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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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February 2, 2008 8:24 PM

Neighbors talk politics in Clark County

Posted by David Postman

FELIDA, Clark County -- Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro used to list off three reasons why presidential nominating caucuses would never be popular among anyone other than party activists and insiders:

“To succeed at a caucus you have to argue. You have to argue with your neighbor. You have to argue with your neighbor about politics. And people don't like to argue about politics or religion."

But next Saturday’s caucuses may be the best attended in a long time. I’ve found a high level of interest in the presidential race as I’ve driven around the state. And I don’t know about arguing, but in talking with three families here Saturday afternoon, I didn’t see any reluctance to speak candidly about politics even if it meant debate and disagreements among neighbors.

All five of the registered voters I spent two hours with plan to attend a caucus Saturday. And only one of those has ever done it before in Washington. The voters I shared coffee and donuts with are an indicator of an election that has grabbed the public’s attention. These voters are more interested, though, in change in general than in any specific candidate.

I stopped in Felida, a bit of unincorporated Clark County adjacent to Vancouver and not far from the Columbia River, at the invitation of Jon DeVore. Regular readers will know him as stilwell, a commenter on this blog as well as a blogger in his own right. He’s 43 and a stay-at-home dad with his two girls, Lauren and Emily. His wife, Diana, also 43, is a pharmacist for a large national retailer.


Jon DeVore in his living room.

The DeVores are Democrats. Jon thinks his subdivision is pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. He invited everyone in the cul-de-sac to his house yesterday, telling them we were going to have an informal and friendly political discussion.

Two other couples joined us. From next door was Scott and Mitsu Clark, both in their 50s. The Millers, Ken, 72, and Sandra, 71, also came.

I knew someone in the Clark house was a fan of Republican Ron Paul because there was a big campaign sign planted in the front yard. It’s the only sign I saw in the subdivision, known as West of Westmoor.

Scott Clark said it’s the first time he has ever advertised his political affiliation that way. He has also donated $50 to the Paul campaign. He says he agrees with almost all of the Texas congressman’s libertarian views.

“I think this country really needs to be shaken up and brought back to Constitutional realities.”

Clark, an insurance company auditor and Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, agrees with Paul that America should return to the gold standard and said the nation’s central banks “have really done the country a disservice.” He said taxes are too high.

He separates from Paul on issues of foreign policy. He said that Paul’s isolationist view could make the world more dangerous, saying, for example, that Israel would likely take a more aggressive stance against its enemies if it no longer had close connections to the United States.

Clark’s wife, Mitsu, is Japanese and not a U.S. citizen and cannot vote.


Mitsu and Scott Clark.

Ken Miller, a retired WSU Vancouver professor, arrived last, and only after the Cougar basketball game had ended. He says he lives and dies by his team. But he’s also passionate about this election. And he quickly disproved Munro’s theory that neighbors won’t publicly disagree with each other.

“I’m not going to vote for a Republican. Those people are deluding themselves with regard to the war in Iraq and the state of the country as a whole.

“I agree with Scott that our country is at a real crossroads here.”

But Miller sees the answer coming from one of the two Democrats in the race. He said he doesn’t have a preference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and could be equally excited about either one. As he talked, though, Miller made a case that Obama is best-suited to do the sort of unifying he thinks the country so badly needs.

Sandra Miller is a retired Vancouver school speech therapist. She spent this morning volunteering to supervise juvenile offenders doing community work. She, too, is still on the fence about which Democrat she’ll back. But there’s no doubt about her feelings about President Bush.

“It’s just been eight years of the worst things. “We’ve had lies to start a war -- a war we had no reason to start.”

Sandra began to recite the day’s news of bombings in Iraq when her husband scooted to the edge of the couch and said:

“Sandra, it’s not just the war. We have a government shrouded in secrecy. … In Congress we have people who talk past each other and the leader we have is fine with this so he can do whatever he wants.”

To understand the depth of Ken Miller’s feelings, consider the hesitation in his voice when he told his neighbors this secret:

“I’ll admit to you, I voted for Eisenhower … I hate to admit it, but I think I voted for Richard Nixon over Humphrey.”

From left, Diana DeVore, Sandra and Ken Miller.

The Millers and Clarks have lived on the cul-de-sac since 1999, when the development was completed. The DeVores came in 2003. It’s a friendly neighborhood with a big, group, Fourth of July celebration.

It’s the sort of place where neighbors keep an eye out for each other.

“You can’t do anything bad because everyone will know,” joked Mitsu Clark.

Last year, Jon dislocated his shoulder in the middle of the street after going head-over-handlebars on one of the kid’s scooters. He said every one of his neighbors rushed out to help. And when the paramedic was checking for brain function and asked him who was president, Jon answered, “Al Gore." The neighbors assured the medics that DeVore’s brain was running normally -- he just never got over the 2000 election.

But even though they all seem familiar with DeVore’s politics, there are still some unknowns on the street. Several families invited today didn’t make it, which was a bit of a disappointment to Sandra, who said.

“I’d love to know their politics.”

Diana knew enough to say, “It’s a divided house.”

And there are things still to learn about each other. Scott may have been adding his secret to make Ken feel better about his Ike and Nixon votes when he said his first vote was for Nixon’s re-election in 1972. But there was no common ground when Scott added:

“I still think he was a great man. … A great statesman.”

At this point Scott surprised me. He acknowledged the long odds of Paul getting the nomination and said he has a back-up candidate.

“My second choice is Obama. I’m not a Republican. I’m for whoever can solve our problems.”

The DeVores were gracious hosts and restrained about jumping into the debate. But they both have strong feelings about politics. They are ardent opponents of the Iraq war and of President Bush. They yearn for universal health care.

Diana says she’s happy that the election is attracting new voters.

“Anything that brings them out is good, even if it’s Oprah,” she said of Obama’s popular backer. But she also feels a Democratic tide rising that gives her a new confidence.

"This year as a Democrat I don’t feel like I need to stay in a closet.”

She said that Repubicans’ reliance on “family values” in the 2004 campaign made her resent “being made to feel that we couldn’t have good family values.”

Jon had been leaning toward John Edwards. A week before Washington’s caucus he’s unsure whether he’ll cast his vote for Clinton or Obama.

“I think someone could persuade me one way or the other.”

He wonders, as many I’ve talked to do as well, if Clinton’s negatives may make her less electable than Obama.

“Opinions about Hillary Clinton are set in dried concrete.”

He said that Bush has messed up the entire federal government, not just the White House operations, as political inclinations reached into all corners of the government.

“We need a leader who will let the military officers do their job.”

That made Sandra Miller discount the argument that Obama lacks experience.

“That’s why I’m wondering if experience really matters that much if he gets the right people around him.”

Sandra said she supports mandatory public service for all young adults. She said they could join the military or the Peace Corps or do some work domestically, like FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps.

“Roosevelt had it right,” she said.

Diana disagreed, saying national service of any sort should not be mandatory.

As a pharmacist, Diana says she’s learned first-hand that America’s health care system is way too complicated and driven too much by concern for the bottom line as part of the GOP plan to deregulate business.

“I believe the Republicans have taken away a lot of the controls and there is a lot more free trade and the rich get richer.”

The same point was made about the current home mortgage crisis, that government aid would now benefit the wealthy, making them even richer.

Scott:

“I can’t figure out what’s wrong with the rich getting richer.”

Diana said that the rich are partly to blame for the crisis because there were people tempted by artificially low mortgage offers.

Ken Miller quieted the room for a moment when he said that America faces two major challenges: The potential demise of the middle class and the government’s inability to operate within a budget. He worries about more U.S. debt being held by foreign countries and businesses.

“We have to start living within our means. I just don’t think this can go on forever.”

Scott:

“You are a Ron Paul supporter and you don’t even realize it.”

Ken:

“I’m not.”

There were other disagreements. Sandra worried that Republican Mike Huckabee talks about religion too much when he campaigns and wouldn’t keep enough distance between church and state. Scott, though, said that’s already gone too far.

“You can barely say God in the public schools. Ninety percent of Americans are Christian and you can’t even have a nativity scene in the town square.”

“Good,” said Sandra.

And then Sandra said English should be the only language in the United States, which Jon and Diana objected to. They said the argument for an official language was trumped up by Republicans.

“This is the fear of the other,” he said.

The debate was always polite. It did get a bit hard to follow all the conversations during the few times it seemed everyone was talking at once. But we had talked about politics and religion and neighbors disagreed with neighbors with no hurt feelings or angry words.

They all said they’d make their way to the local school Saturday to vote in the caucuses. The DeVores and the Millers will be in the gym with their fellow Democrats just to decide between two candidates. Scott Clark will be in the library with the Republicans making a stand for a long-shot presidential campaign.

And to be sure, there are no hard feelings from today’s discussion. They’ll all be at the Clark’s tomorrow to watch the Super Bowl.

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