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Race and Representation

OPB | Oct. 21, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:03 p.m.

When longtime Oregon state senator Margaret Carter stepped down earlier this year, there was a lot of talk about who should fill her shoes. Clearly, it’s a crucial time for the legislature, which will likely face a slew of difficult financial decisions in the upcoming special session. Race also entered into the discussion, since Carter was one of only two African Americans in the Oregon legislature. Ultimately, the Multnomah County Democrats recommended (and county commissioners appointed) former state representative Chip Shields, who is white, to replace Carter. This leaves his house seat open, which the commissioners will most likely vote to fill on Thursday. They’ll choose from a group of three African American candidates recommended by the Multnomah County Democrats.

The questions of identity and representation that these vacancies have brought to the fore aren’t limited to black and white. More than one in ten Oregonians is of Latino or Hispanic origin, yet only one legislator of 90 is Latino. Does this matter to you? Is it important that the legislature reflect the diversity of the state? Why or why not?

How important is it that your elected representatives share your ethnic or racial background? And how important are such parallels when you differ politically?

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