Skip to comments.Once-conservative Ore. city edges leftward
Posted on 08/16/2004 5:15:00 AM PDT by wmichgrad
BEND, Ore. (AP) Not much common ground exists between the two sides squaring off over a gay rights ordinance in this fast-growing city, except this: They all agree that 10 years ago, there would have been no fight to pick.
Back in 1994, Bend was emerging from its roots as a conservative timber town and starting to capitalize on tourism, the engine that's given new life to so many picturesque Western towns.
Now, this city at more than 60,000 people, three times the size of a decade or so ago has transformed, swelling with twenty-somethings, young families and retirees from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.
The influx of new residents is changing just about everything in this central Oregon city, including its politics. And nowhere is that more evident than in the recent heated debate over gay rights.
The ordinance, unanimously approved in May by the City Council, prohibits discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or transgenderism. The proposal gained steam after an attack last August on a gay man in a downtown dance club.
Similar laws are on the books in major metropolitan areas such as Minneapolis, New York City and Los Angeles. They also are increasingly common in college towns like Lawrence, Kan., and Columbia, Mo., and in chic liberal enclaves like Telluride, Colo.
But only in the last year or two have similar laws surfaced in places that have long had conservative leanings, said Jon Davidson, a Los Angeles-based attorney with Lambda Legal, a gay-rights group.
In May 2003, city commissioners in Covington, Ky., unanimously upheld an anti-discrimination law. A similar effort won support in El Paso, Texas, in April 2003.
And in Peoria, Ill., often said to be a barometer for the mores of middle America, city councilors voted 8-3 to include protection for gays in their human rights ordinance in 2003.
In Bend, the ordinance's passage was propelled by the changing population, led by people like Sara Wiener, a lesbian who has lived in Bend with her partner and their daughter for almost eight years.
"This is my life work," Wiener said. "We are in Bend to do this. We are good role models, as a family and as humans. I'm not going to hide that I'm gay, or that I'm Jewish. We want to break down stereotypes."
But while Wiener and friends may have won the first round over the gay rights ordinance, Bend's still-influential conservative bloc is fighting back.
Within a week after the ordinance's passage, a grassroots group formed to collect the 3,300 or so signatures needed to refer the matter to voters. Petitioners hit the local Wal-Mart, and set up tables in church hallways and, in the final frantic hours before the signatures were due, knocked on a blur of doors.
In the end, opponents' efforts fell short by 78 signatures another sign, Wiener and others said, of a sea-change in Bend.
Opponents aren't giving up, though, and they plan to be better organized next time around. They hope to field conservative candidates to oppose the three city councilors up for re-election this year, plus a candidate for mayor.
Plans also are in the works for a political action committee to fund the cause, and to collect enough signatures for a repeal of the law.
"This is part of a bigger struggle, for the soul of the nation," said the Rev. Dan Dillard of the Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church, an opponent. "What sort of place will we be?"
If opponents make good on their plans to continue the fight against the ordinance, supporters of the law say they're ready.
"If they really want to bring it to a vote, then have at it," said Mike Hollern, one of the city's most prominent developers and a vocal supporter of the ordinance. "It will be expensive, nasty and polarizing."
Hollern and Wiener say they're confident they would prevail, because of their belief that Bend is tilting toward the center. They're quick to point out that within Bend city limits, more people voted for Democratic contender Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2002 than his Republican challenger.
"I think Bend can now be classified as moderate," said John Hummel, the councilman who sponsored the ordinance and sifted through thousands of e-mails, phone calls and letters on both sides of the issue before the final vote. "I don't see us going to liberal. We're a bunch of flaming moderates."
On the Net: http://www.ci.bend.or.us
Isn't there a group that advocates that northern California, defined as the area north of Sacramento and the Bay Area, and inland Oregon secede from their respective states and form the State of Jefferson? It may be time for conservatives on both sides of the Oregon-California line to pursue this plan aggressively.
Tourism seems to liberalize many places. It must be all those liberals that go on tours and tell the locals how beautiful everything is, how lucky they are, and how much they want to live there. Before long, people start believing that stuff, and contrariness in the debates depresses the voters from their visitor-induced euphoria.
I gather Bend has a good amount of high technology (software, medical equipment manufacturing), which is the result of an economic diversification plan begun after the early 1980s, when they had a high unemployment rate. High tech firms and communities are frequently gay-friendly, to attract and hold on to the talented people they need to compete.
"young families and retirees from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco".
Still a great place to golf though.
I think that the GOP can make inroads in such places by fielding libertarian candidates. Even social liberals want a strong economy!
A couple of fags and a kid is not what a family is made of. Sounds like child abuse to me.
Absolutely...but nothing I've seen indicates that the national GOP is smart enough to do that. When they do offer up other types of candidates, they turn out to be colorless "moderates" like Bill Jones in California, who hasn't got a prayer of beating Barbara Boxer. Boxer is so far left that she ought to be extremely vulnerable, even in California, but somehow the California GOP (which seems to racing the New Jersey GOP to to bottom for the title of "Least Effective State Party Organization") managed to screw this one up badly.
The legacy of the "tourist economy."
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