Election-wise, Portland, Oregon is one of the luckiest cities in the country. Its residents actually have the option of voting outside the Republican/Democratic circus this fall. At least those in State House District 45 do, where the Send Sardo to Salem campaign has shifted into high gear.
In a rational world, this minor-party, left alternative offered by Freedom Socialist Party candidate Jordana Sardo, running for state representative, wouldn’t be all that remarkable. But in the USA, any campaign outside the capitalist corral is cause for jubilation.
An outside-the-box candidate. Sardo cut her radical teeth in the late 1980s organizing against neo-Nazis and defending abortion clinics, among other “frowned upon” activities. For the past 13 years, she has worked in human services for runaway youth. Her involvement in this area has equipped her to zero in on the problems that afflict her constituents, and to mince no words in posing solutions. Currently the local branch organizer for FSP in Portland, she is a longtime antiwar activist and unionist and a cofounder of Bigot Busters, a group formed to defeat antigay ballot measures.
At her kickoff party in August, she put it bluntly. “I’ve never been a candidate before, I’m not a lawyer, business executive or high-paid consultant. I am a socialist — someone who wants to see the tremendous wealth that workingclass people create shared, not just funneled to a few CEOs like Paul Allen of Microsoft and Phil Knight of Nike.”
Confronting real issues. Sardo’s 45th District in northeast Portland is largely workingclass and multiracial. For voters there, rent control, police abuse, good public schools with bilingual education, healthcare and decent jobs are the issues that matter.
• Almost a quarter of the people in Sardo’s district are immigrants whose first language is something other than English.
• Oregon has one of the country’s highest unemployment rates, officially 7.4 percent, and the county Portland is part of, Multnomah, has the highest rate in the state.
• But when so many jobs are low-paying, having one is no guarantee against being hungry, especially in Oregon. Two-income households there have a hunger rate almost four times higher than those in the rest of the nation. Two-parent households with children have hunger rates more than three times the national average. The federal food program limits food giveaways to one box per month per family — enough for about three to five days!
• The increase in the number of badly paid jobs also contributes to the fact that nearly a million Oregonians have had no health insurance for two years. Poor people have access to Oregon Health Plan, a Medicaid-type assistance program. But half the state’s doctors limit the number of patients they see who use the plan; payments to doctors are significantly lower in Oregon than in other states with similar plans.
Key plank: tax big business. To address these problems, the state needs money. It is no wonder that campaigners for Sardo have found the district’s residents frustrated with a legislature unwilling to resolve Oregon’s budget crisis by taxing the only source of big bucks — corporate giants doing business there.
During their signature gathering to get ballot status, one person told them, “Yes, I’ll sign! Our current rep, who lives down the street from here, isn’t doing anything for us in Salem and I was seriously thinking of running against her myself!” The incumbent, Democrat Jackie Dingfelder, would have been running unopposed if not for the FSP campaign.
Dingfelder has supported raising state revenues through higher “sin” taxes on alcohol and cigarettes and bigger fees for bicycle and vehicle registrations. In contrast, Sardo promotes the “radical” concept that corporations should pay taxes.
Here are the appalling facts. Oregon’s business taxes are the lowest of all the 11 Western states. Personal income taxes are the state’s largest source of revenue, with 86 percent of the general fund for 1999-2001 coming from this pot. In contrast, corporate income taxes, which tax business profits, contributed a mere 7.5 percent to the fund. In 2000, more than half of all Oregon enterprises with payrolls over $2 million got away with paying only the $10 minimum excise tax.
And it’s getting worse. For the 2001-2002 fiscal year, corporate taxes made up only 4.5 percent of the general fund, and this percentage is projected to fall even more during 2003-2005.
According to estimates by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, business tax collections for the 2001-2003 budget period will drop to their lowest level in a decade — thanks to tax breaks and loopholes and the low corporate income tax rate of 6.6 percent.
If workers in Oregon were taxed the same way that corporations are, they could deduct virtually every living expense — from laundry detergent to gas for their cars — and pay taxes on what is left of their net income, if any.
Imagine another scenario, says Sardo. “The solution is to initiate a steeply graduated corporate income tax, with sharp increases over the current tax rate for the biggest and most profitable companies without penalizing small businesses. Taxation should be used as a method to support needed services and more fairly disperse the wealth, rather than allow that wealth to concentrate in the wallets of the super-rich.”
A wide range of positions worth applauding. What’s more, Sardo says, the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour, and more jobs created by reducing the workweek to 30 hours with no loss in pay. Her platform demands statewide rent control, expanding low-income housing, and public ownership of utilities like PGE. She stands for publicly funding quality healthcare, free abortion and contraceptives, and 24-hour childcare. She opposes Measure 38, to privatize workers’ compensation insurance, and Measure 36, to outlaw same-sex marriage.
A lifelong defender of civil liberties, she demands the repeal of the Patriot Act and would work for an independent, elected civilian review board over the police. Sardo wants to bring home Oregon’s National Guard from Iraq and Afghanistan and reallocate that military spending to social needs. Her platform also calls for voting rights for prisoners and immigrants, natural constituents for this candidate of the have-nots.
Said one volunteer admiringly, “This campaign knows no fear. Cool!”
The tough fight to provide an alternative. For any independent candidate, running for office requires an Olympian effort to surmount growing obstacles to ballot access.
When Portland FSP tried to run Sardo four years ago, they had to sue the state just for the right to field her under the party’s name. But, with the support of the Socialist Party, labor unions, independent activists, and national rights groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the two-year court battle was won. That victory is what now puts the Freedom Socialist Party on the Oregon ballot, by name, for the first time.
Sardo’s campaign committee energetically collected 729 signatures to put her in the race this year, far more than the required 360. Endorsers to date include Portland Socialist Action, Portland Radical Women, and the prison rights group After Seventeen Years.
Says college student and musician Chas Beshears, a committee volunteer, “Third parties challenge the power of the establishment and one day may change the economic system itself.” June Wojda, a volunteer from Radical Women, reports, “It was wonderful to hit the streets and find out that people know that the twin parties are nothing more than a corporate giveaway of our basic human rights and needs.”
To make its mark, the campaign needs help! To be a part of the fun and fury, or for more information, contact sardotosalem @ hotmail.com or call 503-267-2583.
Student services educator Eduardo Martínez Zapata chairs the Send Sardo to Salem Committee.