About three weeks ago I was deeply upset when each of the Salem-Keizer school board candidates endorsed by Progressive Salem lost to conservative candidates.
And not by a little.
Marty Heyen defeated Raul Marquez 53% to 47%. Satya Chandragiri defeated David Salinas 52% to 48%. Danielle Bethell defeated Chuck Lee 54% to 46%.
Sure, turnout was just 20% of registered voters. But it's hard for progressives like me to look upon the result of the May 21 Special District Election as anything but an ass-kicking by conservatives.
I'm not sure why this happened. It's easier for me to come up with likely non-reasons for the progressive defeats. Such as, money.
A Salem Reporter story, "Average Salem-Keizer school board campaign tops $25,000," noted that incumbent Chuck Lee spent $50,500, by far the most of any school board candidate. Yet his opponent, Danielle Bethell, had the largest victory margin despite spending only about $15,000.
The story also says that the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 contributed most of Lee's campaign funds, largely via $30,000 worth of in-kind contributions (canvassing and mailings).
Likewise, Raul Marquez is reported to have raised about $26,000 while his opponent, incumbent Marty Heyen, raised about $11,000. This seems to show that incumbency also doesn't explain the results, since the progressive incumbent lost, while the conservative incumbent won.
What caught my eye in the Salem Reporter story is the mentions of Oregon Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.
Anderson said the union stepped up its support for Lee to counter the influence of Oregon Right to Life funding in the race. The group gave Bethell about $3,700, making it her single largest contributor, though most of her contributions are from individuals and local businesses.
...This year’s lowest spender is Marty Heyen, who’s seeking re-election in zone 2. She’s raised about $11,000 to date and drawn most of her financial support from Oregon Right to Life.
Voters have also received mailings supporting Heyen sent by the Women’s Leadership Coalition. According to campaign filings, the Keizer group's political action committee is directed by Oregon Right to Life staff members.
...In zone 4, which has no incumbent, Satya Chandragiri has raised nearly $36,000 and David Salinas about $30,000. Both men have received large sums from individual donors, though Salinas has significant support from PCUN and other unions, and Chandragiri from Oregon Right to Life.
So it seems possible, if not likely, that the reason Bethell, Heyen, and Chandragiri won was a combination of conservative enthusiasm for the Right to Life candidates and progressive apathy in a low-turnout off-year special district election.
After all, those opposed to abortion are zealous about this, often basing their vote on this issue alone, while progressives/liberals tend to be more eclectic in their politics -- being concerned about many issues, which means it is difficult to get them to vote in a local election lacking national significance.
I've also heard that Salem's mega-churches could have played a role in the school board races by backing the Oregon Right to Life candidates, though I haven't gotten any evidence that politics was preached from the pulpit, or in church communications.
Bottom line: even though Salem is a liberal town (Keizer, much less so), progressives need to find ways to get their voters off of their butts in off-year local elections. I tried to do this via Facebook posts, but obviously that wasn't enough.
Hopefully wiser political minds than what I possess are pondering how to wake the liberal electorate in Salem so they don't slumber through any more Salem-Keizer school board races.