This column originally appeared in The Daily Journal of Commerce in Buildings Bridges and Roads
By: Mike Salsgiver
Today, ballots will be mailed out across the state in Oregon’s unique vote-by-mail system. The construction industry and the workers it employs have much at stake in this election. At a time when the industry is rebounding from the longest and deepest slump of any sector, it is vital that we elect leaders willing to work for commonsense solutions to the challenges facing our industry and its workforce. Statewide, the construction industry employs nearly 80,000 people, and AGC has shown that the active involvement of its members can and does impact elections and public policy.
Elections matter. Their outcomes can have immeasurable effect on the construction industry, each company, and even each paycheck. Over the past decade, our country has become increasingly divided. A small margin of votes may decide an election, so it is important that those who are eligible to vote do so. It is our belief that when employees of our member companies vote, the voices of the business community and the construction industry can be heard.
In off-presidential election years such as this, voter turnout historically is lower; therefore, whichever party can do a better job to activate its base has an advantage. In Oregon, the political landscape is quite interesting, with the full House of Representatives participating in the election and only half of the Senate.
Heading into November, the Legislature is sure to experience substantial transformation with key longtime legislators such as former House Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and key moderates such as Vicki Berger, R-Salem, and Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, departing. Although the House is currently has 34 Democrats and 26 Republicans, that chamber alone is guaranteed to gain at least 17 new legislators. This means that over 28 percent of the House will consist of “freshmen lawmakers” when the legislative session convenes on Feb. 2, 2015.
For the Oregon Democratic Party, Democrat-friendly issues could boost voter turnout among registered Democrats. That said, if the “enthusiasm gap” – the gap in turnout between those who are vocal during election season and those who actually show up to cast a vote – is as large this year as it was in 2010, Democrats will have a difficult time at the ballot box. Republicans hope that increased nonaffiliated voter turnout will mimic the turnout of the 2010 midterm elections, during which the Oregon Republican Party managed to tie the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.
In the Senate, the landscape is slightly different. A two-seat gap separates Republican and Democrat control of the Senate, with the Democratic Party controlling the chamber going into the election. District 13 Senator Larry George, R-Sherwood, is the only incumbent not seeking re-election, while the remaining 14 (93 percent) incumbents are running for re-election.
Oregon Democrats are hoping that the number of vulnerable Republican incumbents exceeds that of vulnerable Democrats, placing their party in a stronger position to maintain control of the Senate. Both parties are heading into late fall focused on the close races as well as the influence that the nearly 500,000 nonaffiliated voters can bring in those key races.
Another factor in voter turnout is what issues are on the ballot. Of particular interest to AGC and the business community at large is Measure 90, the open primary initiative.
Oregon is one of only 12 states to use a strictly closed primary process in which the selection of a party’s candidate is limited to registered party members. Overall primary turnout has slumped in recent years. This May’s primary turnout barely exceeded 35 percent – the second lowest on record and the lowest since the state started delivering mailed ballots to every voter in the 2000 primary. Numbers like this demonstrate that only a small fraction of the electorate chooses a primary winner.
Why the low voter turnout? Oregon’s voters are increasingly opting out of the two major parties. Overall, nearly 31 percent of Oregon voters no longer belong to one of the major parties – an increase of more than 10 percent in the last 20 years. This trend is likely to continue with nearly 49 percent of voters 40 years and younger registered as unaffiliated or in one of the minor parties. As a result, a shrinking number of voters can participate in the Democratic and Republican primaries that choose the winners of virtually all of the state’s partisan offices.
Measure 90 would create a primary open to all candidates of all parties. The top two finishers, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. Proponents of the measure say it would empower the growing number of voters not registered in the major parties, and be a moderating influence since candidates could no longer appeal solely to their narrow base of voters. Opponents say it would reduce voter choices in the general election and take away the ability of party voters to choose nominees to represent them. Also, they say similar primary processes in California and Washington produce more problems than solutions.
What all of these facts and figures demonstrate is that showing up matters! No matter the party or the issue, it is important to vote and turn in your ballot before 8 p.m. on Nov. 4.
In preparation for Election Day, AGC of America has proudly relaunched its ConstructionVotes.com website. This website is designed to give individuals – construction employees in particular – the necessary resources for them to cast an informed vote. Information is presented simply to help individuals cast their vote and become more knowledgeable and involved in the electoral process.
AGC believes that when employees of our member companies vote, the voices of the business community and construction industry are heard. Our highly skilled and well-paid industry has much at stake in this election, and the political landscape appears able to shift in either direction. It is important to vote on Nov. 4 not only because elections matter, but because the impact on our life, work and community is guaranteed to be immense for many years to come.
Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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