Guest Contributor

A brief history of the racial culture in Oregon and why Juneteenth matters

 

Oregon Senator Lew Frederick with the author’s children.

Today, Oregon is known as one of the most broad-minded states in the country. It has consistently for years been placed in polls as one of the top 10 most liberal states to live in.  Portland, the state’s largest city, has hosted the most continuous Black Lives Matter protest in the nation. It is also credited as one of the driving forces against the Trump Administration’s attempts to use the Nixonian campaign strategy of “law and order” to win a second term. Just recently on June 1st, 2021 the Oregon State Senate passed House Bill 2168 establishing a cultural and historical significant date as an official Oregon State holiday known as Juneteenth. Senator Lew Fredericks stated “HB 2168 designates June 19th as an Oregon State holiday, commemorating the arrival on horseback of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, in 1865 to the cheers of African Americans then Enslaved.”

As forward thinking as Oregon is, and as supportive as Oregon appears to be of its African American residents, the 86% white state has a history of racial subjugation and prejudicial societal ideals. Even before Oregon became a state it was being purposely designed as a Caucasian-only haven. In the 1840’s the provisional government enacted laws against slavery while at the same time forbidding people of African descent the legality of settling in the area. With such laws as the 1843 Oregon Lash law stating that any free black person over the age of 18 “caught” living in Oregon was to be whipped every six months by the county constable until the person left the territory; literally criminalizing the presence of black people in the region. In 1859 Oregon was the first and the only state to be admitted into the Union with Racial Exclusion Laws in its Constitution. The laws remained until 1926, with original racist language finally being changed in 2002. In the 1920’s, one in twenty Oregonians was a card carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan, the highest percentage of any state west of the Mississippi.

Oregon has been slow to confront its bigoted history, taking 89 years (in 1959) to affirm the 15th amendment giving Black citizens the right to vote (which was ratified by the rest of country on February 3rd , 1870) and 162 years to eradicate the racist language in its constitution. Oregon also took another More baffling still, is the fact that Oregon didn’t fully ratify the 14th amendment granting citizenship and equal protection to African Americans until 1973!

It is important for societies to remember their histories, especially when it comes from such places as Oregon’s racially iniquitous past. As the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We can use it as a barometer to measure where we are and what direction we as a state should be headed. State Senator Lew Frederick (D-Portland) said it best “This new holiday recognizes that the people of the state of Oregon, despite our past, can take the veil of ignorance away and each year celebrate hope on Juneteenth.”  That being said, Juneteenth’s recognition as an official state holiday starting June 19th, 2022 does not erase the past, but shows us as citizens of Oregon that however slow; progress is being made.

Please see more about Juneteenth, in this 2020 article by Dr. Rosa Colquitt, HERE.

(Damien Grace is the pen name of David Burnell, Multnomah County Democrats activist and PCP in HD 43.)

Star Voting is the way to heal democracy

By Sara Wolk, PCP, SCC Delegate and Executive Director of the Equal Vote Coalition

Necessity is the mother of invention and not surprisingly this has been a groundbreaking year for election reform. In Oregon the Equal Vote Coalition is collecting signatures for twin ballot initiatives in Multnomah and Lane Counties to fundamentally change the way we vote. If successful, we will have elections for the first time EVER where the voting system doesn’t play favorites, where every vote makes a difference, and where voting your conscience is the best strategy. This is what democracy looks like!


“Rise above the polarization and allow voters to show their full opinion!” www.starvoting.us

With STAR Voting you just give each candidate a score from 0-5. You only need to vote once in November and those ballots are counted in a 2 step process: 

 

First:   All the scores from all the ballots are totaled and the two highest scoring are finalists.

Second:   Your ballot already shows which finalist you scored higher.  The finalist preferred by more voters wins. 

Unlike our current system the star ballot lets us show our full, honest opinions and the implications are groundbreaking. Even if your favorites can’t win, your vote still makes a difference and helps prevent your worst case scenario. No matter how many candidates are in the race, STAR Voting is highly accurate at electing the candidate that best represents the people. 


The fight for the Equal Vote:

It all comes down to “One Person One Vote”. This fundamental concept is at the core of a just democracy and it goes much farther than simply making sure we each get a ballot on election day. “One Person One Vote” mandates that we all have an “Equally Weighted Vote”. Specifically, your vote should be just as powerful as mine, no matter where we live, how many candidates we like, or if we are in a minority faction. The test of balance is this: Any way I vote, you should be able to vote in an equal and opposite fashion. Our votes should be able to cancel each other’s out. 

The Equal Vote is the key in the fight against gerrymandering, and it’s the key in addressing the Electoral College. The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that equality of voting – one person, one vote – means that the weight and worth of the citizens’ votes as nearly as is practicable must be the same. The core of our voting system is how we fill out our ballots and how we vote. It’s time to bring this standard to the ballot itself. 

Unfortunately, under our current “vote for one” system, our votes are only equal if there are two candidates in a race. If there are more than that it fails the test of balance miserably, and vote splitting is the consequence. These days we often see the majority split between two similar candidates, allowing the wrong candidate to win. It’s known as the “Nader Effect” or “Spoiler Effect” and it happens all the time in elections with three or more candidates. It’s how Trump won the Republican primary. Vote splitting leaves us divided and conquered. STAR Voting solves vote splitting and the Spoiler Effect by giving each voter an Equally Weighted Vote. 

There are moments in history, tipping points, where exerting a small amount of pressure can create exponential change on every other issue that’s important to us. Voting reform is that opportunity, and the time for STAR Voting is now!

See the Equal.Vote coalition’s positions on current preference voting bills in Salem.

http://starvoting.us

Your direct voice in county decision-making is gone

A report on the state of community participation in county processes and oversight

By Bernardino De La Torre, Chair of the Multnomah County Citizen’s Involvement Committee

What has happened? Independent community involvement in Multnomah County government, created by community initiative and embedded in the County Charter, is gone – but the Charter has not changed! 

Public mistrust of government at many levels is growing. Why would a government body choose to increase that mistrust by improperly eliminating a community voice in government policy-making? Our Multnomah County government has done exactly that by co-opting and stifling the community’s voice – a Community Involvement Committee that has quietly and successfully connected the community and its government for over three decades. 

What has been lost? The CIC no longer has dedicated staff. The staff now reports to the Chair’s Office. The ability for the CIC to act quickly and independently of elected officials as an accountability mechanism is gone. None of the award winning programs and initiatives created by the CIC have continued, except for the Citizen Budget Advisory Committees (CBACS). Unfortunately, the CBACs have lost their independent status, creating suspicion of what had been truly independent budget recommendations. 

So what has been gained? Extra layers of filtering and diversion, a lack of transparency and delayed input into decision-making are now parts of the community involvement process. The record of accomplishments in the last two and a half years is nonexistent as no programs are running, no forums or workshops have taken place to gather public input regarding county policy or budget. One staff-created survey was done but only polled selected participants, with no public input into what questions were asked. The only thing that has been gained from this gutting of citizen oversight, as far as we can determine, is that the County Chair’s office now once again directly oversees the county charter review process, through her staff which now manage the CIC.

How did this happen? The transition from watchdog to lapdog.

Here’s a step-by-step process of what happened:

1)  In 2016, voters transferred coordination of the charter review appointment process from the County Chair’s office to the independent Citizen Involvement Committee (CIC).

  • The CIC had been created by voter initiative in 1984 as a government watchdog with the explicit power to hire and fire its own staff.
  • For over 30 years, the CIC managed its staff and oversaw its Office of Community Involvement, shedding light on county decision-making by involving hundreds of volunteers annually on budget and policy advisory committees. It won numerous national awards and recognition for its work.
  • That all came to a crashing halt in 2017 following a vote by citizens to transfer coordination of the charter review appointment process away from the County Chair’s Office to the independent CIC.

2) A month later, the County Chair began a relentless effort to wrest control of the CIC away from its volunteer board by taking over hiring and managing their staff:

  • After voters transferred the appointment process to the CIC, the county appointed a bunch of new CIC members and the County Chair’s Office encouraged the new CIC members to adopt new bylaws removing references to CIC supervision of its staff.
  • The county then informed the CIC that the County Chair would decide who would staff the CIC (contrary to the county charter).
  • The County Chair assigned her Chief-Of-Staff to train and supervise the new staff, asserting a new admin model for the position without discussions with the CIC or other commissioners.
  • The staff subsequently informed the CIC they would no longer supervise their own staff or oversee the Office of Community Involvement.
  • In a blatant conflict of interest, the inverted admin model effectively transitioned the voter-mandated independent watchdog organization from managing its staff to being managed BY its staff who were now taking orders from the County Chair’s Office.

3) The CIC pushed back against the illegal takeover, and staff responded by trying to discredit and oust CIC volunteers:

  • After researching the committee’s history, CIC officers were alarmed by the sudden unilateral change to the staffing structure and determined the changes were illegal.
  • Committee leaders started to present their findings to the committee, but the staff undermined their efforts saying the committee should only concern itself with the future, and not look back.
  • The committee then consulted the county Auditor who confirmed that past and current admin practices were in significant conflict, with no record of a process for making such a significant change.
  • A retreat at which the committee planned to discuss the recent changes was then canceled by staff without committee authorization.
  • In March, the CIC officers were told by the County Chair’s office that the historical independence of the CIC is ‘irrelevant’ because “Commissioners want to impose a new supervision model,” and CIC members who disagree are encouraged to resign.
  • Intent on restoring the legal authority of the CIC, the committee initiated a staff performance review. In retaliation, their staff asked County Commissioners to rescind the appointments of the CIC leaders.
  • Staff began making unsubstantiated allegations of “bullying” against committee volunteers who were asserting their right to run their own meetings in order to justify removing them from the committee, however public outcry led the Commissioners to dismiss the request.

4) Having failed to manipulate or bully the citizen watchdog committee into submission, the county disbanded the committee:

  • At its May meeting, despite staff efforts to interfere, CIC leaders were re-elected to continue the fight to restore their citizen mandate. Staff attempted to end the meeting early rather than certify the full election results.
  • In early June, the renegade staff stopped staffing committee meetings altogether, canceled meetings without authorization, and locked the committee out of their meeting room.
  • On June 22nd, the County Chair used the staff-created crises as a pretext to propose removing all members of the CIC. Rather than transfer or dismiss staff for failure to follow policy or staff the committee, the County Chair had effectively created a crisis in order to get rid of the committee that facilitates citizen input and serves a watchdog role for the county.
  • On June 28, County Commissioners voted to disband the award-winning organization due to “tension” and “gridlock” and uninvestigated staff allegations of “bullying.”
  • Seven months after voters transferred the charter review appointment process to the CIC, the County Chair effectively regained control of the charter review appointment process at the cost of undermining, defaming and disbanding its independent, voter-mandated community involvement organization.

What happened next? What has the real CIC been doing?

  • Following their ‘dismissal’, CIC officials consulted an attorney who determined the resolution dismissing the committee was not legal.
  • The CIC then held a follow-up meeting at which a quorum of members decided to restore the previous bylaws and dismissed their staff. They also voted to sue the county for the wrongful, illegal attempt to disband the Committee.
  • The county ignored their staffing decision and instead hired a private attorney to “research allegations of misconduct made against CIC members.” There was no investigation into staff misconduct, and no charges were ever brought.
  • The county also proceeded to recruit new volunteers to a new imitation CIC that takes its direction from the Chairs office.   
  • The lawsuit against the county for wrongful termination of the Citizen Involvement Committee is currently in the courts. The true independent CIC continues to meet to monitor progress in restoring the voter-mandated independence of the CIC. 

Spread the word, find out what happened and help pressure Multnomah County to restore an independent CIC!

You can show support at Follow developments at https://www.facebook.com/groups/MultcoVolunteers