The most important election of our lifetimes! You hear that a lot these days, don’t you?  Given the current wretched state of our national politics, your probable expectation is for a touting of political races that promise to change the balance of power in Washington and put the entire country on a new and more fulfilling course. That’s understandable – and needed.

But we have a different suggestion. Focus locally on what we believe are perhaps the most important races on the November 6th ballot if you live in Salem.  Currently, Bill Burgess and Shelaswau Crier are seeking two of the three seats on the Marion County Commission. They both deserve your vote and if elected they could bring a great deal of positive change to Salem.  

Here’s how. In recent memory, the three Marion County Commission positions have been occupied by Republicans, some more conservative than others, but nonetheless solidly Republican since most people can remember.  Salem residents in Marion County have tended to forget that they are also residents of the County as well as the City.  The image of county government in the minds of many has been one of supporting agriculture and taking care of rural roads and garbage collection.  This has not inspired urban voters with much enthusiasm when county commissioner races take place.  Many just don’t feel that the issues normally addressed by county officials involve them directly.   

This is a strikingly incorrect view.  In fact, the County has many social service functions in its regular budget that potentially make it a major player in addressing the many near “crisis level” issues facing our (not strictly urban) community and region.  For instance, the county is a first responder on community health issues, including mental health.  It could have, in a variety of ways, a significant impact on addressing the homelessness crisis – with which, despite some welcome progress, the City is visibly struggling.

Along these lines, county governments have significant access to a variety of federal and state grant funding in many areas, certainly including a range of social services.  It is not clear how aggressively the current commissioners have pursued such available opportunities in the past, but rest assured a more progressive majority would likely enhance these efforts.  Couple this with pushing appropriate re-allocations of existing funds and considerably increased cooperation with more receptive city officials, and we could achieve real progress beyond anybody’s current expectations on such chronic issues as homelessness.  

Bill Burgess and Shelaswau Crier are unusually well qualified progressive candidates.  Burgess is the long-time Marion County Clerk, and a former Salem City Councilor.  Crier, a former Willamette law professor, is a legal consultant on human rights issues.  Each promises to focus on just the sorts of social issues that we all recognize as serious and that sometimes appear intractable given the disturbing gap between the growing needs and the apparent shrinking of resources available to help.  

In the past four years we have elected a progressive Salem City Council that is beginning to get their footing to take on some important issues. Now imagine, for the first time ever, a progressive Marion County Commission that would work closely with the Salem City Council to combine resources and give increased attention to poverty-related social needs such as homelessness, addiction problems, mental and physical health, and a climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region.  

This goal is well within reach.  And the first important step is a vote for Bill Burgess and Shelaswau Crier.