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A Eugene Treasure

What you might not know about Betty Taylor

They broke the mold when Betty was born — she’s one of a kind! Deciding to support Betty Taylor’s re-election to the Eugene City Council Ward 2 is fairly simple: Not only is she a home-town hero, respected across Oregon and in Washington, D.C., she’s really the only qualified candidate in the race, by far. Her civic resume goes back decades and is unmatched, probably unprecedented in both quality and breadth in the current or any council in Eugene’s modern history. 

Taylor currently serves on the prestigious Board of the National League of Cities (NLC), a body which represents each U.S. city — well over 200 million citizens. The League of Oregon Cities mounted a successful campaign last year to elevate Taylor to that post, which puts her on the cutting edge of national urban policy representing Eugene and Oregon. 

Taylor’s list of local leadership roles is a mile long: president of the City Council, chair of Lane Regional Air Pollution Agency, Police Commission, McKenzie Watershed Council, chair of the Human Services Commission, Workforce Partnership Board, Lord Leebrick Theatre’s first board, etc.

Mayor Kitty Piercy has endorsed her and says “Betty has tirelessly represented her ward with great integrity.” Taylor has won the backing of all leading conservation groups. She has strong union support and deep ties to the UO community. County Commissioner Pete Sorenson calls her “the conscience of the council,” and former congressman Jim Weaver calls her “the most valuable member of the Eugene City Council.”

Taylor is known for being the council’s leader for education and human rights and for standing up to unchecked ugly sprawl, against automatic tax giveaways to out-of-state developers and for her persistent efforts to preserve the Amazon headwaters. Her sympathy for homeless citizens and for abandoned and injured companion animals is unsurpassed on the council. 

What few citizens know, however, is her fascinating and compelling life story. Her life path through the Great Depression is a story of great hardship in a close-knit family facing starvation and homelessness. It is the stuff of a John Steinbeck novel and a profile of overcoming great odds.

Her early years were spent in rural Tennessee, Kentucky and southern Illinois. One day her father lost a finger, and his job, loading concrete on a river barge. Faced with destitution, the family was saved by grandparents sending a sack of flour and a bag of unripened green apples. The family moved to where jobs — stripping tobacco, picking strawberries — could be found. At one point, the family lived in the attic of relatives before finally moving to southern Illinois, where her father found steady employment in the depth of the Depression. 

Throughout these hardships was an abiding deep family bond, and a love for reading had Betty trying to devour every book in her small town’s library. Her mother dreamed that one day Betty would earn a bachelor’s degree, a rarity at that time. Betty went on to earn a Ph.D. in English, becoming a noted scholar and having a long career teaching English at the high school, community college and university levels.

Her civic leadership dates back to the mid-1950s and the McCarthy era when she started a citywide civil rights discussion  group and TV program in Illinois, enlisting local ministers and lawyers. She spearheaded the Sangamon Conservation Council in the 1960s, fighting to protect open spaces and riparian resources. Since then she has supported the Sierra Club, ACLU, NAACP, Audubon Society, NOW, League of Women Voters and dozens of local and national candidates. She came to Eugene in 1979, falling in love with the city’s artistic, political and tolerant social community.

Taylor is being challenged by developer and resource extraction forces who have poured money into the campaign of Ward 2 newcomer Juan Carlos Valle, whose supporters read like a Who’s Who of Republican big donors. Valle has a thin civic resume, having recently resigned as chair of the Police Commission in the face of reported impending demands for his resignation from members dissatisfied with his leadership style. Taylor has shown grace in not exploiting Valle’s embarrassing difficulties, preferring to press her issues instead.

Development and real estate forces want to remove the often 4-4 progressive-conservative Council split. Taylor is incredibly vital, regularly climbing Mount Pisgah with her retriever Lucy and attending dozens of meetings each month, attending her Unitarian Church, bringing city staff for field inspections when neighbors voice alarm and taking leadership roles on the NLC.

We can’t afford to lose this remarkable, decent and innovative leader from the Eugene City Council.