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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Voter-Owned Democracy, pt 9: "We don't need no stinking debates!"

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon--The Oregonian’s recent editorial, “A race run for pols, not for voters”, made several important points about elections in general and about what Oregonians want in particular, points that few would argue with:

1. “Challengers always want more debates; incumbents tend to want fewer.”

2. “Voters benefit from seeing and hearing as much as they can from the people who ask to represent them in (Salem)….”

3. “What Oregonians hunger for is the authentic voice of a person with a passion to serve them. They want their candidates to demonstrate an understanding of the issues and reasonable approaches to addressing them…What Oregonians hope for is some evidence of original thought and real humanity.”

Oregonians also want to have a choice between qualified candidates. They want to know their options so that they can choose among them.

Across the nation, voters are clamoring for CHANGE, in capital letters! Even the Republicans are trying to climb aboard the change wagon.

But across the City, Portland voters will soon mark their ballots in a process that is more an acknowledgement that the system itself trumps the body politic than it is an actual election.

Most of the races were decided back before May 20.

In Oregon, the legislature maintains an approval rating of only 30%, setting the stage for change, for new voices to emerge, but many Portland legislative races were settled as long as a year ago, long before the March filing deadline.

We approach the November election with a host of single-candidate races, just like in the former Soviet Union, like present-day North Korea, not much to be proud of in the democracy department.

Those incumbent candidates that had the power to restrict debate and candidate forum opportunities did so, a strategy built on running out the clock for the May 20 primary. There was little public discussion in legislative races.

The contests for Senate District 23 in NE and SE Portland (and its two House Districts, 45 and 46) offer a prime case in point, with two open seats at stake:

There were no challengers, no contest, no debates and no campaigning at all for the HD 46 spot, a race decided back at the March 15 filing deadline. No prospect of change, or for a new voice to break in there.

However, with well-qualified candidates competing for both its Senate and House open seats, HD 45 offered real opportunity for an exciting public process and a thorough discussion of the issues that matter.

The Oregonian editorial board found that both Senate candidates, Sean Cruz and Jackie Dingfelder, were qualified for the job, yet there were no debates. The first and only time that the two Senate District 23 candidates were on a platform together was on May 3rd, after the ballots were already in the mail, and that event occurred in HD 46, where there were no House candidates, instead of in HD 45, where there were.

The Oregonian editorial board endorsed the marvelously-gifted Cyreena Boston for HD 45, and found much to like about Michael Dembrow, her main challenger, but there were no debates held in the district.

The entire primary season passed without a single opportunity for the voters of House District 45 to see and hear together the candidates who would represent them in the Oregon Senate for the next four years, and in the Oregon House for the next two.

You would think that the voters would be upset about this….

There was no opportunity for the voters of Senate District 23 and House Districts 45 and 46 to hear where either the candidates or the incumbents stood on the issues, standing on a platform at the same time, with an opportunity for audience participation, because those events did not occur.

There was no actual public process in these key races. Instead, the candidates met privately and separately before representatives of a variety of special-interest organizations, focused entirely on their respective, private agendas.

The endorsements and special-interest cash flowed from those private meetings.

The political parties had no interest in providing candidate forums. The incumbents wouldn’t like that.

The normally-conscientious Oregon League of Women Voters overlooked the legislative races entirely, and the new, utterly inept Oregon League of Minority Voters could not locate these two races that actually featured minority candidates and the state’s largest concentrations of minorities (see Voter-Owned Democracy, Portland Style: “The Oregon League of Minority Voters and the Suppression of Opportunity,” coming soon).

A public platform would have forced the House District 46 incumbent, Ben Cannon, out of his house during the runup to the primaries.

Even though he was "running" unopposed, Representative Cannon would have had an important role in participating in the process of providing his constituents with an opportunity to hear all of the candidates for the seat that would represent them in the Senate.

But staging a debate in the district he represents would have worked to level the playing field among the candidates in both Senate District 23 and House District 45 races, where an all-out union-based effort to elect Jackie Dingfelder and Michael Dembrow was underway.

I intend to comment further on these and other issues, after having taken much of the summer off to give my readers a break, and to take some time for myself.

Over the summer, I learned how to install new floor and countertop tiles in my kitchen and bath, worked in my garden, walked my dog a whole bunch, and started playing Texas no-limit Hold-em poker online fairly regularly. I plan to sharpen my game up a bit and take a big bite out of one of those Las Vegas casinos some day.

More to come….

Future Voter-Owned Democracy, Portland-style topics:

1. AFSCME-gate, early insider endorsements, and how the unions locked up
2. The Oregon League of Minority Voters (OLMV) and the Suppression of Opportunity
3. Cruz vs Dingfelder—on Renaming Interstate Avenue and a related topic: The Revenge of the Avenistas
4. Cruz vs Dingfelder—for Barack or Hillary?
5. Cruz vs Dingfelder—on the Legislative pay and Capitol furnishings controversy
6. Cruz vs Dingfelder—on Veterans, the Oregon National Guard, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
7. Cruz vs Dingfelder—on Immigration, race, color and ethnicity in Oregon
8. Predatory Patrol Towing—Portland’s #1 Predatory Patrol Towing Horror Story continues

and more….

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