WE CAN ALL agree on one thing: Thank god David Wu resigned.
Even before Wu stepped down after a pair of scandals this year (memory jog: tiger suit, alleged sexual assault), he was a dull disappointment for voters in a congressional district that spreads from downtown Portland to Astoria. Sure, he still won his last race pretty handily in 2010, but let's not forget: This is a guy who voted wholeheartedly in favor of No Child Left Behind.
Anyway, his departure has opened up Oregon's first congressional district for a handful of qualified candidates—even some who are likeable. Ballots for the November 8 primary election arrive this week to voters in parts of downtown and Southwest Portland. Whoever wins will make the ballot for another special election on January 31 and fill out the rest of Wu's term. And then it's off to the races again in November.
On the Republican side, Rob Cornilles, the sports consultant who couldn't beat Wu in 2010, is a shoo-in. So we're not even going to bother talking about it.
But for Democrats, a difficult decision looms. Vote for Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) Chief Brad Avakian or for Oregon State Senator Suzanne Bonamici? Apologies to Representative Brad Witt—but we'd like to see you continue your work in Salem.
Both Bonamici and Avakian have a solid political history in Oregon, and either would serve the district well in Congress. But we say, narrowly, vote for Avakian. Yes, he's a long-shot candidate. By far. But not only is he more progressive, his platform is also bolder and more specific.
Bonamici is formidable, and it's easy to see why: Having a campaign run by high-profile consultant Mark Wiener doesn't hurt, but she also fought against foreclosures and ran the state senate committee on consumer protection—exactly the type of expertise and passion we could use in Washington, DC, these days. "Good consumer protection laws help business," she says.
And she's got a progressive heart, working with low-income group Legal Aid during college and, more recently, marching with Occupy Portland.
She has a strong lead in the polls (more than 50 percent of likely Democratic voters lean her way, says a recent SurveyUSA poll). She's also got the biggest campaign fund (never mind that it includes a whopping $200,000 personal loan), raising $600,000 to Avakian's $378,00 (but with only $17,350 from political action committees compared to Avakian's $24,100).
That's all great. But Bonamici's platform feels too predictable, too boilerplate. Avakian reaches a bit higher.
In the Oregon Legislature and at BOLI, Avakian fought against discrimination and for living-wage jobs. He's exactly the kind of lefty we'd like to see on the federal stage, helping to shake a middling, cowed Democratic Party out of its stupor.
Here's what Avakian comes right out and says: Repeal the Bush-era tax cuts, immediately pull our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, end corporate tax loopholes—and then use all that extra revenue to fund a Works Progress Administration-level jobs-and-education project that makes President Obama's recent jobs plan look just like the drop in the bucket it is.
We also think it's key that Avakian wants to restore manufacturing in the district, creating jobs for the middle class, while also focusing on high-tech white-collar jobs.
"If you focus just on high tech, we're creating a lot of folks with low-paying jobs and a lot of folks with high-paying jobs and we're losing the middle," he says.
He's also harped on federal trade deals. Bonamici has been quieter on the subject. As Avakian notes, for a race that each candidate says is about jobs, jobs, jobs, trade policy should be a major focus: The district has lost 20,000 jobs to pro-globalization trade deals, he says.
We're not concerned about reports over Avakian's past financial troubles. Instead we wonder: Would his left-leaning thinking go over in a district that includes a large swath of rural Oregon?
Says Avakian, who grew up in the district and once held Bonamici's Senate seat: "The entire district will agree with me on everything I've said."