Portland may be many things, but it's not a place where conservative politicians have a hope of getting elected. Since the political spectrum in the city ranges roughly from socialist to leftist Democrat, the term "conservative" is used to describe people who would, in most other parts of the country, be considered "moderates."
Take, for example, city council candidate Ginny Burdick, who is currently serving her third term as a state senator. In the legislature, Burdick has established a firmly progressive slate of accomplishments, pushing through gun law reforms, promoting alternative transportation, and more. But when pitted against incumbent City Commissioner Erik Sten, Burdick looks downright Republican.
The overriding theme when opponents attack her campaign—and which Sten has capitalized on—is that she is intimately tied to big corporations like PGE and OHSU through her work as a public relations consultant at Gard & Gerber. The firm has represented moneyed interests that have frequently clashed directly with Sten—his attempted public takeover of PGE is only the most high-profile example.
And Burdick has come out repeating the party line of the First Things First Committee—the corporate-backed coalition that unsuccessfully tried to get a repeal of the city's publicly financed elections on the May ballot. The corporate nature of the repeal proponents, along with Gard & Gerber's involvement, made it easy for backers of public elections to paint it as a corporate power grab—with Burdick right in the middle.And yet, Burdick has presented her corporate ties as an advantage.
"I'm very proud of my private-sector work," she told the Mercury. "The things I've done that are most relevant to the city council is the work I've done in the public sector, but I've had an entire career in the private sector." Unlike Sten, she said, who's spent his entire career at city hall.
The 58-year-old Burdick ran her own public relations and "crisis communications" company for two decades before joining Gard & Gerber two years ago. In 1988, she ran a failed campaign to represent her district in the state senate, but came back eight years later and won. The focus of her campaign, she said, was education and the environment.
One of her most high-profile moments during her tenure at the legislature was the passage of a gun safety law that requires background checks at gun shows, earning her an F- from the National Rifle Association. But, when the law was referred to voters, it passed with 62 percent of the vote.
She's also pushed to make the roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, functioning as the legislative liaison to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition.
On the other hand, her plans for city council could easily be seen as "conservative," although Burdick herself doesn't believe that label could ever be used to describe her. Along with Dave Lister, the only publicly conservative candidate for Sten's seat, Burdick pledges to end city spending on so-called "pet projects" (like the OHSU tram, public power, public elections, citywide wireless internet access) and return the council to fulfilling its "core functions" (police, roads, parks).
Going further, she says she'd spend the savings primarily on hiring more police and renting more jail beds from the county in order to fight the horrors of meth use. The desire for protection from the danger—or perceived danger—of meth, Burdick says, transcends conservative and liberal lines.
"No one would call me a conservative," Burdick said.
Meet the Candidates at the Mercury Forum!
If there's anything the Mercury takes seriously, it's the process by which we choose the leaders who will make decisions on our behalf, and whose leadership will shape the direction this great city is headed.
And that's why we're inviting you, dear reader, to our city council candidate forum on April 13 at 7 pm. We're partnering with the Associated Students of Portland State University and the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government to grill the candidates on their vision for the city.
Unlike the forums pimped by some other media outlets, this one is totally free, will feature nearly every candidate, won't be centered around public humiliation, and will include some of your questions.
Expect insightful questions, snappy answers, zero bullshit, and, of course, a round or two of "Kiss It or Dis It."
Got something you'd like to ask the candidates? Email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll do our best to include it.
Thurs April 13, 7 pm, PSU Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 298, 1825 SW Broadway, totally free