Newsletter

An active PCP reflects on what redistricting means for his North Portland neighborhood, and what he’s doing now to prepare for the 2022 elections

As a result of the state’s growth in population over the past decade, Oregon recently earned a new Congressional seat. House Speaker Tina Kotek created a special committee to draw congressional district lines, and Governor Brown signed the measure hours after it passed the legislature. The new lines divide Portland into three districts, and the changes will affect several statewide races next year. As Republicans continue to challenge the new lines, we asked activist and HD 44 Precinct Committee Person Tom Karwaki of North Portland to tell us how he expects things to go in the coming weeks and months. He talks about the work he’s doing to insure that Democrats are elected in 2022.

An interview with Tom Karwaki, PCP in HD 44

1. How do you expect the new district lines to affect your House District (both statewide and Congressional)?

The new lines tear out half the heart and the icon of the North Portland Peninsula in HD 44 and joins it to NW Portland where the only significant community of interest is the St Johns bridge itself. However, other than that loss of Cathedral Park and some of St Johns, HD44 is pretty much the same just more compact. State Senator Frederick was opposed to losing Cathedral Park but not moving; it would have meant major shifts elsewhere. The BIGGEST news is that Senator Frederick and Senator Mike Dembrow both live in the new district. Both get to be Senators through 2024! Earl [Blumenauer] is still our favorite Congressional cyclist and transit rider.


2. How can Multnomah County Democrats get involved in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections?

The 2022 Election Season is upon us. Tell your friends to check their voter registration to make sure their party is DEMOCRATIC. Voter registration efforts are beginning this month with PCPs and Neighborhood Leaders. Our big push is to contact Non-Affiliated Voters (NAVs), and let them know how to become Democrats! Faith [Ruffing] is heading up the Platform Convention this fall, and everyone is invited!


3. How are you personally going to stay active in the coming year, as a PCP and Democrat? 

My 2022 resolution is to personally knock on at least 500 doors before the May primary (Speaker Kotek is running for Governor!). To recruit 10 new Neighborhood Leaders to reach 50 doors each and help others reach 50 doors each. The May Primary will be the big event and everyone is welcome to march in the St. Johns Parade on May 7th and help register folks and hand out literature at the St Johns Bazaar.

For information about the new district lines, visit https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/redistricting.

What’s What in Our Government? Let’s Get Smarter about Portland, Oregon

Contributed by Dannelle D. Stevens, Chair of the Election Integrity Platform Sub-committee

Portland City Hall

Portland used to be called “the city that works”.  Now, it doesn’t seem to work!
What can YOU do about it?  A lot!

First, note that a citizen-oversight group is working on making a difference and has the power to make a big difference!  The Portland Charter Review Commission was created by law and meets every 10 years to assess how our city government is working. Check out the Commission here!. This current citizen-oversight group of 20 mostly young, diverse, and politically active people can recommend to the current council and send to voters their recommendations for changes in our city government STRUCTURE and OPERATIONS!

Second, recognize that this Portland Charter Review Commission needs to hear from all of us.
Submit only your email for updates for Review Commission meetings and activities.

Third, ACT!  Pay attention to the Commission website because they are in “the-seeking-public-comment” mode.   To comment on changing the form of government, you can enter your comment here: PublicComment Form of Government. Submit your comment by 8:00 AM two days before the meeting.To attend the Form of Government meeting via Zoom, go to the EVENTS page on the Review Commission website and click the Zoom link on the day. There are other meetings on the Events page that you might want to attend, as well.

Form of Government Sub-Committee: Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, 6-8 PM and Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, 6-8 PM

Here is a quick summary of the problems and suggestions for improvement in Form of Government.

Fundamental problems with the structure of the city of Portland government

Currently, there are only five Council members.  We have a COMMISSION form of government. All Council members are elected at large, meaning by all the people, not by geographic districts. The Mayor is elected at large and is one of the five members of the City Council.

After Commissioners are elected and as a commission form of government, the Mayor divides up all the city agencies and each Council member manages that agency. They must manage key city agencies like housing, water, police, parks and recreation, development services, social services, etc.

None of these commissioners are elected with the idea that they know anything about managing, for example, the water bureau. None are prepared to manage these large and complex agencies. It takes a long time to learn how to work with the agencies, implement policies, and meet the city’s needs like addressing the homeless crisis.

Many observers have concluded that the commission form of government might work for a city of 10,000, but, not for a big city of more than 800,000.

There are experts who do know and can manage these vital departments in a non-partisan way. These experts would be accountable to the City Council. Many cities around Portland have a city manager-council form of government.

Suggested Ideas for addressing these structural problems.

1. Fundamentally change the form of government from the commission form to a form with a City Manager who is hired and can be fired by the City Council, and a City Council of at least nine members with or without a mayor elected separately.

 2. Fundamentally change job descriptions. City Council members would maintain its legislative role–making policy and allocating money to implement policy.  The City Manager would manage all agencies.

 3. Elect a non-partisan mayor in a city-wide election. Elect non-partisan council members by districts that are drawn by an independent, non-partisan commission. Districts should be equally populated, contiguous and compact, and represent the diversity of the city’s residents. Each district would have the same number of representatives; 1 or more.  4. Create citizen oversight and advisory boards to to inform bureaus and departments–such as policing, land use, homelessness, civil rights, parks and recreation.

This is part of a series of articles about how government works. For more information about the Election Integrity Study Group, visit the Volunteer Opportunities page. To contact Dannelle D. Stevens, email

photo credit: Wikipedia

Member Spotlight: Ruth Jensen (Tlingit)

Ruth Jensen

Ruth Jensen is a member of the Central Committee for the Oregon Democratic Party, and a dedicated MultDems PCP and work group member here in Multnomah County. As part of our Member Spotlight series, we asked Ruth a few questions to learn why she is a Multnomah County Democrat. Lately, she has been deeply involved in drafting the new party platform as Chair of the Tribal Sovereignty Legislative Action Study Group.

What are the different roles you have served in the Democratic Party?

On March 6, 2018, I filed for Precinct Committee Person having only the slightest notion of what that would entail. My only frame of reference was when I was a PCP for the Republican Party during one cycle in the 1970s. In that case, it meant dropping off literature on doorsteps. I’ve long since become a Democrat and worked on presidential campaigns: Kucinich, Obama, Obama, Hillary, and Bernie.

Next, in the spring of 2018, Valdez Bravo (Standing Rock Sioux/Latino) initiated the founding of the Native American Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon. He networked his way across Indian Country in Oregon to reach all the heavy-hitters. One such heavy-hitter referred Valdez to me, a worker-bee. That August, DPO’s newly minted Caucus hosted its inaugural meeting when I was elected secretary.

Later, in January 2019, on the New Deal Democrats’ slate, I successfully ran for delegate to the State Central Committee. After giving my brief campaign speech before the assembly, Sally Joughin, co-founder of MultDems’ Racial Inclusivity Work Group (RIWG), invited me to consider joining RIWG where I later served a one-year term.

RIWG co-founders are Greg Burrill, Rosa Colquitt, Colleen Davis, GM García, Debbie Gordon, Sally Joughin, and last but not least: Beth Woodward who responded to my questions and coached me through the intricacies of article-development.

With the leadership of GM García and Salomé Chimuku, RIWG created the environment for a Tribal Sovereignty article to be added to MultDems’ Platform. I had the good fortune of working together with RIWG to create and move this article forward. Convention delegates approved this article in November 2019. Starting in July 2020, I chaired the Tribal Sovereignty Legislative Action Study Group of the Platform, Resolutions, and Legislation Committee. Elisha Big Back (Northern Cheyenne) now chairs this Study Group.

Why did you become involved in the Democratic Party of Multnomah County?

I was compelled to get involved by the 2016 election to do my part to make sure: never again! Being invited initially by Valdez and Sally made it easy to get involved. They showed me a place where I could contribute my knowledge, skills, and abilities. This facilitated my settling in. Feeling welcome by Valdez, RIWG, and many others compounded my interest to stay.

Why do you think it’s important for Democrats to become involved at the local level?

Not everyone is inclined to run for office and work in Salem or Washington, D.C. Working at a local level gives volunteers the opportunity to see a bigger picture upfront and personal and to see how to align their community with our Democratic values. Local participation offers a wide variety of opportunities to contribute time and talents corresponding with varying levels of availability. Plus, together we can help build a community of diverse perspectives where they can all be presented and heard.

What are some of the priorities for our state and for Multnomah County this year?

  1. Educate the people of Oregon about tribal sovereignty and tribal nations’ unique, political relationship with the United States government as upheld in treaties, the U.S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court cases, federal and state legislation, and executive orders.
  2. Recognize the cultural strengths and intergenerational wisdom of Indigenous people that have allowed survival despite generations of atrocities.
  3. Close all racial disparities such as those related to health, housing, and education.
  4. Honor the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which “establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, wellbeing and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.”

What is making you hopeful right now?

The Democrats I know who are unrelentingly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion inspire me – like the co-founders of RIWG and MultDems as a whole for embracing such a group. I’m hopeful because of everyone who made the Tribal Sovereignty article possible and because of all who have ever attended a meeting of the Tribal Sovereignty Legislative Action Study Group. They all have contributed to the kaleidoscope of efforts moving us toward liberty and justice for all.

What advice can you provide to our Democrats in Multnomah County?

MultDems: Take it upon yourself to go out of your way to welcome newcomers – even in our Zoom environment. Help them to find a place that feels like home.

All other Democrats in Multnomah County: Maybe you’ve never attended a meeting of Multnomah County Democrats. You are welcome here. You don’t have to do anything. It is enough for you to be with us. If you would like to do something, there is something that will make you smile for knowing you are helping to create a community that aligns with our Democratic values.

What are the goals and benefits of joining the Tribal Sovereignty Legislative Action Study Group?

The goals of the Study Group are to advance Indigenous priorities and connect with Indigenous cultures and to take collective action monthly to advocate for Indigenous issues.

  • Joining an Indigenous-led effort with diverse advocates and allies
  • Activating Democratic networks to advance the causes of tribal sovereignty
  • Advocating for all citizens of tribal nations, both those who reside in Multnomah County and beyond
  • Raising awareness of the sovereignty all tribal nations within the United States: unrecognized, dozens of state-recognized, and 574 federally-recognized

This is the value proposition developed by the Study Group’s Leadership Transition Workgroup.
To find out more about the Study Group, email: tribalsovereigntystudygroup@gmail.com

Photo credit: Sue Sullivan
 
 
 
 
 
 

Should High School Students Be Tested for Graduation?

The MultDems Education Study Group Examines the Evidence

by Margi Brown and Mary Thamann, Education Study Group co-chairs

Oregon Senate Bill 744 would suspend essential skills testing for high school graduation. Conservatives have criticized the bill as detrimental to educational quality, but the evidence does not bear this out.
The Education Study Group has been working over the last couple of years on two issues related to standardized testing: (1) standardized testing of children in grades K-2 and (2) the essential skills test required for graduation. We have been particularly focused this last year on the amount of testing being done on K-2 students. Oregon requires that incoming kindergarten students take standardized assessments not required by the federal government. Much of the focus of the testing is developmentally inappropriate for this age group.  To administer the test at the very beginning of the student’s experience in the classroom limits the ability of kindergarten teachers to establish the social/emotional climate of the classroom for a productive learning environment.  

Some conservative news reports and editorials criticize Senate Bill 744, which suspends the essential skills test required for high school graduation. These commentators imply that by eliminating the essential skills test, it will somehow diminish educational quality or hurt minority students.

These arguments need a reality check. Under SB 744, students will still need to pass all required classes to graduate. It will not change the proficiency requirements set up for past generations. There is no credible evidence that graduation tests produce any positive outcomes, nor have they been found to have any predictive value of post-high school success. Grade Point Average (GPA) is the best predictor. Countless students have dropped out of high school because they assumed that they could not surmount a testing barrier for graduation. This has applied overwhelmingly to low-income students and students of color, which greatly impacts their future earning ability. 

[Editor’s note: For a review of research on state graduation test requirements and outcomes, visit FairTest.org.]

The developmentally inappropriate kindergarten tests and the unnecessary high school graduation testing requirement are just two examples of excessive, wasteful, and harmful standardized tests that now drive so much of what happens in our schools. We have now lived with this accountability and data driven educational model for more than 20 years. It has not worked. It is well past time for a change.

For more information about volunteering with the MultDems Education Study Group, visit https://multdems.org/volunteer/. The study group meets monthly via Zoom. To join, please email Margi Brown at .

Margi Brown
Margi Brown, Education Study Group Co-Chair

2022 Platform Process

The Platform, Resolution and Legislation Committee (PRLC) has completed its work drafting the 2022 Multnomah County Democrats Platform for the Convention to be held on November 6, 2021.

Here is the 2022  MCD Platform Final Draft of preamble and planks which will be sent to the Convention for approval. The PRLC has also drafted the 2022 Legislative Action Items.  The purpose of the Platform Convention will be to adopt a Multnomah County Democratic Party Platform, which includes both Planks and Legislative Action Items (LAIs). 

2022 Platform Final Draft 102721

2022 Legislative Action Items 102721

Recommendations for changes to the Platform should be sent to along with 5 signatures. You may also send amendments to the convention chair.  All amendments submitted in writing to the Convention Chair and signed by five (5) registered participants will be considered. This may be a paper or electronic document. The Convention Chair will provide an email address for receiving electronic documents.

 

Convention Registration

Participation in the Convention requires that you Register and that you are a Multnomah County Democrat. The Deadline to register online is October 31, 2021. (Advance registration is strongly encouraged, but late registration will be allowed at the Convention itself if approved by 2/3 of Convention participants.)

Here are the Approved Convention Rules 

** Recommended Platform Convention Rules – September 27, 2021

Here is the link for Registration for the Convention. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf0s6ISo2RlSGgR8xR3zCrRXIk98tLXmLwn43SRxmzD13BC_w/viewform?usp=sf_link 

 

General information

The Platform is a compilation of statements of our basic beliefs and principles that guides our positions on legislation at the federal, state and local level.

These statements or Planks are organized around themes or Articles such as Education or Economy. Each Article has a Preamble or summary of the Plank ideas. A Preamble for the whole document describes the relationship of the Articles within the document.

The companion to the Platform is the Legislative Action Items. These are suggestions from the PRLC for specific legislation we think would address the ideas described in the Planks and are used to advise and encourage Legislators on the work we would like to see them undertake.

The PRLC is organized into Study Groups, one for each Article, who follow the legislation pertaining to the Planks in their Article and report to the Central Committee on pertinent legislative activity.

THE ARTICLES BELOW ARE FROM THE 2020 PLATFORM PROCESS AND NOT RELATED TO THIS ROUND OF PLATFORM CHANGES

Jas in nature

August Digest: Our Big Tent

August Digest: Our Big Tent

Hello Fellow Democrats,

A remarkable thing about the Democratic Party, both at the national level and here in Multnomah County, is how welcoming it is. Like this year’s Celsi Celebration, everyone is welcome under the Big Tent.

Our politics is inclusive too, from our platform on issues that represent an interest in the well-being of all people to our work on election reforms that seek to include all citizens in the process of electing representatives. In the face of an opposition that seeks to keep many citizens from voting and pass laws that primarily benefit the rich, our work this year is more important than ever as our state and country head into redistricting and Multnomah Democrats work to update and improve our platform. Read on for links to articles on many of these topics. 

Let’s keep doing our best to serve all the people in our Big Tent!

Jas in nature
James Davis, MultDems Communications

Update On National Climate Legislation

by Jeff Hammarlund

Hello from our family cabin on Priest Lake in northern Idaho. We do have occasional access to the Internet up here, but we will leave by canoe on a camping trip tomorrow, so I won’t have any way to communicate for the next few days.,As you probably heard, the Senate passed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill this morning.  Here is a link to the best summary I have found on what is and is not in that bill. 
The infrastructure bill now goes to the House. I hope Nancy Pelosi will stand by her commitment to keep a hold on the bipartisan bill (despite pressure from the more moderate House Democrats) until the Senate passes the much more extensive budget reconciliation package that includes the climate provisions that now must proceed through the reconciliation process. With their passage of the infrastructure bill, Senate Democrats immediately turned their attention to getting the filibuster-proof $3.5 trillion reconciliation package moving. On August 9, the Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Bernie Sanders, released its resolution that contains the instructions for Senate and House committees to draw up policies in their jurisdiction, which will be cobbled together in the coming weeks into a filibuster-proof reconciliation bill. Majority Leader Schumer released an accompanying memo that gives more detailed direction on which committees will be responsible for developing the specific policy details on different pieces of the reconciliation package.

Senator Sanders announced that he believes that his committee’s Budget Resolution “will allow the Senate to make the most significant investment in tackling the climate crisis in US history, and put America on a path to meet President Biden’s climate change goals of 80% clean electricity and 50% economy-wide carbon emissions reductions by 2030.” 

The Good and Bad News

The resolution and memo provide good and bad news. On the good news side, the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, gets to play a major role in the reconciliation package. Wyden’s proposed Clean Energy for America Act is excellent, has already passed out of the Finance Committee, and will form the basis for the Committee’s work to be meet its budget resolution assignment. It provides a sweeping clean energy tax overhaul that would expand and consolidate a host of energy tax credits into three categories intended to push the production of clean electricity, clean transportation fuels, and energy efficiency. Just as important, it would also eliminate all existing subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry and provide a “border adjustment tariff” to levy charges against imported products from nations that lack significant carbon and other greenhouse gas emission controls. By eliminating these subsidies and tax breaks, the Finance Committee is charged with reducing the federal budget by $1 billion over the next 10 years and provide much of the funding for the clean energy tax credits. Other committees have been given important roles as well. For example, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is allocated $67 billion to establish and fund a methane fee, various clean vehicle investments, a clean energy accelerator, and EPA’s new environmental justice programs. The Agriculture Committee is allocated $135 billion for a variety of regenerative agriculture, climate resilience, and carbon reduction programs. The Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is directed to draw up policies to electrify federal buildings and vehicle fleets as part of its $37 billion allocation. On the House side, the Energy and Commerce Committee would get a $486.5 billion allocation, while the Natural Resources Committee would get $25.6 billion.

The bad news is that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is allocated $198 billion to take the lead on the bill’s most important new climate program – what is now called the Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP) – that would fit the strict rules that govern the budget reconciliation process. We know that Senator Manchin is only open to a clean energy standard if it does not “forcibly eliminate fossil fuels.” His campaign ads are notorious for showing macho Joe shooting previous climate bills with a rifle “because it’s bad for West Virginia.”

Unfortunately, the best possible outcome now seems to be that Manchin will agree to a Clean Energy Payment Program that will primarily benefit truly clean energy (energy efficiency, solar, wind, geothermal, etc.) while also allowing his pet project, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, to qualify. as well  While Manchin is less supportive of new nuclear power plants, the CEPP will almost certainly be technology-neutral, so if new nuclear plants are built, they will also qualify as clean since they are not significant sources of greenhouse gases. It is very likely that CCS and new (and at least some existing) nuclear plants will fail since they will no longer be able to rely on their substantial existing subsidies (assuming Wyden does his job), but this remains to be seen.

The CEEP cannot be a true Clean Energy Standard because it is not possible to include a regulatory standard in a reconciliation bill. Instead, it will involve a system of fines and payments that will incentivize utilities to increase their proportion of renewable energy to meet the targets. Advocates argue that a CEEP actually has some advantages over the traditional clean energy standards and renewable portfolio standards commonly seen at the state level. It’s more progressive: the money to drive the transition comes from federal coffers (via taxes on corporations and the wealthy as established through the Senate Finance Committee) rather than from electricity rates, which are traditionally regressive. For more information on how this is expected to work, check out these two helpful articles linked here and here.

My Very Limited Role

I am now able to mention that I had a very small role in the development of the CEPP. My participation was due to a number of factors: I was once a member of the professional staff of the Senate Energy Committee with the responsibility for addressing renewable energy and energy efficiency provisions, I currently serve as an adviser to the DNC Climate Council, and, probably most important, I have personal and professional relationships with some of the key people who had a much more significant role in the development of the CEEP.  (It is worth noting that I made it clear that I was participating on my own as a concerned citizen and was not “wearing any of my other hats” such as those associated with Climate Crisis Policy, Earth Bill, Indivisible, EMO Creation Justice Committee, NW Energy Coalition, etc.) My role was very limited and simply involved serving as a sounding board to respond to specific questions and offer occasional suggestions when asked. To use an analogy from the musical Hamilton I used once before, I was most definitely not “in the room where it happened.” I was not even in the room next to the room where it happened. At best, I was in the closet in the room next door, but the closet door was sometimes opened enough for me to get a general sense of what was going on. That was exciting enough for me at this late stage of my life. 

I also made sure my contacts knew that I was personally opposed to measures that would advance CCS and civilian nuclear power, and that their inclusion would receive vigorous push back from many.  However, it was explained to me that the political realities are that if these were not allowed under the CEEP, no meaningful climate bill would pass out of the Senate, period. Bernie Sanders, and all the other progressive environmentalists in the Senate and House know this to be true, and while they are not happy about it, most are now demonstrating a willingness to be candid about it.  I wish this was not the case, but we need all 50 Democrats in the Senate to support this bill, including Joe Manchin. And Joe Manchin’s (and Kyrlsten Sinema’s) votes will come at a cost.  

My Thoughts on Next StepsI appreciate that many of my friends and colleagues in the climate movement will be disappointed that this bill does not go as far as we had hoped.  They have every reason to be disappointed.  At the same time, I will tell you that I plan to support this bill as vigorously as I can.  Why? David Roberts said it best in his recent essay, Crunch Time: This Is America’s Last Chance at Serious Climate Policy for a Decade. To summarize his very important essay, “What Democrats are able to get through in the reconciliation bill is likely to be the last big federal climate legislation for a decade at least.”

When David published his essay on August 8, he wrote “Looking around, it doesn’t seem like clean energy supporters, climate hawks, or the left more broadly really get that. So let’s talk about why this is such an important moment and what’s at stake”.  Fortunately, some important players on the left, including the Sunrise Movement, have since indicated that they do get it, as suggested by their “Seal the Deal Day of Action on August 19. 
I encourage you to take a good look at the Reconciliation Package as it develops and see if you can get behind it too  It is consistent with Biden’s climate goals and objectives.  The only reason it stops at 80% clean in the power sector by 2030 rather than 100% by 2035 is the fact that a budget reconciliation can only go out to 2030.

As a political scientist who used to work on the Hill, I know that democracy is often messy and frustrating. For better or worse, our founding fathers decided to make it very difficult for major legislation to pass both chambers. If they knew then what we know about the urgent need to address climate change, they might have setup the system differently. But they didn’t, so we are stuck with what we’ve got.  
Let’s get the best deal we can given the political realities while the Democrats still have their razor-thin majorities in both chambers.  It may not be enough, but we have a better chance of improving an imperfect law through future amendments once the law is passed. At least we will have something on the books we can work with to improve. This is how it has worked with most of our major environmental laws – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and many more.

REVERSING A MAJOR INJUSTICE IN OREGON’S FLAWED TRIAL SYSTEM

Sally Joughin & Jim Kahan, members of the Multnomah Democrats Platform Committee’s Criminal Justice Study Group

August 2021

The criminal justice system in the United States is deeply flawed in many ways. While there are many resources for prosecutors, it is difficult for the majority of defendants in terms of the cost of a private attorney and inadequate support for public defenders for the indigent people who qualify for one. Prosecutors try to close as many cases as possible through plea bargaining, often by threatening charges that will result in long sentences should the defendant opt for a trial and lose. While the legal standard for a verdict of guilty is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that standard does not have a universally defined understanding, which introduces a random component into any jury trial.

While these and other aspects of our criminal justice system operate in favor of conviction and against exoneration, one feature of the system that works in the other direction is a requirement for a unanimous jury decision in felony trials. In federal and 48 states’ felony trials, prosecutors had to convince all 12 of the jury members who heard the evidence in order to convict a defendant. If all 12 jurors couldn’t agree, it was a “hung jury”; prosecutors then decide whether to re-try the case or drop it. The two exceptions to requiring unanimity were Louisiana and Oregon. Louisiana’s acceptance of nonunanimous verdicts, which dated from 1898 and had explicit connections to facilitating the convictions of Black defendants, was eliminated by LA voters in 2018. Oregon’s policy, instituted in 1934, was also rooted in discrimination—to mute the effects of Blacks and Jews who might become jurors. In 1972 the US Supreme Court [SCOTUS] narrowly ruled in an Oregon case (Apodaca v. Oregon) that states did not have to align with the federally constitutional policy of requiring unanimous juries, even though 48 of them did so.

In 2019, Evangelisto Ramos, who had been convicted in Louisiana in 2016 by a 10-2 jury verdict, appealed his case to the Supreme Court. This time SCOTUS ruled 6-3 that all non-unanimous jury decisions were unconstitutional. This April 2020 ruling not only brought Oregon into compliance with all the other states, but also applied to LA and OR cases still under appeal. In a later case, (Edwards v. Vannoy, May 2021) SCOTUS upheld its precedent that new rulings (such as Ramos) are not federally retroactive to past “settled” cases, leaving it to Louisiana and Oregon to make their own decisions about retroactive application. 

In March 2021, even before the ruling in Edwards v. Vannoy, the Justice Study Group of the Multnomah Democrats’ Platform Committee joined the Still in Prison coalition of over 40 organizations, led by legal experts, calling on Oregon’s Attorney General to allow all individuals previously convicted by an unconstitutional non-unanimous jury to appeal their cases. In July the Study Group, seeing no movement by AG Rosenblum, submitted its own Resolution, calling for retroactivity, to the Multnomah Democratic Party’s Central Committee, which passed it by an 84% vote. That Resolution called on our AG to take action, and—absent that action—for the Governor to call a special session as soon as possible so that the Legislature could take action, or for a defendant’s attorney to appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court for relief. 

While an 84% vote in support of retroactively addressing unconstitutional convictions is substantial, the small percentage of opposition revealed some lack of understanding of the extent to which our trial system is flawed. While it is true that no criminal justice system is perfect, and that some innocent defendants will be convicted and some guilty defendants will be acquitted or not receive a verdict because of a hung jury, we must look carefully at what this means. The established criterion of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” directly conveys the message that our society believes that it is more important that an innocent defendant not be convicted than a guilty defendant go free. So yes, it is possible—by retroactively applying the non-unanimous jury decision—that some “dangerous criminals” might go free, but the overall effect on public safety will be small given the errors that are known to exist in our flawed system.

And consider this: Only half of serious crimes are reported. For only 11% of those reported crimes do the police arrest somebody; and only 2% of such arrests result in conviction!  Moreover, there are well-known racial and socio-economic biases involved in arrests, trials, convictions and sentences, resulting in the disproportionate incarceration of people of color and poor people.  In addition, the objective of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by presentation of evidence has inherent uncertainties, as jury members are known to form their opinions on the basis of their own biases, tricks by prosecutors, and other factors. As one supporter of the Resolution pointed out at the Multnomah Democrats’ meeting, if the prosecution couldn’t convince all 12 jurors that the defendant was guilty, why should we assume guilt? This, indeed, was the conclusion of SCOTUS by a 6-3 vote.

In seeking public safety, our system of trials and convictions is only one of many factors that need to be addressed. But in the case of Oregon being out of step with the rest of the nation for 86 years by unconstitutionally convicting with non-unanimous juries, now is the time to reverse this anomaly. Reconsidering a few hundred old cases may present some difficulties, but will not significantly impact public safety; however, it might make up for Oregon’s failure to reform its unfair unconstitutional behavior.

———————————————————-


For more information, check out these websites:

https://www.stillinprison.org/

https://eji.org/news/supreme-court-limits-relief-for-people-who-were-wrongly-convicted/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramos_v._Louisiana#:~:text=In%20a%206%E2%80%933%20decision,the%20states%2C%20overturning%20Apodaca%20v.

https://www.streetroots.org/news/2021/05/12/hundreds-oregon-still-await-new-trials-year-after-supreme-court-ruled-non-unanimous

Celsi Recap – 2021

The Celsi Event held on June 26th was fun and successful. $22,000 was raised after expenses to help with 2022 races and issues. We had some great talent perform including musician Michael Allen Harrison, local comedienne Susan Rice, and Liberace tribute artist, David Saffert.

Gov. Barbara Roberts presented the Young Democrats Award to Ali Krasnow and Madison Mordaunt. The Bill & Gladys McCoy Service Award was presented to Sen. Lew Frederick by last year’s recipient, Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer. County Chair Julio Castilleja presented Bobbi Yambusa with the Dick Celsi Award.

22 people attended the VIP event held just prior to the Main Event with music, guest speakers, and chatting. Those that attended also had sumptuous appetizers to snack which were delivered earlier in the day and prepared by Spin Catering. 109 ticket holders attended the Celsi Celebration which also had guest speakers, music, plus awards and comedy. Swag Bags were delivered with treats, face masks and coffee mugs for those who attended.

Thanks to all who attended and donated, including our sponsors IATSE Local 28, Betsy & Greg Hatton, LiUNA Local 737, Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Akashi Lawrence Spence, American Federation of Teachers, Lisa Morrison, Oregon Rep. Rob Nosse, NW Oregon Labor Council, and Heat & Frost Insulators Local 36.

Feel free to contact Valerie with any questions,

(503) 380-8458

What’s What in Our Government: Let’s Get Smarter about … Redistricting

by Dannelle D. Stevens

What is redistricting? Redistricting is the drawing of the boundaries of voting districts. A voting district is a geographical area that the government uses to create groups who vote for a representative in a legislative body like the Oregon State Senate, House, or US House of Representatives.  Only voters within that district can cast ballots for candidates who represent them in that district. KGW has a very short background video on redistricting in Oregon.

“Redistricting is immensely important to collective political power. It impacts who our communities have the power to elect, and thus their ability to shape local, state, and federal policies that affect their lives.  The redistricting process presents a vital opportunity to advocate for voting districts boundaries that are truly representative of our communities” (Summer 2021, NorCalACLU News).

All voting districts must be created in line with constitutional law that districts must be approximately equal in population.  For example, in the Oregon state legislature we have 30 Senators with staggered elections every four years and 60 Representatives elected every two years. Thus, we have 30 Senatorial districts and 60 Representative districts. In the US Congress, we have a House of Representatives with 435 elected representatives from the same number of voting districts. (The two US Senators per state are not included in this because they represent their states, not the population.) It stands to reason that the districts should be equal in size, otherwise there might be one representative for 20,000 people and another for 2,000,000 people in different districts.  That would not be fair for the 2 million, to be sure.   

Another key principle of these voting districts is that within each level the districts should not only be the same size but represent the district constituents (voters). The Ballotpedia link  expands on the idea of additional criteria for determining the voting district lines and describes the additional criteria for redistricting in Oregon. 

Why do we need redistricting? When many new people move into a voting district and make the formerly equal population districts now unequal, “redistricting” is needed.  At the federal and at the state level, redistricting occurs every 10 years and follows the population figures from the US Census. This year the Census Bureau will issue its guidelines for the size of each district for US Congressional representation on August 16. 

Because Oregon has had a substantial increase in population since the last census in 2010, the US Census Bureau has determined that Oregon will get one more representative in the US House of Representatives. We currently have five and will now have six.  The last time this happened was 40 years ago.  In addition, based on the 2020 census, Like Oregon these states also gain seats, +1 seat each: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina: +2, Texas. These states lose seats, -1: California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia.The Cook Political Report has a great webpage of the redistricting process across all the states, here

Who makes decisions on redistricting in a state? Redistricting is done at the state level by an independent commission, the state legislature, or a hybrid of the two. Oregon’s redistricting starts with a committee from the Senate and the House legislature. Based on the Oregon Constitution there is a deadline for completion of the districts after the state receives the census data on August 16.  These deadlines vary from state to state because they are sensitive to whenever the state starts having its primaries and elections. This year in Oregon redistricting is in the hands of the legislature and a balanced committee of Democrats and Republicans. If the committee cannot agree, the responsibility for redistricting for the state legislature is handed over to the Oregon Secretary of State on September 27. There does not seem to be a similar backup plan for the US Congressional maps. District lines are subject to veto by the Governor, however. If you look at the Oregon State Legislature redistricting website you will also see a calendar for hearings in the middle of September about the districts proposed by the legislature. Also, look at Ballotpedia link for the specifics of redistricting in Oregon. It is a very thorough resource.

What are the issues and challenges with redistricting? The biggest problem with redistricting is gerrymandering, the practice of drawing districts to favor one political party or racial group, skews election results, makes races less competitive, hurts communities of color, and thwarts the will of the voters. It leads many Americans to feel their voices don’t matter.

More resources:

Ballotpedia: Encyclopedia of American Politics.  The section entitled “State-based Requirements” partway down addresses, along with population, other metrics to use to decide how to create these districts.  https://ballotpedia.org/Redistricting

Dannelle D. Stevens is Precinct Committee Person (PCP) and Neighborhood Leader in District 41 (Inner SE Portland). Her interest in civic awareness started as a high school social studies teacher and led her to being a (now retired) teacher educator from Portland State University.

Congressional district map photo credit: US Dept. of the Interior