In Portland, Tuesday’s election results illustrated a curious split between local voters. While Portlanders veered away from more progressive candidates on the ballot, they backed nearly every progressive ballot measure in both local and statewide races.
To Mingus Mapps, a former political science professor and city employee elected to Portland City Council Tuesday, the results are a sign Portlanders “are interested in a new kind of politics.... politics that embraces our dreams and our best selves."
Mapps, a political newcomer, surpassed incumbent City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly by 12 percentage points Tuesday. Eudaly campaigned to the left of Mapps, whose moderate platform has appealed to property owners, business leaders, neighborhood associations, and law enforcement. These supporters have consistently opposed Eudaly’s work in city council advocating for tenants’ rights and homeless communities, policies that led her campaign to successfully—and unexpectedly—unseat incumbent commissioner Steve Novick in 2016.
If Eudaly’s win in 2016 was a sign that Portland’s political pendulum was swinging to the left, Mapps’ win decidedly brought it back to the center.
Mapps most recently worked with neighborhood associations in the city’s Office of Community and Civic Life (OCCL), a job he was fired from after allegedly refusing to discipline an employee. Mapps strongly opposed Eudaly’s interest in redefining which types of community groups are allowed a voice at City Hall. Eudaly’s intention was to allow community groups that may not feel welcome or represented by Portland’s majority white, middle-class neighborhood association, the same kind of access to city government as those neighborhood associations.
Mapps, along with several neighborhood organizations, argued that Eudaly was trying to upend Portland’s historic neighborhood groups by not offering them more information about the program from the start. That project has since been put on hold.
Mapps has also garnered the support of the Portland Police Bureau's (PPB) union for rank-and-file police, the Portland Police Association (PPA). That’s largely due to his hesitation to defund parts of the police bureau, including the now-dissolved Gun Violence Response Team (GVRT), and interest in collaborating with the police union to improve officer accountability issues.
"I don't want Portlanders to read this election as a rejection of Chloe's policies." —Portland City Commissioner-Elect Mingus Mapps
Mapps said he has no interest in rolling back the work Eudaly championed during her past four years on City Council. hopes to preserve her "noble legacy," especially around tenants' rights.
"I don't want Portlanders to read this [election] as a rejection of Chloe's policies," said Mapps. "I plan on continuing the work she started, and bring the next chapter of tenants' rights to the table."
On Tuesday night, Eudaly said she was saddened by Mapps’ win.
"We were poised to have the most progressive council in this city's history," said Eudaly. "With the re-election of Mayor Wheeler and election of Mingus Mapps, it's a step backwards for progress… I really think Portland is in for a surprise in the coming months and years when they realize who they've elected."
Mayor Ted Wheeler has a different outlook on Portland City Council’s future.
Wheeler, who won his re-election campaign against urban policy advisor Sarah Iannarone, told reporters Wednesday that he believes that come January, when Mapps’ term begins, “it’s going to be one of the strongest city councils that has ever been empaneled in the city of Portland.”
Mapps will be sworn in at the same time as Commissioner-Elect Carmen Rubio, who won her May primary election by a landslide. Rubio is expected to lean to the left of her predecessor, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who will be retiring at the end of 2020. They’ll join City Commissioner Dan Ryan, a moderate candidate elected in August, and staunch progressive City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty at the dais. This lineup marks Hardesty as the most left-leaning commissioner on the nonpartisan council.
In the past, Hardesty’s more contentious council proposals have relied on the support of Eudaly, who shares a background in progressive activism.
It’s not immediately clear which commissioner will fill that role, if any, in the new year. The new City Council will certainly be the most demographically diverse in Portland’s history, with commissioners of color now outnumbering the council’s two white electeds.
"It’s going to be one of the strongest city councils that has ever been empaneled in the city of Portland" —Mayor Ted Wheeler
Wheeler’s own race reflects Portlanders' caution to embrace left-wing leaders. Wheeler’s competitor Iannarone campaigned as a self-described “everyday antifascist,” invested in alternatives to the city’s current form of policing and sweeping changes to the way the city treats its houseless population. Iannarone garnered the support of progressives unhappy with the way Wheeler had been directing PPB to respond to protests and his cozy relationship with monied business leaders. Yet Iannarone ended the night with 40 percent of votes, trailing Wheeler by six percentage points.
Nearly 13 percent of ballots went to write-in candidates for mayor. That unusually high number underscores another factor at play in the general election: the campaign to write-in Teressa Raiford.
Raiford, founder of Don’t Shoot Portland, ended her campaign for mayor in May, when she came in third to Iannarone and Wheeler in the primary election. But an activist group reignited her candidacy during the summer’s racial justice protests, urging lefty Portlanders to support a progressive Black candidate over Iannarone. Raiford was not involved in the campaign, but supported the group sending a message that the traditional system of electing leadership in Portland worked against Black candidates.
Iannarone supporters argue that Raiford’s write-in votes pulled votes away from Iannarone, since it was more likely for Raiford supporters to agree with Iannarone’s progressive politics than Wheeler’s.
In the end, Wheeler came out on top.
"I'm grateful for the people of Portland for giving me the opportunity to serve a second term as your mayor,” Wheeler said Wednesday. “It goes without saying that I've learned a lot during my first term, and I look forward to putting those lessons into place in my second term."
"We are a city that demands forward progress on the issues of our time, no matter who is in power." —Mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone
Wheeler told reporters that those lessons include being more transparent with the public about what his office is doing, and working more in the community—not confined by City Hall’s walls.
“It feels to me that there’s often a gap between the work that my administration is doing and what the public’s expectations are in terms of this administration,” he said. “So, we’re rethinking everything.”
Iannarone has yet to publicly concede the election, but said in a statement Tuesday night that she's prepared to continue holding Wheeler accountable if he wins.
"We are a city that demands forward progress on the issues of our time," she said, "no matter who is in power."
A shift away from left-leaning leaders was also felt in the Metro Council race.
On Tuesday, voters picked former state representative Mary Nolan to represent North, Northeast, and Northwest Portland on Metro Council, the regional government for Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties. Nolan, who also served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, leaned to the right of her opponent Chris Smith, a transportation advocate and urban planning wonk. Smith centered his campaign on his record supporting progressive local policies, which included opposing an expansion of Interstate 5 in Northeast Portland, and supporting changes to Portland’s zoning to make it easier to build duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes. These plans have been considered too radical for many car-driving, property-owning Portland liberals.
Smith also positioned himself as a climate champion.
“The whole theory of this campaign, going back to the beginning, was that District 5 was a place where a candidate could run centering climate as the major issue,” Smith said at a virtual campaign before results rolled in Tuesday evening. “I really wanted to test the idea that climate could be a winning issue in the election… We’ll know, ultimately, whether that was a good strategy or not in a couple hours now.”
That turned out not to be a winning strategy for Smith. Nolan finished the race with a 25 percent lead over Smith, and credits her win to her knack for moderation.
"I think voters want things to happen," she told the Mercury Tuesday evening. "They want competent people... They want people who know how to deliver things."
While Portland progressives were left with little to celebrate in the races for political office, there were several bright spots when it came to local ballot measures.
Multnomah County voters approved Measure 26-214, which will create access to tuition-free preschool for all families in the county, by a margin of two-to-one. The plan will be funded by a tax on high-income earners, and will also ensure that preschool teachers earn more than minimum wage.
That measure came together as the result of two separate preschool access campaigns—a more conservative campaign heralded by Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, and a more ambitious one supported by members of the Portland Democratic Socialists (DSA) of America chapter—merging at the 11th hour. Both Vega Pederson and Portland DSA claimed victory as results rolled in Tuesday night.
"Taxing the rich to fund universal preschool is just the beginning. We aren’t done yet." —Portland DSA
“We’re so proud to have won this campaign for Multnomah County,” reads a press release from Portland DSA. “To all Multnomah County residents, we’d like for you to ask yourselves—what can we win next? Taxing the rich to fund universal preschool is just the beginning. We aren’t done yet.”
Meanwhile, voters in the city of Portland approved Measure 26-217, to overhaul the city’s police oversight system, with a whopping 82 percent of the vote. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the measure’s architect, told the Mercury that she had “expected” it to succeed. Portland has seen over 150 nights of virtually uninterrupted protests against police brutality, first sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Here’s how the Mercury broke down the details of this measure in our election endorsements:
Currently, cases of police misconduct—anything from using profanity to killing a member of the public—are sent to the city’s Independent Police Review (IPR) office where they’re investigated by an IPR employee or punted to the Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) internal affairs office. As a rule, cases that involve death and officer use of force are investigated solely by police in a largely opaque process. Regardless of who investigates these cases, the chief of police has the final say on what, if any, discipline an officer should receive for the alleged misconduct.
Measure 26-217 offers a path toward dismantling this current system. Proposed by longtime police accountability activist Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the measure would add new language to Portland’s charter authorizing the creation of a new police oversight board.
This charter amendment would allow this oversight board, made up of volunteers from the community, to investigate misconduct cases related to death, use of force, and discrimination—and to mandate officer discipline, including an officer’s termination, without a police chief’s approval. The board would be funded by 5 percent of PPB’s annual budget, and board members would be responsible for selecting a director, who would hire staff to investigate cases for the board. No member of law enforcement would be allowed to sit on the board.
Hardesty said she’s expecting the Portland Police Association (PPA)—the union for rank-and-file PPB cops—to mount a legal challenge before the measure can go into effect.
"Fortunately there are 46 attorneys currently employed by the City of Portland," she said. "I expect [PPA] to file a lawsuit. But because voters passed this with over an 80 percent margin, I think our attorneys will be able to rigorously defend it in court."
Another local ballot measure that progressives had pinned their hopes on wasn’t as successful. Measure 26-218, which would have funded new transportation projects and improvements throughout the region, was rejected by Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas county voters, with 57 percent of people voting “no.”
A new MAX line connecting downtown Portland to the southwest suburbs was the $5 billion measure’s flashiest promise, but it also included a range of smaller safety and climate-focused projects—like electrifying TriMet’s bus fleet, subsidizing free transit access for teens, and building miles of new sidewalks and protected crosswalks. These elements drew support from a broad coalition of racial justice and environmentally focused organizations.
"Safe, reliable transportation remains a regional challenge that we must address together—doing nothing is not an option." —Metro President Lynn Peterson
But an opposition campaign, backed by big businesses, attacked the measure’s funding mechanism: A payroll tax on workplaces in the region that employ more than 25 people. That campaign, called Stop the Metro Wage Tax, flooded voters’ mailboxes with mailers warning that the tax would hurt workers during a pandemic-induced recession.
“Defeat of the wage tax is a rejection of failed Metro leadership and mission creep and a victory for protecting family paychecks, jobs, and employers of all kind," said the "No" campaign communications director Jeff Reading in a prepared statement.
Proponents promised to continue advocating for the most popular individual projects it would have funded.
“We need to move forward as a region,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson in a statement. “We're going to keep growing. Safe, reliable transportation remains a regional challenge that we must address together—doing nothing is not an option.”
While the Metro funding measure failed, three largely noncontroversial funding measures for popular public institutions were successful: A Portland Parks & Recreation levy, along with bond measures for Portland Public Schools and the Multnomah County Public Library, were all approved by wide margins of at least 20 percent.
Finally, Measure 26-219, which would have amended Portland’s city charter to allow the water bureau to use its funds to maintain public lands around its facilities, failed to pass by a narrow margin. The Portland Audubon Society, which supported the measure, blamed its defeat on unclear messaging around its purpose in a statement posted to Facebook.
“We are confident given the narrow defeat, [the measure] will be brought with clearer language and passed in the future,” the statement reads.
All four statewide ballot measures were approved by Oregonians last night—and none of the races were particularly close. Each of the measures can be seen as a win for progressive policy, particularly two that focus on decriminalizing drug use in Oregon.
The most contentious statewide measure was Measure 110, which will decriminalize possession of small amounts of meth, heroin, cocaine, and other hard drugs, and revamp Oregon’s addiction recovery system. The “Yes” campaign touted Measure 110 as a chance to stop criminalizing addiction, and instead offer people help not linked to jail time. The opposition campaign, meanwhile, argued that Measure 110 will upend the existing recovery infrastructure without having a fully thought-out plan to replace it.
The measure passed by about 19 percent of the vote, and supporters hailed its passage as a trailblazing victory that other states hoping to decriminalize drug possession could follow.
“This is such a big step in moving to a health-based approach instead of criminal punishment,” said Janie Gullickson, co-chief petitioner of Measure 110 and the executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon, in a press release. “We’re devoting significant new resources to help Oregonians who need it.”
Oregonians also approved Measure 108, which will increase the state tax on tobacco products and establish a tax on nicotine vape products in order to fund state-run smoking cessation and prevention programs. And Measure 109—which will legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the psychoactive present in magic mushrooms—passed by a 12-percent margin. Oregon is the first state to pass such a law, and proponents framed the victory as a win for Oregonians who struggle to treat depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues.
"Now we can begin the process of designing a safe new therapy that raises the bar for what’s possible in successful mental health treatment."—Sheri Eckert, therapeutic mushroom measure campaign
“Now we can begin the process of designing a safe new therapy that raises the bar for what’s possible in successful mental health treatment,” said Sheri Eckert, one of the measure’s chief petitioners, in a statement.
There's still a long road ahead before psilocybin clinics start opening. The Oregon Health Authority now has two years to create a first-of-its-kind certification and oversight system.
The most popular state ballot measure of the night was Measure 107, which will allow for broader campaign finance reform in Oregon and passed with nearly 80 percent of the vote. Here’s how we summed up Measure 107 in our endorsements:
Specifically, Measure 107 would change the Oregon Constitution to allow state and local governments to set laws around how much money individuals and organizations are allowed to contribute to local political campaigns. It would also allow for laws requiring campaigns to disclose their largest contributors in their advertisements.
Multnomah County and City of Portland voters already passed campaign finance reform rules in recent elections, and those rules survived a legal challenge in the Oregon Supreme Court in April. If passed, this measure would likely open the door for statewide campaign finance reform.
Campaign Manager Sonny Mehta said in a statement that by passing 107, Oregon voters were “sending a clear mandate to the state legislature to pass meaningful campaign finance limits in the 2021 legislative session.”