Pulp Nonfiction

We Read the Multnomah County Voters’ Pamphlet So You Don’t Have To

But you’ll want to anyway—for the thrills!

By Margaret Seiler May 2, 2020

You’ve read every book in the house, the library’s closed, and the next Oregonian home delivery is days away. Sure, there are things to read (so I’m told, at least) on “the internet,” but you need something you can take into the bathtub with a glass of wine and not worry you’ll lose your lifeline if you drop it in the water. Then, one day in April, a thick paperback is stuffed into your mailbox, free, unsolicited, just when you needed it. And, boy, is it juicy! There are words. There are pictures. There are people yelling in ALL CAPS. You’ll find every type of conflict in literature you learned about in middle school language arts (man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. technology, etc.).

The drama starts just a short way in, with a page of warnings about all the ways ne’er-do-wells, talk radio personalities, imposters, Photoshoppers, social media sharers, and lying liars are out to trick innocent citizens out of their vote. “Don’t be fooled!”

Soon after come the political party statements. Did you know “The Creator God in heaven, made known to us through the Holy Scriptures, rules in the affairs of men and is the ultimate King”? And that “Oregon’s history as a state is rooted in the desire of Native Americans to have the truth of the Book of Heaven”? If that’s not news to you, maybe you’re already in Constitution Party. The party statements are in alphabetical order—as a reader, you might want to skip ahead and start with the far chiller Libertarian platform and then build up to the Constitution’s “His word is to be heeded” level of intensity.

To really lure you in, the Democratic Party statement dangles the chance to be a delegate at the national convention this summer in Milwaukee, where I’ve heard you can kayak from bar to bar, will always have a choice of fresh or fried for your cheese curds, and can really get your Laverne and Shirley on. I mean, sure. Is the convention still happening? Would that count as essential travel?

The Independent Party is all business, reminding not only registered Independents but also any nonaffiliated voters (and Oregon has almost a million of those, in part thanks to the “motor voter” law that took effect in 2016) that they can vote in an online primary through May 12.

The Pacific Green Party starts its statement off like a Whitesnake song (“Here we go again ...”) but then turns decidedly non-’80s-hair-band with statements like “we must abide by our treaties” and “we oppose colonialism.” Tawny Kitaen can’t writhe on a car hood to “we oppose colonialism.”

The Progressive Party unleashes some sick burns in its statement on the Democrats, saying the Dems’ support for Medicare for All and improved infrastructure is WEAK and their support for equal rights is NUVR (Not Until Very Recently). The Republican statement goes on and on about someone named Kate Brown and what happens when “she does not get her way.” Getting a real Brothers Grimm vibe from this one.

Next up are the Republican candidates for federal office. Presidential incumbent Donald Trump’s tagline has gone from MAGA to KGB—oops, I mean KAG, “Keep America Great.” Two US Senate candidates (including one whose listed occupation, “Fitness,” calls to mind longtime local perennial candidate Pavel Goberman) have dueling predictions at the bottom of their statements: “VOTE PAUL J. ROMERO JR. and BRING BALANCE BACK!” vs. “VOTE ROBERT SCHWARTZ AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.” Is this Voters’ Pamphlet just a choose-you-own-adventure book in disguise? Can I do both? Meanwhile, another Senate candidate assures readers that her two children are married (whew!) before she mentions her 14 grandchildren.

Of the Republicans running for the US House included in my Voters’ Pamphlet (just a handful in my densely populated corner of Oregon, unlike in the race for Greg Walden’s seat for the vast Second Congressional District), exactly one mentions having been to East Germany. There are some great turns of phrase from secretary of state, treasurer, and state senate candidates: “Use the power of the Audits Division,” “I won’t just count the money—I’ll make your money count,” “Joy Poke.” Local candidates for state rep are not fond of Portland: one complains about “Portland elites ... crazy Portland policies”; another deigns to live in the city but is a farm boy at heart, and still others are down on light rail, possible highway tolls, and high taxes. And one, a commercial garbage driver who promises to “take out the trash in Oregon” (heyyyy!), grabs eyes with a “Yakety Yak” rewrite that starts out as a critique of environmentalists’ overreach and then veers into menstrual blood, testes, and an assertion that gay = crazy. As a reader, I was curious to see this character’s arc, but, alas, the Voters’ Pamphlet did not pick up his storyline again.

The next chapter introduces some Democrats, and the men in this section—including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Jeff Merkley—are more into showing their teeth when they smile than the Republican men running for the same offices. Not a man, Elizabeth Warren carries an air of mystery with “No Photo Submitted”; she also presents her entire statement in heavy bold type. She’s ... bold? Of the Dems running for Congress, one admits to having grown up in Southern California (read the room!), while another cleverly casts a not-local upbringing as making him “an Oregonian by choice.” One lists having relied on food stamps, Medicaid, and workers’ comp under prior governmental experience. Also not popular with these folks: elites! No one likes elites.

Candidates for Multnomah County commission seem to be holding their own contest for who can fit the most ink into the half-page column. Think of our eyes, please! These are blinding.

Nine of the 19 candidates for Portland mayor submitted a statement for the Voters’ Pamphlet, and their photos are a mix of soft-focus high school senior photo shoot, DMV license photo where the photographer said they would take the picture on the count of three but then clicked it on two, keynote speaker at a librarian conference, and Playbill cast listing for Jesus Christ Superstar.

City council candidates include someone who appears unfamiliar with the concept of paragraph breaks and an apparent one-issue candidate whose one issue is saving the pollinators. The people running for Metro council seats all appear to be serious, engaged, and enthusiastically endorsed by people other than themselves. That’s great, you guys, but as a reading experience all this practicality really lags.

Close readers are rewarded in the next section, where some of the characters show up again in the arguments in favor of two local measures, on taxes for street repair and homeless services; they just couldn’t resist the urge to out themselves as anti-pothole and pro-humanity. About half of the arguments in opposition to the measures are “furnished” by the same person, who digs deep to find several different ways he’s not into these taxes. Impressive.

The next chapter of my Voters’ Pamphlet—a few more congressional candidates, secretary of state hopefuls, and the Democratic candidates for the state legislature—is a sea of “public schools,” “health care,” “climate crisis,” “mom,” “pro-choice,” “working families,” and “green new deal,” plus one person who includes his elementary and middle schools and wants to let readers know he’s a sixth-generation Oregonian. Is anyone going to leave the nest in that family? Branch out, kid.

The judges’ races, from the Oregon Supreme Court on down, are the usual incumbent fest, with just the occasional challenger. But that all changes when we get to Judge of the Circuit Court, Fourth District, Position 12. Everyone wants in on this one, a seat left open by a judge who announced his retirement at just the right time for an actual election instead of the usual wink-wink, nudge-nudge governor’s appointment. Maybe all these candidates think the job is in District 12 in the Hunger Games books, and they think they’ll get to practice archery with Katniss Everdeen—or perhaps the fishing-focused District 4, which I’m sure furnishes its judges with an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet every day, just like the old Todai at Pioneer Place. They must really want the job because—like those county commission candidates and the two district attorney candidates (a classic battle of beard vs. no beard) in the following section—they fill every little bit of their columns with words, words, words.

By the end, I worried the authors might be running out of steam, but apparently there’s already a sequel planned, with an October release date. It might not be a candidate for Oprah’s Book Club, or even Reese Witherspoon’s, but the Voters’ Pamphlet works for bathtub entertainment. If you spill wine on it, it will just burn even faster when it graduates from reading material to campfire fuel. And the shipping/fanfic possibilities are endless.

Editor’s note: This has just been an incredibly long reminder that Oregon ballots were mailed this week and must be turned in to an official ballot drop or your county elections office by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19.

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