Friday, February 23, 2018

Is Golden doomed? A Guest Comment

Is Jeff Golden an "old guard progressive," with a stale brand past its sell-by date?   

Golden Bullet.  New and Improved.

 Not necessarily.

Today's post features a comment I received in the middle of the night. 

The comment likened Jeff Golden's candidacy to Hillary Clinton's.  It was a warning:  Democrats might well choose to nominate for a State Senate seat a dynastic old-guard progressive candidate with narrow appeal, lots of enemies, and a tired brand.  

The author identified him or her self (hereafter simply "she") as the author of a previous comment who had found Golden "frustrating and irritating" for sharing muddled considerations and reservations regarding an issue, rather than a "clear and substantive answer."  She said he would be ineffective in Salem.  She said he would lose the general election.

The entire comment, verbatim, is shown below.  I do not know who wrote the comment.  I don't care. What is important to me regarding comments is whether they add to a respectful discussion of the issues this blog addresses: political message, policy, electability. It does.

I consider both the comment below and the former one (Feb 20 posttough and critical.  I had posted that I considered the comment helpful to Golden--whether he knew it or not--because it is thrusting him out of a cocoon of legacy establishment Ashland progressive politics.  

Golden has enormous assets going into this primary.  He has 40 years of contacts with donors and supporters.  He can hold an event in the home of an influential person and people show up, with checkbooks. They have done it before and no doubt are doing so now.  He has highly skilled and motivated campaign staff.  He has a brand.  

He has three opponents in the primary, so people tired of that Golden brand are likely to be divided. Neither Medford City Council person Kevin Stine, nor physician Julian Bell, nor AllCare behavioral health supervisor Athena Goldberg have widespread name or brand recognition. Unless one--and only one--of his opponents explode into voter consciousness as the alternative to Golden, he has a clear path to the nomination.  

Hillary Clinton had her own suite of locked-in opponents, with her 40 years of work in progressive causes.  So, too, Golden.  He made enemies of the usual suspects of lumber mill owners, Chambers of Commerce, and social conservatives, plus the assortment of detractors one gets by having been a County Commissioner who cut budgets, a talk show host who expressed opinions, and person living in a tight community.

Golden Scrub Cloths.  New and Improved.
The comment below assumes that Jeff is trapped by his own mature personality and political philosophy deep into a single inflexible brand, a punctilious "niche progressive" from Ashland.  If that is true, then Democrats may well be trapped themselves, likely to nominate the strongest primary candidate but a weak general election candidate.  

It is not necessarily true.  

The Golden brand and style has two prongs to it.  One is pure college town progressive--the old guard establishment bubble--but the other is an outside-the-box openness to alternatives. That prong can come across as mushy indecision and kumbaya of universal one-ness, and if Golden presents it that way then, indeed, the comment below is well expressed and he is doomed. In that case the two prongs of his brand reinforce one another and make the Golden brand even worse.

.Click: "She was the candidate because it was her turn."
But it need not be. The prong of open-ness could be communicated as decisive independence and frank rejection of all bubbles, including his. He cannot just say it because every cynical politician says it, and it would just confirm Golden as one more of them. He would have to communicate a message of independence decisively, in the persuasive body-language message system of actually demonstrating independence.  He would have to break the bubble, conspicuously.

He probably needs to do it now, in the primary, when it would be credible.  Waiting to "move to the center" in a general election is precisely the kind of tired cliche trick that voters discount.  

I am more inclined to find message and policy flexibility in Golden than does the author of the comment below.  We will see.  November will be too late.

Guest Comment:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Some people like Jeff Golden. Some do not.":

I don’t think that Cathy Shaw wrote the first comment on this blog post; I think that comment was written by Alma Rivelle, the person who posted it. I know that Kevin Stine didn’t write the critical comment of Jeff Golden’s response and candidacy because I wrote it. I don’t intend to sign my name to that comment or to this one because I would rather avoid the insiders’ speculation as to which candidate I’m supporting, and the assumption that a desire to get a particular candidate elected was my motivation in writing that criticism.

I do not work for any of the candidates, nor am I affiliated with any campaign. I am a concerned voter whose primary interest is in seeing a strong candidate come out of the primary who will beat the Republican candidate in the general election and who will effectively serve their constituents. I understand that my words were harsh and critical, but I didn’t write them because I don’t like Jeff. He’s a nice person and I believe that he cares about this valley. However, I do not think that he’s a strong candidate outside of the primary or that he would be effective in Salem.

It’s true that he worked for progressive issues in his day, but were the issues that he fought for enough for Democrats in his district to fight for him in the general? Are those decades-passed efforts his legacy? Or is he identified as an old guard South Valley progressive who lost an election to a conservative the last time he was on a ballot?

I don’t generally like to draw comparisons between local and national politics because people tend to take that too far, but just as another frame to view this primary in, consider the 2016 national primaries. The party chose to support a dynastic candidate, one with support from key donors and strategists, who had already demonstrated an inability to win the support of voters. That decision was clearly made by “the establishment,” or in this case, the old guard, and drove the folks who don’t generally turn out for special elections or primaries further from the party, and that party divide and lack of enthusiasm for the establishment cost us the presidency.

What’s missing in this analogy is a Bernie Sanders candidate, but the analogy is not without the threat of a Trump outcome. I’m not saying that support should go to the most populist candidate, don’t get me wrong (this is why I tend to avoid drawing these comparisons). I’m just saying that you should take a step outside of your bubble and take into account what you already know about the voters we’ll face in the general. They don’t tend to support Ashland progressives or niche progressives in general, and don’t particularly like candidates who have spent decades “on the inside”; and, they’ll be reminded that they’ve rejected Jeff on the ballot previously (and why was that?). What do they like? Is there anything beyond some degree of name recognition that makes you think that he would be the best candidate in the general?


  1. Often candidates are really defined less by the issues and more by their opponents.

    As the primary progresses it will be interesting to see what territory they stake out in the pursuit of a plurality. (alliteration unintentional) It would seem Progressives in Oregon have a tightrope to walk. Can't be too principled or idealistic in fear of appearing too hippy. Unrealistic.

  2. I believe this is a microcosm to the discussion that R's "had" in the last election (and are painfully battling with today) and D's since the 2016 election. To what extent do we cling to "established" party norms or transition to a candidate or ideals with a better chance of being elected. I like Jeff, no one questions his party loyalty or credentials and, because of that, I gave him a pass to the challenging question you posed about the Health Care amendment. But that is the only pass he gets. No more waffling, no more "let's spend six months establishing committees" and countless meetings to wax philosophically about theory. I was a Philosophy major and I love to do that around a table and a bottle of wine but there is a strong difference between a participant and a leader. A leader makes decisions. A leader realizes that there is never enough information to make the mythical perfect decision. Never enough. A leader gathers the information at the time and makes the best decision possible, and in the event the information changes, assimilates the new information and assesses whether a new decision should be made. The most effective leaders usually come from executive positions of business, government or the military because those are the types of decisions that are made everyday and practise makes both perfect and permanent. Oregon needs leaders, I hope that every person seeking elected office is willing to make tough, timely, pragmatic decisions independent of power, money or party. Come to think of it maybe the word (or party) we can all rally around is "Independent."

  3. Hello,
    I tried to post the following a couple of times. I'm elderly and not that adept at doing all of this. Maybe both will suddenly appear. But in case I did something wrong, here is my comment:
    It's about governing, and Golden has done it.
    I've known Jeff Golden for over 40 years. He moved to southern Oregon as a young 20-something, bought a piece of land in Gold Hill with the advance he received on his first book: Watermelon Summer, a journal about his field labor on the first all-Black sharecropper cooperative in Georgia.
    He and two friends of mine, started The Joe Hill Company in Gold Hill. After Gold Hill he moved to Butte Falls, worked as a river guide, carpenter, and for the US State Department.
    I supported him when the timber companies in Jackson County tried to recall him. Why did they want him recalled? Because he advocated for mill workers and better forest practices. And I witnessed all his many efforts since then, quietly focusing us to make a better community and be more active participants.
    He's worked in city, county, and state government.
    Yes he ran for office and lost. So did Kevin Stine, Julian Bell, Jeff Merkley, Peter Buckley, John Stromberg, and Alan DeBoer. As the saying goes: you win some and you lose some. Bless them for trying.
    Sure, we can elect someone with no experience, a new name, who will bring inexperience in all its glory to bear for our region. But if national politics has shown us anything, when we do, we place that person at the mercy of those who do have experience: the lobby and special-interest groups.

  4. So interesting to see Ds hungering for independents rather than party hacks. And Al Densmore turning his back on the Democratic Party to run as an Independent. Too much baggage to successfully pull?


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