An Inauguration Week Story – from Columbia County

On Monday, Salem was buzzing as our new and re-elected legislators were sworn in – among them North Portland’s Rep. Tina Kotek, who was also appointed Speaker of the House, becoming the first openly lesbian chamber head in the country.  In just a few days, on the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, our first black will be inaugurated for his second term.

Even with all of the challenges facing our country and our democracy in 2013, it feels good to blow past these mileposts showing how far we have come.

But while we have seen much improvement in the diversity of our elected leaders – let’s remember how much work there is to do for true justice, for equity, and for real democracy, both on the national and the local level. January is when victors of city and county races are sworn in across the state, from city councilors to mayors, sheriffs to county commissioners.  Do these new faces represent your values?  Do you know where your mayor stands on economic development and corporate power?  Or what your sheriff has to say about racial profiling or in response to Obama’s gun legislation?

Here in the home county of the ROP office, Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity does know the answers to many of these questions.  In October, CCCHD sent surveys to every individual running for local office, from the library and school boards on up to sheriffs, mayors, and county commissioners.  They asked three questions:

  1. Do you believe that we need to get big business and corporate money out of politics? Would you take a pledge to get money out of politics by 2014?  If elected, what concrete actions will you take?
  1. Do you think it’s important to make our community a place that welcomes and protects immigrants and racial minorities?  Would you support a resolution that pledges to welcome all people?
  1. Do you see coal supporting positive economic development for Columbia County?  Under what circumstances would you support or oppose the proposed coal projects?

CCCHD received replies from 11 candidates, including both candidates for sheriff and 3 of 4 candidates for 2 county commission seats, including all of those who were elected.

They were able to share this information with voters all over the county – allowing their progressive membership to see in black and white whether these candidates represent our values.  They also got concrete commitments about what doors are open, what places could be good points of collaboration with these community leaders.

Here is a sampling of hopeful answers to question 1:

  • As long as there is money in politics, big business will find a way to get it in there.  I would be in favor of mandated  publicly-funded elections — then it would come down to the issues, not just who has the money . . . (from current sheriff)
  • Yes, I do believe we need to get big business and corporations out of politics. They do have an interest in certain issues which could impact them financially but they can literally swing a vote with the amount of money that they spend on advertising and donations. This problem is not going to go way anytime soon. I would contact our state representatives to try and pass legislation that would ban this practice.

A sampling of hopeful answers to question 2:

  • We are a nation of immigrants and we need to continue that tradition. I am happy to state that I believe we need, as a county and as individuals, to be welcoming to all people regardless of place of birth or color of your skin (from current county commissioner)
  • Absolutely! We are a nation of immigrants, once called the “the great melting pot”. I would have no problem with some kind of resolution welcoming all. (The devil is always in the details.) (from current county commissioner)
  • Yes and Yes (from current sheriff)

These are successes in a county that recently fought off two anti-immigrant ballot measures – one of which passed by voters and was later overturned – and the same county where right-wing candidates have often been able to get a foothold in small-town city councils and library boards.

And they are also an open door to keep the values conversation alive with our elected leaders.

It’s not too late for your group to also meet at greet your new sheriff, mayor, or legislator. Get in touch with ROP if you’d like help from an ROP organizer to put together a plan.  Have a story to share?  We’d love to hear that, too!

Here’s to a year of accountability and opportunity!