We are the Washington County Democrats. What does it mean to be a county party?
The Original WashCo Dems Logo
Many people only get their political information from television which tends to focus on federal races. Trying to understand state and local government and politics can be very overwhelming. There are so many different local elections ranging from city councils, school board seats, parks and recreation boards, water boards, and the County Commission, just to name a few. All of these people are elected candidates, but when you open up your voting guide pamphlet, you often don’t know who you want to cast your vote for. Who really holds your values?
This is exactly why the county party plays a very important role in educating our neighbors about these other candidates. The county party is the ground-level grassroots foundation of the Democratic Party. The county party is actively engaged at the local level and helps local candidates get elected. It is these elected positions that influence what happens in your county and in your neighborhood. The county party also works to get candidates at higher levels of office elected as well – all the way up to the president!
The Washington County Democrats actually have a very special story. Prior to 2000, Washington County was known as a Republican county. We suffered a particularly low point in 1994 when we failed to win a single House or Senate seat in the state legislature from this county. Then Ryan Deckert and Richard Devlin won seats in the House in 1996. Over the course of the next several years, we have steadily increased our Democratic representation in the legislature. The Washington County Democratic Party has also slowly worked to turn the voter registration purple and now solid blue.
How did they do it?
Several mechanisms that drove the change in direction for Washington County.
First, the Washington County Democrats played an important role in the changing voter demographics by establishing a year-round office that was there to support Democratic causes and candidates, and be a part of the community. The first office was established in downtown Beaverton in 2006. The party also raised enough money to hire a field director, making it the first county party in the state to have paid staff. This was made possible by a large influx of new active Democrats and their contributions in January 2005.
In 2011 they moved the office from Beaverton to Hillsboro. A big part of that move was because Hillsboro had recently lost house seats to the Republican Party. By having a consistent presence in downtown Hillsboro, the Washington County Democrats began the path to flipping Hillsboro back to Blue. In 2012, the Democrats took back House District 29 and House District 30, and we added Senate District 15 in 2014. These victories strengthened progressive values in the state legislature for all of Oregon. The office today continues to serve as a place for Washington County Democrats and other progressives to meet for the committee and caucus meetings, prepare for events, learn about how to implement grassroots change, as well as phone bank and canvass for elections. Today our office is still sustained by our Blue Horizon Fund. Read about the fund and founders here.
Another factor that has made the county more progressive was the decision to actively support and endorse local non-partisan candidates. It has long been the case that county parties will raise money, and then give that money to incumbent candidates at the state level to help them with their campaigns. Around 2006 the Washington County Democrats added a new approach. They began to actively support and endorse non-partisan candidates in local races. This was critical because these are the races that are hardest for citizens to gauge who to vote for! If it doesn’t say on your ballot that the person is a Republican or a Democrat, it is really hard to tell what kind of values they hold. When the County Democratic Party endorses a candidate for a non-partisan office, you know that the candidate is a Democrat who holds progressive values.
The third and most truly special element of the Washington County Democratic party is its Neighborhood Leader Program. This was a concept that had been conceived by Howard Dean as – the Neighbor to Neighbor program, and it turned it into a real mechanism for change for Washington County. Some of you may remember that after Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, the 2010 elections saw a big loss for Democrats in Congress. When that happened the Washington County Democrats decided to embrace the Neighbor to Neighbor concept, and turn it into a reality. Thus was born the Neighborhood Leader Program.
The Neighborhood Leader Program has been an important mechanism for turning Washington County true blue, and today 27 other county Democratic parties in Oregon are using the same program to create change in their counties as well. It has also been introduced in the Midwest.
The Neighborhood Leader Program is the essence of grassroots change. As a Neighborhood Leader, you create a relationship with your fellow Democratic neighbors. You bring them important information about who the party endorses running for office, what ballot measures are endorsed, and those measures recommended to be rejected.
Prior to 2005, the Washington County Democratic party averaged 35 participants in attendance at the Central Committee meetings. Today we regularly exceed 170+ people per meeting. It is an exciting time to join the party!
Now you know a little bit more about who we are, and we hope you will become a part of our family.