I hereby pledge…

In a crowded field, campaign pledges can help candidates send signals to voters. But can candidates keep what they promise?

Maja Viklands Harris Avatar
person in gray sweater with silver ring

Chances are you’ve heard of Portland Street Response, Portland’s city program deploying unarmed teams to address mental health crises. But have you heard of the Save Portland Street Response Pledge?

Over twenty candidates have signed this pledge, circulated by the grassroots coalition Friends of Portland Street Response. Within sixty days of taking office, signatories commit to passing an ordinance to secure funding for Portland Street Response to operate citywide and around the clock. Additionally, the pledge binds councilors to support funding for the program’s 24/7 operations in every budget cycle and to establish it as a co-equal branch of the city’s first responder network.

Pledges send political cues to voters.

Why do candidates sign pledges? These commitments can be an efficient way to make campaign promises to voters and gain visibility in a crowded field. Candidates frequently post about their pledges on social media, and pledge organizers can help draw attention to candidates and mobilize voters.

But what about candidates who don’t sign the Save Portland Street Response Pledge? Should voters assume they don’t support the program? Not so fast. Some candidates, like Elana Pirtle-Guiney in District 2, prefer not to sign pledges with explicit budgetary commitments to avoid having to break promises to voters later.

“In some cases, that means I’m not signing pledges on issues that I strongly support,” Pirtle-Guiney told Rose City Reform.

Pirtle-Guiney hopes voters will instead consider her actions and statements, such as testifying in favor of expanded funding for Portland Street Response and listing the program as a priority on her website.

“But I’m not willing to sign a pledge committing to taking very specific actions when I don’t know what the makeup of the council will be or how deep the budget cuts are that we’ll need to make,” she says.

D4 candidates Andra Vltavín and Sarah Silkie sign the Save Portlamd Street Response Pledge

Anti-endorsement pledges: Less about money, more about ideology.

Pledges aren’t just about what candidates will do – sometimes, they signal what they won’t do. For instance, multiple candidates have signed the No Police Money Pledge and the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, rejecting contributions and endorsements from police unions and organizations associated with the coal, gas, and oil sectors.

While anti-endorsement pledges can come at some political cost, they also help communicate a candidate’s values to voters. For example, candidates who have signed both of these pledges – Candace Avalos and Timur Ender in District 1, Christopher Olson in District 2, Angelita Morillo and Robin Ye in District 3, and Andra Vltavín in District 4 – share backgrounds in organizing for criminal justice reform and climate action. For voters unfamiliar with these names, a quick glance at their pledges provides instant clues about their priorities.

Pledges don’t tell the whole story, however. Often, a candidate’s decision to decline a pledge is less about a specific issue and more about preserving relationships and the freedom to arrive at independent decisions.

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