BLUE-GREEN WAVE STRONG HERE, WEAKER ELSEWHERE:

Multnomah Dems Key to Brown Victory

Summary: Kate Brown wouldn’t have won the state if her win in our county hadn’t been as big. She won over 70% of the gubernatorial votes here in Oregon’s most populous county. Turnout in our county was high, especially so for those registered as Democrat and voters age 55 and older (over 80% voting in both groups). Young voters (18–24) voted the least often, but more often than in 2014. Kate and Knute won a significant number of votes in our county from outside their respective parties, emphasizing the importance of the NAV (non-affiliated voter) and the small parties. The Governor’s strong showing was in spite of strong negative advertising from the Knute side and a somewhat adverse local media. Kate did not win in two of Oregon’s more populated, urban counties — Clackamas and Marion (Salem), but did carry two others — Lane (Eugene-Springfield) and Washington.

The statewide progressive vote on the ballot measures was stronger than the Kate vote, with these coasting to victory, winning on Measure 102 and losing on 103–106, with the five most populated counties (the tri-county, Marion, and Lane) voting similarly.

The Blue-Green wave suffered across the Columbia River. In Washington’s District 3 Carolyn Long didn’t win the Congressional seat, and the statewide Measure 1631 proposing a carbon pollution fee was killed (with a big loss in Clark County) in the midst of a very expensive campaign run by fossil fuel companies.

INTRODUCTION:

I certainly had pre-election jitters about the Kate Brown race and ballot measures. Kate was not holding steady in the polls, and the governor’s race had been downgraded from “lean-Democrat” to a “toss-up” in the final pre-election ranking of Real Clear Politics. Then too my acquaintances often were taking the attack ads from the Buehler side at face value and quoting their version of the truth (e.g., Kate hasn’t done enough about Oregon’s social problems, Knute is a moderate, etc.), “truths” that the Brown campaign was slow to counter.

Yet, fortunately, the governor was ahead of Buehler by over 6% in the final tally. Also progressive votes won the day in our county on the ballot measures, with outcomes being in line with the recommendations of the MCD (Multnomah County Dems). Multnomah County was key to the state’s blue liberal wave, especially within Portland, as our progressive majorities were stronger than the rest of the state and more so than the rest of the tri-county area. The losses in Clackamas County, Outer East Multnomah Counties, and in southwest Washington State (in both that area’s Congressional race and that state’s carbon tax initiative) of progressive candidates and measures illustrate what a strong negative ad campaign can do and what the liberal-leaning grassroots isn’t always strong enough to counter.

STRONG MULTNOMAH KATE VOTE, EXCEPT IN OUTER EAST COUNTY

When one looks at the 5 counties with the largest number of voters participating this election, we see that the most populous one — Multnomah — had the strongest percent of votes, going for Kate at 74%. (The data is from the Secretary of State “Election Results”, http://results.oregonvotes.gov/.) In the other four counties with over 100,000 voters participating this election, Kate won in two counties — Washington and Lane, while losing to Buehler in Clackamas and Marion (Salem area).

In certain Multnomah precincts, both the percentage voting for Kate and the percentage of eligible voters participating was very high. There were a number of Portland-area precincts with over 80% voting for Kate (with 3 precincts in the 90%-range — 4203, 4207, and 4301). While Oregon’s state voter turnout was 69.7%, Multnomah County came in at 72.5%, with a number of our precincts turning out more than 80% of those eligible. (Multnomah precinct turnout breakout at https://multco.us/file/76604/download).

Unfortunately, our grassroots effort or civic consciousness hasn’t engaged younger voters. In Multnomah County, the younger you were the less likely you were to vote, while the rate was very high for the AARP set: 49% voted in the 18–24 group, 66.5% in the 25–39 bracket, 75.0% for those ages 40–54, and 81.3% for 55 and older. Nonetheless, this youth turnout was stronger than in 2014, when only 38% of this youngest group voted. It should be noted that the “Motor-Voter” law went into effect in 2016, with its DMV voter registration. This law would in part account for the county voter pool growing by about 90,000 between the 2014 and 2018 midterms. Statewide data uses different age groups, but still suggests that youth turnout is not better elsewhere. For ages 18–34, Multnomah had 61% turnout this year, and only Benton County, centering around Corvallis and OSU, had a turnout of 63% of this younger group.

Both of the main parties had strong county turnout, though the Dems far outnumber the Republicans in this county. 83.5% of the Dems turned out and 77.4% of the Republican-affiliated did, with the Dem voters being 51% of the total registered and the Republicans only 12%. Thirty percent of those eligible to vote are not party-affiliated, with 53% of this group casting a November vote. Small parties represent another 7% of the electorate. Kate pulled in over 46,000 votes more than the number of Dems casting a ballot, so her campaign pulled in significant support from non-Dem sources.

The precincts having the lowest percentage of Kate votes (under 45%) were in three districts (District 49’s precincts 4904 and 4908, District 50 in 5006 and 5008, and District 52 in 5202–5204), all in outer East County. (I’ve excluded here those precincts with very low population counts — under 1500 votes for the two candidates combined). Interestingly, in comparing the Kate vote with another indicator of progressive politics (the no-vote on Measure 103, the measure for a ban on grocery taxes), a couple of these same precincts voted, as did most Oregonians, against this tax ban.

District 52 for state races is partly in our county and two others — Clackamas and Hood River. The Dem state House candidate, Anna Williams, was able to win only because of the strong Hood River area vote in her favor, thus countering her losing in the other two counties. Another campaign of focus for our party was the two-county state House race in District 51, where the Dem (Janelle Bynum) had a squeaker win in Clackamas County (26 votes!) and a big win in Multnomah (by over 2,000 votes).

The state’s five most populous counties all opposed the grocery tax ban (in line with our local recommendation), though by less than one percent in Marion County. Somehow voters in these more urban counties were able to see through the fairly constant ads in support of 103, but perhaps were less able to see through the more frequent ads attacking Kate. (The other state measures are discussed further below.)

PORTLAND MEDIA DIDN’T HELP

Portland media — oh, how I hate it. City and state news outlets didn’t do a good job of keeping the citizenry informed about what was going on in Salem, so the Buehler negative ad campaign was targeting a largely ignorant electorate. It is almost unheard of for local TV news to cover the Legislature. OPB is ignoring its stated mission by not also putting some of the Oregon news covered on the radio (and on its web-site) on television. While a semi-romanticized vision of Oregon is televised on OPB’s Field Guide and Art Beat, Channel 10 doesn’t cover Oregon political developments. To its credit, OPB did summarize some of the election issues in its November subscriber mailer, and on infrequent occasions, OPB-produced stories do show up on the PBS “Newshour”. (Why can’t OPB televise short local news pieces in the 5 minutes or so of dead airtime after the “Newshour”?)

Then the local print media does harm, except perhaps for a few smaller circulation alternative papers (e.g., the Mercury). The Oregonian has been preaching against PERS for years with anti-government employee sentiment implied, and pension reform one of its reasons for endorsing Buehler. The Willamette Week’s supposed liberal politics are wobbly and were unreliable in the 2016 election. So we saw it run a largely anecdotal (no data or real analysis needed) piece about Dem voters voting for Buehler just shortly before ballots came out — even though it went on to endorse Brown a short while later. The Week also came out against the local Clean Energy renewable energy ballot proposal. The Tribune had a few articles making the two main gubernatorial candidates seem similar and then endorsed Buehler (on-line date of Oct. 16); this paper did print a reply column by the Oregon Democratic Party’s Deputy Director Molly Woon on October 25 — after ballots were already coming in.

I only know bits and pieces about the media in Salem and Eugene. State Rep. Alyssa Keny-Guyer indicates that the Salem Statesman Journal (the paper owned by USA Today) covers legislative developments . Unfortunately, the alternative Salem Weekly, after promoting a progressive agenda with its election endorsements, just went out of business. In Eugene there is a strong Eugene alternative paper, the Eugene Weekly, which had a number of great articles discussing Kate’s history and endorsing her candidacy. There is some reporting as well on state election issues in the University of Oregon paper, the Daily Emerald. The main newspaper in Eugene, The Register Guard, was acquired this year by Gatehouse Media, a national newspaper operator that Jim Hightower criticized in a recent “Common Dreams” article entitled, “Free the Free Press from Wall Street Plunder”. A number of staff layoffs followed the paper’s sale. Nonetheless, the Guard, under this new management, did endorse Kate, though with somewhat faint praise.

GRASSROOTS, MAILINGS, LOCAL PARTIES

I was told by one of the lead organizers in the Portland Brown campaign that they were having at least a hundred volunteers a week coming in from before the ballots dropped until the end of the campaign. I was told that hundreds showed up to volunteer the final weekend. I was frustrated with most of the fliers I was given by both the Kate campaign and the Dems, as I didn’t think they had enough detail to persuade undecided voters and to counter the opposition’s negative ads. I was thumbs-up, though, regarding the door-hanger used late in the campaign, highlighting Kate and ballot measure issues. I found a Buehler flier on a NAV doorstep, and, yes, I thought it was a better product! I was also concerned about the paucity of Kate lawn signs in my environs, less than those for the ballot measures or the City Council race.

Portland canvassing is becoming more difficult and less productive, because there are more locked multi-unit apartment/condo buildings and more frequent belligerent “go-away” signs on people’s doors — signs beyond just “No Soliciting” (and I don’t believe that knocking on doors with a “No Soliciting” sign helps progressives in the long run). Early mailers will probably be more vital in the future. For example, I voted 8 days after receiving the ballot, and I had not received a single mailer by then. (I received a number in the following 10 days, including the only one related to the Kate race from Sierra Club.) How many voters are we missing? Are phoning and texting inherently weaker ways to turn out support? Could poor turnout of young voters be related to reliance on typical canvassing?

I took a look at the top five counties’ Dem Party web-sites, and that of the less populated but high-achieving Benton County as well, as this Corvallis area had a strong Kate vote and high turnout. I could tell that some of the party web-sites looked more inviting or informative. Washington County had a prominently displayed link to an essay detailing Kate’s achievements in Salem (though the piece and its title, “Kate Brown is Awesome”, was a little too rah-rah for my taste). The Lane County site publicized a lecture of interest entitled “UO Professors Unravel Election Results”, and showed networking with groups like Bernie’s “Our Revolution” and the NAACP. It has a fair number of young adults in their photos, which isn’t surprising as the main office is a short bicycle ride from the university campus. The Dem state party (DPO) posted an impressive web-piece to counter Knute’s arguments rather late in the election cycle, though unfortunately it wasn’t linked to its home-page (“Lies from Knute” announced on October 3rd).

BLUE-GREEN VOTES WINNING AND LOSING

The City of Portland Clean Energy Initiative won big, by 65%. It had many lawn signs out, many volunteers, and little opposition, except for the Willamette Week who argued that it would result in business passing along the related cost to consumers.

Even though Trump was working hard to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria, Measure 105 (to revoke “Sanctuary” state status) had 63% voting “no,” (82% in Multnomah County. The Metro area — in fact all of neighboring NW Oregon as well as Marion and Lane counties — voted against this measure. The votes in favor of the measure clustered in the central/eastern part of the state. A “Common Dreams” story on November 29th (“Why the Migrant Caravan Story Is a Climate Change Story”) described how Central American conditions fuel migration, links Measure 105 to global warming.

All the outcomes of other state ballot measures (for 102, and against 103–104 and 106) were in keeping with MCD recommendations, with relatively big wins for the progressive vote (with none of the vote spreads under 13% and three over 25%). Again on these other measures, the pattern was similar to Measure 105, with NW Oregon counties tending to vote like greater Portland’s metro area, and Marion and Lane counties.

Yet when we look across the Columbia River, the election results were more discouraging. One would think, based on the Clark County Congressional District 3 primary election results, that the race in November should have had a closer result: the votes of the August open primary favored Dem candidates (as Dems garnered 50% of the vote to the Republican 47%). However, a deluge of late ads argued that Democrat Carolyn Long would cost voters money through I-5 tolls and her other policy positions. Ms. Long lost by about six percentage points. Some activists from greater Portland participated in her campaign outreach (e.g., the Oregon Indivisible chapter). This District 3 race had been considered “winnable” on the 2018 Swing Left website. (The other Swing Left-identified Washington State race was in Republican-leaning District 8, where the Democrat, Kim Schrier, did win.)

Even more disappointingly, the carbon pollution fee measure (1631) was defeated, by 13%. On Portland commercial TV, frequent advertising against this climate change-related measure emphasized that it was going to cost consumers money. The measure only won in three Puget Sound counties, and lost in Clark County by 18%. Even though some significant funding for the ‘yes’ vote from the very wealthy (such as Bloomberg, Bill Gates, the widow of Steven Jobs) and environmental organizations, the fossil fuel industries outspent the ‘yes’ campaign 2 to 1 and was the costliest ‘no’ campaign in the state’s history. The last figure I saw was the fossil fuel side spending $31 million. BP, an oil refiner in the state, was the biggest donor. Another donor, Tesoro (under parent company Andeavor), has ties to Vancouver. The sponsors of the “no” vote on 1631 covered every outlet: commercial and cable TV, the internet, and mailed fliers (including one in Spanish). The Nation magazine analyzed this Washington election battle on October 26, including this stark reminder:

“Any effective climate policy must keep fossil fuels in the ground. But their reserves of coal, oil, and gas are exactly what make fossil-fuel companies valuable… But if even half of these reserves are burned, then everything else is toast. We can have a viable fossil-fuel industry or a decent future. Not both.”

Of course, we can expect that it will be a hard battle for the grassroots to challenge the corporate world on the climate crisis. There has been talk about pushing through the Legislature a ‘cap-and-invest’ measure for some time, and such legislation is expected to have a good chance of success with the new Dem super-majority in both houses. Such big-scale institutional impetus for change on greenhouse emissions is so important, with 2017 and 2018 being incredibly bad fire years for the West Coast. Yet I worry about how the fossil fuel lobby could mount an initiative measure to challenge any cap-and-invest law, and use shock-and-awe advertising to beat back the legislation. A cast of Oregon’s prominent progressives have launched an initiative petition drive for 2020 to put in place state campaign financial limits (https://www.honest-elections.com/oregon-summary.html), which at least could give the grassroots more of a fighting chance.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Even though big money played a heavy advertising role in Oregon this election, billionaires (looking at you, Phil Knight) and corporations didn’t determine the outcomes overall in Portland and state-wide, probably in part due to a strong grassroots get-out-the-vote.

Nonetheless, on some statewide measures or races, it may make sense to strengthen activist efforts in the other 2 Metro counties (or in Clark County on Congressional races) than to focus on Multnomah. Especially in the final days of the Kate campaign, this canvasser felt like some of the Portland houses had been subjected to campaign flier overkill. Then, too, in order to engage either the young or NAV more in any blue-green wave, we might have to do some things differently. Finally, I can’t overlook the fact that positive outcomes on the governor’s race and measures seemed strongest where higher education may be more common — in Portland and the two other state university counties (Benton and Lane). Again, efforts to make college and technical training more affordable, already under way, may well have a positive indirect impact on future elections.

Links to precinct and district maps/data:

To see House District Map, see https://sos.oregon.gov/blue-book/PublishingImages/state/legislative/house-map.jpg.

To see Precinct Data, you can go to Oregon Secretary of State Election Results at http://results.oregonvotes.gov/ and choose Multnomah from the map in upper Right; then you can click on any campaign to break down data further.