Welcome back, students, to the cold wet winter of your discontent, otherwise known as the dark term before spring break 2016. It’s time to shake the shards of sugarplum fairies out of your sensory-savoring limbic systems and pay attention to politics. The Oregon Legislature returns to Salem in less than a month. Beware!
As you know, the Legislature had a dramatic impact on students in 2015: New laws required students to have both a driver’s license and a recreational medical marijuana card in order to vote! I might be getting this wrong. Actually, students are now required to vote in the primary and general election in order to get a driver’s license and a recreational medical marijuana card. Yeah, that’s it. Sorry. Actually, one reader actually took me seriously the last time I tried to analyze our new laws. Please don’t!
Anyway, we should all pay attention to what effect the national clown show Republican presidential primary will have on Oregon politics in general. How will national politics, awash in the Citizen United SuperPAC money, affect our statewide and legislative races?
Former U.S. Speaker Tip O’Neill had it right: All politics is local. But timing is important, too. The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary also occur in February, and Republican winner-take-all primaries will occur in March. You can’t read a newspaper or turn on a TV today without seeing Donald Mania and its impact on every race-baiting, neo-Nazi, gun-waving group in this country. San Bernardino immediately lowered the rhetoric of the Republican debate to a nasty anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant frenzy. It’s amazing how quickly intolerance can catch hold.
I’m hoping Trump will open an Oregon campaign headquarters (or at least build a casino) at Malheur National Wildlife Reserve, given recent events. Apparently there have been several sightings of the species Corkscrewicus Republica, a cuckoo bird so named for its genetic adaption of having only a right wing — which forces it to plummet to the ground whenever it attempts to fly. Some political pundits believe that’s why Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982. (On the other hand, Whirlybirdicus Democratica, another prevalent cuckoo, has a genetic adaption featuring 11 left wings and three right wings, all of which appear vestigial, functionless in the course of evolution.)
But I digress. Of course this conservative national turn of events will affect Oregon politics. As I said before, Democrats have been getting shellacked recently in state and federal elections: Republicans now control 70 percent of our state legislative chambers; in half of our states Republicans control both legislative chambers, and more than 60 percent of our states’ governors are Republicans.
The key question regarding the impact of national politics on Oregonians is this: Who turns out for the primary and general elections in 2016? Historically, primaries always have lower turnout than general elections, and primaries and general elections during presidential years have greater turnout than non-presidential years. Will the Republican presidential race be decided months before Oregon’s May primary, and will Oregon Republican voters turn out if it is? We don’t know. They’ll obviously come out in higher numbers if it appears to be a brokered convention with no clear winner by May. There will be no referrals on the primary ballot, and the only current contested statewide race for Republicans is for secretary of state. So we can’t assess Republican turnout until we get closer to the May primary. Republican turnout in the general election will depend on who’s at the top of the ticket and on the ballot measures that may appear in November.
Democrat turnout could be muted in the primary, but who knows? Bernie excites the young and the old progressives. As with Republicans, the only current contested statewide race for Dems is for secretary of state. But the dynamic in that primary is intriguing, very different than two tired old males in the Republican race. Democrat women may have a reason to vote in a race featuring one woman and two men — Val Hoyle vs. Richard Devlin and Brad Avakian. The Democrat base also should have good reason to turn out for the general election — the presidential race, the governor’s race, the secretary of state race and several swing districts are up for grabs in the Legislature. There won’t be a “grand bargain” this year, no compromise regarding the ballot measures that could appear in November, from the right or the left, so we still need to see what qualifies.
Quién sabe? Maybe Trump is a verb.