When I first got heavily involved in Salem politics about four and a half years ago (after the horrendous needless killing of the U.S. Bank trees got my ire up), fellow progressive citizen activists would tell me, "The Chamber of Commerce runs this town."
Well, this isn't true any more. And that's a very good thing.
To understand why, take a look at the goal of the Chamber of Commerce's political action committee, Build Jobs PAC. As should be obvious from its name, the Chamber really is only interested in one thing: jobs.
But obviously there's a lot more to wellbeing, livability, and economic vitality than simply jobs. Have you ever felt that all you needed in life was a job?
Not good health; not happiness; not friends; not culture; not education; not a marriage partner; not love; not nature. Just a job.
Of course not.
Back in 1998, though, the Salem Chamber of Commerce set out to elect a Mayor and City Councilors who would bow at the altar of job creation. This is from a March 2016 post on the Build Jobs PAC web site, where the PAC announced that it was endorsing Chuck Bennett for Mayor and Jan Kailuweit and Warren Bednarz for two council seats (both of whom lost).
Eighteen years before 2016 gets us to 1998, when Mike Swaim, a progressive, was Mayor from 1997 to 2002. Janet Taylor was elected Mayor in 2003, kicking off a string of Chamber-supported candidates who controlled the City Council until this year, 2017.
Since Salem is a liberal-leaning city, it's fitting that this town should have a majority of progressives on the City Council.
Thanks in large part to Progressive Salem, which supported Tom Andersen's campaign in 2014, and has had a string of winning city council races since (Cara Kaser, Matt Ausec, Chris Hoy, Sally Cook), progressives have five seats on the nine-member City Council -- eight city councilors plus the Mayor.
It's interesting to contrast the wide-ranging goals of Progressive Salem with the singular jobs! goal of the Chamber's PAC.
Economic opportunities. Environmental health. Public health. Alleviate poverty. Safe and accessible transportation network. Clean and sustainable energy. Education.
It's no wonder Salem voters have been choosing Progressive Salem candidates over Chamber of Commerce candidates. Like I said, most people know that there is a heck of a lot more to life than simply having a job, even a well-paying one.
A few days ago I wrote a blog post about the creative writing of Geronimo Tagatac, a Salem resident. I included a link to a 2014 post where I quoted Tagatac, "Truth Bomb #6: Salem's citizens are too politically passive."
Here's what Tagatac said about my observation that Salem puts up with political crap that wouldn't be tolerated in Portland, Eugene, or Corvallis.
The problem isn't, at its heart, the city council. It's the overall community that elects the city council and is willing to live with its lack of transparency and subservience to the chamber of commerce.
Yes, there's a progressive, reform-minded subculture in Salem, but it's simply not large enough or influential enough to stop what's been going on for decades.
The Corvallis, Eugene, and Portland communities would never put up with such behavior on the part of their elected representatives, the violations of the public meetings law, the conflicts of interest, etc.
Making closed-door deals with a bank to cut down trees would be political suicide in those communities.
The reason that the Salem city council does these things is that they know that the community won't hold them accountable. And there are likely to be few or no whistleblowers to embarrass them, other than yourself and a handful of others.
Well, it's really encouraging that so much has changed politically for the better in Salem since October 2014, when Tagatac wrote those words.
From one progressive city councilor we now have five. Progressive Salem and other like-minded groups have become a counter-weight to the Chamber of Commerce, proving that people power can win out over money power.
We liberals can't become complacent, though. There's still a lot of work to be done, a lot of political battles to be fought.
I'm just happy that the single-issue goal of the Chamber of Commerce's PAC -- jobs, jobs, jobs -- is being rejected by Salem voters who understand that our town's livability, attractiveness, and economic vitality depend upon a whole host of factors, as reflected in the goals of Progressive Salem.
Let's keep it that way.