American politics is a very diverse field, and there is great variety between different regions of the country with regards to their political affiliation. Washington County in Oregon is especially famous as one of the most diverse and politically unique areas of the country. This sample research paper explores the connection between Oregon’s politics and American democracy.
Background on politics in Oregon
Washington County in Oregon has consistently been regarded as one of the more diverse and politically unique regions of both its state and country. As part of the state’s First Congressional District, Washington County tends to hold strong presences from multiple parties in the political spectrum. In this paper, this paper first highlights the history of Washington County’s congressional district and analyze the political background of its representative, Suzanne Bonamici.
The primary research will focus on the larger political issues by documenting the politics of the State of Oregon as a whole, as well as one of its respective senators, Ron Wyden. The research also focuses on how Oregonians lean towards Republican and Democrat votes and how those two parties impact the American political system. Although the majority of Oregonians are not committed to one specific political party and the state’s regional politics have differed in the past, Oregon predominately leans to the left on both economic and social issues.
Political ideology and organizational structure
While many Oregonians have far-left leaning political viewpoints, especially in the state’s largest city, Portland, residents of Washington County and the First Congressional District Oregon currently has five congressional districts, all of which contain one member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Separated by regional lines, four of these five representatives are classified as either Independents or Democrats, while one remains a longstanding Republican.
It is interesting to note that the Republican representative in the state comes from Oregon’s largest, most sparsely populated district, home to many rural towns (Walden 2012). Washington County, however, is home to Suzanne Bonamici, Oregon’s only female representative. Aside from Washington County, Bonamici also represents the counties of Clatsop, Columbia, Yamhill and a section of Multnomah, respectively (Bonamici 2012).
The district’s relatively small area in land mass often boasts of being moderately left-leaning on the political spectrum, and in some ways, the district’s blend of agricultural and industrial prowess reflects the politics of the State of Oregon on the whole. In reality, like most states, voter demographics reflect a wide spectrum of political philosophies.
History of elected officials presiding in Washington County and Oregon
The First Congressional District in Oregon has a rich history in its elected officials, and in the past, has had a diverse background of individuals from which their respective representative are chosen. Since the mid-1970s, the district has always elected a Democratic representative (Martis 1982). However, it is prudent to note that just because the region may be left-leaning, does mean that these elections were not close. In fact, only until recently, in which the now infamous David Wu won by very large margins, did the region shift so dramatically to the left (Klatell 2011).
After Wu resigned for being accused of repeated instances of sexual harassment by a campaign worker, many felt the district would tilt back to the right, as his transgressions also came during the same time as Democrat Anthony Weiner’s private conversations with an underage woman were being leaked to the public as well (Klatell 2011). Oddly, the district shifted even further to the left, with many longtime supporters of Wu backing Bonamici in a claim that political party affiliation had nothing to do with the transgressions.
Political landscape and the road to moderate officials
Yet, unlike her Democratic peers around the state, Bonamici’s affiliation with the Independent party, as well as her desire to convey her policies as a Centrist, highlights that she may also have garnered a wide majority of the vote because of her moderate stance on several issues. While it is difficult to pinpoint how exactly the district became even more left-leaning at the turn of the century, it is thus important to note Bonamici’s political classifications, most notably her stance as an Independent.
Among other things (like Wu’s resignation), this may suggest that Bonamici may be a part of a new, more moderate political ferment entering the district. Moreover, her title may also come from an attempt to distance herself from the extremely partisan gridlock that is currently sifting through Congress. Regardless, her decision to label herself as an Independent and be very successful in both the general and primary election shows that the district may not be committed to a singular political party or issue.
Suzanne Bonamici: Moderate conservatism in Oregon
Bonamici herself has been an advocate for several key issues currently being debated in the House of Representatives, and she has excelled at representing the desired political viewpoints of her district’s constituents. In 2012, Bonamici won by the fourth largest margin in the state’s five races, indicating the First Congressional District’s more widespread political ideologies (Associated Press 2012).
Winning almost 60% of the total vote does seem like quite a landslide; however, in comparison to, for example, Oregon’s third district, in which Democrat Earl Blumenauer won by a whopping 75% margin over Republican Ronald Green, Bonamici’s victory seems rather tame (Associated Press 2012). A lawyer before becoming a politician, Bonamici has always held slightly left-leaning views. Now a member of the House of Representatives, Bonamici is also a member of two committees:
- The Committee on Education
- The Workforce and The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Thus, while Bonamici’s district can be roughly defined as moderately liberal, it is less so than other districts in the state, and the Representative herself is more of a Centrist Democrat than her peers serving throughout the state.
Background on Bonamici’s political career
Bonamici’s background as a moderate liberal suits her district wonderfully; her storied history is indicative of someone who tends to lean to the left but can reconcile some issues with conservatives so long as they better her district and country. Born in Detroit, the rising Centrist leader received two of her three degrees from the University of Oregon, and served in both the State of Oregon House of Representatives and Senate for several years (VoteSmart, 2013).
On issues, Bonamici reflects sincere judgment for both the citizens of her district, as well as the nation on the whole. She has been known for compromise; she voted yes on the Fiscal Cliff Compromise Bill and shares modest approval ratings from many different organizations on both sides of the political spectrum (VoteSmart 2013). In 2012, she was given a 50% approval rating from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), low in comparison to her other fellow Democratic representatives from across the country (VoteSmart 2013).
Moreover, Bonamici was given a fairly robust approval rating from civil and criminal law organizations such as the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance (OACA), and agricultural development (VoteSmart 2013). Due to Bonamici’s very short tenure in the House of Representatives, her ratings for the CC, ACU, and ADA were not available at the time of this project.
This research paper covers several of Bonamici’s other ratings from organizations and interest groups in similar categories. The young representative was given a 0% from the Catholic Advocate – Positions and very high marks from environmental groups (VoteSmart 2013). These ratings help to stuff her “Democratic” classification, as Bonamici shares very similar ratings in these categories to her peers, both in Oregon and throughout the country.
Bonamici herself can be classified as a Centrist Democrat. The U.S. News and World Report defines a centrist democrat as a politician whose political ideals range in between Republican and Democrat. Her positions meet much of the criteria for a contemporary politician on the left, while occasionally illustrate her ability to reach out across the aisle.
Yet the State of Oregon, like some of its representatives, tends to lean more aggressively to the left. This is not to say that Oregon does not have many constituents who disagree with liberal policies; obviously, the state has many residents, such as those living in the farmlands and rural areas of the state’s Second Congressional District that vehemently oppose liberal policies.
However, when assessing the state’s political slant as a whole, researchers must look at the importance Oregon’s largest cities, such as Portland and Eugene, play into defining the Oregonian political spectrum. Oregon’s two senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and are both Democrats, and while they share small differences of opinion on certain issues, have both been noted for their fairly aggressive left-leaning stances. This paper will specifically focus on Wyden, as he has had a much longer tenure in the Senate than his peer.
Ron Wyden: Oregon’s liberal side
Ron Wyden was first elected to serve in Washington in 1996 and serves on several committees. He currently serves on The Committee on the Budget and The Committee on Finance, as well as the chairman for The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (VoteSmart 2013). Yet Wyden has been well-known in the political sphere for having very left-leaning ideologies and beliefs, and his track record in voting on many major issues is indicative of such claims.
Wyden was one of the few senators to vote against the bad decision to invade Iraq in 2003, citing lack of substantial evidence against its leaders as a means to justify war (Wyden 2012). Moreover, he has also been a staunch supporter of civil liberties for a wide range of groups. In 2010, the ACLU gave Wyden a 93%, meaning he was very cooperative with the organization’s ideologies and intent on equalizing liberty in the country (VoteSmart 2013).
The Christian Coalition (CC), however, gave Wyden a 0% for his stance on family issues (VoteSmart 2013). The organization bases these decisions off how conservative a candidate or congressperson’s social issues are, and this 0% approval rating illustrates just how far Wyden strays from the Republican Party and how closely he aligns with very left-leaning members of Congress.
Difficulty of republican victories
When Wyden first challenged Republican Gordon Smith the 1996 general election, he won by a very slim margin: 48% to 47% (Wyden 2012). The election was unparalleled in Oregon as often times, Republican candidates have had great difficulty winning general elections held throughout the entire state. This highlights the state’s misconception as a vehemently liberal place.
Rather, Oregon has maintained a somewhat cautious approach to answering Washington’s most important problems, and as a state, elected several conservative individuals to serve in Congress over the last few decades. But Wyden has established himself as one of the Senate’s most Democratic members, regardless of the State of Oregon remaining a relatively moderately place.
Because of the state’s continuous overall support for Democratic candidates, some very liberal individuals like Wyden can easily be elected to office, even if their views contrast with a majority of the population. Moreover, because of the rightward trend and Tea Party Movement, many Oregonians have found it less appealing to vote conservative, even if the candidate may be more moderate (Wyden 2012).
The same paradox can be found when looking at the recent Massachusetts Senatorial race, in which Scott Brown, voted the most moderate congressperson in the country, defeated Elizabeth Warren, a very liberal challenger seeking to overthrow his short tenure in Washington. Because Warren had the backing of many Massachusetts Democrats, she was able to defeat Brown, even during a time in which bipartisanship has been excessively cherished.
Thus, Wyden’s continuous victories in representing the people of Oregon in Washington stem from a variety of reasons, but none of which may be more important than the state’s longstanding ideology which favors liberal candidates of any denomination.
Oregon’s lack of political unity
Oregon itself has been a state devoid of an explicit definition of its political ideologies, unlike many other regions around the country. While the Democratic Party has often times prevailed in many elections, both regional and national, the Republican Party in Oregon has somewhat of a presence, due to the farmland that makes up a majority of the state’s land mass (Walden 2012).
This illustrates that while we can classify the State of Oregon as “liberal,” we cannot simply declare the conservatives do not have a place in the state’s electoral process. Many of the state’s Republican leaders often tame their viewpoints to circumnavigate the liberal population’s ideologies; however, they too strive to promote moderate fiscal conservatism above most other things, leaving their followers with less of an adherence to following extreme right-wing ideas, such as those furnished by the Tea Party.
The 2012 Presidential Election anomaly
The presidential election results in Oregon also veer towards majority support for Democratic candidates. In the 2012 election, Barack Obama won with 54% of the vote, a margin much slimmer than what constituents around the country may think when describing the “liberal” state of Oregon (Leip 2012).
Because of the state’s very liberal schools, like Evergreen State and the University of Oregon, depiction in television shows like “Portlandia,” and for its often described city centers as being champions of wind and green energy, Oregon has often been misconstrued as being heavily left-leaning (Associated Press 2012). In reality, however, that is not the case. Oregon has actually been noted by political scientists as having a roughly libertarian atmosphere, even though some of its political leaders are very liberal.
This suggests that common conceptions about what conservatives may believe around the country might hold futile information, as different regions of the country have different connotations of what political parties stand for. In short, while the State of Oregon and its congressional representatives are fairly liberal, they are not overtly so, and often times to do not realistically meet the reputation they give off.
Voter identification in Oregon
Voter identification will be even more important as Americans move forward in the future. With political parties and the country’s political ferment ever-changing, it is up to constituents to elect leaders they feel will embody the values they seek. Bipartisanship has suffered due to many reasons over the last several years, and a continual lack of knowledge about what voters actually want from their leaders may only problematize this in the future.
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Wyden, Ron. (2012). About Ron Wyden. United States Representative Ron Wyden. Retrieved February 9, 2013, from http://www.wyden.senate.gov/.
Martis, Kenneth C. (1982). The Historical Atlas of United States Congressional Districts. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Klatell, Jamie. (2011). David Wu Resigns from House Amid Scandal. The Hill. Retrieved February 10, 2013, from http://thehill.com/.
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