Brian Sendlebach
Loaves & Fishes is a local charity organization that hands out or delivers meals to homeless and low-income elderly people, hosting 14 cafeteria-style soup kitchens around the county. On their website, they proudly proclaim that "no senior will go hungry or experience social isolation." They also profess their values to be "respect," "inclusion," and "compassion." But an incident two weeks ago--and its subsequent fallout--seems to undercut those promises and raises troubling questions about faith-based organizations.

The incident in question was sparked by differing opinions over ballot measure 36, which attempts to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage.

Two weeks ago, Kathleen Bushman and her husband stopped in at the Loaves & Fishes food center along MLK Blvd. Both are homeless. Bushman says she was reading a newspaper when Tyesis Gamble, the facility manager, walked by her carrying an armful of "Vote Yes on 36: One Man, One Woman" bumper stickers. Bushman, who is a staunch progressive, told her "no thanks."

According to Bushman, Gamble turned on her heels and strode off in a huff. At that point, Bushman noticed Gamble had a "Vote Yes on 36" sticker stuck on her back, right between her shoulder blades. (Gamble claims someone stuck the sticker to her back and had no idea it was there.)

Loaves & Fishes is partially funded by federal dollars and its policy strictly forbids employees from political stumping while at work. Bushman became increasingly upset that Gamble was using her position to push the anti-gay agenda and finally approached her.

According to Bushman, the brief exchange went as follows:

Bushman: "As a public servant, are you allowed to take a public stand on a political issue?" Gamble: "Everyone is entitled to her opinion."

The tiff was left at that until Bushman called the Loaves & Fishes headquarters to complain. She was informed that, yes, employees could not hand out political material at work. (But Loaves & Fishes also categorically denies that the incident occurred. A spokesperson said that Bushman must have been "confused." "I can state without question that our staff would not do that." But two other witnesses back up Bushman's version of the story.)

Unfortunately, the friction didn't end there. When Bushman and her husband returned to Loaves & Fishes a few days later, they were harassed by a volunteer who lambasted them for getting Gamble into trouble. The volunteer also insisted Bushman would need to pay for her meal. (It is policy that meals are available for free or donations.) The following day, once again, Bushman was turned away.

"This is why faith-based initiative stuff is so dangerous," Bushman told the Mercury, referring to the Bush administration's efforts to funnel social services through religious organizations. "They can regulate who comes for services; they're thought police." PHIL BUSSE


Last week the not-so-shocking news arrived that Republicans were behind voter registration shenanigans in Nevada. A group generously called "America Votes" was pounding the pavement for new voters. But apparently their workers were tearing up any registration form in which the new voter checked Democrat; conversely, the workers were paid $5 for each Republican registered. There were also unconfirmed rumors that the same junky tactics were being employed here in Oregon.

But even if Republican-backed registration drives aren't ripping up forms here in our state, they are apparently dangling cash incentives for registering Republicans. As a result, at least one Portland progressive told the Mercury that he recently signed up as a Republican after being informed the canvasser was being paid $6 for every Republican he registered--and not a cent for Democrats. This incident went down in Pioneer Square just before the voter registration deadline last week. Even though the new voter says that he plans to vote for Kerry, he also said that he felt guilt-tripped into registering as a Republican so that the man would get some money.

While it might be a waste of time to register non-Republicans, neo-conservatives might want to re-think this approach: Pity registrations won't necessarily translate to more votes for Bush. ALISON HALLETT


Last week, pledging support for public education, President Bush dropped in on central Oregon to gather up some much-needed votes. But ironically, not everyone was welcome. Three women arrived wearing t-shirts that read "Protect Our Civil Liberties." They had passed security but were quickly informed they were subject to arrest if they stayed at the rally. A Bush spokesperson said they posed a threat of "being disruptive." PB