a tight race against a Republican incumbent. She has an inspiring story of overcoming poverty that taught her first hand the power of quality public education to give any child the opportunity to overcome adversity. And as a working mom, she has a real commitment to sticking up for families.

But there’s something else that makes this race an appealing one for the WFP — the chance to take on the Tea Party. It has been well documented how organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the Oregon Transformation Project want to remake government with a Tea Party-infused politics in local races. They have particularly targeted Clackamas County as an incubator for their policies, with an eye toward expanding to other local communities around the state.

Organize, Organize, Organize.

The WFP believes that the best way to counteract this organizing by deep-pocketed, corporate-backed forces is to engage in good old fashioned, shoe-leather organizing ourselves. And that is exactly what we are doing. We have so far knocked on over 10,000 doors for Shemia Fagan.

It’s more than just numbers though. Our organizers are finding something deeper going on. In this era where more and more people are disillusioned with the political process, when voters hear about the WFP and why we are supporting Shemia it is opening reluctant doors and starting powerful conversations.

Knocking on doors, if you do it right, you learn a lot about a community. In one sense, our organizers have been conducting one big “focus group” on the doorstep of voters in one of Oregon’s swing districts.

What we are finding is this: our party’s nomination actually matters to voters.

Our cross-nominations means a candidate has been vetted by more than one party, run through more than one filter, and found to be worthy of our support. We’re supporting her because we believe she shares our values. We like to think of our nominations as a kind of good housekeeping seal of approval for the candidates that meet our muster. And since it’s printed right on the ballot, voters can’t miss it.

Choosing Parties, Communicating Values

Political parties are in our national DNA. They can inspire devotion that is often passed down from one generation to the next. My mother is from a small town in western Iowa and my dad was an Irish Catholic kid from Philadelphia. They grew up in families that identified on a deep cultural level with the political visions of FDR and JFK. Neither of my parents were party activists or attended party conventions, but they always voted, and it was their political party identification that informed their votes all the way down the ballot.

At their best, political parties articulate ideas and communicate those ideas to voters in a form of shorthand on the ballot, placing a party label next to the candidates of their choice. Thanks to Oregon’s fairly new fusion voting law, voters now have access to new information on the ballot. And if our experience on the doors in House District 51 is any guide, this information can be a powerful and effective tool for those who are interested in fighting back against corporate funded Tea Party politics.

Make no mistake – the outcome of this race is far from a sure thing, and a ton of money is getting spent against us. But Fagan is a compelling candidate, and she’s working hard. Because she will be a champion for working people, and because she shares our values, the Working Families Party will be working for her till the very end.

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    Steve - Just a thank you for all your hard work and that of your organization for making a huge difference for those of us who live and teach in Clackamas County. OEA/NCEA have endorsed Shemia as well as Jeff Reardon. We believe their backgrounds, strengths, and vision make them the candidates we need to best represent the students and families in the legislature.

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      Thanks, Deborah! And thanks for doing the hard work of being a teacher--both my parents worked as teachers and I know it ain't a walk in the park! The WFP is glad to do our part on the race. Given the issues at stake in this election, and the fact that there are some very powerful forces trying to bring Tea Party politics to Clackamas County we will all have to work together to fight back.

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    The WFP's endorsement of Brian Boquist in Senate District 12 negates anything the party has to say to me. Boquist is consistently a friend of those already well off but seeking more power and money at the expense of working families. His voting record:

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      We will have to agree to disagree on this one. Senator Boquist was a vocal supporter of a piece of legislation that we pursued in the 2011 session to create the Oregon State Bank. Not only did he vote for it in his committee, he was also very willing to challenge the Oregon Bankers Association, the group that led the opposition to this proposal to move Oregon's money out of Wall Street banks and find ways to invest it back into Oregon's small businesses and family farms.

      The Banker's Association is very powerful in Salem, and it takes some amount of mettle to stand up to them. In the end our leadership felt we would not agree with Senator Boquist 100% of the time, but he deserved our support.

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        This is a great example of the challenge faced by activist organizations that seek to move the dial with elected officials.

        Do you wait until someone is awesome across the board on your issues? Or do you reward someone who has historically been against you, but who takes a strong and principled stand on a key priority?

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