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When to run

jorgensen

From a May 16 delivered to a youth group at Eugene.

Conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience. That was certainly the case when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s.

However, I’m no longer convinced that this is true.

My particular perspective was shaped by the many years I spent as a small-town newspaper reporter in places like Rogue River, Cave Junction and Estacada. In that role, I covered a half-dozen different city councils. The vast majority of the city councilors I encountered were dedicated, sincere, and served because they loved their communities.

It wasn’t always that way, though. And by the time I reached my 30s, I could say that I had spent a great portion of my adult life watching people twice my age behave like people half my age.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience, and those guys certainly fit that description.

Well, a couple of my friends decided to challenge that conventional wisdom back in 2010.

We knew that our state representative was planning to run for a statewide office, leaving his seat open. There was also an incumbent county commissioner who was up for re-election and vulnerable because he was out of step with his constituency.

We all got together one night at my place for dinner and made a plan. Shortly thereafter, one filed for state representative and the other filed for county commissioner.
My friend who filed for state representative drew no Republican opposition for the primary election, and no Democrat filed, either.

My other friend had a race on his hands, as the incumbent wouldn’t go down without a fight. The results were the same on election night, with both of them being swept into office by a constituency that was twice their age.

A peaceful transition of power had taken place. Members of the older generation passed the torch of leadership down to them, as both of my friends had the support of some of their predecessors and other pillars of the community.
Once they got into office, the real work began.

The rural communities that they represent have been unnecessarily impoverished by federal mismanagement of lands and other resources, along with decades of no-growth policies at the state level. Theirs are among the local governments throughout the state that are struggling to fund basic services like law enforcement.

My friend has served with no fewer than six other commissioners in the four years he’s been in office. One got recalled. Another resigned mid-term. Others were voted out.

He’s also had to oversee the replacement of many department heads during that time.

Six months after he took office, I asked him if the experience was any different than he thought it would be. He told me that the county was in much worse shape than most people realized.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.

A lot of what I’ve seen over the years confirms what I’ve suspected for most of my life.

Believe it or not, I was kind of a wiseass as a kid. It sometimes seemed to me that the grown-ups didn’t always know what they were doing and were maybe even making things up as they went along.

As soon as I started paying attention to the news, I remember seeing religious figures embroiled in scandals for the very behaviors they so often condemned.

The baseball heroes that kids my age looked up to back then were guys like Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire, the famed Bash Brothers who took the Oakland A’s to the World Series.
It turned out that these guys weren’t heroes at all. In fact, they were cheaters who used steroids.

Throughout my childhood, into my teenage years and throughout my twenties and half of my thirties now, I’ve also seen my fair share of political scandals. I got a really good up-close look the historic final days of John Kitzhaber’s administration, and it was every bit the train wreck you think it was.

Then there was the complete collapse of our entire economy back in 2008. I think it became clear to a lot of younger people, right there and then, that the grown-ups had made a real mess and someone had to clean it up.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.

That conventional wisdom only made sense if you knew time was on your side, if you had decades to wait for someone else to step in and solve these problems.

But you don’t, and I think you know this.

Our nation is now $18 trillion in debt. The people who are responsible for that debt have already retired or are hoping to do so soon. Who gets to pay the bill for that? I’ll give you a hint—it isn’t them!

I don’t have to tell you that your future has been mortgaged, but I’m going to anyway, because I think it’s important for you to remember.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.

Right?

Nonsense!

I’ve learned over the years that leadership does not exist in a vacuum. If there is no leadership, then someone, somewhere, has to step up to the plate.

Ours cannot be a generation without heroes. And if there are no heroes, then maybe it’s time for YOU to be the hero.
The theme of this event is “Passing the Torch.” You’ve spent all day in classes learning how to become effectively involved in the political process.

So here’s my challenge to you: I want you to take everything you’ve learned at this conference and take it back to your communities. If you aren’t ready to run yet, maybe you will be in two years. Maybe it will be four. But in the meantime, maybe there’s someone who is ready who could use your help. You should go help them.

Whenever possible, it’s probably preferable to have the torch passed down. But if the people who hold the torch are doing a bad job, and you think you can do it better, and they won’t give it up, then you need to take the torch! The future quite literally depends on it.

That is my challenge to you. Because the conventional wisdom that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience hasn’t served us well, and probably never will. It’s time to get out there and become involved, because time is not on your side if you’re going to wait for someone else to be the hero and save the day.

But if you’re willing to be the hero, then we might just stand a chance after all.

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