November 10th, 2004 Chris Lydgate | Special Section Stories
 

THE CRUSADER

Gordon Shadburne, county commissioner

     
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Gordon Shadburne
IMAGE: CATHY CHENEY
Eighty-Second Avenue has always been the frontier that splits Portland's psyche in two. To the west lie the manicured lawns and cinnamon lattes, the bike paths and Birkenstocks that define the city's liberal hemisphere. To the east stand the chain-link fences and gravel drives, the trailer parks and the tanning salons.

Once upon a time, this was Gordon Shadburne's domain.

Shadburne was an obscure political-science prof from Mount Hood Community College who pulled off an upset victory in 1979, crushing a better-known opponent in a race for the Multnomah County Commission.

No one realized it then, but Shadburne was one of the shock troops of the Christian Right, part of the evangelical movement's strategy to restore America to the path of righteousness.

Today, fundamentalist candidates are a familiar part of the electoral landscape, as commonplace as strip malls. But in the late '70s, they represented a radical new force in America--the wedding of Scripture and politics.

"Shadburne was one of the first Moral Majority, evangelical Christians who embarked on an attempt to take over local politics," says former Multnomah County Executive Dennis Buchanan, who survived a challenge by Shadburne in 1982.

Shadburne wore his faith on his sleeve, denouncing taxes, abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, drug treatment and land-use planning.

But if there was one single issue that defined Shadburne more than any other, it was his opposition to homosexuality--something he referred to as the "stronghold of Satan."

He attacked rival Paula Bentley in 1980 for accepting $50 from the Portland Town Council, a gay-rights group, saying she had "gone on record supporting issues and philosophies that directly contradict moral, biblical guidelines."

In 1982, he savaged Buchanan, the county executive, for accepting the endorsement of the Portland Town Council. Local televangelist Gary Randall, a key backer of Shadburne, sent out a letter denouncing Buchanan for wanting to make Portland "the gay capital of the Pacific Northwest."

Shadburne once even chartered a plane so he could fly back to Portland to vote against a county ordinance banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians.

By combining homespun homilies with homophobia, Shadburne seemed to have hit on a sure-fire political formula.

"He was smooth, tall, had a pretty-boy face," says reporter Paul Koberstein, who wrote about Shadburne for The Oregonian. "He could have had a stellar career."

But in February 1986, WW revealed that, according to a number of sources, including his ex-wife, Shadburne had engaged in homosexual affairs.

Suddenly the headlines came flying thick and fast. Shadburne putting his pals on the county payroll. Shadburne staying in fancy hotels on the county dime. Shadburne cavorting in a bathhouse at the Majestic Hotel. Shadburne horking up lines of coke.

Finally, Koberstein wrote a front-page story in The Oregonian about a visit Shadburne made to Baltimore to attend the dedication of a garbage burner, where he was reported to have spent an evening bar-hopping, culminating in him and three other men going back to his hotel room for what one participant dubbed a "pile-on orgy kind of scene."

Politically, Shadburne was finished. His constituents were furious. His aides resigned. The county auditor launched an investigation into his books.

In August 1986, he pleaded guilty to official misconduct regarding county funds. Although only a misdemeanor, the offense automatically disqualified him from office. Suddenly, after seven years in the public eye, he had no career, no job and no friends.

Today, Shadburne, 61, lives in a faded green ranch-style house in outer Southeast Portland with his second wife and their children. On a blustery October afternoon, a Japanese maple shivered in the modest front yard, while two forlorn bird feeders swayed under the eaves. A dog barked on the front step.

At first, Shadburne was reluctant to speak to WW. "Every time I talk to Willamette Week, I get burned," he said. "I've done this before. It just brought up a bunch of garbage." But after a few more phone calls, Shadburne grew more talkative. The allegations were false, he says--every last one.

"I went to six lawyers," he says. "And because I was an elected official, they said the newspapers could say anything they wanted. I had no one to sue."

So the reports of gay sex weren't true?

"The answer, of course, is no. My lawyer said, 'Don't say anything to anyone.' I would have held a press conference and blasted The Oregonian, but I couldn't say anything."

And the cocaine?

"I have asthma. I do use an inhaler for my asthma, but I do not take drugs--have never taken them."

On the financial charges, he says he was the victim of bad legal advice. He agreed to pay a fine--not realizing that doing so would disqualify him from office.

"I just felt like Moses being kicked out of Egypt," he says. "It was a humbling experience. But my faith is strong, and my God is stronger than my faith."

Then, in 1988, Shadburne had a dream. He was travelling on a dirt road leading into a valley. And he knew his mission was to bring the Bible to Native American peoples.

Although he has no Indian ancestors, the dream transformed his life. He headed to Southern California, where he was briefly operations manager for North American Indian Missions, an evangelical group. Unfortunately, things didn't work out.

"He just had big ideas, and he didn't take direction," says Priscilla Wilson, wife of the group's founder, Ray Wilson.

Undaunted, Shadburne stuck to his vision. He started a missionary group called Warriors for Christ and moved into a trailer on the Pala Indian Reservation near San Diego, where he grew his hair long, went barefoot, set up a tepee in his yard, and sometimes even wore buckskin.

Shadburne is the first to say that he and his family have gone through "many hard times" because he earns no salary for his missionary work.

"It's a ministry of love," he says. "The idea of making money off Indian ministry--it's absurd."

To make ends meet, he worked occasionally as a wedding photographer.

Shadburne and his family moved back to Portland a few years ago. In 2003, Shadburne suffered brain damage after being struck by a van. He eventually won a settlement, but the money was just enough to pay off his medical bills.

Meanwhile, Shadburne and his family are struggling to make ends meet. He and his wife are both unemployed. The family subsists on food stamps.

"We'll be lucky if we have enough money for the kids' birthdays and Christmas," he says.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Intro | Tonya's Mob: Tonya Harding, Jeff Gillooly & Shawn Eckardt | The Crusader: Gordon Shadburne | The Meteor: Billy Ray Bates | Satan's Pilgrim: Rex Diabolos Church | The Firebrand: Ron Herndon | The Bad Boy: Frank Peters | The Broken Halo: Michael Stoops | The Crack Mother: Anita Nichols | The Veejay: Kennedy | The Girl from Electra: Treva Throneberry | The Perfect Victim: Azalea Cooley | The Grappler: Dutch Savage | Wonder Boy: Pat Gillis | The Ex-Files: Marcia & Steve Moskowitz | The Witness: Dave Mazzella | The Prankster: Igor Vamos | The Intern: Monica Lewinsky | The Runaways: Diane Walden & Peter | Top Cop: Mark Kroeker | Sprawl Kitten: Kate Schiele | Authority Figure: Rocky Balada | The Hulk: Dry Dock 4 | The Candidate: Gail Shibley | The Super: Ben Canada | The Organ Grinder: Dr. William J. Brady | Pillars of the Community: The Lovejoy Columns | The Survivor: Giles Thompson | The Contender: Andy Minsker | Space Invader: The Phantom Dialer | The Red Menace: Ma Anand Sheela

 
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