Local 2016 Election Comments Are Not About Being Ethnically Inclusive

I for one am not surprised by the content of a November 15 OP-ED article in the Daily Journal of Commerce in which Mike Salsgiver, the executive director of Associated General Contractors (AGC) celebrated the silent majority’s votes in the national election.
(see below)

The truth is Mike and his cohorts have never actually been silent. They have screamed their positions through their policies of exclusion, indifference and outright, i.e., ‘alt-right,’ opposition to minorities and other non-white male exclusion on contracts for jobs in Oregon’s highly-profitable construction industry.

The recent election has emboldened him and others like him, to embrace these discriminatory and racist practices further. Some of us think they can now take the sheets out of the closets. All one has to do is review the many studies that have shown for decades that minorities shared next to nothing economically on Oregon construction projects. It’s an embarrassment that rivals only the election of Donald Trump.

But as Salsgiver unknowingly said, this is not the first time the country has retrenched. I also remember the Reagan revolution over 50 years ago, which  I believe worked feverishly to contain and eliminate racial progress envisioned by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Among other efforts made by the Reagan administration, Blacks and other minorities got short changed by the appointment of Supreme Court justices who shared Salsgiver’s notion of the nation going in the wrong direction. And indeed he’s right about one thing: There is an ill wind blowing in America as whites all across the country are moving to protect their left and right flanks.

All the talk about the blackening and browning of America has translated into fear of the inevitable. It’s a call for all hands on deck to protect the myth of white supremacy. Surely this is history repeating itself. That’s why it was so easy for Salsgiver to talk about the winning candidate’s knock on the media and the Washington establishment while ignoring Trump’s flirtation with white nationalists, his assault on Muslims and other minorities and his many other inflammatory statements. It appears Mike, like his presidential choice, is willing to sell his soul to his white constituents to gain and retain power, like in an ugly episode of the “Game of Thrones.”

As for opinions that Oregon is bucking national trends, the Democrats articulated a lot of rhetoric about diversity and inclusion. But the record is clear: they have not done much better than their Republican counterparts in fostering serious economic inclusion for minorities. As well, it has been reported that white women voted for Donald Trump in overwhelming numbers. As well they should because it is only rational. The fact is they, along with their white male counterparts, are the primary beneficiaries of white privilege, their gender notwithstanding. Hence, look no further at who is benefiting from Oregon’s Disadvantaged Business (DBE) programs.

Across the country white people, regardless of party affiliation or gender, are closing ranks against what they perceive as the onslaught of people of color taking over. Salsgiver will never concede that Blacks have never had an economic recovery and continue to live with economic conditions inherited from slavery and the Jim Crow era. The plight of black people’s economic depravity in America is not in most white people’s consciousness. That’s why despite the fact that white Democrats controlled most of Oregon’s governance for decades, Black Oregonians continue to sink further into economic despair. This factor represents the highest level of government imbalance, but it is unlikely that organizations like AGC will ever voice these sentiments.

However, what Salsgiver is not discussing in the defeat of Measure 97 is the resistance on the part of the white, rich and powerful to any change in the status quo. Those with power and money want to keep things that way, and they will not tolerate any encroachment, leveling the playing field is damned.

On the other hand, AGC lauds its support of Measure 98, which is a common sense measure promising to benefit all Oregonians. What is not said is that Oregon has had a consistent history of excluding people of color from all efforts to train and develop workers, especially in the construction trades. We have no reason to believe it will be any different with the passing of Measure 98. Keep an eye on AGC to see if they will advocate addressing the disparities in the complexion of those being trained for Oregon’s future workforce under Measure 98. We can only hope they will because this is one area where minorities and AGC are potentially on the same page.

We are also potentially on the same page with the prospects of massive infrastructure spending, under Republicans, but only if the formula changes from the disgusting statistics that nearly 0% of all the contracts go to blacks and other minorities while 99.5% of all contracts go to whites. AGC never speaks about this imbalance in government.

Don’t be fooled, AGC and their cohorts have always had at least one hand on the steering wheel. Backed by big money, they continue to initiate and support many policies that are anti-minority and that have driven people of color into the ditch. They’ve cloaked it well over the last several years, but with the advent of the Donald Trump victory, they are willing to show their true colors. If we can believe history, the ride is about to get bumpier for minorities under a Trump- supported, Salsgiver/AGC administration.

– James Posey


The following are the recent comments by Mike Salsgiver, originally published by the DJC Oregon.  

Nearly 50 years ago, another Republican president-elect, Richard Nixon, spoke of the “silent majority.” He described these Americans as a large and normally undemonstrative cross-section of the country that just went about their business. These Americans worked hard and didn’t talk much. They followed the law and generally supported their government. And with all the turbulence, violence and anger of 1968, these Americans did not feel they were being heard.

Today’s “silent majority” finally broke its silence. These Americans looked at the world and didn’t like what they were seeing. Once again, these voters came to the polls and helped move the American political pendulum in yet another direction.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, there are already intense debates and disagreements about what it has meant. But the dust is settling and the results are becoming clearer. There are several initial conclusions we can draw.

From a national perspective, under the constitutional rules we follow, this was a “change” election. Although there are still millions more votes to count, this appears to be the fifth time in U.S. history when the presidential candidate who received more popular votes will lose the electoral vote, and therefore the election. The candidate who spoke out against the media, the Washington establishment and the policy direction of the past eight years has won. The Republicans will continue to control both the House and the Senate. Across the nation, the number of Republicans winning gubernatorial races continues to grow. In 2008, there were 21 Republicans elected as governor. Today, that number has increased to 31.

Oregon continues to buck the national political trend, but is not immune from it. Our state remains heavily influenced by elected Democrats, but there are signs that over 30 years of heavy single-party dominance has its limits. For the first time in a generation, a Republican has won one of the five key statewide partisan elected offices. With the defeat of more than half of the bond and other money measures on the ballot, it also seems clear that pocketbook-driven decisions can still drive voters, especially in communities not yet feeling full economic recovery.

In our view, good government comes from balanced government. When all the votes are finally tallied, it is likely there will be no supermajority in either the Oregon House or the Senate. The Senate Democrats will lose their 18–12 supermajority if, as expected, Republican Alan DeBoer (Ashland) is formally declared the winner in that race.

In the Oregon House, the balance will remain 35 Democrats and 25 Republicans, one vote shy of a supermajority needed to unilaterally approve tax measures. That means that in the supercritical area of tax policy, the House and Senate Republicans will need to be an active part of the discussion and the solution.

Two other indications that voters were changing direction were the votes on two ballot measures: 97 and 98. Measure 97, which proposed a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on sales, was soundly defeated by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent. AGC was both an early opponent of this ill-conceived measure and an active partner in the campaign to defeat it.

Voters clearly and overwhelmingly spoke with their pocketbooks and rejected what was estimated to be a $600-per-year increase in taxes per household with no guarantee of how the Legislature would allocate those dollars. This defeat came despite the support of the governor (who in the same election was chosen to complete John Kitzhaber’s unfilled fourth term) and key state legislative leaders.

The failure of Measure 97 means the Legislature will still face a $1.3 billion budget deficit driven by the costs associated with PERS and the Affordable Care Act. AGC will continue its role as a part of a coalition of business leaders and associations that will work to find a way to meet the state’s ongoing needs in education, services, health care and infrastructure, while looking for sustainable revenues through economic growth and real tax reform, control of state government costs and spending, and through targeted investment priorities during the 2017 legislative session.

On another front, the voters also made clear that it’s important to fund career technical education and improve high school graduation rates. Measure 98, which established career technical education funding and high school graduation mandates, passed by almost two to one (65 percent to 34 percent). Driven primarily by our industry’s future workforce needs, AGC financially supported the ballot measure and actively engaged in the campaign.

For us, Measure 98 was the logical extension of our work over the past six years to reinstate funding to rebuild our state’s vocational education programs. These programs are essential for students who do not want to get a four-year college education, but instead want to move immediately into high-paying skilled trades. Voters sent a clear and resounding message to Oregon’s legislators that the state has a dire need to support programs that will help fill highly-skilled, well-paid construction, manufacturing and forestry jobs. Career technical education is one of the strongest tools to do that.

AGC will work diligently with its partners and Oregon’s elected leadership in the 2017 legislative session to fulfill the will of voters and advocate for the full funding and implementation of Measure 98’s career technical education programs that have proven so successful and so critical to our industry.

AGC will also continue to work with its partners and all members of the Legislature to advocate for approval of a long overdue, robust transportation infrastructure funding package. With the massive funding hole facing us, and with economic concerns expressed through the failure of many bond measures, passing infrastructure bills will be difficult. But the needs are still there, they are not going away, and delay will only be more costly to all of us.

In a year when the “experts” (including me) were almost all wrong, voters have demonstrated they still have their hand on the wheel. It’s now our responsibility to help drive the state in the right direction.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.