I am extremely sad about my vote for Tina Kotek in the Oregon Governor’s Election of 2022

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By Joel Barker

Opinion Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed by the author do not state or reflect those of the Southern Oregon Business Journal and its management. 

Today, I am casting a vote I don’t want to, for the Democrat Tina Kotek for Oregon Governor. I am despondent what the outcome will be from this vote. The mass of power in urban Oregon is so great that urban voters can ignorantly enable violence and suffering. I hate being a part of it.

It has always been true that power in the state of Oregon is expressed in Multnomah County. I knew that as a child here in Central Oregon. As timber receipts declined, I think it became more pronounced. Portland has had two generations of influx, topped by the Portlandia era. Now that urban power is in the hands of people not native to the state, who only know non-urban Oregon from strolling Lithia Park, a brunch in Manzanita, or a ski trip to Mount Bachelor.

I am unhappy that Kotek thinks she can represent this state. I am unhappy that the Oregon Democratic primary voters are so lacking in empathy and so incapable of being strategic that they would select her as our candidate. That decision put the governorship at risk. Let’s be clear: the race is close not because Johnson entered the race but because Kotek is only appealing to extremely progressive voters. As a candidate, she degrades the Democratic coalition.

The polling numbers were already apparent during the primary. My simple, non mathematical punditry saw it, too. But, the urban Oregon voter need not bother to understand their fellow Oregonians. They voted for the candidate that best represented them. The result will be — has already been — significant damage to progressive goals.

As an urban Oregon voter, you may see Johnson as a total weirdo that you disagree with on the policy-checkbox-list method of candidate selection. That is not how we should choose candidates. With a diverse state, we need more than people we agree with. We need collaboration that gives people a chance to be heard within the political system so they don’t go outside of it.

I am unhappy at the thousands of iterations of the pithy lecture “a vote for Johnson is a vote for Drazan” I received without sympathy or curiosity as to why I supported Johnson.

I support Johnson because I reside in and love the state of Oregon. All of it. The entire state. I lived in Portland for 20 years and adore it. I am so glad to have been a member of that community as we came together to stand against racism and to help each other through the pandemic. Before that, I grew along with the city in the golden years of the early 2000s. I believe in its future, as well.

Meantime, I love my prodigal home in Redmond. I grew up here and am fortunate enough to reside here again. It is a small town that knows how to thrive. The community here is made up of people of diverse views that mingle, work together, raise families, celebrate, and worship together.

I love LaGrande, Ontario, Seaside, Ashland, Burns, Paisley, Scappoose, Silver Lake. I am confident I can find a friendly conversation anywhere in this state, and I yearn for those chats over a beer or coffee or a burger.

I love our diverse land. I love our rivers — the Deschutes is the dearest in my heart, but I am so happy to come upon any of them and try to seduce fish out of their riffles.

Johnson’s outreach is a balm to the ear. Kotek’s attempts to relate to non-urban voters sets off alarms. I watched the first debate in this Governor’s race this year and Kotek said she likes Eastern Oregon, recalling a snowy drive she took in college. I was insulted again. I read it as cover so that urban voters can say “see, she cares about all of Oregon.”

In my time in Portland I heard so much casual aggression towards rural Oregonians in offhand comments. Hicks. Primitive. Ignorant.

The urban Oregonians are the ignorant ones. Ignorant to their fellow citizens, what formed them and the very human reasons for why they do what they do.

I am frustrated because urban Oregonians are so powerful that they can continue to be ignorant. They have and will continue to worsen our state with their power. Meantime, rural Oregonians have to navigate urban Oregon to have access to financial, cultural, and political power.

I think all of us have enough experience in the world that simply asking for the people in power to do the work of empathy does not change anything. I am not as brash as Johnson, who said that part out loud and stands ground even when it is really uncomfortable. I want someone in power who will change the plumbing so we work together and learn together. That person could be Betsy Johnson, the equal opportunity pisser-offer.

As an activist and officer for the Multnomah County Democrats between 2018 and 2021, I helped to wield urban power. We got Kate Brown re-elected by pushing turnout in Multnomah County, not by building coalition with rural voters. We pushed that turnout by creating urgency around issues that matter. We also made people afraid of the candidate from over the mountains. We did it with fear. The fear outlasts the election it was designed for.

I was a sad worker, knowing that I was helping to muzzle and frustrate just about half of Oregonians (people who think Oregon is “reliably blue” should look up voter registration numbers). People you try to muzzle will find a way to be heard.

We attempted to create a walkout-proof majority in the house and senate so we could pass climate legislation. We failed, and the Democrats in the legislature burned bridges with potential collaborators without getting the climate bill passed. They made a martyr point to their supporters.

Rural voters don’t trust Democrats on any topic now. They don’t trust Kotek for all the deals she has backed out of and end-runs she has done to silence their voices.

Witness walkouts, witness Timber Unity. Witness Greater Idaho.

This is the part where I invoke Tom McCall. Saint Tom and Oregon’s collaborative two-party heritage. If you don’t know Tom McCall, look up his story. If you know any long-time Oregonians, ask them about him and what the politics of Oregon was like in the 70s.

I want to move towards that aware collegiality. But, the Multnomah Turnout Strategy keeps working. Only a loss would disrupt it, right? Unfortunately some Oregonians have realized that and joined Timber Unity. They connect with hateful right wing groups, they sponsor events that disrupt democracy. The outcomes of that approach are awful. It is dangerous. Others have created Greater Idaho, putting themselves up for mockery by national urban progressive media.

When these movements rise, urban progressives are frequently confused. So they mock it. A hipster comedian journalist puts a microphone up to the most tangle-toothed protesters he can find and edits a catchy YouTube video of their weirdest quips.

The urban voter can’t understand why anyone would vote for the person that the Democratic Party has said is a monster.

My friends from rural areas understand. They understand what happened in 2016 and how the Democratic party could have prevented it. The Democratic party denied a huge swath of potential allies any way to connect with Democratic candidates while still preserving their identity.

For enough voters, identity won. Democratic policy ideas that wry pundits point out is their “own best interest” did not sway their vote. Are they idiots? No. The soul can’t give up self for an abstract policy.

With some exceptions (notably Biden) my party is still failing to understand. I sometimes think the President is the only adult in the room, dealing with the ire of both the left and the right while solidifying the nation against fascism.

Just like the failed climate bill in 2020, I don’t think Kotek will succeed in her policy promises but will make rural voters the reason for the failure. Tina Kotek owes her power to urban political powers and I can’t imagine her betraying them to compromise or sympathize. That is my judgment. Like everyone predicting the future, I am often wrong. I hope that I am wrong this time.

In the irresponsibility that is the national Republican Party, allowing them gubernatorial power is a bad idea. Very risky.

I am voting for Kotek. Because climate, because abortion. For all the reasons that the Democratic party is holding a knife to my neck to vote for her. Even though the Kotek campaign is creating a firestorm of the same fear that will again outlast the election and create even more reason to be staunchly progressive in the face of the red-faced, frustrated rural masses.

I have so much to say on this topic, this article won’t be the last you hear from me. And if you have questions, objections, or ideas, reach out to me directly. Let’s talk.

I have never had more heartache over an election. Thankfully, my friend Michelle helped me raise my eyes up by reminding me that votes are a small sliver of Democracy. Activism matters far more. After I vote I am going to look around for how we can give the powerful urban voter more understanding of Oregon. And how to implement statewide ranked choice voting. Ideas welcome!

Here in Central Oregon, I don’t feel alone in how I see Oregon politics. I was in a local fly shop this Spring. The older man behind the counter asked where I was going to fish that day.

“Folley Waters,” I said.

“Should be good today. Did you know Tom McCall had the road put in there because it was his favorite place to fish?” the man said.

“I did not, but I love that story,” I said.

“We need politicians like him now more than ever,” he said.

I agreed and walked out to enjoy the understatement of the year while catching fish.

By Joel Barker

I am looking for connections and ideas about how to bring rural voices to a better place here in Oregon.”

Reprinted with permission by the author.
Original post can be found on Medium at: joelbyronbarker.medium.com
You can reach Joel at  joel@bronc.net

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