Down the Ballot

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Oregon Connection: Geraldine Ferraro

Group of Mondale/Ferraro buttons mostly from Oregon.
Long before the campaigns of Palin and Clinton there was Gerry Ferraro. She hit the ground running when she was nominated for Vice President of the United States at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Fransisco. It was about time. The Democratic Party was taking in an increasing number of women voters by 1984. Yet we had lagged behind even the Libertarian party in nominating a woman for high office. The number of women candidates for state and federal office had been steadily increasing with each election. It was only a matter of time before someone like a Shirley Chisholm, Bella Azbug, Elizabeth Holtzman, or a Barbara Jordan made it to the big stage as a nominee.

1984 was the first year the Democratic Party required state delegations be gender balanced and women made up 54% of delegates.One of those delegates was Liz Toy, a long time Salem political activist. She shared with me some of her thoughts on the convention and what she thought of Ferraro as a candidate and political operator at the convention. She was elected as a delegate for Gary Hart (who won the Oregon primary in 1984). 
 I was seated in the alternate section for the Ferraro speech ---tradition to let the alternates sit in the delegate section for their candidate so there was a swap of credentials. Actually it was nice -- less ambient noise and not as bright. Oregon had primo seats-- center section, about 60 rows back, right in front of the camera emplacement. But that meant looking at those lights which were roughly what they use for football night games. 


Don't let anyone kid you---she was going to be the VP nominee no matter who was the nominee for Pres. And that was up in the air for about 24 hours before the vote. One thing most people don't know about Geraldine is that she was a good soldier, even enforcer. Virgin Islands delegation was behind us, and one of their delegates wanted to vote for Jackson. She was pulled off the floor into a special meeting with Geraldine and others who told her they could remove her as a delegate if she didn't vote as she was elected to vote, for Mondale. Beautiful woman from the VI was in tears when she came back.  

Always interesting to hear about the politics of political conventions since most people assume nothing of any interest happens at them. There is usually a lot person to person politicking happening on the floor during a convention, and the incident described with the Virgin Islands delegate is probably a lot more common than one might think. Ferraro seemed like one tough campaigner and the type of running mate a presidential candidate wants on their ticket. After the conventions things started to pick up in Oregon. 

You can watch her full nomination speech from San Fransisco in 1984 here.

Oregon was a good stomping ground for the national campaigns in the summer and fall after the conventions. Ferraro made at least five trips to Oregon in conjunction with tours of the west coast. Walter Mondale even joined her for a rally in Portland. She made multiple stops in Eugene. Some of her trips were designed to counter trips of President Reagan and Vice President Bush. Even Florida Congressman Claude Pepper came to Oregon to stump for the national ticket trying to court the senior vote. 

Democrats in Oregon were also extremely pleased to have Geraldine Ferraro come campaign in a state where the party had nominated several women for various state and federal offices. Margie Hendriksen was running for the US Senate, Barbara Roberts was running for Secretary of State, and Ruth McFarland was running for Congress out of the 5th Congressional District. Roberts won her race against two challengers, while Hendriksen and McFarland would come up short in their races.

1984 Oregon Nominees
Whatever effect Ferraro had on these outcomes is uncertain; still she made an impact, even on the minds of individuals who voted for Ronald Reagan instead of Walter Mondale. Jesse Martinez, a Forest Grove firefighter at the time told the Eugene Register Guard  that while he would be voting for Reagan in November he could have seen himself voting for Ferraro. "I might have voted for the Democrats if she were the candidate for President. She's different". Even Mondale supporters recognized Ferraros qualities. Registered nurse Marcia Stewart said, "she just outshines him [Mondale] when they're together". 

The Progressive Rev Chuck Currie writes about his experience meeting Ferraro on a stop she made in Oregon in 1986 over at his blog here.  The middle button on the left hand column of Ferraro buttons is from that event  All the buttons at the top of this article are from Oregon except for the large 6" inch jugate in the middle. Former Governor Barbara Roberts also shared some of her memories from 1984 in the Oregonian

The 1984 campaign may have been bad for the Mondale campaign, but Geraldine Ferraro helped move women and the Democratic party forward and at the end of the day that's the only way progress happens.
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