Writings and observations

Upending a local structure?

Context. Context. Where it hit some people’s attention was in the peculiar one-sentence press release from the Newberg, Oregon, chamber of commerce: A member of the government affairs committee had been expelled. Peculiar, but would it matter to anyone but the chamber?

If you get more than that one sentence, a big ball of twine starts to unravel. As it happens, the McMinnville News Register was on to the story days before the expulsion, and last weekend ran a big, and fascinating, article about the politics behind it.

Briefly, the expellee was Yamhill County Commissioner Leslie Lewis, a long-time major figure in county politics (years ago she rose to leadership in the state legislature) – and a key supporter this year of commission candidate Mary Starrett, a very conservative (former Constitution Party candidate) who is trying to unseat incumbent Mary Stern, who has a good deal of Democratic support. The Newberg chamber is a conservative group (that city probably will be Starrett’s major base in the election), but at a recent meeting there, Lewis crossed a line.

From the News-Register: “Yamhill County Commissioner Leslie Lewis is under criminal investigation by the state Department of Justice for allegedly secretly videotaping one or more candidates during private Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce endorsement interviews in Newberg and then passing that tape on to others. The taping was allegedly done in April, but just came to light with the posting of a heavily edited excerpt from Commissioner Mary Stern’s endorsement interview on YouTube and a conservative Republican website.”

Now the state attorney general’s office is investigating in what is described as a criminal investigation. Protesters today called on Lewis to resign. (Democratic protesters, to be sure, but they’d never had a basis for such a demand before.) And Lewis’ base, the heart of the Newberg business community – the mayor among others is on the panel – has turned on her.

A local matter to a considerable degree. But we wouldn’t be surprised if, two or four years from now, this incident wound up having some real structural impact on the politics of this county of almost 100,000.

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