Politics and Sausage-Making

Commissioner Pete Sorenson ignores Democrats: Why?

Dear reader, I’ve missed you. We each made our own decisions prior to Election Day regarding what we might do based on the outcome. I voted by mail and chose knee replacement surgery before the election. My doctor then placed me on planet Norco 5, otherwise known as Vicodinville, for eight weeks of recovery. Apparently, something big happened while I was gone.

Try to make sense out of this election. President Obama called it a “clarifying moment” before he left on his Hawaiian holiday vacation last week. No shit! And how the hell did Hillary Clinton only narrowly beat Donald Trump (by 554 votes at last count) in the same 4th congressional district where Peter DeFazio, one of the most progressive legislators in the country, soundly trounced his opponent by over 15 points? 

Anyway, I’m back to Planet Earth now and Lane County. Holy Bong Water, Batman! What the hell did those crazy Lane County commissioners just do? An unlikely alliance of Pat Farr, Faye Stewart and Pete Sorenson voted 3-2 for James Manning over current Rep. Val Hoyle to replace Chris Edwards in Senate District 7. Hoyle was the first choice of Lane County Democrats.

Just to be clear, this is not about James Manning. I do not at all minimize the historic opportunity that we have in appointing the first African-American legislator from Lane County. James will bring a much needed dedication and voice to the Senate. I wish him the best of luck.

I knew Val as a local Democrat activist long before she first ran for office. I’m a strong supporter of her progressive politics, including her courageous efforts as house majority leader last session to pass Senate Bill 941 and remove the loopholes in background checks for firearms. And she led the fight for the creation of Junction City’s mental health facility.

But the commissioners chose the third choice submitted by local Democratic precinct members. Why? Let’s say you’re a county commissioner faced with a 2017 state legislative session staring at a $1.7 billion shortfall in its next biennial budget and the potential closure of Junction City’s state psychiatric hospital (think mental health services and jobs lost in your own friggin’ county): Why wouldn’t you send your strongest, most experienced advocate to Salem? I’m just askin’!

Stewart’s vote against Val is understandable; he’s a diehard Republican gun-nut doing whatever the Oregon senate Republicans tell him to do. Even Republican Farr’s vote — and his convenient newfound concern about racial under-representation in the Oregon State Legislature — is politically understandable. It’s no secret that Farr is setting himself up for a 4th congressional district run when DeFazio steps down. This vote got Farr support from the right wing of the GOP while allowing him to take a progressive stand on increasing diversity in the Senate (certainly an important and laudable issue).

But Sorenson, the only Democrat commissioner, ignored the first two choices of his own county Democrats and picked the third choice. Why? 

The R-G suggested pressure brought by the gun-nut lobby to punish Val. But no one is saying that Sorenson opposed SB 941. What folks are saying is that he voted with the gun lobby who wanted to make a point of punishing Val for her vote on background checks. The result is he delivered Oregon Senate Republicans and the Oregon Firearms Federation a victory.

Why would Sorenson do that? Is he somehow smarter than all the other Democrats? Our entire federal Democrat delegation contacted him and asked him to appoint Val because of the need for experience in Salem dealing with the challenges Oregon faces in the next biennium with the potential loss of the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood Title X funding as well as other federal issues.

Gov. Kate Brown and our Lane Democratic legislators called Sorenson to say that they really needed Val’s ability and experience to be able to hit the ground running in a potentially nasty 2017 legislative session. Key labor, consumer protection and environmental leaders contacted him to ask for his support of Val. Pete Sorenson ignored all of that and sided with the Senate Republicans and the gun lobby.

Some folks suggest this was simply political payback for Val’s support of Andy Stahl when he ran against Sorenson four years ago. But no one can truly know what Sorenson’s motive was. Except him. 

Was it one too many drinks at the genius bar? Or good old-fashioned political vengeance? Either way, Sorenson ignored his own party.

 Stay tuned.