Why I Support OR-Sen candidate Jeff Merkley

As many of you know there is a contested race for the Democratic nomination for the Oregon Senate between House Speaker Jeff Merkley and lawyer/activist Steve Novick. As an Oregonian, I am not represented by my current Republican Senator Gordon Smith. He’s a moderate poser, who trots out votes during election time where he sided with the Democrats in an effort to conceal his true political nature. The primary for the nomination is less than a month away, and time’s ticking for both Democrats to make their case. I want to make the case for Jeff Merkley here and now, and hopefully convince my fellow bloggers that Jeff Merkley will be a progressive champion for us.

A little backround

Jeff Merkley was born in Myrtle Creek Oregon, the son of a sawmill worker and the first in his family to go to college. Yes, I’m supporting another son of a mill worker! Merkley also spent a year in Ghana as a foreign exchange student. Here’s a snippet from his website about his education, foreign policy experience and work with community organizations:

After earning his undergraduate degree at Stanford University, Jeff won a full scholarship to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, where he obtained his Masters Degree in Public Policy. In 1982, he won appointment as a Presidential Management Fellow, which gave him the opportunity to tackle several pressing issues in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. While serving as a Presidential Fellow, he focused his analytical talents on the critical problems of safeguarding American military technology, verifying arms treaties, and assisting the U.S. delegation to NATO.

He also started the Walk for Humanity, launched development of the Habitat Home Building Center, and initiated a pilot project for “YouthBuild,” in which gang-affected youth learn life skills while building homes in their own neighborhoods. His work at Habitat led him to serve as Director of Housing Development at Human Solutions, where he helped create affordable housing, a real need in the community. He founded Oregon’s first Individual Development Account (IDA) program to help low-income families save money to buy homes, attend college, or start businesses.

Is Merkley a Progressive?

Whenever I research a Democratic candidate, I always make sure they fit basic political criteria in order for them to qualify as a fightin’ progressive in my mind. They have to be a proponent of UHC, opposed to the Iraq War and serious about investing in green energy here at home. They need to advocate for a livable wage and fair trade. They have to support regulating the lending industry, especially considering Democrats in Congress are failing us on this very problem. They have to have a record of opposing Bush’s judicial appointees including his horrid Mukasey nomination. They have to be outspoken on illegal surveillance and the America’s newfound acceptance of torturing detainees. Did Merkley fit this criteria? Yes!

Is being a progressive enough? There are three Democrats running for the Oregon nomination, and they all share many of the same progressive stances. So, why Merkley over the other two?

Merkley isn’t just a progressive, he’s a skilled progressive legislator

When I started researching the candidates for the Oregon Senate race, I was drawn to Merkley right away because he was the only candidate who had held elective office and was progressive. I also really liked that he came from a working family and thought his foreign policy experience made him stand apart from the other Democratic candidates. However, that’s not what eventually won me over. Jeff Merkley has been an incredibly skilled legislator here in Oregon. As House Speaker, he presided over the greenest and most labor friendly session in 30 years. He was able to get Republicans on board with countless environmental bills, a payday lending cap, domestic partnerships legislation, the Rainy Day fund for public schools, and the Employee Free Choice Act. Those are just a handful of bills we were able to get passed last year under Merkley’s leadership. The Oregon League of Conservation Voters gave Merkley the “Caretaker of the Year” award for the 2007 session. Here’s what they had to say about his leadership on environmental issues:

Speaker Merkley was a strong leader who did not carry his ego on his sleeve.  He listened carefully and always had an open door to the conservation community.  He also cared a great deal about the cohesiveness of his caucus and was able to juggle the tricky balance between moving a conservation agenda forward while ensuring his caucus members agreed to the goals.  Speaker Merkley deserves much of the credit for this successful environmental session.

If Merkley deserves much of the credit for the success of the environmental session that led to the passage of all of these bills, what kind of a Senator do you think he’ll be on environmental issues? Recently the Register Guard endorsed Merkley and spoke about how effective a leader he was in the House:

Merkley, 51, is the only Democrat in the race with experience in elective office, having represented a Portland district in the Oregon House for five terms. As minority leader during the 2003 and 2005 sessions, he helped engineer the Democratic victories in 2006 that ended 16 years of Republican control of the House. His colleagues elected him speaker for the 2007 session.

That session was the most productive in recent memory, with important achievements in the areas of education funding, civil rights, consumer protection and budgetary stability. Merkley also presided over an efficiently run supplemental session earlier this year.

Merkley imposed tight discipline to keep his slender majority united and treated Republicans fairly in such matters as committee representation and did it without making enemies of any of his Democratic colleagues. A more convincing demonstration of leadership would be hard to find, and it’s a type of leadership badly needed in hyper-partisan national politics.

This goes to the heart of why I support Merkley. He isn’t just a progressive, he’s a lefty legislator who has a proven record of getting things passed with a slim majority in the House. How many current Senators in Congress are able to get Republicans on board with progressive legislation? I know what you’re thinking, he’s just another compromising Democrat who won’t fight for what’s right. This is not the case with Speaker Merkley. One of my favorite stories about Merkley is how he fought like hell against rule changes imposed by Republican Karen Minnis. Back in 2005, Karen Minnis changed the House rules in an effort to block domestic partnership legislation from hitting the floor for a vote. Here’s what Gay Rights Watch said about Merkley standing up for gay rights in the House:

Democratic Minority Leader Jeff Merkley (D- Portland) stood on the floor of the House this evening at around 7:15pm standing up for the rights of gay and lesbian Oregonians. I truly wish I could have seen this. I’m not sure of all the details, but from what I hear Jeff was not happy at all. Outraged at what Speaker Minnis did today to destroy House rules – he did not hold back. He was gavelled about 4 times before either being told that his microphone would be turned off – or it was actually turned off by Speaker Minnis. He was called into Speaker Minnis’ office to discuss the floor ‘dispute’. Pretty intense.

So thank you Representative Merkley, for sticking up for what you believe and fighting for the rights of GLBT Oregonians. We applaud you and your efforts.

Merkley’s opening statement in a recent Democratic debate he talked about this very incident:

“I fought so hard for gay and lesbian families that Karen Minnis cut off my mic on the House floor and threatened to have state troopers remove me. But I kept right on fighting and in 2007 won passage of historic legislation for basic rights and domestic partnerships. And, today I’m proud to announce that my campaign has received the endorsement of Basic Rights Oregon”

So, he’s not just a progressive legislator who has managed to get Republicans on board with progressive bills, he’s also fought for what’s right. Lord knows we need a fightin’ progressive legislator who has the skills to get things done. Recently Portland Oregon’s leading gay and lesbian publication Just Out recently endorsed Jeff Merkley for Senate and spoke about why he is the best poised to beat Smith:

Taken wholly, Jeff Merkley’s body of nonprofit and legislative work has helped build and empower educated, healthy, equal communities in Portland and across the state. From banning public school lunchroom junk food and expanding Oregon’s ban on smoking to helping bring Oregon’s equal rights laws for sexual minorities into the 21st century, this David Douglas High School alum has the most proven track record and is best poised to unseat incumbent Gordon Smith.

There are so many more progressive organizations and politicians I respect supporting Jeff Merkley. Max Cleland, Jon Tester, City Commissioner Sam Adams (running for Portland Mayor), Equality Giving, Basic Rights Oregon, Council for a Livable World, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, the SEIU and many more. These organizations have seen the kind of leader Merkley has been for Oregon. They also believe as I do, that Merkley is the candidate who can beat Republican Gordon Smith. Merkley has built up a strong ground game, has already broke fundraising records for Oregon challengers, is putting out strong ads that will appeal to a cross section of Oregonians and has a record of proven progressive leadership. These are all reasons why I support Jeff Merkley for Oregon Senate and hope you’ll join me!

Give Merkley Money!

If any of you feel compelled to throw some change Merkley’s way and help elect him to the U.S. Senate, I set up an Act Blue page here. Thanks!


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  1. maybe he’ll light a fire under the Democratic leadership? They sure need it.  

    • brobin on April 25, 2008 at 01:04

    and reading his responses to some really pertinent questions regarding Oregon, the USA and the World, I came away very impressed.

    I’ll be supporting Jeff.

    Thanks sarah!

    • Benny on April 25, 2008 at 03:31

    I’m not clear why which bloggers support whom, but Sarah Lane explains why she supports Merkley very well.  I’m not certain I’ve seen Novick live blog at other places, but only mentioned in bios, etc.  

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