Dear Kate Brown: an Open Letter from Portland DSA
Dear Governor Kate Brown,
Oregon is widely acknowledged to be a progressive state, but it is struggling to live up to that description under your leadership. But Oregonians have shown a hunger to embrace a bold agenda. Look at the 2016 primary results: 56% of Democrats in Oregon voted for Bernie Sanders over the 42% of votes for Hillary Clinton. And 10 of the 15 school bonds in 2016 passed, showing this is not just a partisan issue. Oregonians are showing up and voting for an end to austerity and neoliberal politics, which has prioritized the comfort of corporations and the wealthy over the needs of the people.
2018 should be a banner year for Democrats around the country, as Americans reject the Trump administration’s grotesque tax breaks for the wealthy, inhumane treatment of immigrants, vile stoking of white supremacy, and continued ravaging of our environment in the face of climate catastrophe. Yet Oregon could be an outlier in the blue wave, as you and Knute Buehler are virtually tied in the polls. While Oregon voters have made their priorities clear, you have responded with piecemeal, centrist policy-making (or silent avoidance of key issues).
You continue moving to the right to absorb the ever elusive pragmatic Republican voter, all the while alienating and demoralizing the left. We have shown you our energy and that the majority of voters in this state stand behind a bold platform that addresses inequality and fights for working people, but you don’t seem to be paying attention.
First, it’s time to tax the rich. You convened a special session in the spring of 2018 to extend tax breaks to mostly wealthy businesses. For decades, we have underfunded education, social services, mental health programs, and generally neglected our state. We have the lowest graduation rates in the country, some of the largest class sizes, overworked teachers, and strained students and families. We have a housing crisis, a foster care crisis, an education crisis, a mental health crisis, a state worker pension crisis, and there is no solution without a funding solution — which you have largely avoided addressing.
Austerity and divestment from our workers, children, elderly, families, and our most vulnerable communities has not been working. Instead, we need to tax the rich and actually fund the state. We don’t have to keep limping along. We have great wealth in this state — it’s just being hoarded by the wealthiest to deprive the rest of us. We can fight for universal pre-k, public housing, fully funded education, and mental health care, but not without revenue. We accept no solutions to these crises without a solution that is based around revenue, by taxing the rich and large corporations.
Next, we have devastating housing insecurity and spikes in houselessness throughout the state (and country). Yet under your leadership, the majority Democratic state house and senate failed to pass any housing legislation to protect Oregon’s most vulnerable. We demand that you create a mandate to reverse the ban on rent control and end no cause evictions. Every city needs the ability to explore solutions to the housing crisis. We believe rent control is necessary and that our Democratic elected officials must fight for it and protect the most vulnerable among us: those that are facing eviction and houselessness.
Finally, we are facing a climate catastrophe that threatens our very survival. One key action that we can make at the state and local level is to resist new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. You call yourself a climate leader but have remained silent on the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal. Grassroots communities and organizations throughout the state have demanded that the pipeline be shut down. Every week, evidence pours in about the devastating effects of fracked gas to our water and its contribution to climate change. You can stand with indigenous communities, climate activists, environmentalists, and elected officials, including Senator Merkley, to keep it in the ground. In fact, you have no basis for calling yourself a “climate leader” if you can’t take this simple position. We need green public infrastructure projects not pipeline projects. You don’t have to choose between labor and the environment but can do both in a way that improves the quality of our state and world rather than depleting and hastening its destruction.
We are facing unprecedented times in our country and in our state. Reactionary, racist, neo-fascist forces are mounting vicious attacks on immigrant communities, women, people of color, our environment, labor, LGBTQ communities, along with children, people with disabilities, and on and on. We cannot fight fascism and the violence it unleashes with corporate centrism. The 2016 election showed us that.
You hold an executive role in our state. You can set the agenda: you can present a way forward that reduces inequality, invests in our state, provides security for people in their homes, and solidifies you as a climate champion for years to come. You can galvanize the left if you embrace these ideas. Or, you can continue chasing the right and quite possibly lose. As 2016 has shown us, people favor a candidate who stands for repugnant ideas more than standing for nothing at all. The choice is yours.
Olivia Katbi Smith
Co-Chairs, Portland Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America