"This is not the Oregon way."
Bill Currier, chair of the Oregon GOP, wrote those words when justifying his recent decision to try to recall Gov. Kate Brown. Currier further rationalized his decision to file a prospective recall petition by claiming "(she) has threatened to usurp legislative power with executive orders to implement her failed (cap-and-trade) legislation, deciding singlehandedly what is best for Oregon."
If true, such an accusation would be spot on — it's not the Oregon Way to bypass democratic processes, override common values, ignore political norms, and belittle the input of social institutions. In fact, any action that fails to incorporate those conditions falls short of the Oregon Way. But if any party is guilty of adhering to the Oregon Way, it's not the Democrats.
Currier may not have known that he was invoking such a specific part of Oregon's political culture ... but he provided a perfect opportunity to remind Oregonians of what precisely it means to follow the Oregon Way.
The Oregon Way is best understood by looking at when it was best used. Our Way reached its peak in the 1970s when Senate Bill 100 was enacted. The source of Oregon's approach to land use planning, SB 100 relied on each aspect of the Oregon Way. Open democratic processes were used to give every Oregonian a voice. According to Professor John Melvin DeGrove, "One estimate held that in addition to the 10,000 Oregonians participating directly in this goal development process (for SB 100), more than 100,000 viewed television programs dealing with the development of the goals and guidelines." The state recognized the importance of land use planning to every Oregonian's wellbeing and, consequently, did its best to solicit feedback from residents.
Participation wasn't enough for such a monumental bill to pass. Officials moved forward knowing that the bill aligned with values held across the state and adhered to norms for how to solve problems. Senate Bill 100 passed at a time characterized by a "happy coincidence of concern over the natural and human environment," in the opinion of Professor Ed Sullivan. This concern over the environment paired with "a commonly held belief that planning and regulation could avoid future problems."
Finally, Oregon's landmark land use bill leaned heavily on social institutions for its passage. From formal governing institutions to 1000 Friends of Oregon, an ecosystem of institutions developed to oversee the enactment and implementation of SB 100. These institutions ensured residents continued to have access to sharing their feedback and holding officials accountable.
A look at modern times indicates that the GOP has strayed from the Way. This recall effort reveals the extent of the party's drift: Currier and his crew turning to the recall wasn't based on active consultation with typical Oregonians; their actions do not reflect positive values with statewide applicability; the political norms they're advancing are unaligned with Oregonians' preference for moderation and incrementalism; and, they have moved forward without a broad coalition of representative social institutions.
Democrats were not perfect exemplars of the Oregon Way this session. In particular, some of their legislative agenda was blatantly contrary to the values of many Oregonians. But, especially when compared to the Republicans, Democrats have at least strode more closely to the Way invoked by Currier. They have championed opening democratic processes, advanced legislation that builds on values held by myriad Oregonians, maintained political norms, and featured a fairly diverse (albeit too urban) collection of social institutions in their efforts.
Oregonians deserve a Republican Party that would make Tom McCall proud, not one that Donald Trump wants to tweet about. If Oregonians can't end the two-party system, then they deserve two parties trying to do their utmost to listen to the people, legislate the people's values while adhering to community norms, and working with truly nonpartisan social institutions. Oregonians deserve a GOP that does more than talk about the Way, but actually follows it.
If anyone needs to be removed from office it's Bill Currier. Republicans should cast aside those that are trying to drag the party down to the national party's standards. Oregonians don't have to be like the rest of the country. We can have two functioning parties ... so long as they both decide to adhere to the Oregon Way.
Kevin Frazier has worked in various capacities in Salem and presently studies at Berkeley Law. He lives in Washington County.
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