Like I said last Tuesday on election night, Jackie Leung's 53%-46% victory over Steve McCoid in the Ward 4 City Council race warms my progressive heart.
Though I used the word "apparent" in that post, Leung has a 237 vote lead over McCoid, which is very unlikely to be erased even though some lingering votes may remain to be counted.
There are lessons to be learned from political newcomer Leung's upset victory over an incumbent city councilor, especially when Micki Varney's 48%-52% loss to incumbent Councilor Jim Lewis in the Ward 8 race is considered.
So here's my five takeaways from these election results, with a focus on Leung's victory.
(1) Endorsements don't really matter much these days. McCoid had a bunch of endorsements, including the Statesman Journal editorial board, Homebuilder's Association of Marion and Polk Counties, Mayor Chuck Bennett, and Councilors Tom Andersen and Chris Hoy.
(The Andersen/Hoy endorsements irked me, since Andersen and Hoy are part of the current five-member progressive council majority, yet they endorsed McCoid, who strikes me as a conservative doing his best to look like a moderate.)
Leung listed no endorsements on her Voter's Pamphlet statement, yet she beat McCoid. I don't think endorsements matter much anymore, since many, if not most, voters have a decidedly cynical view toward both politicians and the special interests who attempt to influence elections. In fact...
(2) Independence likely was an asset in the Ward 4 race. Progressive Salem decided to stay out of the Leung-McCoid battle, even though Jackie Leung clearly is more liberal than McCoid. In early March I criticized Progressive Salem for not endorsing Leung, but now I believe that the absence of that endorsement helped Leung more than it hurt her.
Both Ward 4 and Ward 8 are swing districts.
Since Salem as a whole leans decidedly liberal, this means that those wards are the most conservative in this town. Up until this election, Progressive Salem only got involved in City Council races in liberal-leaning wards, which led to successes -- the election of Tom Andersen, Sally Cook, Cara Kaser, Matt Ausec, and Chris Hoy.
But the Progressive Salem game plan didn't work in Ward 8. It's hard to say whether Micki Varney would have done better without her Progressive Salem endorsement. I tend to think that she would have, so long as volunteers enlisted by Progressive Salem would still have turned out for her. I say this because...
(3) Tribalism appears to be wearing thin, especially in local races. In these Trumpian times, citizens are increasingly polarized on national and state levels into "tribes" that rarely interact in a productive manner, even to seek common ground. I've advocated a Mingling of the Tribes effort in Salem to help head divisiveness, but this has garnered exactly zero interest from anybody but myself, and at times even I think it's a poor idea.
We all like to belong. To something.
So it's Pollyannish to think that people are going to surrender their cherished political identities. But the next best thing is to lay those identities aside as much as possible. After all, during most of our waking hours, we don't think "I'm a progressive" or "I'm a conservative." We're simply human beings trying to enjoy and deal with life as best we can.
The Salem Chamber of Commerce PAC stayed out of city council races this time around, and Jim Lewis still won (admittedly with support from other right-leaning PACs). Progressive Salem chose to only get involved with the Ward 8 race, which the more liberal candidate lost. Leung, so far as I know, didn't emphasize her political leaning much, if at all.
Being a newcomer to politics, I suspect that Ward 4 voters found this refreshing. Now, I'm not suggesting that Progressive Salem should shut down. Quite the opposite, in fact. I want Progressive Salem, which I'm a member of, to become a stronger force in this town by changing its ways a bit. Which gets me to...
(4) Hyper-local issues drive local elections. In Ward 4, Jackie Leung made the Creekside golf course a big part of her campaign. Most people in the Creekside area don't want to see the golf course turned into a 210-lot subdivision, which is the goal of the Creekside developer.
McCoid, being associated with developer interests, including his support for a Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District that the South Gateway Neighborhood Association opposed, almost certainly lost votes because of this.
In Ward 8, by contrast, the central campaign issue was a Third Bridge.
Varney was attacked by Lewis for not supporting the current Third Bridge plan, even though Varney said she supports another bridge, just not the Salem River Crossing version. Leung opposed a Third Bridge, and this probably didn't matter much one way or the other, because many fewer Ward 4 voters cared about that issue, compared to Ward 8 voters.
Now, I give myself credit (one of my favorite jobs) for keeping Creekside and Lone Oak Road issues in the public spotlight. I blogged frequently about this, reporting on City Council meetings where the Reimbursement District was discussed in the absence of any Statesman Journal coverage of this issue. A front page Salem Weekly story I wrote garnered more attention.
So hyper-local issues (meaning, those that don't pertain to Salem as a whole) matter a lot in City Council elections.
Problem is, with the steadily shrinking local Statesman Journal reporting, I feel that progressive voices in Salem need to do a better job of connecting the dots between (1) electing liberal-leaning people to the City Council, and (2) making both neighborhoods and Salem as a whole more livable and vibrant via Council decisions.
Thus I'd like to see Progressive Salem become a lot more active year-round on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social media. The group should be constantly keeping people in Salem informed about hot issues being faced by the City Council, and how the most progressive councilors are dealing with those issues.
For example, it shouldn't be left to a candidate like Micki Varney to defend Third Bridge policies during her campaign.
The public needs to be continuously informed about why a billion dollar new bridge is a bad idea, and how the progressive members of the City Council are trying to make better ideas happen. Again, year-round, not just every two or four years when a Council seat is up for grabs.
In short, I'd like to see Progressive Salem act more like a political party, minus most of the politics.
The Democratic Party of Oregon frequently fills my Twitter feed with news on various topics, as do other liberal groups. By contrast, Progressive Salem isn't active at all on social media. It needs to bring issues before the public eye much more vigorously, pointing out how the councilors it helped elect are benefiting citizens -- again, not just at election time, but constantly.
(5) In politics, anything can happen. There isn't a whole lot for me to say about this takeaway, because it is so obvious. Not many people thought Jackie Leung had a good chance of beating Steve McCoid. But she did.
As noted above, I now don't believe that it would have been helpful to Leung if Progressive Salem had endorsed her. But it still bothers me that the Progressive Salem board decided to sit out the Ward 4 race for the wrong reason.
Namely, not from a strategic decision to let a good candidate stress her independence, but seemingly because several progressive City Councilors (Andersen and Hoy) decided early on that they'd be fine with McCoid remaining on the council. I've heard that the Progressive Salem board chose to ignore the Ward 4 race long before the candidate filing deadline.
This makes no sense.
It was a bad decision by the Progressive Salem board. In the future, I'm hopeful that the membership of Progressive Salem will have a say in how the organization is managed. Currently us members basically only come to meetings where we're told about volunteer needs/opportuntities for upcoming campaigns, with no chance to weigh in on Progressive Salem policy issues.
Many minds often can make better decisions than a few minds. Not always, but often. Given the nature of politics, I believe Progressive Salem would be well served by involving its members more often, and more deeply, in policy issues.