Evict Rod Monroe from the Oregon Senate!

How much does it cost to buy an Oregon senator?

Last fall Oregon’s landlord lobby gave $10,000 to fellow landlord and Democratic Senator Rod Monroe. Representing much of outer Southeast Portland, and East Multnomah and Clackamas Counties, a culturally diverse district with marginalized communities hard hit by skyrocketing rents, displacement, economic insecurity, and gentrification, the landlord–senator heeded the sultry call of campaign cash over the plight of his constituents and killed tenant-protection bill House Bill 2004, the most significant and critically needed piece of legislation that Oregon has seen in recent memory.

House Bill 2004 would have dramatically, immediately, and tangibly improved Oregon’s deepening housing displacement crisis and the lives of Oregon’s renters (40% of the state’s population). It would have ended the abusive practice of no-cause evictions—forcing responsible renters out of their homes without a stated reason—and it would have allowed cities to do something about enormous and unjustified rent increases by lifting the ban on local rent control.

With the ban in place, a $1000 rent increase is perfectly legal and it is illegal to do anything about it. Rod Monroe thinks it should stay that way.

Most Senate Democrats knew it would be a dereliction of duty to come home from the State Capitol empty handed, with nothing to protect vulnerable renters from being bullied and price-gouged by opportunistic landlords who knew their tenants had no other options. The Senate was so desperate to secure Monroe’s vote and appease the lobbyists who courted him that they gutted the bill of its strongest and most meaningful protections. But even the deep and shameful cuts to curry Monroe’s favor were no match for self-interest and landlord lobby cash. Monroe, the owner of a 51-unit apartment building in his renter heavy district, wouldn’t budge. Tents full of evicted kids and priced-out grandmas couldn’t move him. The bill died.

With close to 2 million renters in the state of Oregon, it only cost $10,000 (of tenants’ rent money) for landlords to buy the peace of mind that allows them to continue to reap the benefits of the housing crisis.

The Ballad of HB 2004 by David Rovics and a chorus of disappointed tenants.

If it seems cynical to accuse Monroe of being seduced by a $10,000 donation from landlords before the session, it now appears that was just a down payment. The real payday from the landlord lobby came after Monroe faithfully delivered a defeat on HB 2004. To express their gratitude for protecting their profit margin, landlords and their pals have thus far given Monroe fresh cash infusions of more than $36,000 in new donations. This includes an unprecedented (for Monroe) $6,500 from a few choice Democratic Senators, no doubt grateful that Monroe’s pledge to vote NO gave them cover from having to vote at all.

Who cares about representing constituents when you’ve got rich donors and Senate Leadership to make sure you never have to be accountable to them?

Gotta say, the $500 donation from supposed HB 2004 champ Laurie Monnes Anderson hurts the most.

While these recent donations might seem like business as usual for this landlord–senator, they are not. Since 2008, Monroe has received a total of about $56,000 in donations from the landlord lobby and affiliates. But a whopping $45,000 (over 80% of that) was received in just 2016–17.

Make no mistake, this blood money was raised (by hiking rents) and earmarked for Monroe’s loyalty to the landlord profit machine.

Of course, the senator doesn’t have quite the same opinion of his self-serving obstructionism. At a rare town hall appearance in January, where almost every person spoke to the need of housing security, Monroe boasted of his vote the previous year to extend rent increase notices from 30 to 90 days statewide. Lest he fool us into believing he actually cares about renters, what he failed to mention during this back-patting was that he also proudly took credit for slashing the part of the law that would have given renters some relief with extended notice on no-cause evictions. Whenever Monroe brags about being on the side of regular folks, we would do well to ask what betrayals were required to get his vote.

Fortunately, Monroe’s treachery earned him a primary challenge by formidable candidates who’ve openly expressed that his anti-renter sentiment was what encouraged them to run. Announcing her candidacy mere weeks after the session ended, Former House Rep. Shemia Fagan said, “I know what housing insecurity means to a family.” Well known and respected community organizer, Kayse Jama also jumped in the race, with the Portland Mercury reporting that

Of course, HB 2004 played a role in his decision. Jama calls its failure “heartbreaking,” and says “anyone who voted against it, in my opinion, was not serving in Oregon’s best interests.”

Tenant issues have finally become a key campaign issue, and we hope that Monroe wastes plenty of landlord money before losing his re-election campaign trying to convince voters of the absurd premise that tenant protections hurt tenants.

At Monroe’s January town hall he offered blatantly false excuses for keeping $1000 rent increases legal.
Tenants pose with a cardboard Monroe and the broken tenant protection umbrella.

At 75 years old, the wealthy white landlord that became a politician 40 years ago has become increasingly out of touch with the people he represents, and more beholden to the establishment elite and lobby dollars. If he had any integrity, Monroe would retire and allow the next generation of leaders to take the reins.

But despite high profile endorsements for his electoral opponents, and in the face of growing calls for him to step down, Monroe has doubled down with a promise to run a “well funded” campaign.

With landlords blowing wind in his sails, it’s a promise that he’s certain to keep. On one particularly hot afternoon in late August, he received multiple donations totaling over $18,000 to his reelection campaign.

Fresh off Monroe’s betrayal of his constituents, the out-of-touch Senate Democratic Leadership Fund sponsored a midday Monday gala and reelection fundraiser for Senator Monroe. If the time (3 PM) and day weren’t enough to signal to the senator’s working class constituents that they weren’t invited, the admission “sponsorship levels” starting at $1000 ensured they would not be in attendance.

But Portland Tenants United isn’t one to miss a good party.

Frustrated tenants march to Sen. Monroe’s in-district office (his home in East Portland).

More than 30 angry renters showed up to deliver the senator gifts, present him with a cake, implore him to retire, and sing a song written just for him by renowned folk singer David Rovics. (Watch this short video to hear the whole song!)

Gifts and a cake for the landlord–senator. The gift boxes contained nothing, precisely what Sen. Monroe gave tenants.

When we tried to deliver his birthday cake, Monroe angrily turned us away at the door.

An angry Sen. Monroe turns away guests at his door.

Perhaps it was our inability to sponsor him even at the bronze $1000 level. Undaunted, we continued the party outside, posing with the cardboard cutout we bring whenever Monroe predictably avoids talking to regular voters. The party continued even after multiple police showed up to confirm that we were not breaking any laws.

When you can’t talk to the actual senator…

While some of Monroe’s 15 guests saw the banners and protesters out front and just kept driving, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, herself a landlord, stayed for the party and gave Monroe a $2000 check.

Burdick was never an outspoken champion of tenants rights, but she at least claimed to want to see HB 2004 pass. Her $2,000 donation is an absolute betrayal.

But Burdicks’s donation shouldn’t be too big a surprise. Rather than hold Monroe accountable for his killing HB 2004, she publicly blamed those who protested his callous obstinance.

Senator Monroe is a man of faith, having been a lay leader in his church for over 20 years. And since he doesn’t hold constituent coffees or townhalls, and doesn’t have an office in Portland, one of the only places to find him is his church (which is in his district and attended by his constituents).

One cold morning back in March of 2017, well after Senator Monroe had publicly pledged to oppose all tenant protections, members of Portland Tenants United showed up outside his church to quietly pass out information about HB 2004.

Do the right thing.

Senate majority leader, Ginny Burdick, called this peaceful protest “abuse” and claimed this was the real reason that Monroe and other lawmakers weren’t championing the bill. First, if this counts as “abuse”, then she has led a privileged life, and clearly has never been a single mother experiencing a no-cause eviction, or never lived in dilapidated housing too scared of her landlord to ask for repairs. But more importantly, this obvious scapegoating is a predictable tactic to justify the lack of courage of waffling “moderate Democrats” eager for any excuse to get out of making the real-estate lobby angry.

Protest isn’t meant to be polite, or “in bounds”. It shouldn’t be comfortable. If a lawmaker doesn’t want the attention of public protest, they can easily avoid it by doing better, by listening to regular people and putting their needs before profits and campaign donations. And if Senator Monroe ever engaged with his constituents (or showed up to his own town halls), protesters wouldn’t have to come to his church to engage with him.

Constituents at a townhall that Sen. Monroe chose to skip.

Just as Trump shouldn’t tell football players how to protest police brutality, lawmakers should not lecture disenfranchised and underrepresented renters on how to protest the deadly consequences of the housing crisis.

The only group that should be held responsible for the failure of HB 2004 is the Oregon Senate, with a special distinction for Rod Monroe.

If we want renters across the state to have dignity and stable housing anytime in the next 5 years, it is absolutely critical that Rod Monroe is not re-elected in 2018 for another 4 years, and that his defeat be attributed to his inaction on the housing crisis.

There are already murmurs from Senate leadership about passing some token tenant protections in the short session (before the primary election) to get Monroe off the hook for his well earned reputation as champion of profits over people. Such crumbs must be rejected, especially if they are used to justify inaction on real pro-tenant reforms.

By saying NO to House Bill 2004, Senator Monroe said YES to $1000 rent increases, YES to more kids and families sleeping in cars and tents, YES to senior citizens being no-cause evicted, YES to renters choosing rent over food, YES to discrimination, YES to retaliation, YES to intimidation.

So we must say NO to Rod Monroe. Rod Monroe Must Go!

#RodMonroeMustGo #WeRentWeVote #RentersAreWatching

Banners in front of Sen. Monroe’s in-district office, i.e. his house in East Portland.