09 22 2014
  5:16 am  
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Once Sen. Margaret Carter leaves the state Senate on Aug. 31, there will be only two Black elected officials in the state of Oregon – Jackie Winters in the state Senate and Harold Williams on the Portland Community College Board of Directors.
Which begs the question: Why?
"The Portland that I've experienced," said former state Sen. Avel Gordly, "is a very provincial, good old boy, good old girl paternalistic town. Many of the people who have the skills, and the ability to serve aren't going to be found in the political parties."
Gordly, who didn't seek re-election to her state Senate seat in 2008, is currently mentoring and training young people for public service as an adjunct professor for Portland State University – a role she says she cherishes. It is the kind of position in the community that many able-bodied Black men and women choose instead of politics – social service, public health, nonprofits, small businesses and government roles.
"The political parties have not been successful at reaching out and being attractive to these folks," Gordly told The Skanner. "I put a lot of hope in this new generation of young people."
For Cyreena Boston, who lost the race for House District 45 to Michael Dembrow in 2008, there a number of factors that have kept Black representation from elected office, a generation gap between the "first and onlys," population and the sacrifice of public office.
"It's a numbers game," said Boston, who is currently working for Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley. "Most Black people of my generation, if they can leave, they leave and never come back. … Throngs and throngs and throngs of White people have moved here and have shifted the voting patterns here. There is no memory that Black people have served at high levels of government."
There's also the sacrifice that comes with holding a public office – low pay, long hours, grueling sessions and a long commute.
"Of Black people who can put themselves in the position of public service, it's a huge sacrifice," she said.
There are a number of young people, such as Boston, who have taken an interest in public office – John Branam and Harold Williams II in city races last year and Karol Collymore is considering a run for Carter's seat.

Replacing Carter

Currently state Rep. Chip Shields is the most high profile candidate for Senate District 22, along with other rumored names such as former state representative Joann Bowman, Lew Frederick and Jim Robinson, two former candidates for county commissioner.
"I'm thankful for Chip, he's probably said 'African American' on the floor more than most African American legislators," said Boston, who admits she never brought up the subject of race during her run for office.
Shields, a White male, is hardly typical. He has long been an advocate for the underrepresented, working at the Youth Employment Institute; working alongside Clariner Boston at Better People, an organization he founded; and acting as business manager for his wife's health clinic on Vancouver Avenue, Hands on Medicine.
Senate District 22 overlaps a good deal of Shields' current House district, which makes the transition smooth, given the similarity in concerns the districts share, he says.
"The Senate has half as many people as the House, so your vote counts twice as much," he told The Skanner. "Your ability to deliver in the Senate is stronger."
Shields says if he was appointed by the Multnomah County Commission to till Carter's seat until the next election, he would like to take a position on the Joint Ways and Means Budget Committee. He would also like to pursue legislation that would regulate health insurance rates and to improve the foster care system.
If a vacancy opened for Shields' House seat, many in the community – including Carter -- would like to see an African American step up to the plate and take the responsibility.
Eddie Lincoln, president of the PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professionals, has announced his intention to run for Shields' seat, in the event it is vacated. It is yet unknown how many other candidates are gearing up for the fight.
"We've got to rebuild our coalitions," Carter told The Skanner. "People in the majority of goodwill need to help get a Hispanic or African American in office."
While its not unimaginable that a person of color could gain election in other parts of the state – one need look no further than the district of Jackie Winters – Carter said rebuilding African American leadership is more feasible in the state's largest Black community.

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