This is such a volatile election year, local political experts are unwilling to make many predictions about national, state or local races.
That was one take-away when four of such experts appeared on a panel previewing the 2020 elections at the Portland Business Alliance's monthly breakfast forum on Wednesday, Jan. 15. For example, no one challenged Paige Richardson, co-founder of the Springwater Partners consulting firm, when she said the Democratic presidential primary is still wide open and might not be decided until a brokered convention in July.
"And with this president, we already know the general election will be a lot more like a WWE match that a rational conversation," Richardson said.
Nor did any of them predict that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly will be re-elected.
Amy Ruiz, senior vice president of the Strategies 360 consulting firm, only noted that both are now facing opponents who have qualified for the city's new public campaign financing program; mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone and council candidate Mingus Mapps.
Just about the only prediction came from Ruiz, who said Latino Network Executive Director Carmen Rubio is in a "strong position" to replace Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who chose not to run for reelection to the council this year.
The other two panelist were Rebecca Tweed, director of the Grow Oregon business advocacy organization, and Andrea Valderrama, a former City Hall staff now serving as advocacy director of the Coalition of Communities of Color. The discussion was moderated by Jon Isaacs, the PBA's vice president for government affairs.
One reason for the panelists' uncertainty is the growing number of polls that show voters believe the nation, state and cities are increasingly headed in the wrong direction. Richardson said one recent poll found only 8% of Oregonians strongly believe the state is headed in the right direction, and the results for Portland were even worse.
"This may lead to a 'change election,'" Richardson said. "Voters are thinking: Do we want to give these people their jobs back?"
Ruiz said the No. 1 issue concerning local voters is homelessness, which hardly even rated in most polls just a few years ago.
"People are living in tents all over the city," said Ruiz, acknowledging the increasing visibility of the homeless, despite Portland and Multnomah County spending more than $70 million per year on the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
But Ruiz said global and national problems like climate change also are creating growing voter anxiety.
"Every day is another massive headline that none of us has ever seen before in our lives," Ruiz said.
Tweed said change already is sweeping the Oregon Legislature, noting that 17 of 90 state lawmakers have either resigned or announced they are not running again since the last election.
"That's the most of any election cycle," said Tweed, who predicted the number could increase during the short, 35-day session of the Legislature scheduled to start on Feb. 1.
According to Tweed, few legislative incumbents are safe this year because of the growing influence of the extreme wings of both parties. Liberal democrats are worried about primary challenges from candidates further to the left, while conservative Republicans are facing primary challengers farther on the right.
"I don't think there are any safe seats going into this election," Tweed said.
Valderrama suggested that at least some of the uncertainty was a good thing. She said it reflected the political awakening of traditionally disenfranchised communities, like those represented by the 19 organizations in the Coalition of Communities of Color.
"Communities of color are beginning to hold elected officials accountable on issues like affordable housing, child care and education," Valderrama said.
All of the experts agreed that one of the most important events underway in the 2020 national census, which is likely to show that Oregon has grown so much over the past 10 years that it will qualify for an additional congressional seat; from five to six. All congressional district boundaries will be redrawn if that happens — and so will the boundaries of most or all state legislative districts, even if it doesn't.
At the present time, the State Legislature is primarily responsible for both congressional and legislative redistricting. If the Legislature fails to approve a legislative district map, the secretary of state must draw the boundaries. There is no similar backup plan for congressional redistricting.
Tweed said several organizations are working on a ballot measure to create a citizen committee to handle redistricting. Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP are working to get the the initiative on the November 2020 general election ballot, she explained.
That is only one of seven or eight statewide initiatives that Tweed said she expects to qualify for the ballot. Also in the works is a cap-and-trade measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in case the Legislature fails to approve such a program during the February session; a measure to permanently exempt groceries from sales taxes; a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical care; and more.
"It's a reflection of Oregonians wanting to get things done," Richardson said.
A slew of local measure also appear headed for the ballot, the panelists said. They include a Metro regional transportation funding measure, bond measure from both Portland Public Schools and the David Douglas School District, and an initiative announced on Jan. 14 by the Here Together Oregon advocacy organization to fund additional homeless services.
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