Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why This Democrat is Voting Republican in November

Yesterday was the deadline to turn in ballots for Oregon's primary election. The cool thing about Oregon is the unique "vote-by-mail" system, where all registered voters are mailed voter guidebooks and a ballot about three weeks before election day. When I first moved out here in 2006, I thought I would never like voting this way, as I love going to a polling place, standing in line, checking my registration, receiving my ballot, and walking to the voting booth to make my selections. Its feels like a real civic engagement and part of this is striking up conversations with people in line.

However, Oregon's unique voting system has spoiled me. This is my fourth time voting in Oregon (2006 general election, 2008 primary and general election, 2010 primary) and I love being able to vote at leisure. This gives me time to research the candidates when I'm particularly indecisive, while marking up my ballot selections on candidates I already support. Once I complete the ballot, I can drop it off at any number of ballot drop boxes at my convenience. Voting is so easy and "user friendly" this way. Sure beats having to take time off of work to go vote. Other states should make voting as easy as Oregon does.

Since several states held primaries yesterday as well, the media has been reporting on the shock of "anti-incumbent" fever going on in several election upsets. Well...this anti-incumbency fever seems to have completely missed Oregon. Nearly everyone who was endorsed by the newspapers won their race. Everyone who is an incumbent running for reelection won outright. And in other races, staff members of politicians won the top two slots to for the November ballot. So much for infusing new blood into the body politic of Portland. Incumbents won, even when major ethical scandals were reported in the newspaper, such as City Commissioner Dan Saltzman giving $600,000 of tax-payer money to a non-profit organization that his girlfriend works for!

I voted against every incumbent running for reelection. With the two star up-and-coming politicians running for a different seat than the one they started the year with, I voted for both of them because this is an investment in the future of Oregon leadership. I like both Ted Wheeler (former Multnomah County Chairman, now appointed State Treasurer who has to win the seat to continue past November) and Jeff Cogen (Multnomah County Commissioner in District 2 who filled Wheeler's vacated Chairman seat). I expect good things from both of them and no one should be surprised if either of them end up as Mayor, Congressman, or Governor in the next decade.

About that Governor's race...

I supported Bill Bradbury, who was Oregon's Secretary of State. He had a lot of great ideas and was endorsed by Al Gore and Howard Dean. Despite such high wattage endorsements from National Democrats, Bradbury managed to receive about 30% of the Democratic primary votes. His rival, John Kitzhaber, served two terms as Governor already (from 1995 to 2003) and left office famously saying that Oregon was "ungovernable." He's known as a loner, maverick, cowboy type who wears a Western-style suit (shirt, tie, and jacket matched with blue jeans, big ass belt buckle, and cowboy boots) and he kind of looks like Ted Turner or Kris Kristofferson. One middle aged lady at my work has a crush on him. So, after serving two terms as governor already and spending the last eight years doing God knows what, he decided to run again and received all the newspaper endorsements. He garnered more than 65% of the vote. I didn't expect such a blow-out.

On the Republican side, former professional basketball player Chris Dudley (who played for the Portland Trailblazers for six years as well as the New York Knicks) defeated perennial candidate Allen Alley to lead the GOP to a titanic battle in November against the former governor. The Willamette Week did a cover story on Chris Dudley a few weeks ago and one guy I know through the World Affairs Oregon discussion group told me that his brother is a personal aide to Dudley. Based on what I know, I think Dudley has "star quality" and is a genuine and likable person. He's not a hardcore conservative (he never comes out and states that he's "pro-life" on abortion, which means he's hoping to appeal to moderates and liberals, rather than chasing after the radical right teabagger vote). He's involved in summer camps devoted the children with diabetes and he seems to bring new energy and ideas into an otherwise stale race.

Those who dismiss Dudley as some jock with no experience need to check their political history. Bill Bradley was a professional basketball player before having a political career in New Jersey. Just because someone played a professional sport doesn't mean they aren't qualified to run for political office. After all, Kitzhaber was a medical doctor before he got into politics. For me, there is something too corporate and polished about Kitzhaber. Besides that, I cannot in good conscience vote for a candidate who already served two complete terms as governor. Even if this candidate is a member of my political party. My party allegiance is not applicable in this race for the simple fact that I don't do "retreads." Time for new blood and new ideas. Besides, the Democrats have held on to the governor's office since 1982, and maybe its time for a big change to get Oregon's economy to start moving. Part of leadership is the ability to inspire people, which Chris Dudley has in spades while Kitzhaber does not. This is why I'll be voting Republican for Governor in the fall (if I'm still a resident of Oregon).

In the other major race of interest, my Congressman David Wu crushed his competitor David Robinson (86.5% to 13%, respectively). In real terms, Wu received just 11,554 votes to Robinson's 1,767. That's not a whole lot of votes in the district, especially when you think about each member of Congress representing approximately half a million people. Where are all the voters? The results were disappointing, because Wu is pretty much an invisible Congressman. He only shows up in the district on election night to celebrate his victory. He doesn't hold regular town hall meetings or meet and greets with his constituents. Maybe its because his personality is pretty bland and he lacks charisma. However, to his credit, he did hold a few town hall meetings last summer and received some rude, disruptive hecklers regarding the Health Care Reform bill. Despite his vote on health care, though, I've never liked voting for him because of the report that he had raped his girlfriend in college. Its a non-issue with the media since he won his first race, but its disturbing to me that someone like that would be representing my district in Congress and that people keep voting for him.

David Robinson had an impressive biography. He's a Navy veteran who served overseas in some hotspots (Iraq, Afghanistan, and the horn of Africa). When deciding on which candidates to support, military experience is a major one for me. Double points for being in the Navy. I feel a bond with fellow sailors who happen to be Democrats, because its rare. Seriously rare. I did not know a lot of Democrats while I was in, so I'm assuming that the Bush years pushed a lot more people into the Democratic camp. Or it could be the way things are, since most of the Vietnam War veterans in Congress are Democrats, not Republicans.

With Robinson defeated, Congressman Wu faces Republican nominee Rob Cornilles in November. Looking at Cornilles' website, I learned that he served as an adult volunteer in the organization that I work for (I checked our database system, and sure enough, he's in there). Most importantly, though, Cornilles is a graduate of the same university as me: Brigham Young University. This means he is likely a Mormon. Mormon Republicans are not as scary as the evangelical, Southern, teabagger types. Maybe its because they aren't fully trusted by the evangelicals in the Republican party and have to find allies wherever they can (such as reaching across the aisle to the more religiously tolerant Democrats). I plan to contact Cornilles to talk with him and see where he is politically. He has some Bush Administration officials working on his campaign, which is a huge negative. However, when looking at candidates to support, not only do I look for military experience, I also look for any personal connections we might share. Attending the same university (though a generation apart) is a huge positive. So long as Cornilles is a reasonable person and not some right-wing crazy like Sarah Palin, I would feel quite comfortable voting for Cornilles over Wu.

I hate abandoning my party, but when you don't like your party's choices, what can you do? Party loyalty only goes so far with me. If the Republicans can offer more appealing candidates, then they deserve to be considered for my vote. Truth be told, had I lived in Massachusetts, I'm certain that I would have been one of those lifelong Kennedy supporters who voted for Scott Brown. Martha Coakley was a lousy candidate to fill Senator Ted Kennedy's enormous shoes. Brown is a lightweight, but he has the star quality to go places (such as the GOP nominee for president in 2016). Interesting aside, when I started looking at the Senate Employment Bulletin online, I was intrigued that Senator Brown is looking for a Legislative Aide and another position for his office. He seems like a cool guy to work for. I like his sense of humour.

Now, about the most important race: Multnomah County Commissioner, Seat #2. Back in mid-March, State Treasurer Ben Westlund passed away from cancer only days before the deadline to file for political races. Governor Kulongoski appointed the County Chairman Ted Wheeler to fill the important office, which set a chain reaction into motion. Commissioner Jeff Cogen was running for reelection anyway, but he refiled to run for the Chairman's seat. His admininstrative aide Karol Collymore jumped into the race, despite her lack of experience and being new to Oregon (she moved here in 2003 after living her entire life since 2 years old in New Mexico. Her first two years were spent in Panama, where her parents immigrated from).

Other people came out of the woodwork to file their intentions to run, including City of Portland Noise Control officer Paul van Orden (pictured above), whom I had met in early 2007 when he gave a talk about working for the city of Portland. Our paths had crossed a few times in the years since, but when the news reported that he was running, I found him on Facebook and offered to volunteer on his campaign. In a field of 8 candidates, I believed that he was the most experienced person (and I still believe that).

The race was interesting and amazingly diverse. Besides Collymore, there were two other African American ladies: Roberta Phillips (a Law school grad who taught school in the Florida Keys and dropped out of the race when Cogen offered her a job in his office) and Loretta Smith, who worked as a staffer in Senator Ron Wyden's office. The other lady in the race was a Hispanic lady who worked for Mayor Tom Potter. On the men's side, there was Chuck Currie, a reverend with a progressive church; Tom Markgraf, who was a staffer in Congressman Earl Blumenauer's office; and Gary Hansen, a former County Commissioner who supposedly retired years ago. What's with all the retreads?

It has been an amazing 60 days or so of campaigning. The problem with such a low level race like this is that the local press didn't really care and everyone was flying blind. We had no polling data to see where to focus our energies, so we could only make assumptions based on our understanding of local politics and how people voted in the past. I appreciate getting to know Paul a bit better and find him to be an incredibly honest, likable, and knowledgeable person who had the best set of experiences among the candidates to affect some real change in the position. Prior to his twenty years as an environmental law enforcement officer, he was a professional skateboarder in the New York and New Jersey areas. He even told me that he met Debbie Gibson in the late 1980s but didn't pay much attention to her because he was into punk, not pop. During the campaign, I also got to know Paul's wife a little bit. She's adorable and he's lucky to have found such a lady. She resembles actress Ginnifer Goodwin (who plays the young, naive third wife in HBO's excellent series Big Love). They have their own chicken coop, a couple of ducks and parrots, and a ferret.

Pictured above is Karol Collymore, who received 35.88% of the vote, or a whopping 10,175 votes! Despite her relative newness to Oregon and lack of experience, she received all the newspaper endorsements and seemed to have the favor of the political establishment class. Having seen her in person and talking briefly with her, I must admit that she is pretty dynamic with an extremely likable personality. She has a good vibe about her. However, since I don't live in the district, I was not able to vote (of course, my friend Paul would have won my vote). To me, experience matters. In the list of candidates, she would have been my third choice (after Paul and Chuck).

Now that she's in the final two for the November election, she has my support because her opponent Loretta has a negative vibe about her. Loretta received 5,165 votes (or 18%). In third place was Markgraf with 3,904 votes (13.77%), followed by: Hansen (2,598 votes / 9.16%), Rubio (1,888 votes / 6.66% -- the "mark of the beast" candidate!). Paul finished sixth with 1,738 votes (6.13%) and the Reverend Chuck Currie received a close seventh with 1,727 votes (6%). Dead last was Roberta, who had dropped out of the race after the ballots were printed. She received 1,046 votes (3.69%).

Here's to Karol! Not sure if I'm going to help campaign for her. She seems to have a good group of enthusiastic supporters and I'm kind of politico'd out after spending a lot of time trying to help Paul get his name out there through banner visibilities, attending various debates and events, and other work. Now that its over, I can focus on my own personal goals again. I felt a special obligation to help Paul on his campaign because I really wanted to see him win. Election night was kind of a bummer because the votes did not go the way I expected. Shows just how much I know. My thinking is so different from other people. Who knew that experience matters less in Portland than gender and racial identity politics? The press also coronated their chosen candidate and voters followed like sheep. This is good information to know...as the results show clearly that to win political office in Portland, racking up newspaper and politician endorsements are #1 and raising gobs of money is #2.

The Candidate's Gone Wild Event last month seemed to be the coronation ceremony of Collymore. To her credit, she gave a terrifically awesome answer about how she would determine contracts for minority companies seeking to do business with the county. Rather than go by strict quotas, she prefers a staggered point-based system in which companies receive various number of points for whichever criterias they match (such as offering family wage jobs with health care benefits to employees). Based on that answer, I have no doubt that Collymore would be a major asset at the County Commission office. Its also hard to argue against the need for more diversity in county (and city) government. Portland is often called "the whitest city in America" so it desperately needs more diversity. Best of luck to Collymore for the battle in November.

Pictured above is Spencer Burton, a stonemason who ran for a City Council seat against an incumbent running for reelection (he only won 5,569 votes, or 5.72% in a field of 9 candidates). I only had a brief conversation with Spencer and he sounds pretty cool with an interesting set of life experiences. His website reveals a visionary, poetic, new age-y vibe. One reporter called him a cross between Jack Kerouac and Don Draper. Another newspaper seemed impressed with his command of the issues, even though they endorsed the established incumbent candidate. He sounds like he's wanting to run for City Council in 2012 and I'd love to help out his campaign (if I'm still in Portland). However, I'm also curious if he's interested in exploring other career opportunities. He just strikes me as a spiritual guy who could lead a movement of people devoted to changing the culture of this country to be more in line with spiritual values rather than material values. I'm really impressed by the views he expresses on his website that I think he is definitely someone worth getting to know and helping out. Unfortunately, though, Portland politics seems to be too cutthroat, insular and insider for any decent person to have a real shot at changing things.

After seeing the defeat of Charles Lewis in 2008, and Paul van Orden yesterday, I don't hold out much hope that someone of good values and vision will win elected office anytime soon. Maybe this is a sign to move on. Portland has been a nice four year diversion in my detour, but its seriously past time to get back on the career path I was meant to be on. We'll see in the next couple weeks what this might mean. All I know right now is that if I remain in Portland through the end of the year, I'll be voting for two Republicans, which is not something that I'm all that excited about doing. I'd rather help Governor Martin O'Malley win reelection in Maryland so he can continue improving his state and have a nice record of accomplishments to bring before Democratic primary voters in 2016. I always have my eyes on the future, and Portlanders made their choice well known yesterday: more of the same.

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