Politics and elections: then and now

As most any politician will likely profess, it’s hard to imagine how your life may change when you enter the political arena – even in small towns in Oregon. And as a First Lady, I am now convinced that those of us who are married to someone in public office should be warned ahead of time to join a “spousal support group” if we hope to keep our sanity.

This month’s issue of The Atlantic shares the story of the November 2, 1920 election in Yoncalla, Oregon – a town then with 323 residents (just a bit over 1000 now), located between Eugene and Roseburg. Yoncalla might be known by some today as the home of the Oregon Pioneer Jesse Applegate who helped create the Oregon Trail alternative, the Applegate Trail. But half a century after Jesse’s time, in 1920, the town’s residents voted out the entire male city council, replacing them with an entirely female council. Some of the newly council members were kin to those voted out, including the wife of a councilman who wasn’t re-elected, and the wife of the outgoing mayor. I thank The Atlantic for reminding us of days long gone, while still thoughtfully relevant as we head closer to electing the first ever female U.S. President.

Many Oregon mayors have had their own challenges, going back to Oregon’s earliest days. If you look back to my great-great-great grandparents’ days in Salem, on February 9, 1857, 700 Salem pioneers elected photographer Willie Kenyon mayor. Unfortunately for Willie, the election was ruled invalid not long after because both houses of the Territorial Legislature hadn’t properly passed the city charter bill. This left it to Lucian Health to be officially elected the first Salem mayor in 1860. Beginning a couple of decades later, several Salem mayors, including G.M. Gray in 1879, were heavily criticized as their drinking water – the Willamette River – began to be polluted by upriver industries. And of course, more modern elections, such as the 1986 Oregon Governor race between Neil Goldschmidt and Norma Paulus, as shared earlier this month in Portland Monthly, illustrate the mayhem created sometimes unintentionally, as candidates duke it out.

And although I wildly applaud those Yoncalla women elected to that all female 1920 council, at this point I think my skin is just a bit too thin for politics. Let me be an unrecognized volunteer any day, I say. But thank you to all who choose to serve….and those spouses too.

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