Thursday, July 27, 2017

Alan DeBoer Town Hall: Bad to Worse

Everything that went wrong for Alan DeBoer at the Tuesday Town Hall got worse.

Alan DeBoer walked into an inferno.  He set the fire himself the night before.  But the real cause of the fire is that the Republican Party abandoned him.

He has been dumped, but doesn't want to admit it.  So he clings and holds on and it is starting to look weird.

Arms across his chest.  Defensive posture.  Tough night.
Alan DeBoer is an Oregon state senator recently elected in a Democratic-leaning senate district to replace a senator who died in office.  Alan DeBoer is a Republican, of the increasingly rare variety: a civic minded good-government Republican.  This contrasts with the talk radio Fox News populist Republicans who now dominate the party led by Trump.  

Alan DeBoer is a Republican out of inertia.  He is a dinosaur.  Some would call him a RINO, Republican In Name Only.

Republicans had traditionally been the party of small town business people and there has been a long tradition in Oregon of good-government Republicans, and DeBoer fits that tradition.  He is a prominent car dealer   DeBoer has also been a city mayor, on the school board, on hospital boards, a supporter of historical districts and a variety of other civic bodies, both public and nonprofit.  Civic minded Republicans want government to work.  Politically they lean against Democrats who would increase business regulations, increase taxes, and represent public employee unions, but they are not angry in tone nor do they want to dismantle the safety net, nor privatize education, nor want to shrink and then strangle government. 

In Oregon it is dangerous to be an old school civic minded Republican.  The Republican Party's energy has moved away from DeBoer-style Republicanism.  John Kasich is a proxy for that civic-minded good government Republican tone and policy and he lost to Trump by 4 to 1 statewide and he lost to Trump 6 to 1 in Jackson County, 75% to 13%.  

In yesterday's post (which I recommend you read to help make sense of this one) I described the DeBoer Town Meeting Tuesday as a disappointing performance by DeBoer.  He came across as oddly weak and detached.  He seemed inconsistent and flip-floppy.  He frustrated then irritated his audience by long meandering answers that seemed simultaneously earnest but evasive.  He consistently presented moderate, indeed progressive and inclusive values, of the kind very comfortable for progressives to hear, but then he appeared to walk away from his own values, appearing listless and unmotivated.

His positions and sentiments sound like Democratic US Senator Ron Wyden's--but DeBoer goes into hiding lest Republicans figure it out.

Other people noticed the problem I identified yesterday, and their judgement was much more harsh.  Local liberal activists handed attendees sheets of paper as they entered the Wednesday venue.  One was a coaching sheet for the audience, written around their impressions of the previous meeting, complaining that he "did not clearly answer many questions."  They listed some suggestions for "keeping him on track, among them:

  "If he refuses to answer a question directly or tries to pivot to a talking point interrupt him."

  "Ask him direct questions about policy and legislation.  We need commitments from him about what he will and will not support or sponsor."

  "Use his voting record and quotes.  He cannot continue to flip flop."

Lined up to chew on him
Another sheet mocked DeBoer's presumed evasions with a BINGO game for attendees to play as they might check off comments they predicted DeBoer would repeat:  

"I don't have any power."  
"I voted 'no' and the next time I voted 'yes'".  
"I wanted to vote 'yes' but I voted 'no.'"
"I supported it, but not the way it was written."  
"They told me to vote 'no' so I voted 'no.'"  
"I won't promise how I'll vote".  

The Wednesday Town Hall meeting was raucous. Constituents were ready for him. People lined up on two sides to ask questions.   DeBoer was gracious, earnest, compassionate, empathetic, modest, and dedicated, and very progressive and inclusive.  He wants Medicare for all.  He wants programs to deal with crowded schools and access to mental health and affordable rent.  The audience in Talent generally agreed with those sentiments.

That was the problem.  They agreed, and then were frustrated that their State Senator seems to want to hide his feelings.  They were in his face, telling him to stand up and fight, not be a passive excuse-giver.

DeBoer was a very, very good sport about what must have been an uncomfortable two-plus hours.  He did not appear to resent or be irritated by long winded questions, and indeed the crowd tired of time-hogging questioners and began shouting them down while DeBoer himself appeared patient and delighted to accept any abuse.

He noted that he gives out his personal cell phone number, and that he gets lots of calls from mental health patients.  There was a rumble of chuckles from the crowd.  DeBoer, with a straight face and with apparent complete earnestness said, that he actually welcomed those calls, that he learned a lot from them, and got valuable information and stories he could pass along to the department.

It was an extraordinary display of compassion and political humility, but one which created more problems than it solved.   No one can accuse him of impatience or arrogance, and no Democrat can get very far to the left of him on compassion for the disadvantaged.  He said that we must provide services to the undocumented.  We are all people, he said.  People here illegally deserve help, too.  He supports Medicare-for-all.  He proposed a bill to raise taxes to support education.  

DeBoer is a very credible Democrat.
Republican legislators work to stop expanded Medicaid coverage

Therefore,  he frustrates the Democrats at the Town Hall because he evidently has a long-game strategy of remaining inoffensive to Republicans.  It means he keeps his head down.  It means he makes token votes and protest votes to try to maintain credibility with fellow Republican legislators and the Trump-style Republican voters.  It means that when he considers something a fiscal and moral disaster for Oregon--the decision by his fellow Republican to reverse the 1.5% tax on health providers, a tax which allows federal matching money to pour into the state and therefore is a tax which actually pays the people paying it--DeBoer doesn't name names.  He doesn't sell his point of view.  There is no intensity in his support for the "tax" that brings in the federal dollars to fund the Medicaid expansion.  

 He doesn't want to make waves with Republicans.

He even ducks and evades visibility on the "easy" ones, including writing a letter to FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) asking that they hold a hearing in Jackson County on a pipeline project--a letter also signed by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners which consists of 3 Republicans.  He said he has opposed the pipeline from day one, so a questioner asked why, in that case, he didn't write such a letter.  It was a good question.   In politics the easiest and least dangerous thing to do is to write a letter asking that constituents be allowed to voice their opinion, and yet DeBoer did not do it.   

Worse for him, he has not apparently come up with a plausible excuse for not dashing one off.  He endured 3 or 4 minutes of intense and skeptical questioning over why he had sat on his hands. He looked weak and silly and evasive. "I don't know," he said.  "I just haven't done it," he said. 

Of course, there is a real answer, one he does not want to admit aloud.  He doesn't want to get crossways with Republicans, including Republicans who disagree with him.   The pipeline crossing Jackson County has become a partisan issue and most Democrats are opposed to it and many Republicans favor it.  It is a symbol.  Are you in favor of fossil fuel exploitation or not?  Republicans say drill, baby, drill, and global warming is a liberal hoax.   DeBoer disagrees with that, but he doesn't want to say it aloud and estrange fellow Republicans.  So he hides, ducks, and avoids--and people notice it.

It appears to me DeBoer is playing the long game, and a night of getting scolded for being a detached coward may simply be the price he thinks he needs to pay to keep his conscience and remain a Republican, but it has opened a line of criticism from the left, saying DeBoer is weak and his heart isn't in it.
Empathy and compassion.  

I have an odd recommendation for Democrats:  put him on the ballot as a Democrat and support him in the primary election.   It is entirely likely that that will make clear he is a Republican RINO, i.e. a Democrat.  Some Trump-style Republican might run against him and win the Republican primary--as he or she should, since DeBoer is now way outside the Republican mainstream of Trump-style anti-government populism.   DeBoer can barely contain his disapproval for Trump's vulgarity and divisiveness.

In the hardball of politics Democrats have one other course of action, one intended to make DeBoer un-electable in either party, although the better course is to elect him as a Wyden-style Democrat.  They could praise him to high heaven by describing him accurately.  Tell the public he is "one of ours", a real Democrat at heart, but weak, alas.  Describe him as a RINO even as he insists on running as a Republican.  Meanwhile run a candidate with policies rather like DeBoer's, but someone willing to speak out more clearly.   The possible result is that the Republican vote will be suppressed and Democrats will be motivated to vote for one of their own, a moderate Democrat who fits the district, but who, unlike DeBoer, is comfortable actually selling it.

My recommendation for DeBoer.  Run as a Republican if you absolutely must, but also do an aggressive write in campaign as a Democrat.  Then govern as what you are: a business oriented Democrat.  There is no shame in being a Democrat.  Come out into the daylight.


  1. From your description it sounds like DeBoer is positioning for a post Trump GOP.

    Being cognizant of the conservative leaning of the district, he can safely bet that being perceived as steady and non-controversial will allow him to keep the seat. The Trump cult is a minority and Republicans will abandon them eventually, hopefully sooner than later, leaving moderates well placed, especially those who never embraced the lunacy.

  2. Wishful thinking. Republicans haven’t abandoned DeBoer.
    For the last two nights I've watched a pillar of our community, philanthropist, employer of 200 Southern Oregonians, tireless public servant, life-long Oregonian, etc., Senator Alan DeBoer, be berated by a rude, boorish, aggressive, and hateful crowd at his two town halls, because he isn't the eco-terrorist, social justice warrior the hard-leftist filth in Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix want. He was shouted down, booed and heckled despite giving honest answers to questions that had no easy "yes" or "no" answer. This is the face of Progressivism - the "Indivisible", "Resist," “SOCAN” and "Unite Oregon" groups. The Brown Shirts of today.
    The left likes to yell. Since November’s crushing defeat, they’ve perfected and focused their tantrums. Members of these hate groups live for this and get paid for this; employed by agenda-driven non-profits. These paid activists feed off the mob mentality. Republicans traditionally don’t turn out for these things – especially on work nights. They need to start.
    Senator DeBoer embraces courtesy, grace and decorum. He doesn’t yell back, he listens. His only problem is that he attempts to teach and educate people on how things work in the Democrat-controlled swamp that is Salem. The left doesn’t want to hear that. They want sound bites for opposition research. They want yes or no answers to issues that aren’t black and white. They’re already producing their negative ads for November 2018.
    As an angry mob they are empowered bullies. As individuals they are wilting lilies. I approached several of these naïve youth last night following the meeting and asked direct questions. Do you live in the district? Where do you get your funding? Are you paid activists? You’re against fossil fuels but where are your bikes? They couldn’t look me in the eye or give straight answers. Classic bully behavior when someone finally stands up.
    Republicans haven’t abandoned DeBoer. They will be there when it counts – at the ballot box.

  3. Kim S. produced a very useful addition to this blog, and I am grateful. I consider it an authentic document, a useful piece of evidence, a primary source I have read and re-read it and recommend the same to other readers. The content and tone are perfect reflections of exactly what I have attempted to articulate about the new face of the GOP, now in ascendency.

    I agree: Alan DeBoer "embraces courtesy, grace, and decorum." He also understands nuance in a non confrontational struggle for common ground. He represents the good government remnant of the GOP, the one approximated by the vote for Kasich in Oregon.

    There is a different GOP, however, that has been in ascendence, the one led by Trump and Cruz (winners of some 85% of the Jackson County primary vote) and a tone that has extended down to local voters and political activists . That wing has succeeded by adopting an in your face, combative, accusatory, content and tone. It succeeded by de-legitimizing its opponents, presuming bad motives. Trump employed it, Newt Gingrich employed it, and it has become commonplace in GOP messaging.

    Kim S made one other key observation: "They will be there when it counts--at the ballot box." That was exactly the experience of the 2016 election: Republicans will stick by their party and I agree most of them will stick by Alan DeBoer at the ballot box. It is why I feel comfortable in suggesting to DeBoer that he need not tiptoe in his attempt to retain credibility with the GOP. They need not share his policies and certainly not his manner. DeBoer can be free to express his own sincere policies, however different they are from the ascendent Trump policies and tone, assured that the GOP represented by Kim S will "be there when it counts."


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