Warning: What you’ll read in the following pages will probably piss you off.
We’re guessing you’re already pretty angry. Most Oregonians are: A February survey by the polling firm DHM Research found that most voters, in both parties, were disgusted by the condition of the state and ready to blame anybody at the helm.
The result should make any Democrat shake in their Nikes. More Oregonians held a positive view of Donald Trump than of Joe Biden, Kate Brown or Ron Wyden.
Those numbers would have been inconceivable a mere two years ago. Yet they also make intuitive sense. A prolonged shutdown of public life exposed fundamental failures in how Oregon handles poverty, mental illness and addiction. The excesses of Portland’s nightly protests against police triggered a predictable backlash—which only intensified when citizens began shooting and killing each other at record rates.
Two years ago, we warned that Portland’s and Oregon’s leaders needed to act urgently to restore order to the city’s daily life. They didn’t.
Too often, it has felt like our elected officials were hiding from us instead of leading. No one in Salem or Portland City Hall has taken responsibility for the botched execution of bold experiments. (In just one infuriating example, progressive advocates persuaded voters to decriminalize possession of small amounts of meth and heroin—and the new law took effect a year before money started flowing to addiction treatment programs that were supposed to replace jail.)
It’s cold comfort that a similar dynamic is playing out across the county: Democrats in retreat, Republicans smelling blood. Why should it make you feel better to know that Seattle is struggling, too, when your car window has been smashed and there’s a shooting on your block?
So we walked into endorsement interviews this month ready to throw the bums out.
Just one problem: We have to replace them with someone.
Anybody who’s tried to hire for a job in this tight labor market has felt despair at the difficulty of finding someone both qualified for a position and interested in doing the work. That’s a sensation we felt repeatedly this election cycle.
We invited candidates to join us at WW’s office for joint conversations—job interviews, really. We endorsed in every local and statewide race on the ballot that was meaningfully contested, which we defined as two candidates submitting statements to the Voters’ Pamphlet.
Despite being disappointed by the performance of our elected officials, we rarely encountered challengers who could convince us they could do better.
There were exceptions: Ron Noble impressed us in the race for a new congressional seat, and Thuy Tran showed great skill for a first-time candidate in House District 45. But on the whole, we left interviews feeling we were better off retaining the candidate who currently holds the job or picking an establishment politician.
In many cases, we found ourselves more in agreement with the positions voiced by a challenger, but weren’t convinced they could execute. On other occasions, we had the uneasy sense that we were being asked to abandon our core values in a moment of crisis. (Too many people are seeking office this year on a platform that boils down to the idea that not being able to afford a home should also mean losing your freedom.)
So that’s why what you’re about to read may infuriate you. Our message is: As bad as things may be, consider how the wrong vote could make them worse. A lot is at stake this year: the governor’s office, a new congressional seat, and the direction of the Portland City Council. Be careful.
Whether you agree with that message or not, we hope you find some small reason for optimism in these pages. After two years in isolation, Portlanders are returning to schools, restaurants and concert halls. The renewed engagement with others means friction—but that conflict can be productive. We can no longer hide from one another.
We asked each candidate to recall a moment in recent weeks when, after two pandemic-choked years, they felt joy at seeing life return to normal. Some of them answered that the first moment they felt that joy came while sitting in a room with their adversaries, with masks off.
We felt that, too. Our greatest hope for the coming election is that, after so long apart, we will see each other face to face.
Willamette Week May 2022 Primary Endorsements