One Saturday morning in February, right before gymnastics class, Caprina Harris broke her 6-year old granddaughter’s heart: Barack Obama, she told her, would not be president forever.
The video of her granddaughter’s distraught and emotional reaction is endearing—in the way that adults often regard kids crying over “silly” things is. Still, we join her in that sense of loss. And behind it, we see more than just the loss of Barack Obama as president.
We see the loss and lack of elected officials that reflect our everyday experience as people of color. That’s true across America, and it’s certainly true in Portland, where there have been just two people of color and seven women on the City Council—ever. In 165 years.
That’s not a democracy that reflects our diverse lived experience. And that’s not who Portland is.
Our elected officials should come from all communities — not just communities with access and wealth. Yet running for office has become so expensive that it is nearly impossible for a regular person to get elected. It prevents those without wealth or access to wealthy donors — particularly people of color and women — from running and winning office.
But there’s another path and it’s within our reach. On November 3, Portland City Council will consider Open & Accountable Elections, a set of reforms to remove some of the barriers to running for office. The centerpiece of the reforms is a powerful and proven small-donor public matching program that multiplies small donations from voters. What does this mean?
It means that even small donations can have a big impact. The senior on a fixed income will see her $10 donation become a $70 donation. The restaurant worker can see her $25 donation have $175 of impact.
It means fewer barriers to running for office. Portlanders of any background and from any neighborhood can serve our city if they have enough community support, regardless of whether or not they have a network of wealthy friends or family to bankroll their campaigns.
It means more diverse voices are heard. Candidates can spend their time campaigning in our community, not just taking meetings with big donors. It means we get to hear perspectives from more women, more people of color, more young people, more people from immigrant communities engaging with candidates and their elected officials.
It means more transparency. Open & Accountable Elections also includes stronger transparency rules to shine a light on campaign cash, as well as an oversight commission to make certain the measure responds to our needs, is enforced fairly, and successful.
If you believe our city council should reflect the full range of talent and lived experience that Portland has to offer, then let our City Council know: It’s time to pass Open & Accountable Elections.
Carmen Rubio is Executive Director of Latino Network, a Latino-led education and advocacy organization. Jesse Beason is a board member of Color PAC. Color PAC helps recruit, train and elect people of color for state and local office in Oregon. Both organizations are part of A Voice for All Portland to pass Open & Accountable Elections: http://avoiceforallportland.org.