SUNRIVER — Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night could keep Oregon Democrats from their appointed rounds this weekend — and that meant another trip to Sunriver.
The 10th Biennial Oregon Summit brought 500 Democrat activists and officeholders over the Cascades and into a late fall snow squall for the three day-two night event at Sunriver Resort. They were buoyed by recent inroads into what was once a solidly Republican area. Party activists pointed to the Democratic voter registration edge over Republicans in Bend and the 2018 race for the 2nd Congressional District in which Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, of Terrebonne, narrowly won Deschutes County, though losing the race to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River.
After a kick-off speech by Gov. Kate Brown on Friday night, participants got down to business Saturday with workshops on housing, health, education, immigrant rights, transportation, abortion rights activism, LGBTQ+ youth, criminal justice, energy and the nuts and bolt of campaigning. An overflow crowd attended a session on How to Build a Blue Bench in Rural and Red Districts in Oregon.
The panel looked at the long-range goal of making inroads into traditionally Republican Central and Eastern Oregon.
The first step is to show up, the panel agreed. Cheyenne Davis, national training director for the Democratic National Committee, said local activists must recruit candidates to run in every race, regardless of the local Republican strength.
“We have to build up the bench of the next folks who will fill the role,” she said.
Carina Miller, a tribal council representative of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, said Democrats had to come to terms with the idea that to win in non-urban areas, they cannot require a litmus test for voters on every issue.
“They’re not concerned about abortion; they’re concerned about survival,” she said. “Peoples’ values have to be respected. Rural Democrats are feeling left out.”
Miller said success will come one voter at a time — going door to door will win votes where a slick digital campaign will get little traction.
“Wear good shoes,” she advised when visiting areas of the state where houses are often far apart.
Over lunch, Democrats heard from three of Oregon’s Democrats in the U.S. House: Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader. After the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Schrader, the trio discussed key national Democratic goals in the 2020 election. At the top of the list: Defeating President Donald Trump’s bid for a second term.
“Let’s make sure the focus is on the president of the United States and all the damage he is doing,” Schrader said.
Bonamici said the election is a key to retaining abortion rights won by the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump’s appointment of two conservative justices to the court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, may tilt the court to overturning the landmark case, Bonamici said.
“Women, we’re not going back to the back alleys,” she said. “Get your government out of women’s bodies.”
DeFazio said worker rights were a key area, pointing to the car services Uber and Lyft as making billions of dollars while claiming their drivers are independent contractors, not employees. He said the companies limit their liability for accidents or crimes caused by drivers.
“When you sign up for their app, you are giving up your right to sue,” DeFazio said.
After the lunch, Democrats milled around tables in a hallway touting the various candidates and causes. One table promoted the presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with a cardboard cut-out that passersby could pose with for a selfie.
Within a few feet of each other stood three of the Democratic candidates for secretary of state in 2020: Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, and McLeod-Skinner. A debate of secretary of state candidates will close out the conference Sunday.
Kathy Dimont, of Bend, sat at McLeod-Skinner’s booth, handing out campaign stickers and offering tomatoes picked from the candidate’s garden.
“I’m here entirely because of Jamie,” said Kathy Dimont of Bend. “She’d make a great secretary of state. She listens, she’s hard-working and cares about average people.”
Saturday afternoon, state Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle raced by on her way to a panel on inequities in the American financial system. She said the conference had been energizing for Democrats, even if they were surrounded by a largely Republican landscape.
“It’s been really great,” she said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0350, email@example.com