It's wrong to think that Salem is a conservative backwater stuck between two cool progressive cities to our north and south, Portland and Eugene.
Sure, for a long time some have termed our town So-Lame. But if that moniker ever was deserved, it sure doesn't describe Salem now, either from a cultural or a political perspective.
As I noted on May 20 in a post-election post, "Progressives dominate in three of four Salem City Council races," progressives have made a great comeback in Salem. Back in 2015 there was just one progressive on the City Council. Starting in 2018, there have been six.
And there still are six, since the "to be determined" Ward 5 race shown in yellow ended up going to Jose Gonzalez rather than Hollie Oakes-Miller.
Today the headline of a story in the Salem Reporter spoke the truth: "Salem Council results indicate voters prefer a progressive agenda." Here's how the story starts out.
Salem continues to head down a progressive path if Tuesday’s election results say anything about the makeup of the city.
Salem city politics have gradually become more progressive in recent years. For the latest election, two councilors chose not to run for re-election and one resigned, but most of the seats they leave will be filled with candidates who follow in their ideology.
Councilor Chris Hoy said Tuesday affirmed where the council has been headed in recent years, with his election to council in 2018 tipping the political balance to progressive majority.
“This just reinforced that it wasn’t an anomaly. This is the direction Salem wants to go,” Hoy said.
The progressive handwriting has been on Salem's wall for quite a few years. But conservatives in our town, notably including the Chamber of Commerce, haven't been reading it.
In 2012 Salem went for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 10 points, 53% to 43%. Six of Salem's eight wards favored Obama, which happens to be how many progressive city councilors there are now in 2020, six.
In 2016 Salem went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 11 points, 49% to 38%. All eight of Salem's wards favored Clinton, though the margin in Ward 4 was just 20 votes.
So it isn't exactly a shocker that in 2020 voters favored progressives in three of the four city council races. Yet the Salem Reporter story includes some quotes that indicate how strongly political denial has taken root in the minds of local conservatives. For example:
Jan Kailuweit, a manager in the Oregon Employment Department, lost his second bid to represent downtown Salem’s Ward 1, getting 42% of the vote. His opponent, stay-at-home mom Virginia Stapleton, won with 57%.
“Ideology and partisanship won over pragmaticism,” Kailuweit said Friday.
He said partisanship has crept into city council races since a contingent of liberal residents known as Progressive Salem started helping elect candidates in 2014.
Kailuweit is fairly new to Salem, so I'll give him a pass on that last completely-wrong statement. Otherwise he'd deserve a failing grade.
Here's how I described the truth of political partisanship in Salem, which extends far beyond 2014, in a blog post titled "Chamber of Commerce no longer running Salem. Let's keep it that way."
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.
Thus Chamber of Commerce-backed candidates wrested control of the City Council in the early 2000s, and lost control in 2017. Gosh, progressives have had the council majority for a whole three years, having worked hard to tilt the partisan pendulum back in a liberal-leaning direction.
Which is what Salem voters want, as the recent election shows. May three years turn into many more.