OR-Sen: 3 Days til' Ballots Drop!

In just three days, Oregonians will be making their choice in the highly contested Senate race. Oregon is a vote by mail state and ballots will begin dropping this FRIDAY. Obama is up 17 points here and there's no question in my mind that he will carry Oregon. The Oregon Senate race is a different story. Follow me below the fold to find out why it's so important that we all come together to elect progressive Democrat Jeff Merkley.

Full disclosure, I am the netroots director for OR-Sen candidate Jeff Merkley

Democrat Jeff Merkley is not your average politician. He's the son of a timber worker, first in his family to go to college, and has traveled the world extensively. His humble upbringing and experiences abroad helped shape his views of the world. Here's a snippet from Ridenbaugh Press about his extensive travels abroad:

Merkley was in high school in 1972 when he signed up with the student exchange program run by the American Field Service (the organization founded in 1919), which exchanges students, thousands at a time, between the United States and other countries globally. (Its website says more than 30,000 are active in more than 50 counties, and there are 350,000 alumni.) Only a few then went from the United States to Africa; Merkley was one of six sent to Ghana, to a town with a population possibly between five and ten thousand. "I went to a humble family in a very small town, or a modestly small town," he recalled. "We were surrounded by families struggling to earn enough money to feed their kids the next day." "For me to go walking into a place like that as a young Caucasian 6-3 kid in villages where probably very few Caucasians had set foot in, it was quite an interesting engagement." That summer he also visited Uganda, not long after Idi Amin had taken power there, and had begun his crackdowns - throwing out many of the British residents there at the time.

Merkley said that when he had left home, he'd thought of his family's three-bedroom ranch house as modest; "when I returned from West Africa, I thought of it as a mansion. Garages stuck in my mind, because we not only had a home for our family, we even had a home for our car." He said "it gave me a sense of the diversity of the world," how fortunate Americans were in their freedom, government and prosperity, but also taking note how different each country was from another. He was hooked on the world at large; for the next decade and a half, that would be his professional life, and more.

Merkley didn't just learn about the world at large by spending time in Africa, he also immersed himself in countries like India, hitchhiked through the Mediterranean and the West Bank, and traveled through revolutionary-torn Central America. Last spring the Oregonian wrote a piece about how Jeff Merkley was an unconventional candidate. Here's a snippet about what led Jeff to travel throughout Central America.....

He studied international law of the sea. He went door to door to promote energy conservation. Later, he would use his connections and political credentials to land fellowships and jobs that took him into the bowels of the Pentagon, to Brussels, Belgium, on an assignment with NATO and into the cubicles of the Congressional Budget Office. By then, he was writing reports on U.S. and world nuclear weapons capacity.

But strolling the halls of power wasn't enough for Merkley, who also craved adventure among, as he puts it, "real people, real communities."

After an internship with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and before entering Princeton for graduate work, Merkley traveled through Central America. It was 1980, and guerilla warfare raged. Merkley wanted a closer look.

He went with Eric Schwartz, another Carnegie intern.

"We were thinking about doing something meaningful before the next phase of our lives," says Schwartz, who still lives in Washington. The idea was to talk to people and get a clearer picture of what was causing the strife.

Schwartz confirmed the story of Merkley finding the corpse in Guatemala City, one of many "poignant" moments in the trip. "It caused us to really reflect on the trip and what we were getting out of it," he says.

Schwartz, who has remained close with Merkley, says he barely recognizes him in news stories about the campaign. He's anything but "establishment," Schwartz says.

"Given his national security background, given his academic pedigree -- if this is a guy whose objective was to make a career in politics or to make a buck, he had plenty of potential. Instead, he comes back to Oregon and works for Habitat for Humanity.

Merkley's experiences traveling through countries mired in war to living in impoverished areas in Africa cemented his views on the importance of working directly with communities. Merkley isn't a top-down politician. Merkley likes to immerse himself in the communities who are facing the problems so he can better understand how to fix the problems. When he became director of Habitat for Humanity in Oregon, he and his wife moved to a tough neighborhood in NE Portland riddled with gang violence and drugs. Here's a snippet from the Oregonian:

When he and his wife, Mary Sorteberg, moved to Oregon in 1991 they chose to live "in the middle of the Bloods district," Merkley says. "I pulled a shotgun out of the bushes," he says. "We found baggies on the lawn."

Merkley says he could have lived in a different, safer, neighborhood. But he says he likes "having one foot in the world of what ordinary families face and one foot in the world where decisions are made and power is wielded."

He was hired to head the Portland branch of Habitat for Humanity in 1991. Early in his three-year tenure, he helped the group buy and renovate a building at Northeast 14th Avenue and Killingsworth Street, which remains Habitat's headquarters today.

The work gave him a front-row view to the Portland seen mainly by cops, gang members and drug dealers.....The biggest problem with the location, he says, was the constant stream of addicts driving up Northeast 14th to buy crack and other drugs. He called for a neighborhood meeting to request blocking the street at one end to discourage the trafficking.

"No one wanted to host a meeting because they were afraid they'd be shot at," Merkley says. But he pressed, and the city erected the barricade. Merkley points it out as the Prius pulls to the curb. With no easy access to the street, he says, drug dealing petered out.

Merkley says his success there is just one example of the way he handles problems. He brings people together, he says, works out a plan and takes action.

We need more politicians in Congress who are proud community organizers, politicians who want to change our country from the bottom-up. Merkley has on the ground experience and has made real differences in peoples' lives. As director of Habitat for Humanity, Jeff founded Walk for Humanity, created affordable housing programs and helped disaffected youth get back on their feet.

Today, we released a new ad, giving Oregonians a look at who Merkley is as a person, check out the new ad here.

We Need Your Help to Send Merkley to the Senate!

With just three days left before ballots drop in Oregon, you can make a difference by knocking on doors or phonebanking for Merkley. If you have a little left over this month, consider throwing some of that Jeff's way via the MYDD's Road to 60 Act Blue Page. The race is a complete tossup and we need your help to put this race firmly in the D column.

Tags: 2008 elections, Gordon Smith, Jeff Merkley, OR-Sen, Oregon (all tags)



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