Platform Convention Reflections (Part 1)

Democratic Party of Oregon’s annual Platform Convention in March brought more than 500 active Democrats to Salem. The largest delegation was from Clackamas County, our state’s third largest county.

What happens under the “big tent” when you are in a minority and majority rules governs the outcome?

What happens when there are no structures for the minority to have their voice seriously considered, whether that minority is on the left or the right?

Jobs versus the environment has been a major conflict within our Democratic Party since before the Spotted Owl. This conflict has traditionally divided union workers from urban environmentalists. It has divided rural communities from urban financial centers. Those divides were well represented at the Platform Convention.

But there is a new debate helping to alter some of these historical divisions. Delegates from both urban and rural counties took to the microphones to acknowledge that climate change is real, that it is human caused, and that it is an existential threat to our survival.

For example: the unique nature of carbon pollution and the role of trees and forests is beginning to bring together sides that used to be divided.

While consensus on how to harvest trees is still decades away, the value of forests is being recognized by both urban and rural Democrats with more clarity. Trees store carbon. Older trees up to a certain age store more carbon than younger trees. Younger trees store carbon at a faster rate than older trees. A 100-year-old wood desk has been storing carbon for 100 years. A wood framed building stores carbon for as long as it stands. Because of wood’s higher insulation properties, a wood framed building not only sequesters carbon, compared to a steel or concrete one, it also requires less energy to heat and cool.

If wood becomes the “green” choice for building materials, forests will have greater social and economic value for both rural and urban residents. Figuring out a politically acceptable compromise for a sustainable harvest routine is a different story and one where the devil is clearly in the details.

The climate change discussion in Salem at the state-wide Platform Convention seemed to be more a small business versus big business conflict then an urban/rural one. This is news. Small business advocates were explaining the costs of carbon abatement and storage and that they didn’t have the resources to get it done in a short time frame.

The carbon tax plank now being voted on by the delegates seems to stop short of addressing this dilemma. It is known that large fossil fuel companies create vast amounts of carbon pollution and from this sequester billions of dollars. Measure 97 attempted to tax big business to fund education and health care. Perhaps taxing big carbon polluters and dedicating a portion of the revenues to small business carbon pollution abatement could find that political sweet spot of 50 percent plus 1.

The Platform Convention is not a place to change minds or opinions. It is also not the place to construct compromise or consensus. The parade of delegates to the microphones echoed individual positions over and over with monologue rather than dialogue. With more then 500 delegates, dialogue isn’t possible.

Is there a better way to hear people’s views and then determine what we stand for? Perhaps instead of using resources seeking the political middle ground we might be better served by an exercise in creating consensus rather than seeking solely to measure preferences.