AUMSVILLE, Ore. — Make whatever broad generalizations you want about millennials, but a group of 30-somethings have shaken this town's politics to the ground.
The Aumsville Community Action group pulled off a near-complete overhaul of city government in five months, first with a recall election and now with three of them — Derek Clevenger, Nico Casarez and Angelica Ceja — apparently unseating incumbent city leaders in Tuesday's election.
“It was an opportunity to get some new blood in,” Casarez said. “I think between us being a younger demographic and the circumstances, I think they both combined to play into our favor.”
In the race for mayor, 32-year-old Clevenger led incumbent Robert Baugh Jr., who has been on the city council for nearly 20 years, 48 to 43 percent through Wednesday’s returns.
Clevenger was the chief petitioner for a July recall that took out half of the Aumsville City Council. He doesn’t use his real name on social media, has no prior political experience, yet rose to prominence through Facebook.
It was an informal poll on the Aumsville Community Action Facebook page that convinced him to run for mayor.
“Screwing around on social media is what made this happen,” Clevenger said.
As of Wednesday's vote tallies, Casarez led the city councilor race with 18.6 percent of the vote, incumbent Councilor Della Seney was second with 15.6 and Ceja was third with 13.2. The top three vote getters win the three City Council seats up for grabs.
Incumbent city councilors Gabe Clayton (10.9 percent) and Brian Czarnik (9.0 percent) were fifth and sixth in the Wednesday tally. Aumsville Community Action members Walter Wick and Ed Blakesley were fourth and seventh.
A group called The Friends of Aumsville PAC — largely funded by Rex A. Lucas — spent $3,229 to fight the Aumsville Community Action’s candidates in the election.
“I know certainly the negative attacks didn’t help any of the incumbents,” Casarez said.
The median age in Aumsville is 37.9, and 49.5 percent of Aumsville households have children 18 or younger. Salem, by comparison, has a median age of 34.6.
There are fewer millennials who live in Aumsville,12 miles east of Salem and surrounded by farms in Marion County, than in larger communities.
But the young people became a symbol for something greater.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s that I got the people in those older age brackets to believe in me, it was too much of the same for so long,” Clevenger said.
“They didn’t necessarily like me, and some of them disliked me, but they disliked the current administration more," he said. "They disliked the status quo, and they wanted to see something different.”
How did the movement start?
The root of the movement was how the Aumsville City Council voted to add a monthly $12 public safety fee in December 2017, and the wording of the ordinance that allowed the city to foreclose on a person’s home if they didn't pay the additional bill.
The Aumsville Community Action group was formed as a closed Facebook group and triggered a recall election of city councilors Kevin Crawford, Trina Lee and Lorie Walters in July.
All three were voted out of office.
The remaining Aumsville councilors appointed Larry Purdy, Jim Case and Gus Bedwell. None were part of the Aumsville Community Action group, event though four members of the group had applied for the positions.
Of the people who applied for the city council, only Casarez had previous experience after serving on the Aumsville City Council from 2008 (at age 20) to 2015.
“Maybe I analyze things too much, but when I look at this, it shows a pattern to me,” Clevenger said. “The city government does not critically analyze things, they don’t think about the big picture.”
Clevenger and Casarez said addressing the public safety fee was important, but they don’t intend to repeal it.
Clevenger said he wants to change the language of the fee, which is already underway, and wants caps placed on fees like it.
“Overall, a conversation has to take place and I’m going to do my best to be a part of that,” Casarez said. “Are we going to put in some sunset and say in two or three years we have to look at this situation and evaluate where that’s at?
“I personally would like to see it referred to the voters.”
After the initial returns came in Tuesday, Aumsville Community Action Facebook page founder Chris Chytka changed the privacy from a closed group to a public group.
“Making it an open group is a fantastic way to wrap everything up,” Clevenger said. “That’s the bow on the present.”
Contact the reporter at bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler