Midterms bring change, but not to Forest Grove council
In 2014, Forest Grove city voters gave Malynda Wenzl the most votes for City Council, followed by Tom Johnston, followed by Ron Thompson.
In 2018, it was deja vu.
Johnston and Thompson will be sworn in later this month to start their fifth terms in office. They've been serving on the Forest Grove City Council since 2002. Wenzl gets a second term after sweeping onto the council as an outsider candidate four years ago.
"I'm excited about my re-election and the results we had in Oregon," Wenzl wrote in a brief email Wednesday, Nov. 7. "I look forward to continuing to serve Forest Grove."
Changes in Oregon, across United States
In Washington County, voters installed a 3-2 liberal majority on the officially nonpartisan county commission, with Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington trouncing conservative Commissioner Bob Terry, who was endorsed by outgoing county Chairman Andy Duyck, for the right to lead the board for the next four years. Conservatives have dominated the county commission for years, even as Washington County has become a Democratic stronghold at the state and federal levels.
Democrats flipped three House seats in Oregon, including House District 26, where moderate freshman Rep. Rich Vial of Scholls lost in an upset to educator and first-time candidate Courtney Neron of Wilsonville. They will hold a supermajority in both chambers of the state Legislature, with a Southern Oregon Senate seat also flipping blue.
Across the country, quite a few incumbents lost their seats Tuesday night. They weren't all Republicans, either, with Democratic senators in states like Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota going down to defeat at the hands of Republican challengers. Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives after eight years of a Republican majority. Several more federal races remain too close to call.
So why did Forest Grove's voters decide to stay the course with their city's elected officials? Councilor Thompson suggested Tuesday night, Nov. 6, as unofficial results from the election rolled in, that the answer is simply that Forest Grove residents are happy with the job that the city has been doing.
A recent survey conducted on behalf of the city found a statistically significant sample of registered voters were confident in the city's leadership and satisfied with the direction Forest Grove is going, Thompson said.
"That was at least an indicator to me," he said.
"I think we're doing the right things," said Johnston, who currently serves as council president. "There's not been really any controversial thing."
Johnston amended that statement slightly — the council narrowly voted down a "sanctuary city" resolution last year in spite of a mass showing by supporters urging that it be adopted — although he noted Forest Grove subsequently declared itself an "inclusive community," a similarly symbolic statement eschewing the politically charged "sanctuary" language, in a unanimous vote.
Johnston said there is more work to be done, including a potential tax measure next year that would allow the city to replace its outdated, undersized police station, as well as ongoing discussions with officials in neighboring Cornelius and Gaston about combining fire agencies. He is looking forward to continuing to work on those issues with a new four-year mandate from voters, he said.
"We've done some pretty good things in the city to keep it going," Johnston said.
Challengers finish outside top three
Meanwhile, the incumbents' victory means none of the three challengers who filed in the race will take seats on the Forest Grove City Council this month.
Devon Downeysmith got a head start on the race, setting up a campaign website and touting endorsements from local luminaries like state Rep. Susan McLain months before the candidate filing period opened. Despite running an aggressive campaign, Downeysmith ended up placing fifth in the race, running slightly behind fellow first-time candidate Karen Reynolds — who announced her withdrawal from the race in September, too late to be taken off the ballot or out of the voters' pamphlet.
"While I would have loved the opportunity to be of service in this way, I am grateful for all the things I learned while campaigning, and the incredible people I met through this process," Downeysmith said in a statement from her campaign page on Facebook.
Downeysmith, who endorsed and was endorsed by Wenzl in the race, said she hopes her candidacy "left at least a small impression on the other two incumbents," referring to Johnston and Thompson.
"I hope it shook them up a little, and that my candidacy makes them think more deeply about the importance of valuing equity and diversity, and working harder to represent the members of our community who don't have a voice," said Downeysmith, who made a point during her campaign of reaching out to Forest Grove's sizable Latino minority.
Solomon Clapshaw brought up the rear among the field of candidates. His candidacy generated plenty of discussion on social media, but he ended up garnering less than 10 percent of the total vote.
If Clapshaw had won, that would have put Wenzl in the position of serving on the City Council with both her former teacher — Mayor Pete Truax, who won re-election running unopposed Tuesday — and her former student, Clapshaw.
Wenzl is a teacher at Neil Armstrong Middle School. Clapshaw, who is a senior at Forest Grove High School, cited her successful 2014 campaign as part of his inspiration to run for City Council this year.
Reynolds, Downeysmith and Clapshaw are all active city volunteers.
Reynolds and Downeysmith sit on the Forest Grove Committee for Community Involvement, which has a leading role in organizing public outreach events like Forest Grove's annual town meeting.
Clapshaw's two-year term as student liaison to the Forest Grove Community Forestry Commission is up at the end of the year.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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