The new normal: candidate skill-swapping sessions.

It’s still early datys, but Portland’s reforms appear to have sparked a wave of collaboration between candidates.

Maja Viklands Harris Avatar

Last weekend, over a dozen council candidates and one mayoral candidate, Liv Osthus, gathered in Portland’s Old Town for a joint learning session. Organized by District 2 candidate Nat West, a former cider entrepreneur now turned TriMet bus driver, the event offered each candidate the opportunity to present for fifteen minutes on a topic of their choosing. The result? Participants committed to a hefty three-hour exchange that emphasized collaboration over competition.

The topics were varied: District 2 candidate Elana Pirtle-Guiney, a former AFL-CIO organizer, explained terms like ‘prevailing wage rate’ and ‘project labor agreements’, while Chad Lykins, a candidate in District 4, parsed Portland State University’s Alternative Shelter Evaluation Report.

Trading Tricks and Policy Picks.

In the cheerleader spirit that’s become a hallmark of the 2024 election cycle, Steph Routh shared insider tips from her campaign. Routh, who’s running in District 1, is the only candidate to qualify for two rounds of public financing from the city.

“I want every candidate to be the best they can be in this election,” Routh said.

“So please reach out if we can help in any way.”

Some candidates, like Jamie Dunphy and Steve Novick, came prepared with already-formed policy proposals. Dunphy, a longtime music and entertainment advocate who’s seeking a seat in District 1, offered specific amendments to Portland’s noise code to strengthen protections for music venues.

“No matter who gets elected, whether it’s you or me, I’m going to pursue this,” Dunphy told the crowd.

Novick, a former Portland city commissioner seeking a political comeback in District 3, outlined his proposal for transitioning Portland’s police force to smart guns to reduce suicides and accidental deaths. Like Dunphy, he said he would either introduce the proposal as a council member or lobby the council to bring it forward.

A ‘Meeting of the Minds’ Model for City Council.

About halfway through the gathering, a spirited discussion broke out about Safe Use Sites–designated facilities where individuals can use drugs in a controlled environment. However, in keeping with the pragmatic tone of the event, the debate focused less on the political viability of these often controversial facilities and more on Medicaid reimbursements and the cost-benefit analysis for taxpayers. It was almost as if candidates had bypassed the campaign portion of their candidacy and skipped directly to the policymaking part.

That, Nat West told Rose City Reform, was the whole point of the exercise.

“I think this serves as a model for how the council could collaborate once elected,” he said.

“I don’t necessarily agree with everyone here, and I might not consider voting for them, but I recognize that they have a vision and are experts in their area.”

West plans to host more skill-swapping sessions throughout the year.

“I love learning, and events like these make all of us smarter on the campaign trail,” he said.

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