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Transition: excerpt 1


This is an excerpt from the Ridenbaugh Press book Transition, by W. Scott Jorgensen. More will be appearing over the weeks to come. The book is available now from Ridenbaugh Press.

The parking lot was full when I pulled up to Elmer’s Restaurant, the usual meeting place for the Josephine County Republican Women. The November 2010 midterm election was days away, and many of the cars at Elmer’s had bumper stickers endorsing various candidates.

I was there to speak, and it would be my farewell to Grants Pass. I had just quit my job at the local weekly newspaper and my last radio program had just aired. All of my worldly possessions were already packed.

I had several things to say. But first, I had two good friends to talk with, and about.

Josephine County Deputy District Attorney Wally Hicks was the first of the two to show up. He had been a friend for a few years, and had run unopposed for a seat in the state House of Representatives in the May primary election.

Wally’s resume was so impressive that nobody wanted to run against him for the Republican nomination. The Democrats couldn’t field a candidate, and his only opponent in the general election was from the Constitution Party.

I rose to shake his hand, at which point Wally took the seat immediately to my left. Typically in politics, you don’t have friends, only allies. But Wally was a remarkable exception to this rule, and I was actually quite fond of him.

Wally’s mother had been a reporter for several years while he was growing up, so he attended various political events at a very young age. This undoubtedly left a big impression on my good friend.

We had met a few years back at the Dorchester Conference, a statewide gathering of Republicans held each year in Seaside. That town is located on the Northern Oregon coast, a couple of hours west of Portland. Back then, Wally was attending law school at the University of Oregon. He came to Dorchester with a friend who had interned with a Congressional campaign that I worked on in 2004.

I was immediately impressed. Within a few hours of meeting Wally, I and many of my Dorchester friends were clamoring for him to run for office.

For a moment, it seemed that we had convinced him to take on the longtime incumbent Congressman that we had failed to unseat. But in the morning, Wally did not share our recollection of his commitment to the race.
Wally joined the U.S. Marine Corps straight out of high school. He even celebrated his 18th birthday at boot camp.

In 2004, Wally served in the Iraq War. He returned to the states and worked as a volunteer law clerk at the U.S. Dept. of Justice Office of Immigration Litigation before going to law school.

Once he graduated from law school and arrived in Grants Pass, Wally immediately began prosecuting high-profile cases involving child arsonists and juveniles who had broken into the local animal shelter and killed some puppies. He had impressed enough of the right people to garner tremendous support after announcing his candidacy for state representative.

My father had been a Marine, like Wally, and I was a reporter just like his mother. I think this is part of why we connected so easily and seemed to understand each other so well.

A few minutes after Wally arrived at Elmer’s, we were joined by Simon Hare.

Simon grew up in Cave Junction, a small town located about half an hour west of Grants Pass, and left after graduating from Illinois Valley High School. He went to Washington D.C., where he interned at the office of U.S. Senator Gordon Smith and spent several years working as a lobbyist for the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association.

After moving back to Josephine County, Simon wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but at the time, an incumbent county commissioner was up for re-election. The local Republican Party was eager to replace him, but didn’t have any particular candidates in mind.

I remember receiving the call at my newspaper office that they had found their guy, at which point Simon and I were put in touch with each other. We met at a restaurant in Cave Junction, along with his father Denny, to discuss his candidacy, and became fast friends.

Both Simon and Wally launched their campaigns shortly after we all met for dinner at my house one night. On his way out to my place, Wally had received a call from the outgoing state representative for Grants Pass, and was informed that he had the man’s blessing to pursue the position.

Shortly after we met to discuss both races, Wally and Simon filed their paperwork and began their races in earnest, and I dutifully reported on it all.

It was nice for both of my friends to show up at my farewell address, and it meant a lot to me. They were, after all, the primary subjects of my speech, which was entitled “A New Generation of Leadership.”

We talked among ourselves and mingled with the other attendees for a while. Then it was time for me to say a few words.

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