Malheur County resident Raina Studer attended the 2020 Democratic National Convention as a delegate for Bernie Sanders. (Submitted photo).

VALE – Sometimes the question arrivers out of nowhere for Raina Studer.

“Are you really a Democrat?”

The question is answered in a bit of wonder because of Malheur County’s generally conservative politics.

Studer, though, is indeed a registered Democrat.

“Everyone has been fairly nice about it,” said Studer. “I enjoy talking to people about politics and while many in the community might find me being a Democrat different from their views on face value, when we start talking about the issues we find there is a lot to agree on.”

Studer likes politics and she parlayed her support for Democratic candidates into serving as a delegate for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during the 2020 Democratic National Convention last week.

“I have always been interested in politics. I was also a 2016 delegate for Sanders and when I was in college I worked for the Obama campaign,” said Studer.

Delegates are elected at the state and local level. Their primary role is to throw their support behind a particular candidate during the presidential nominating conventions.

Studer said she became involved in local, Hawaii politics more than 10 years ago and even made a failed bid to win a seat in the Hawaii House.

“I then worked as a union organizer and, when I moved to Oregon, I reached out to the Bernie Sanders campaign,” she said.

Locally, said Studer, there was not a lot of support for the Sanders campaign.

“So, I reached out to the state Sanders campaign,” said Studer.

Studer said her home on Hawai’i – commonly known as the Big Island – is much like Malheur County in terms of its rural nature. Studer, 33, received a bachelor’s in Spanish literature from the University of Hawai’i before attending John Hopkins University in Maryland and earning a master’s in education. A Vale Elementary School teacher, Studer said she and her husband bought a farm and moved to Vale last year.

Conducted from a virtual platform, the 2020 Democratic convention lacked many of the hallmarks of a national party nomination gathering, said Studer. 

For one, said Studer, a virtual convention wasn’t as hectic as the one she attended four years ago.

“At a physical convention, I kept myself occupied from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. at night. This year was not nearly as many things to engage with in the day and because everything this year was digital, it was hard to get a read of the room,” said Studer.

Delegate business, she said, was done either via Zoom or email platforms.

“In 2016, you were there with your delegation all day and a lot of camaraderie was built. It is unfortunate for people who became delegates this year and didn’t have the full experience,” said Studer.

A traditional convention makes it easier to “participate and to get your voice heard,” said Studer.

“I think this year I felt not as empowered to have my voice heard because it is so difficult to do when there are a thousand people on a virtual call,” said Studer.

She said there were other avenues for delegates to participate, such as Google forums and by email.

Even though Sanders dropped out of the race in April, Studer said her role remained vital. Delegates like Studer can vote for resolutions that form the platform of the party.

“You are making decisions that will help support the party as we move forward in the next four years,” said Studer.

This year, said Studer, about a fourth of the Democratic delegates – including her – didn’t vote to support the Democratic platform because the platform didn’t include a provision for medical coverage for all.

The issue of Medicare and Medicaid is important to Studer.

She said three major medical events – injuries from a car accident, a bout with cancer and a pregnancy – underpinned her views in favor of broad medical care. She said she also learned her views were not as far outside the mainstream in Malheur County as one might expect.

“After posting my story on social media, two people in the community told me privately, ‘I don’t feel comfortable saying this out loud but I agree with you and I want Medicare for all,’” said Studer.

Studer said she understands her politics seem unusual in Malheur County but her views resonate with some residents.

 “I am not a traditional middle-of-the-road Democrat. I find there is actually an overlap of the values I have with American values and the American dream,” she said.

Studer said the conflict in politics is troubling.

“It seems nowadays there is a lot of overlap and somehow we have to put ourselves in this you are either a Democratic or a Republican and then there are hard feelings,” said Studer.

Studer said she believes a focus on policy – not politics – works better.

“In my experience, not all people align entirely with either being red or blue. When you look at policy and try to have an open approach to these policies there is room for empathy on both sides,” said Studer.

She also said she is not a big fan of Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“He accepts a lot of money from corporate interests and when you do that, you are beholden to those special interests,” said Studer. She said both parties are awash in special interest money.

“If you just look at campaign donations alone to the primary candidates, the people and the organizations backing them have a set of values that I don’t think really support what we all need in our families,” said Studer. Studer said she became involved in politics to provoke change and to “take care of Americans and have a nation that supports families into the future.”

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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