Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil: After a tie, picking a name out of a salad bowl, and finally a recount, Roberto Rodriguez won the at-large Portland City Council race. That means progressives have now won 17 of 20 elections since conservatives took you out as mayor in 2019. Can we expect double digit tax increases as reward?

Ethan: For all the pain of losing my race personally, it did begin to unify a lot of us in understanding what we were up against. And that unity has resulted in a remarkable run. On top of reopening the city charter and passing the four referendums to raise wages, protect tenants, build housing, and confront climate change, we now have progressive majorities on the school board, charter commission, and the city council in Portland.

Phil: Recognizing your reluctance to provide conservatives with any secret insight into this unfortunate turn of events, any pointers you can provide on how this “progressive” tidal wave occurred?

Ethan: Here’s a tidbit — stop fighting. One difference over the past two years is that progressive groups from across the spectrum, mainstream to socialist, elected officials to activists, have worked in coordination. We have had only one minor public blow up, in which a couple of local activists went rogue. Their actions likely cost us a seat on the charter commission, but we stayed the course and won the rest.

Phil: You decided to stop shooting at each other? How novel. That is certainly something I wish Republicans would learn. We spend way too much time picking off allies over some insignificant gripe.

Ethan: We learned to stop shooting at each other, and we actualized the power of working together. Plus, we more clearly vocalized the serious ideological differences between conservative Democrats and the majority of Portland voters. Even the lead Portland Press Herald city hall reporter, who has long refused to acknowledge there are ideological differences on the council, is finally acknowledging this fact. ( The editorial page still has some work to do)

Phil: I have noticed the subtle shift in their coverage from your “style” being the cause of all problems to the “substance” of issues being the dividing line. So, now that you have the keys to our checkbooks, are progressives ready to actually govern?

Ethan: I believe so. Remember, the school board has had a progressive majority for a few years, and they made historic investments in equity, excellence, and infrastructure. And two of our newest city councilors come from those ranks.

Phil: Not to encourage your people, but I remember well Republicans sweeping Augusta in 2010 for the first time in 50 years, only to lose the House and Senate two years later because they were too timid. Former Gov. Paul LePage certainly thought big in terms of smaller government and lower taxes, but Republicans did not meet the expectations of the voters aggressively enough.

Ethan: Certainly that could be a concern. I think the key question is who among our six councilors emerges as the leader. Who is willing to stand up to the mayor on behalf of the majority to lead on the bold action needed to confront our housing crisis, low wages, and our too-slow response to climate change.

Phil: Sticking one’s neck out, as you know all too well, is never easy. But if you have a majority behind you, it certainly makes it easier. Well, I do hope they find a way to make Portland’s government function better. All of us in surrounding towns keep looking at how dysfunctional the past/current regime has been.

Ethan: I have every confidence.