Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

U.S. Senate hopeful Merkley looks to Portland’s cycling community

Posted by on August 26th, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Jeff Merkley
(Photo: JeffMerkley.com)

Jeff Merkley (D-Portland), the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, is turning to Portland’s bike community for help in his race to grab a seat in the United States Senate from incumbent Gordon Smith.

I received an invitation yesterday for a fundraising event in September that will take place at the Bike Gallery store in downtown Portland. The event is being hosted by Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves, his wife Alison Graves, and friend Mary Roberts.

Along with the invitation was a one-sheet flyer extolling the bikey virtues of Mr. Merkley (see it below). The flyer refers to Merkley as “a former commuter cyclist” who “knows the benefits that cycling brings to our community.” Also listed are several bike-related bills that Merkley worked on as a state legislator. He voted in support of the Vulnerable Roadway Users bill (HB 3314, 2007), the rural safe passing distance bill (SB 108, 2007), and a Safe Routes to School bill (SB 242, 2007).

Here’s another excerpt from the flyer:

“As our next U.S. Senator, Jeff will be a leader in the fight to pass meaningful legislation supporting the bike movement. He will stand with Senator Ron Wyden, Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Portland Mayor Sam Adams to make Oregon — and the nation — a better place for cyclists.”

This is the first time I’ve chimed in on the hotly contested Merkley-Smith race. Does anyone out there have experience with either candidate that might reveal how they’ll come down on transportation issues?

Last time I checked, Gordon Smith was a member of the Senate Bike Caucus and he’s been highly involved with the Mount Hood Wilderness Bill (which has mountain biking implications). Other than that, I’ve got research to do before I do any more reporting on this race.

Here’s the flyer:

[Disclosure: Jeff Merkley’s campaign has advertised on BikePortland.org.]

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  • Hart August 26, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Gordon Smith supported invading/occupying Iraq, so he should be in jail, not running for office.

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  • a.O August 26, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    I have talked with Merkley about bike issues. That conversation was sparked by him remarking on my bike pin at a private fundraiser. (I\’m a donor.) I\’m confident that he understands the Congress\’ role in facilitating sharing of the roadways, such as it is. And I think his record shows he gets it.

    And besides, as Hart says, you really gonna vote for Smith? Nah.

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  • FredLf August 26, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Well, that\’s another reason why I hope Merkley beats that prevaricator Smith. But I don\’t think he will. Smith has a big money machine… Maybe if Merkley\’s bikey cred gets him a lot of voter attention, Smith will jump on the bandwagon. He seems to have a talent for that, anyway. Anyone seen that ad where he claims to have worked with Obama for the last 8 years instead of approving W\’s agenda with every vote? Liar, thief, criminal.

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  • girl on a bike August 26, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I took a campaign call from Merkley\’s campaign manager (or \”regional something-something manager\” anyway) when he was making cold-calls during the primary and ended up grilling him on transportation issues. At the time — and this was only a few months ago — he told me that Merkley didn\’t really have anything in his platform about transportation, but that he (the guy I was speaking with) was very persistent in encouraging Merkley to add alternative transportation to his platform in a more formal way. How funny — I remember telling the guy on the phone that Merkley could probably get a few thousand additional votes on his side if he came out with a strong pro-bike message in Portland. I really hope there is something more sincere backing this interest than trying to drum up more votes … but then again, if he heard that from a number of people and he is in fact responding to the conversations his campaign workers had with constituents, I guess that\’s the kind of attention we want from an elected official. I was at the very least quite impressed with the guy who called me. I must\’ve kept him on the phone for 30 minutes and he very patiently answered all of my questions. It was a great conversation.

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  • Mmann August 26, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    Why \”FORMER commuter cyclist?\” Did he give it up? Does he just want my vote, or is he really committed to walking the walk (riding the ride?) I hate voting FOR someone just because I don\’t want the other guy to win. I feel like Hillary\’s supporters on this one – If Novick was in, my decision would be much easier.

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  • peejay August 26, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    I have no idea what Hillary\’s supporters feel like, if they\’re actually feeling like voting for McCain. Because that kind of thinking does not make any sense, unless they never cared at all about any issues, but only got caught up in a personality thing. Same for Novick supporters who might consider voting for Gordon \”looks like a Democrat when it doesn\’t matter\” Smith.

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  • RonC August 26, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    I\’m sorry, but I just don\’t buy the \’cyclist as a litmus test\’ argument as a reason to vote one way or another. George W. Bush rides a mountain bike, and I wouldn\’t vote for him (or his new McBush clone) in a million years. Jeff Merkley has at least supported some meaningful cycling legislation at the state level, and it goes to reason that he would carry the same set of values with him into federal office.

    As for Smith, I don\’t know much about his record on cycling related matters. But like others who have already posted here, I have serious concerns about his record on many other matters.

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  • ambrown August 26, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    A friend of mine recently hosted a dinner party/fundraiser for Merkeley. I got the chance to ask him about his thoughts about the 2009 Senate Transportation Bill and provisions for nonmotorized transportation.

    More or less, he flubbed the question, big time, citing how he\’d defer to Defazio and Earl, noting their work \”with their little bicycle-buttons.\” He stumbled over the answer and eventually admitted, as he did earlier in the evening about the South Ossetia conflict, that he needed to do more homework. While he seemed open to the issue, and I\’m not suggesting he would never be an ally towards our cause, seeing this post on bikeportland.org makes me think he\’s merely trying to co-op our community into voting for him without demonstrating any knowledge (or perhaps, willingness to learn) about our collective bicycle interests. I strongly encourage all of the bikeportland.org community to do their part to raise this issue in feedback to Merkeley\’s lackluster campaign.

    Honestly, while Gordon Smith desperately needs to get voted out of office, Merkeley isn\’t as much a progressive voice of change as just another paritisan politician, albeit one from a different side of the aisle. I find it distateful that he speaks about the need to move past \”30 second hit attack ads\” while the DSCC funded ad-blitz in May is the ONLY reason he squeezed a victory over Steve Novick (a politician that cares about transit, as seen by views on the CRC), and the DNC continues to hammer Smith with those cartoonish oil ads.

    Also, isn\’t Merkeley advertising on this site? While I respect and trust Maus\’ editorial decision, I think we should get the full disclosure.

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  • Matthew Denton August 26, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Mmann, I wonder about that too. It may be that he doesn\’t bike commute from East Portland to Salem because that is a pretty long ride… Now, if he has an apartment in Salem, (a lot of representatives do,) and it isn\’t so close that he walks instead, then yes, he should be riding a bicycle…

    I\’m not voting for Smith, but I agree with Amy R at the Mercury though, it was just so much easier to get excited about Novick.

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  • velo August 26, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    I was 100% for Novick, but it is time to take down Gordon Smith so I\’ll be voting for Merkley. Steve was 100% with us on bike issues and would have given an ear to us, not because we have money, but because we have powerful ideas.

    Perhaps Jeff will come through for us, I hope that he does. Living in a city with real bicycle transit options should be a powerful force to shape his thinking. I just hope Chuck Schumer and his minions at the DSCC who got Jeff this far don\’t corrupt entirely corrupt Merkley. I\’ll be calling Merkley\’s campaign office to encourage them on bike issues and ask for more. I\’d encourage others to do the same, now is the time to make the impact.

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  • Icarus Falling August 26, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    I feel that while Smith is not an option anymore, simply voting for someone else just to get rid of him should be thought out entirely before being implemented.

    Have we not seen the results, in the past and even more recently, of voting for those who jump on the \”Bicycling Bandwagon\”, or with Potter, the \”Skateboarding Bandwagon\”? (I beleive the skateboarding stance was very effective in Potter\’s election bid)

    I also believe that starting next January, our choices this year of \”Bicycle Friendly candidates\” will be coming back to \”bite us in the *ss\”.

    We should not let the \”former commuter\” comments, or the endorsement of a too large and too corporate bike shop, sway us into choosing a candidate, before looking heavily into the real issues involved.

    It has been stated, locally and nationally, and is an obvious fact, that securing the bicycle vote in Oregon is a sure fire way to get elected.

    This simple fact alone should make us weary of anyone who asks for our endorsement.

    I hope in my research, I find that Merkley is worthy of the bicycle vote. But we shall see.

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  • Adam August 26, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Merkley could be rabidly anti-bike, and I would still vote for him over Smith. Believe it or not, there are things more important than bicycles.

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  • Krampus August 26, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Smith and Merkley are both useless. One panders to the pro-Obama crowd (Smith) and one is now, apparently, pandering to the bike crowd (Merkley). Neither of them are who they say they are. Politics as usual. I\’m kinda disappointed Bike Gallery would host this, but whatever.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 26, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    \”Also, isn\’t Merkeley advertising on this site? While I respect and trust Maus\’ editorial decision, I think we should get the full disclosure.\”


    thanks for your comment.

    Yes. At one point back in June, Merkley\’s campaign ran an ad on BikePortland.org for one week. I honestly didn\’t even recall it until you mentioned it.

    I have added a disclaimer at the bottom of the story.

    Thanks everyone for your comments on this… I really regret not covering this race earlier and exploring Novick\’s ideas on transportation.

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  • Joe Rowe August 26, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Merkley is a coward democrat. Get the real picture by looking at what democrats fail to talk about.

    Merkeley and the Dem. majority in Salem did not put up a fight and end the ten dollar Oregon corporate minimum tax. Schools, healthcare and basic services are de-funded under their watch. Washington D.C. and Salem are run by lobbyists

    Martin Luther King said \”A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.\”

    Watch Nancy in the video try to brag about all the democrats have done in 2007. You can count their gains on 3 fingers. a) the minimum wage b) raised veteran benefits c) another stem cell bill veto by Bush. What good is a bike lane or another dollar per hour when our dollar buys half as much and our economy is destroyed?


    Lawmakers have a duty to act. Our security guards let the criminals get away as a means to make friends and keep their jobs. Demand impeachment now. Voters have been spun into fear that justice and a fair trial will distract our country.

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  • brodie August 26, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Much as candidates don\’t get my vote for just riding a bicycle, they don\’t get my vote just for being \”progressive\” either. Merkeley is about as progressive as dry white toast. It would make it easier to vote for him if he ran ONE AD THAT WASN\’T A SLEAZY ATTACK AD, particularly since, as ambrown said, he is supposedly above that.

    maybe i would have voted for him back when still was a bike commuter.

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  • Bug Eater August 27, 2008 at 3:54 am

    Oh come on! Gordon Smith has voted for billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies, and has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from them. Where do you think his priorities are? Want to vote for him, or someone who at least has acknowledged the bike community with significant legislation? Sure, he\’s not Lance Armstrong…but he\’s not Gordon \”Heart of Darkness\” Smith either!!

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  • Hart August 27, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Tell that to the tens of thousands of Iraqi families who have watched their loved ones murdered.

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  • dobrien August 27, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Like Matthew and Mmann, I too am extremely disappointed (and sad) that The Hook failed to get enough votes outside of Portland. And brodie\’s \”progressive as white toast\” is sad but apparent. Still, I\’m voting for white toast over mushy bread.

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  • Brad August 27, 2008 at 10:50 am

    I thought we were supposed to pick the guy with the best haircut?

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  • Krampus August 27, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    dobrien: bad analogy, bread pudding is waaaaaaaaaaay better than toast! 😛

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