Going back years, most of my Director’s Desk columns have focused on the evergreen topic of nursery and greenhouse labor — or more precisely, the lack thereof.
Every year, the U.S. Congress proves its consistent, even surgical failure to put politics aside and pass a sensible and sustainable immigration visa system. Agriculture needs it, but Congress never delivers. Both parties have failed the industry. None of their excuses pass muster.
That’s why agriculture needs something more now — you. We need you to vote in Oregon’s Primary Election, where ballots are due on May 17.
Primary elections serve one purpose. They cull a political party’s herd in the run-up to the general election. That’s important. Some districts are so heavily partisan that the primary winner will waltz in the general.
Oregon does not have an open primary system. Only registered party members can participate. Winners in Oregon primary elections are determined via plurality. This means the candidate with the highest number of votes wins, even if he or she did not win a majority of votes cast.
Don’t let doubt count you out. You can check your voter registration status at the state’s My Vote page (bit.ly/or-check-voter-reg). My Vote also lets people quickly update their registration if they have moved, changed their name, or want to update their party affiliation.
Lower turnout creates opportunities
The political nerd in me takes joy in breaking down non-presidential primary years. Much of the attention is cast on the general election, and justifiably so. The 2022 election will be critical. The balance of power in Congress will be decided and Oregon will decide whether one-party domination will continue.
I have seen polls where 78% of Oregon voters, of all political stripes, believe the state is on the wrong track. Some 86% believe that business has been over-regulated and a pause is needed. But all this will mean nothing unless you vote, for the primary election will determine where our die is cast.
In 2020, more Oregonians voted in an election than ever before — 2.3 million of us. That’s a 78% turnout, not far from the 86% high water mark in 1960, when Kennedy defeated Nixon. The fact our friends and neighbors used their voting rights two years ago is something to celebrate, but consider that the turnout in the 2018 primary was a paltry 34%, even with vote-by-mail aiding the turnout. That’s appalling, but it points to an opportunity for our industry.
The electorate has changed a lot
For the first time ever, nonaffiliated voters in Oregon outnumber Democrats, with Republicans left in the dust behind both.
Oregon is a state that allows someone to register to vote while registering their vehicle. Since 2016, nonaffiliated voters have exploded in number. As of December 2015, there were 825,282 registered Democrats, 642,552 Republicans, 527,302 nonaffiliated voters, and just 2,169,258 voters total. Since that time, Oregon has added nearly 800,000 new voters, almost 500,000 of whom are not registered with any party!
With a plurality of voters outside of the party system, those within the party system are under pressure. The parties can go pure and risk defeat in November, or find the best, most qualified candidate and roll the dice. As of March 2022, the tale of the tape for the 2.9 million registered voters stands as this: nonaffiliated voters 34.46%, Democrats 34.36%, Republicans 24.39%, and other/minor parties 6.8%.
The stain of the last election cycle
The 2020 presidential election had the highest turnout of the 21st century, with 66.8% of U.S. citizens 18 and older voting in the election. Over 158 million Americans overcame a pandemic and one of the most visceral and divisive campaigns in history. This was simply remarkable.
There is no shortage of opinions about election integrity. The cacophony of opinions chokes the daily news cycle, but Congress and the Supreme Court will sort all of that out. The electorate was primed and pumped for the 2020 general election. The 2022 midterms will certainly lose luster by comparison. Voters will likely regress to the norm and stay on the sidelines. This is our opportunity to make a difference.
Use the power of your voice
We have seen firsthand how policy and common sense can take a backseat to one-party control in Oregon. During the last several years, the association and its volunteer leaders brought forward sensible alternatives to policies that impact your business and your bottom line. That’s why we’re here.
I am not advocating for a new form of one-party control with the Republicans in charge. Look at the voter registration numbers — that’s not happening. The boat is farther from the dock than two years ago.
What is needed is balance in Salem. We need balance in Washington, D.C. We need balance at the Bureau of Labor & Industries.
Agricultural overtime taught the association a valuable lesson: our engagement on the political level moves the needle. Despite various opinions about agricultural overtime, our members used their voice, and it was effective. Ag has never been more united. We spoke with a clear and resolute voice. That voice will only get more effective if we use it at the ballot box.
Nursery and greenhouse operators are trusted by the public and respected politically. Common sense and problem solving is still part of the equation.
Take the time. Dig deep into the candidates and vote. It is the only way we can change our future.