Podcast: In the Shed With City Council Candidate Nat West

There’s a new candidate for Portland City Council’s District 2 (N/NE) and you might have already heard his name. Or should say, seen his name on the side of cider cans in stores and gatherings throughout our city. After 12 years building his Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider business from his basement to his garage in the Woodlawn neighborhood, and then to stores and refrigerators all across the globe, Nat West wants to make change at City Hall.

West rolled over to The Shed a few hours ago on his beefy Radwagon cargo bike and we had a wide-ranging conversation that gives you an excellent introduction to this interesting candidate. I wasn’t around when former pub owner Bud Clark made a surprising run for mayor and became a local folk hero, but I’ve started to think of West as this election’s Bud Clark. Don’t expect him to do a bunch of media interviews, to sound like a politician when he speaks, or to attend all the obligatory campaign events. He won’t run a typical campaign and he plans to spend his time meeting people at small gatherings and happy hours around the city — as well as continue his new day job as a TriMet bus driver.

In our interview today (listen below), after sharing a list of the bikes he’s owned throughout his life and the story about how he started his cider business by collecting apples from trees citywide by bike, West told me how the 2020 George Floyd protests and a public fight with the City of Portland lit his fire for political activism.

West was on the front lines of the protests and he and his teenage kid suffered serious injuries from munitions fired by federal police officers. I asked West how the protests have impacted his positions on issues like policing and racism, and if he has any regrets about showing up on the streets week after week (he doesn’t). Other topics we covered include:

  • How he’ll balance activism and idealism with pragmatism and progress once in office.
  • Why there’s a link to his Strava account on his campaign website.
  • What specific things he wants to do to help small business owners.
  • Why he thinks PBOT should focus more on maintenance and less on “shiny new infrastructure” (and I challenged him for perpetuating that false, either/or dichotomy on his campaign website.
  • His ideas for reforming the Portland Police Bureau.
  • And of course we talk about cider and much more!

Here are a few excerpts:

On early days of his cider fascination:

“I was collecting apples by bike with my kid. I collected apples all over the city of Portland… Before the business started, when I was making cider at home, I made a flyer that said, ‘Can we have your apples? And it was a picture of my kid and me and a little description about how we would take care of the people’s backyard apple trees in exchange for collecting the fruit. And we like rode our bikes all around north and northeast. And every time we saw an apple tree we’d leave a flyer. And I got like two people to reply saying, ‘Yeah, come get your apples!'”

On what would get more people to ride bikes:

“I think when you’re thinking about how to increase bike mode share, there’s a ton of overlap between making the roads safer for freight drivers, making the roads safer for bus drivers, bus riders, making it faster for bus people, and then ultimately getting car trips down, getting cars off the road…. this thing about freight, how freight is always aligned with cars, that’s so wrong! Freight should be aligned with bikes and transit, because our goal is to get cars off the road, really.”

On forces that oppose his vision:

“I drive through that [I-5 Rose Quarter] interchange… I have had a crash there once, a bunch of years ago. I drive through that thing all the time; every day, probably, for the last, like, 20 years… I do not think it needs to be widened. I’ve gone through it in the rush hours. I’ve sat in that thing for 20 minutes to go a mile. I don’t think it should be widened. I think there’s an agreement that we have to make as car drivers that sometimes we’re going to sit on a road for 20 minutes because we’ve chosen to drive there.”

On how to balance his activist impulse with the pragmatism it takes to succeed in Portland politics:

“Small business people have to always create a vision. They have to have vision. They have to their vision to the employees, to their customers, to other business partners. The vision needs to be clear and needs to be achievable, but it also needs to be bold, otherwise people are going to be like, ‘Why would I engage with this if it’s just, if the vision is get a paycheck and go home by five every day?’ That’s not exciting. It’s not motivating. So, I think I’ve really learned that you have to simultaneously full of big ideas and motivating people.

Then once you’re done with the rally, you file payroll taxes and empty the trash. Like I said, 99% of small business is boring stuff. I don’t think that they are at odds at all. Creating a vision is critical, but right now I think the city of Portland suffers from a lack of both vision and execution.”

On his role in the 2020 protests:

“When [the protests of] 2020 rolls around, I stuck my neck out, I saw something that was so clearly incorrect. Did we solve systemic racism in America? No. But we raised the issue… What were our goals in 2020? Our goals in 2020 weren’t abolishing the police department, that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to raise issues so we can continue to have conversations about this and ultimately see solutions down the line. So it’s just been really motivating to me to know that…

I’m not scared of fights at all. I’m not scared of sticking my white skin in a place where It’s much better to have a white guy saying these things than it is to have a Black guy saying these things. I’m really comfortable with that. I welcome those opportunities to really make change and to listen to the people around me and amplify their voices.”

Are you an anti-police candidate?

“No. I’m largely anti-police on the response that we’ve been getting out of them. There is a place for policing in America for sure. Does it have a horrible history? Yeah. Are there problems pretty much everywhere you look at it? Yeah. But we can’t get rid of the police. You have to be able to call the police when ‘machete guy’ is dealing with it, or when you have an active situation…

We have cops who violate laws and keep their job because the PPA [Portland Police Association union] is too powerful… I also will point out that I don’t think we should do any defunding. I think the defund movement was great to bring attention to the matter. I would like to see the money being spent differently. And one thing I’m really excited about is getting more mental health support for police officers. More cops die of suicide than they do in the line of duty. It’s one of the worst jobs in America for suicide.”

On the haters:

“And that’s kind of honestly why I think I’m running, because I know that I can do a good job, I know a lot of people, I have a unique perspective on things. Am I really, really excited to continue to get hate from people who don’t like me or don’t like the city and want to shit on the city, so they’re going to shit on me?

No, I’m not excited about that, but I’m going to do it anyway, because it needs to get done.”

Thanks to Brock Dittus of Sprocket Podcast fame for our fantastic theme music.

Listen in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts. I also shared the video below on Instagram just now. It has a few excerpts from the first half of the interview (because my video camera died 30 minutes in! ugh!).

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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MarkM
MarkM
1 month ago

Thanks, Jonathan. I listened to your full podcast this morning. I appreciate you throwing Nat a hardball when you asked about his past and present perspectives on policing in Portland.

RE: “I’m largely anti-police on the response that we’ve been getting out of them.”

I’m curious if Nat has participated in the Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) Community Member Ride-Along Program. It didn’t come up in your conversation and I don’t see any mention of it on his website under his ‘Reboot Public Safety’ section.

In my opinion, I think reporters should ask every mayoral and council candidate this year if they’ve participated in PPB’s ride-along program.

I’d even extend the question to include other metro, county and city front-line services, where similar “walk in my shoes” opportunities exist. Does TriMet offer a public program such as this? Does Portland Parks and Recreation let people tag along with a park ranger for a day? I see that Portland Fire & Rescue allows people to tour a fire station. I also see that medical students in OHSU’s Department of Emergency Medicine can arrange an ambulance ride-along with American Medical Response (AMR). I wonder if AMR has or would be willing to accommodate political candidates as well.

I’m guessing someone in Portland has already compiled a list of programs such as those above. If so, I’d think it would be relatively easy for a reporter to leverage this work.

MarkM
MarkM
1 month ago
Reply to  MarkM

I goofed when I added the link to Nat’s campaign website. Here is the link for those who might be interested: https://www.revnatforportland.com/

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago

Great response on the Rose Quarter project! It’s refreshing to see someone running for office say out loud that if you choose to drive on a freeway in a congested area, it’s okay to sometimes sit in traffic for 20 minutes. And it’s not worth spending billions of dollars to widen it just to allow more people to drive and sit in traffic for 20 minutes, which is what would happen.

one
one
1 month ago

I will absolutely vote in NE for Nat West for City Council. Sign me up!

I also hope that in East Portland other folks vote for Steph Routh and Timur Ender.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago

No, sorry not another “activist”. This city can’t take any more.

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

You prefer Mapps and Wheeler, Matt?

dw
dw
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

I’m pretty sure you can still sign up to run if you’ve got better ideas.