Reflections of a campaign
This year, I am thankful to live here, in this beautiful land, in this amazing time of growth, change and possibility. In this place and time, we enjoy greater freedom, personal autonomy, security and opportunity than have been available to most of the other people who have ever lived in this world.
I am grateful to live in a country where we can acknowledge and freely discuss the problems that still remain, and freely debate the best ways of addressing those problems. I am grateful to live in a country that faces its problems and takes action to address them, as America has done many times in the past and will continue to do in the future.
Anyone who has spent any time at all in the political sphere during these past few years is well aware that the public discourse in our modern times is as antagonistic and vitriolic as it has ever been. Today Americans from opposing sides of the political divide are possibly more hostile toward one another than they've been at any point in my own lifetime. In Facebook posts, Tweets, Reddit threads and the comments section, people make a purposeful point of saying such shockingly horrifying things about each other that it's clear each side believes they are knights in shining armor fighting a holy war against evil monsters. This nasty tone seems to reach a fever pitch every other year at election time, as candidates and their backers attempt to motivate voters by inciting anger, fear, and hatred of the other side.
Amidst all this tension and high feeling, we sometimes tend to forget that we are neighbors. We're all members of a community. We have more in common than what divides us. And the purpose of creating communities is to look out for one another.
This year, I had the privilege of running for public office as a candidate for the Oregon State House of Representatives, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity. Although my campaign was unsuccessful, participating in the democratic process was a very rewarding experience. I learned a lot, I met some amazing people and I spoke to a lot of local residents about their concerns. These conversations gave me fresh perspectives and food for thought, and possibly set a foundation for a more effective run in the future.
There are loudly anti-democratic voices on the fringes of both sides of the political spectrum today. On the far right, QAnon conspiracy theorists promote dangerous lies about election integrity and reality itself. Meanwhile, on the far left, the proponents of "Critical Race Theory" are pushing a narrative that the only way to dismantle structural oppression in America is to dismantle America itself. On both sides, extremists seem to be making a case for the next civil war. And to the most of the rest of us, this foolishness has got to end.
That's why I am grateful to everyone who participated in the election this year: even those who supported my opponent. Your participation strengthens our democracy.
As a candidate, I tried to use my public platform to advocate on behalf of the concerns I've been hearing from the constituents who I've been talking to throughout this campaign: concerns like the need to increase state support for public education; reconciling the discrepancy between the minimum wage and the cost of living (especially given rising housing costs, as well as painful inflation); the need to protect the natural environment and locally owned farmland, for example by enforcing urban growth boundaries, and by exploring water resource management options like aquifer recharge projects; the need to address Oregon's homelessness crisis; and the importance of protecting a woman's right to make her own reproductive decisions. And although we don't all agree about all these points, there is a substantial base of public support for most of them, even right here in what we think of as a fairly conservative district.
As Democrats, we often feel like a small and unheard minority in House District 18, because so many of our neighbors so loudly proclaim their support for some of the more hardline positions on the other side. But some of the neighborhoods I canvassed had surprising concentration of "blue" voters.
As a candidate, I had access to some surprising statistics about our area.
Of the nearly 52,000 registered voters in House District 18, Republicans and like-voting parties hold a nearly 40% lead in voter registrations over Democrats and allied parties, a proportion which closely corresponds to my opponent's margin of victory in this contest. But in our district we also have more than 17,000 registered voters who are not affiliated with any party.
But here's the surprising thing: in Marion county as a whole, the numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats are virtually identical, whereas both parties are significantly outnumbered by Non-Affiliated Voters. But whereas the participation rates for Republicans and Democrats in Marion County was quite similar this year, the Non-Affiliated Voters participated at only a fraction of that rate. (I don't have the latest numbers, but the most recent figures I have available show NAVs participating at just a fraction of the participation rates of registered Republicans and Democrats, who participated at nearly identical rates.) In other words, due to their numbers, the non-affiliated voters in our area have the power to decide our local elections; but for the most part, they choose not to use that power. And I feel like that's a real missed opportunity.
In Oregon as a whole, the final figures on the Secretary of State website show that only 62.5% of registered voters participated in the 2022 election. Because so many voters choose to not participate, many of the candidates who win election contests have in fact only won the support of a minority of the eligible voters. That's not right. And the only solution is to somehow persuade more people to vote.
If we want to really live in a system of majority rule, then we need to somehow persuade a larger proportion of the people to participate in the process. And that might mean we need to do a better job of speaking to people's concerns and their values; and it might mean that we need to do a better job of showing them the results and outcomes of the elections process and informing them about how it affects their lives in the long term; and it might mean that they feel very disaffected by the negative tone of the rhetoric around politics, and we need to bring our messaging back home and talk to people like they're our neighbors, not combatants.
Above all, we must do a better job of presenting a case to the people that their vote matters, and that the outcomes of these elections create lasting changes that benefit them.
If I run again in the future, I hope I will more effectively make that case to the non-affiliated voters of our district next time; and if it's someone else who runs on the Democratic ticket in 2024, I hope that they will succeed in making that argument to the voters.
I am deeply grateful to my friends and family, and I appreciate the support of everyone who has advised and encouraged me and donated to my campaign: especially the Oregon Education Association, Future PAC House Builders, the local branches of the Democratic Party and the Silverton progressives. Thank you all so much for making this possible. We gave the voters of House District 18 a real choice; and when given that choice, almost nine-and-a-half thousand people said, "Yes, Jesse Smith is the right choice for House District 18." That's thousands of our friends and neighbors. This, despite the relatively low turnout numbers of this midterm election. So I choose to see that as encouraging.
As Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) noted in his recent concession speech, it is a privilege to be able to concede an election contest secure in the knowledge that the vote was fairly decided in accordance with the democratic will of the people. This is what makes America truly great.
And although I may disagree with my recent opponent on matters of policy, I appreciate that he has not joined in the election-denying rhetoric that we sometimes hear from other members of his party, and I commend him for that. Finally, I would like to thank Representative Lewis for running a clean campaign. By avoiding the sort of name-calling that has too often come to characterize modern American democracy, I hope this election contest demonstrates to our friends and colleagues here in Oregon and across America that it's possible to disagree about the issues and still have a civil debate.
Jesse Smith of Silverton was the Democratic candidate for House District 18.
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