By Cassidy Harris
With midterm elections approaching, an open town hall debate was held at David Douglas High School in East Portland between Democrat Loretta Smith and Democrat Jo Ann Hardesty, the two candidates for Commissioner Position No. 3 of the Portland City Council. The debate, a joint effort between the College Democrats of Lewis & Clark College, Pacific University, Portland State University and the larger organizations of College Democrats of Oregon and Young Democrats of Oregon, was labeled the ‘Young People’s Town Hall’ and was geared toward children, teens and young adults to connect with their potential representatives.
Since incumbent Smith is the first woman of color to ever serve on the Portland City Council and Hardesty is the President of the Portland chapter of NAACP, particular concern was placed on the well-being of young and homeless women and people of color.
Smith brought attention to recidivism rates of African American men in jails. During her time in office, Smith held a town hall to communicate directly with African American men in the community about what the city could be doing better to help them succeed.
“I listened to young people who said, ‘we want jobs in our community, and are you gonna help us get a job?’ so, the Summer Jobs Program was one of my priorities in the county,” Smith said. “For me, it’s all about being consistent, effective, patient, and making sure that you’re in constant contact with community members because that’s the only way you’re gonna get public policy passed.”
Hardesty advocates for increased availability of subsidized addiction and mental health treatment and hiring more mental health professionals in the city to respond to 911 distress calls. Thisis done instead of sending law enforcement personnel, who she says are not trained to handle those who are mentally ill or in crisis.
“54 percent of arrests and prosecutions last year were people who were houseless; 85 percent of those were for non-violent incidents,” Hardesty said. “We should be ashamed, as a community, that our solution to our own failure to provide housing is, ‘let’s just arrest them, out of sight, out of mind.’ Police will never be the right first responders for homeless people suffering from mental health issues.”
A final question was asked regarding the PSU Board of Trustees’ and PSU’s former president Wim Wiewel’s decision to arm PSU campus police that resulted in the fatal shooting of Jason Washington on June 29, 2018.
“The only people who wanted to arm the campus safety was the Board of Trustees,” Hardesty said. “The teachers, students, community members, all that, were part of an effort to have a dialogue, everybody was opposed. There should never be armed officers where there are students, never.”
This event aimed to motivate young voters to get involved in politics, especially at the local level.
“Community-level action is the most important of all because the decisions that local officials make directly affect your community and day-to-day lives,” Sophia O’Neal, President of College Democrats at Pacific University and Political Director for College Democrats of Oregon, said. “And those consequences, both positive and negative, are what you’re going to feel most directly.”
Charlotte Powers ’21, Co-President of the LC Democrats Club and Program Director for College Democrats of Oregon, commented on the lack of interest in local politics among college students.
“There’s an array of issues in the Portland community, and a large part of those directly affect students,” Powers said. “Having Lewis & Clark students be aware and participating in events that happen in the city are incredibly important because in pressing times like these, you just cannot be active enough.”
Election day for local and state elections is Nov. 6, 2018.