This was a gross election cycle. It doesn't have to be this way
Election Day is finally behind us. Let the healing begin.
And let's be honest: We have a lot of healing to do. Political polarization has reached its worst point in generations. The closing days of this campaign featured racist and anti-Semitic messaging in campaigns across the country, along with the usual raft of lies, smears and false insinuations that seem to accompany every election season.
Oregon hasn't been immune. With public polling showing a close contest between Gov. Kate Brown and Rep. Knute Buehler in the gubernatorial race, both sides took to the airwaves with attack ads — some of which were picked apart by state media, including the Pamplin Media Group, for being inaccurate and unfair. The messaging around controversial ballot initiatives like Measures 105 and 106 was also frequently disingenuous.
Even here in Washington County, and specifically western Washington County, we had our share of negativity.
First it was a shockingly nasty race for district attorney this spring, which featured a puzzling amount of blistering rhetoric and personal attacks from both sides for a race that ended up as a blowout victory for then-Deputy District Attorney Kevin Barton.
Then this fall, a race between two people who clearly don't have much love for one another running to chair the Washington County Board of Commissioners descended into the muck, with conservative County Commissioner Bob Terry's campaign attempting a hail-Mary pass in the final days of the campaign with a mailer smearing opponent Kathryn Harrington, falsely, for working in "Portland city government" (she's represented Washington County on the Metro Council for the past 12 years and worked in Washington County's high-tech sector prior to that) and associating her with protests in Portland. One photo on the mailer, which appears to have been a photo taken by The Oregonian that was used without permission, displays a swastika in the lower right-hand corner.
Even in Hillsboro and Forest Grove, city races dabbled in ugliness late in the campaign. One local candidate responded to a reporter's inquiries about his social media activity by blocking him on social media and arguing with some of his would-be constituents on our own Facebook page. Another responded to questions about his behavior toward another candidate at a public event by coming to our office, berating a different employee and not returning subsequent phone calls.
Amidst these acts of incivility, there were moments of grace that deserve to be recognized.
A candidate for Forest Grove City Council, Solomon Clapshaw, was forthright and respectful in answering questions this newspaper raised about his role in the hanging of a controversial banner two and a half years ago at Forest Grove High School. We are sure he would have preferred that story had not surfaced before the election, and we think it would have served him better to get out in front of it rather than hoping it didn't make its way to the local newspaper during the campaign. But he handled the situation with aplomb and left us impressed by his ability to own his past mistakes.
We were also touched by the respect that House District 26 candidates Rich Vial and Courtney Neron demonstrated for one another when our editorial board sat down with them separately, earlier this fall. They made clear they disagreed on certain issues, but not on all of them. As our interview with Vial was wrapping up, he said Neron seemed like a person he could work with — and asked that, if we decided to endorse him, we also encourage Neron to remain active and run for office again in the future. (We did just that.)
There is positive politics and there is negative politics, and it's frustrating and discouraging to see, in the heat of a hard-fought election campaign, how often the negative wins out. But the positive shows us there can be a better path forward, now that the dust is settling and the ads have fallen silent.
It's trite to say that our political differences should never divide us. There are real and irreconcilable differences between certain ideologies in this country. It is true that a person's politics are a reflection of who they are, for good or bad.
But what we can do — what we can all do — is try to understand one another. If we can't agree, we can at least try to see the reason for our disagreements. If we feel the need to stand up or speak out, we can at least argue for why we are right, not just why they are wrong. If we can't forgive and forget, we can at least choose not to be ruled by the past, but instead blaze a trail to a better future.
The 2018 election was not a high-water mark for civility in our country, our state or our county. But the wounds it has inflicted don't have to leave permanent scars. What's done is done. What comes next is up to you.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It can cost as little as 3 cents a day.)