Writings and observations


Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber broke his typical silence earlier this month via social media to publicly criticize his successor.

A recent post on Kitzhaber’s Facebook page took Governor Kate Brown to task for her position on Initiative Petition 28, or rather, her lack of one.

“With all due respect, I find it hard to understand how any public official or candidate for statewide office could be neutral on a measure that would bring about the most sweeping change in Oregon’s tax system since Ballot Measure 5 passed in 1990,” Kitzhaber wrote.

Brown became Governor in February 2015 after Kitzhaber resigned amid federal investigations and allegations of corruption and influence peddling. She is up for election this November to serve out the rest of Kitzhaber’s very brief fourth term in office, and is neither supporting nor opposing the corporate tax measure.

Instead, Brown’s office has released a plan on how to spend the money that the measure’s passage would bring into the state’s coffers, a move that apparently did not impress Kitzhaber.

Multiple media outlets picked up on the post and wrote stories about it, which creates a conundrum for Democrats seeking office at the state level. If they support the measure, they risk drawing the ire of the business community. Opposing it could upset some of the same special interest groups that typically fund their campaigns.

Kitzhaber’s swipe at Brown, and the media’s reaction to it, means that avoiding taking a stance on the measure is simply not an option.
It begs the question of what, exactly, is Kitzhaber’s motivation. Is he seeking redemption? Perhaps. But if that’s the case, he still has a lot of work ahead of him.

An Oregonian article released last week cited a poll showing Kitzhaber with a 23 percent approval rating. That’s not great by any measure, but it’s still much higher than that of his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. Her favorability rating is at five percent, though I have no idea who any of those few remaining supporters might be.

Could it be that Kitzhaber is out for revenge? I suppose it’s possible. Brown was among the Democratic leaders who threw him under the bus before he stepped down, and you could physically hear the hurt and sense of betrayal in his voice in the recorded announcement of his resignation.

I actually don’t think it’s either of those things, and have another theory: Maybe Kitzhaber still cares about the state and the people in it, and made his comments out of genuine concern for them.

As someone who deeply loves Oregon, I’ve been very critical of Kitzhaber over the past couple of years. However, under our system, people are innocent before proven guilty. While he presumably remains under investigation, Kitzhaber has not been charged with any crimes. Neither has Hayes.

And in this case of IP 28 and Brown’s position on it, Kitzhaber happens to be completely correct.

He pointed out in his post that the measure was “written by pollsters rather than economists, and is the product of ballot title shopping.” Kitzhaber even managed to take a swipe at former rival Bill Sizemore, who unsuccessfully challenged him for the Governor’s office in 1998.
Those written remarks by Kitzhaber set off a series of seeming setbacks for Brown and her administration, which happened in rapid succession.

Brown was panned in the press days later by another prominent Oregon Democrat, Congressman Peter DeFazio, over an entirely unrelated matter. It also came out in the media around the same time that Brown will not be debating Republican gubernatorial nominee Bud Pierce at an Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association (ONPA) conference in July.

Our sitting incumbent governor shouldn’t be afraid to debate a political newcomer, should she? After all, Brown has been a public figure in Oregon politics for quite some time, having served in the Senate prior to being Secretary of State and Governor. Pierce, on the other hand, has never held elected office. He is, however, extremely sharp, surprisingly good off the cuff and getting better at campaigning literally by the day. His campaign has also released a poll showing him trailing Brown by just a couple of points and, between the two of them, he’s obviously having a much better month.

This isn’t the first time a gubernatorial candidate has opted to skip out on the debate at the ONPA conference. Republican Chris Dudley passed up the chance to share a stage with his opponent during the 2010 election. That opponent? None other than John Kitzhaber himself, who may very well have the last laugh by the time all of this is over.

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The official portrait of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber continues to hang in the hall of the state capitol in Salem. It’s still there, alongside those of his predecessors like Ted Kulongoski and Vic Atiyeh, and right next to the office he occupied for longer than most of the people who have ever held it.

Kitzhaber’s portrait was particularly popular among tourists to the building in February 2015, in the days surrounding his resignation amid federal investigations and allegations of corruption and influence-peddling. Groups of people and individuals would pose for pictures with his portrait, taking selfies in the anticipation that the scandals and controversy would ultimately result in it being taken down.

Not much has been said publicly about the man in recent months, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation tends to be tight-lipped about its work. Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, occasionally break their silence with recorded video statements, social media posts and interviews in which they disclose very little while loudly proclaiming their innocence. Hayes even took a job with a startup magazine in Bend, an unusual career choice for someone with literally no background in journalism and who has blamed the news media and its members for her very public downfall.

The latest reminder that the trials and tribulations of John and Cylvia are nowhere near over hit this week like a one-two punch. First came the call from Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform for a criminal investigation into the disastrous $305 million Cover Oregon debacle, in which federal dollars were spent developing a website that never functioned or signed a single person in the state up for health insurance coverage.

Cover Oregon was supposed to be one of Kitzhaber’s crowning achievements and accomplishments, as he and others in the state’s political leadership were eager to have the state be the first in the nation to fully implement the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Instead, Oregon taxpayers get the privilege of paying for attorney fees years later as the state and software giant Oracle fight it out in multiple court cases and venues and point the finger at each other in an attempt to assign blame for the fantastic failure that followed.

The fact that the state didn’t have to build a website from scratch is often lost upon many during discussions on this issue. I had actually reported in December 2012 in an Estacada News article that former State Representative Patrick Sheehan grilled Cover Oregon officials about that decision during a committee meeting. Patrick, who has a background in website development, had received live product demonstrations from a company that could have licensed existing software to the state for $6 million and customized it for another $6 million. His concerns about the state wasting money were met with seeming derision by officials who were later fired or resigned in disgrace. They flippantly told Sheehan that they weren’t worried about wasting money, because if the state ran out, it could simply ask the federal government for more.

All of the constant calls for somebody, somewhere, to investigate what happened during Kitzhaber’s tenure as the state’s chief executive officer have grown into a chorus. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has, not surprisingly, never seemed to be very eager to investigate the man who appointed her to her position. But those of us who have been screaming for it all this time have become quite hoarse, in the hopes of eventually being heard.

At the end of that same news cycle came a story from The Oregonian newspaper that Hayes has been ordered by a judge to pay $128,000 in attorney fees to that publication after her failed attempts to keep her e-mails from being disclosed. That dollar figure is nearly the same amount that her consulting business supposedly made in a single year not all that long ago during her stint as First Lady. It’s also a full six figures higher than the amount she apparently disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service for that same year. As a former longtime reporter, I’m sure that it’s substantially more than she’s bringing home through her current occupation.

As these events unfolded, members of the Legislature convened at the capitol for a week of interim committee meetings. They include the Department of Energy Oversight Committee, which was formed in the hopes of figuring out what happened with that agency’s Business Energy Tax Credit boondoggle during Kitzhaber’s administration. Several state agencies have faced turnover at the director level in recent months and colossal budgetary shortfalls loom on the horizon for the Oregon Health Authority, Department of Human Services, Oregon Department of Transportation and the Public Employees Retirement System.

That’s a stark contrast to the legacy that I’m sure Kitzhaber was hoping to leave behind. In the meantime, though, his official portrait remains in its current location, much in the same way that former governor Neil Goldschmidt’s did until its removal.

I suppose the possibility exists that Kitzhaber’s may still someday be taken down. And maybe it will be placed alongside Goldschmidt’s so the two of them can hang together. Such a scenario might be the most fitting end for it once this whole situation has finally been resolved.

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Jorgensen Oregon Oregon column


I recently celebrated my 36th birthday with some friends in an increasingly trendy Northeast Portland neighborhood. The occasion was also somewhat bittersweet, as it was our group’s last hurrah in the Alberta Street area.

My friends have lived on the street for the last eight years. Since then, we’ve seen the historically African-American neighborhood slowly transform over time as gentrification took place.

All of that culminated a few weeks ago, as my friends were given a no-cause eviction notice amid rising rents as Portland and its residents grapple with that city’s affordable housing crisis. One of my friends is actively seeking a place near his new job in Beaverton, another area where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find reasonably priced housing.

The other is returning to her native Texas after coming to Portland a decade ago to attend college. Her stints at Portland Community College, Portland State University and Concordia University have culminated in six figures of student loan debt, more than enough credits to graduate, yet no actual college degree from any of those three institutions.

We all watched as more specialized boutique stores opened up in the area and the neighborhood’s traditional identity gradually faded away. A house directly across the street from my friends’ studio apartment was purchased for $110,000, fixed up for another $100,000 and later sold for four times that amount.

A highly publicized gang-related shooting in the neighborhood last year still wasn’t enough to drive those housing prices and costs down, or the demand for any of it.

Against that backdrop, Metro continues its refusal to expand the Urban Growth Boundary. This happens despite the fact that vacancy rates remain at extremely low levels. There’s also the ongoing denials from politicians and bureaucrats about the correlation between the prices of land and their ultimate effects on housing costs due to policy decisions that were made in the 1970s that have somehow become sacrosanct.

While reminiscing about our time in the area, we realized that every time we spent money at one of these new stores, we were helping to fund the gentrification that is now pricing our friends out of the neighborhood. The success of those stores caused other stores to move in, which raised the property values further and further.

At one point, we shared a laugh over another revelation—if we had just pooled all the money we otherwise would have spent at a local bar that had since burned down, we could have invested it in some real estate. It’s entirely possible that we could have bought the apartment complex that is now being refurbished to make way for tenants willing to pay more to live there.
It’s truly sad that our group of friends will no longer have a foothold in the Alberta Street neighborhood. The fond memories of our shared experiences will soon be the only connection we’ll have to it.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and find another part of Portland to hang out in, at least until other people discover it and the whole gentrification process starts all over again. And perhaps we’ll have to repeat that process a few more times until Portland and its leaders come up with sensible solutions for the same problems that past decisions appear to have caused and made worse, at the expense of working people throughout the city.

After all, if these trends continue, they’ll eventually run out of neighborhoods to kick residents out of while welcoming the next rounds of new developments, specialized shops and condos that are well beyond the financial reach of the people who have called these areas home for years.

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A discussion on the new Oregon legislative session by Ridenbaugh author Scott Jorgensen.

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We’re now 30 days into a new year, 2016, and it’s going to be an important one. It’s an election year, and a presidential election year at that. The entire direction of this country for the next four to eight years is going to be decided in a matter of months.

All across Oregon and the United States, mayors have given their State of the City addresses. Commissioners have given their State of the County addresses. Governors have given their State of the State addresses. President Obama has already given his final State of the Union Address.

These addresses share one thing in common — they’re being delivered by politicians. Their job security depends on the public perceiving everything as being good and moving in the right direction.

Because of that, they’re not always an accurate representation of the true state of things.

This is why I’m taking a completely different approach. It’s time that we had a Citizens’ State of the State Address.

So what is the State of the State here in Oregon?

A friend asked me recently if I planned to use the phrase “falling apart at the seams.” It begs the question, Is Oregon falling apart at the seams? At the very least, it appears that we keep making national news for all the wrong reasons.

Last fall, I released my third book, On the Cusp of Chaos. A central theme was that Oregon, and particularly its rural parts, is on the cusp of chaos. That proved to be prophetic.

Within weeks of its release, there was that horrific shooting incident at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. More recently, we had that whole unfortunate situation in Burns, which started when a bunch of people from out of state decided to try and take over a federal building.

The headlines from here within Oregon haven’t been great, either.

Multiple state agencies keep making news for all the wrong reasons. There’s DHS with its foster care scandal, the Department of Energy and its Business Energy Tax Credit problems, and the budgets of several agencies are in shambles. That includes DHS, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Aside from that, judges who are in the state’s Public Employees Retirement System have overturned any efforts to reform it. The effects of that are going to be locally in a big way over the next few years. That means that every city, county and school district in Oregon is going to spend significant portions of its budgets on PERS contributions instead of providing services to citizens.

In fact, it would probably take much less time for me to list the agencies that are doing well. I can’t say that any come to mind immediately.

What else can I say about the State of the State? In my humble opinion, it’s mired in needless poverty.

Our state is consistently and persistently among those whose citizens have the highest percentage of food stamp usage. Oregon also consistently leads the nation in hunger.


We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, including a vibrant, diverse agricultural sector.

Oregon should be feeding the whole rest of the nation and the world. Instead, we lead the nation in hunger.

To me, this is evidence that the state is not living up to its true potential. This has even been cited as the second worst state in which to make a living, a distinction we probably don’t want to have.

So what is the State of the State? I would submit that its prosperity continues to be undermined by a combination of cronyism and corruption.

There was that whole crisis of confidence involving our executive branch, culminating in the resignation of former Governor John Kitzhaber almost a year ago amid federal investigations.

Efforts were made to pass comprehensive ethics reform legislation during the 2015 session. Many of those bills were blocked on party-line votes. Fortunately, some of those same bills are being reintroduced for consideration in the legislative session that starts on Monday.

So what is the State of the State? My reply is that it is nowhere near as good as it could be, or should be. But the good news is, we still have the chance to change it. The future depends largely on all of us.

We’re going to hear later on from candidates who are vying for this state’s highest office. It is obvious that there is no shortage of challenges facing whoever we choose to be our governor.

One year from now, that person will take the oath of office and give the official State of the State Address.

My hope is that we can all work together, with each other and with our elected officials, to address the issues I’ve brought up.

It all starts with a shared vision.

We need to picture the community we want and the state government we want. We need to picture the world we want to leave behind for subsequent generations.

Once we’re done doing that, we must do what we can to translate those visions into tangible actions that we can all take locally. And maybe next year’s official State of the State Address can provide a more accurate representation of what’s happening in Oregon, and we can all share in a brighter and more prosperous future.

Thank you.

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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.



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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jorgensen W. SCOTT

In the Capitol

From a speech delivered at this weekend’s Oregon Republican Dorchester conference at Seaside.

Once upon a time, there was a political party in a state that was so far out of power for so long, it was literally lost in the wilderness. Let me elaborate.

Out of 90 total legislative seats, this party and its members held only 15. It had not controlled the Legislature for 75 years. Some counties in this state hadn’t sent a member of that party to the Legislature in almost 85 years. That’s most peoples’ entire lifetimes.
This party didn’t have much luck with statewide offices, either — out of the state’s past 10 governors, eight had been from the opposite party. They didn’t fare any better with federal offices, as the party hadn’t elected a U.S. Senator in almost 40 years.

The party I’m talking about is the Democrats, and the state I’m talking about is Oregon.

That’s right, folks — Oregon was once a one-party state, as it arguably is now, but with Republicans completely in charge of everything.

We get so caught up in the here and now that we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and the long-term historical perspective. But the fact is, Democrats in Oregon were much further out of power, and for much longer, than Republicans are now.

This was the political landscape approximately 62 years ago, at the start of the 1953 legislative session.
It’s hard to imagine what must have happened between then and now. It begs the question: How did the Democrats turn it around? What did they do?

Well, for starters, they recognized that they had a problem and decided to do things differently. They placed greater emphasis on things like candidate recruitment, succession planning and crafting a message that resonates with the average Oregonian.

The results were almost instantaneous.

In the 1954 elections, Oregon Democrats went from 11 seats in the House to 24. They picked up some seats in the Senate.

At the federal level, they gained a Congressional seat when Edith Green defeated a young newscaster by the name of Tom McCall.

The next cycle, in 1956, could very well be remembered as the year that they turned it all around.

They took control of the House and forced a 15-15 split in the Senate. At the statewide level, they elected their first governor in almost 20 years, Robert Holmes.

The federal level proved equally successful, as they took two more Congressional seats, giving them three out of four. They also held both of Oregon’s U.S. Senate seats after that election.

The sole Republican exception to this route? Mark O. Hatfield, 34-year-old state legislator who was elected Secretary of State.

The truth is, Oregon Republicans have a strong and proud tradition of leadership. It’s a tremendous legacy, to say the least.

We follow in the footsteps of many great men. They include Charles McNary, a longtime U.S. Senator who ran for Vice President in 1940.

There’s also Doug McKay, who served as governor and was later Secretary of the Interior under my favorite president, Dwight Eisenhower. He was our last governor to resign, and did so to take that position. That’s quite a contrast from recent events.

There’s the aforementioned Mark Hatfield, who was governor and U.S. Senator, and Oregon’s most famous governor, Tom McCall.

Then there’s our last Republican governor, Vic Atiyeh … though he didn’t like that phrase. He preferred “most recent,” in the hopes that we will again, someday, have another Republican governor.

I was fortunate enough to conduct a series of interviews with Governor Atiyeh before he passed away last July. Transcripts of those talks comprise the bulk of my book, Conversations with Atiyeh, which is available on Amazon.
Let me tell you a little bit of what I was able to learn from our “most recent” Republican governor.

Vic was a first-generation American of Syrian heritage, who grew up during the Great Depression in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Portland.

While attending Washington High School, he was nominated by his fellow students to represent them in student government, and did.

Something similar happened many years later, in 1958, when his fellow citizens asked him to run for the Oregon House.

For his first race, he raised under $400, and had $100 left over by the time it was over. He and his supporters even made their own lawn signs.

Throughout his entire six-year stint in the House, he and the Republicans were in the minority. They eventually regained the majority in the House, but by then, Vic had moved over to the Senate … where he was again a member of the minority party.

In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and the disastrous 1976 election, Republicans in the Oregon Senate became a super-minority….more like a super-duper minority.

The 1977 legislative session was the year of the famed “phone booth caucus,” where there were so few Republicans in the Senate that they could literally and physically fit inside a phone booth.

I work in the Senate. I’m there every day. And I guarantee you that our current caucus could not fit in a phone booth.

When I asked Governor Atiyeh what his favorite memory of serving in the legislature was, he replied that it was as a member of the phone booth caucus.

He told me that despite being in the super-duper minority, he and his fellow Senate Republicans were still able to have a positive impact on that session. They didn’t pick fights they couldn’t win; they knuckled down and did the hard work in committee to make bad bills better, and stopped the really bad ones from becoming law.

More importantly, though, he and the other members of his caucus went on to do great things. Aside from a future governor, that group produced a Congressman, a state treasurer and state Supreme Court justice.

By that point, Vic had already had what would be his first, last and only loss, when he ran for governor against Robert Straub in 1974. He won their rematch four years later, though, and assumed the state’s highest office in 1979.

The state and the nation were in pretty bad shape economically at that point. High interest rates had the effect of crippling the housing market, which in turn devastated Oregon’s timber-dependent economy. Governor Atiyeh made it a point to diversify our economy, and placed particular emphasis on areas like tourism, viticulture, international trade and technology. All of these industries continue to thrive in this state to this very day.

He decided to run for a second term as governor in 1982. That year, he and the Democratic-controlled Legislature faced multiple special sessions, in which they had to make very surgical budget cuts and raise taxes to balance the budget.

Those were the circumstances when he won re-election, in a landslide. I asked him, 32 years later, how he pulled it off.

He told me that he was honest with the public about what was going on and what was being done to fix it all. And if the results of the election are any indicator, they believed him.

Just over a year ago, Governor Atiyeh was the keynote speaker at an event put on by the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce. The theme of his speech was “How to Use Statesmanship and Compromise.” I was able to attend, and captured his remarks. They comprise a full chapter in my book.

Governor Atiyeh provided much good advice that day, all of which is applicable to the present as well as the future.

He said that once you’re elected, you should approach every decision as if you never plan to run for anything again. Doing that makes it much easier to determine if a law, bill or a policy is good for the public and the people you are representing.

In our conversations, Governor Atiyeh told me that if people perceive that you want a position too badly when you’re running for it, that you are very likely to lose because of that. Similarly, if you think you can’t lose, you run a very high risk of losing.

Much of the wisdom Governor Atiyeh shared with me was based on common sense, which now seems so rare as to be some sort of superpower.

A lot of people don’t know this, but as a young man, Vic Atiyeh had received an offer to play professional football for the Green Bay Packers. This was following his career as a lineman for Washington High and for the University of Oregon Ducks.

But he ultimately turned it down. His father had passed away by then, and his twin brothers were overseas fighting in World War II. It was up to Vic to run the family business, and it never occurred to him to do otherwise, because it was the right thing to do.

Here’s something else to keep in mind. One of the things that inspired Vic to run for state representative was this legislative newsletter that was put together for business owners. It stated that nothing would be done about a particular problem because it was an election year. This upset Vic, who took the position that if something is a problem, you should solve it, and it shouldn’t matter if it’s an election year or not.
There’s one last bit of his wisdom that I would like to share with you.

The story I started off with was from the biography of former Oregon Governor Robert Straub. He dealt Vic Atiyeh the only electoral loss of his entire career when he won the governorship in 1974. The two faced off again four years later, in 1978, but Vic won their rematch.

Yet despite all of that, who do you suppose it was that wrote the foreword for the Straub biography? None other than Vic Atiyeh. That’s because he never viewed Straub as the enemy; they were both simply running for the same office at the same time.

Now that I’ve covered the past, I want to shift gears and talk about the present.

The 2015 legislative session is underway. Democrats have a supermajority in the Senate and a 35-25 majority in the House, one seat shy of a supermajority. Democrats also, at this point in time, hold every single statewide elected office and all but one of our five Congressional seats.

How did we get here, and what are we doing wrong?

Well, I have a few theories.

One is that the same messaging that we’ve been using for years is not resonating with the average Oregonian, and never will. My theory about this was reinforced last spring, when I was part of a team that did focus groups all over the state, and saw firsthand the reactions that people of all demographics had to that messaging.
Put quite simply, we cannot continue to be oblivious to the fact that we have been tone deaf to the electorate.
Telling poor people that they’re poor because they’re lazy is not working, and we need to stop.

When we talk about jobs and the economy, the public has been conditioned, by the Democrats, to hear that we’re saying that we want more tax cuts for the rich and big corporations. We reinforce this perception by talking about such legislative priorities as cutting the capital gains tax.

What if we instead talked about those same issues by using phrases like workforce development or labor force participation?

We all know that the unemployment rate is not a true indicator of what is really going on. It has gone down. But the labor force participation rate is still very low.
We keep talking about food stamps. But how about the real problem—hunger? We have one of the highest hunger rates in the entire nation! That needs to be the focus of our messaging, not food stamps. A lot of people throughout this state have relied on them, and are relying on them to survive. It makes us look disconnected from their struggles when we talk about food stamps instead of hunger.

Messaging is one problem. Another is that we don’t even try to engage the minority population anymore.

Democrats do, even though their policies hurt minorities, especially the poor ones. All indications are that the Democrats are completely taking them for granted. But you know what? They at least show up to have that conversation with them. We don’t. We just ignore them.

This one’s pretty easy. We really, really, really need to stop fighting each other.

Eating our own also isn’t working. We tend to beat each other bloody in every single primary election. The victor who eventually emerges becomes easy pickings for the Democrat, whose opposition research has already been done for them.

While we were all busy fighting each other, the Democrats defied national trends and actually made gains.

So this is the bottom line about the present. This legislative session is very likely to be very awful. Bad bills are going to pass and be signed into law, and none of us are going to like it.

Low carbon fuel standards is specifically and directly mentioned in a federal subpoena. Yet it’s been rammed through by Democrats anyway.

But you know what? Laws can be changed. Bad laws previously passed can be repealed. New laws can be passed to limit and restrict the power of government, restore the rights of citizens and protect them from overzealous agencies.

None of this will happen until we start winning elections.
Now that I’ve covered the past and the present, I would like to discuss the future. It has the potential to be bright, because there is a new generation of conservative leaders emerging here in Oregon and beyond.

This was the subject of my first book, Transition. It detailed the struggles that I went through, and saw everyone I know go through, as a result of the Great Recession. However, those grim realities were offset by a sense of optimism that I obtained by watching people my age and younger get elected to public office.

One of the central figures of that book is former state Rep. Wally Hicks from Grants Pass, a dear friend of mine.
Locally, my own state Representative, John Davis, is younger than I am.

There are other young leaders, like Medford City Councilor Eli Matthews, another friend. Washington State Representative Brandon Vick is another.

Some of these young leaders have even appeared here at the Dorchester Conference in recent years. One is Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler from Washington.
The 2014 elections saw a continuation of this trend. Southern Oregon is now represented in the Legislature by Dallas Heard and Duane Stark.

A 24-year-old by the name of Melanie Stambaugh is starting her first term in the Washington Legislature after knocking off a five-term incumbent. An 18-year-old woman won a seat in the West Virginia legislature in a landslide to an opponent more than twice her age. She’s now the youngest lawmaker in the country.

There are more.

Aundre Bumgardner is 20 and serves in the Connecticut legislature. AJ Edgecomb is in the Maine Legislature. There’s Drew Christensen from Minnesota, Kayla Kessinger from West Virginia, Avery Bourne from Illinois, Alex Looysen from North Dakota, Jennifer Sullivan from Florida and Sarah Lazloffy from Montana.

They were all born in the 1990s.

There’s 30-year-old Elise Stefanik from New York. She is now the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

What do these young leaders have in common? They are all Republicans, each and every one of them.

This is a great example of something that is working that we need to keep doing. Instead of simply assuming that young people will vote Democrat, we need to reach out to them and make them part of the process, and part of the solution.

In a nutshell, here’s more of what we need to do.

We need to do a better job of recruiting quality candidates who are a good fit for their districts. We need to develop succession planning, so we can ensure good candidates for all those districts far into the future.

We need to come up with better messaging and new issues.
How about affordable housing? It’s reaching a crisis point in places like Bend, and is a real bread-and-butter pocketbook issue that has been made worse by policies insisted upon by the Democrats.

Do you suppose that deliberately restricting the amount of buildable land through the use of an invisible line called an Urban Growth Boundary might have something to do with artificially high housing costs?

We need to articulate what we would do differently than the Democrats once elected. Criticizing their ideas hasn’t really gotten us anywhere. We need to do something different.

We need to come up with a vision, and then start to tell voters about it.

So what will be the future of the Republican Party in Oregon? It depends.

We could learn from our mistakes and change our course, just like the Democrats did here in the 1950s. Or we could become irrelevant, and go the way of past political parties like the Federalists or the Whigs.

The truth is, the future is ultimately up to each and every one of us, and depends on what we’re all willing to do to support Republican candidates.

Nobody likes losing, and I understand that some of you may be demoralized after the last election. But we’ve had the last few months to lick our wounds.

Now it’s time to get back at it, and let me tell you, nothing is more motivating than a bad legislative session, in which the other party completely dominates the process.

At the end of the day, we need to provide a better alternative than the other guys. We need to build our candidates up. We should be able to win based on the strength and merits of our ideas, because they are better.
I’m going to use a sports metaphor.

There are some similarities between football and politics. Both are full-contact sports, though bad behavior tends to be penalized in football these days, along with just about everything else.

But when the season starts to really take off, there are two paths a team can take.

One is to depend on the failures of other teams. If they lose, it improves your position, and maybe, just maybe, you can get into the playoffs if enough other teams play poorly enough for long enough that this strategy works.

The alternative is to control your own destiny, to be so good that it doesn’t matter if your conference rivals win or lose, because you left them in the dust long ago.
We need our candidates to run for office, instead of just running against the Democrats.

I’m going to close with a personal story of sorts.

There’s a part of my wallet where I keep the things that are most dear to me. This includes pictures of my wife and kids, like the ultrasound of my son, who is now 7.
It also includes a horoscope from a 2012 Free Will Astrology that’s featured in every issue of Willamette Week. Here’s what it says:

The most likely way to beat your competitors is not to fight them, but rather to ignore them and compete only against yourself.

Perhaps we could take this approach?

Republicans in Oregon are at a crossroads after a string of stinging losses. We can either adapt, learn from those losses, cultivate our next generation of leaders, give them the support they deserve, and bring them up to be principled and willing to do what is right by this state and its people, rather than what’s convenient for the pursuit of power. That’s one path.

The other is to go the way of the past political parties that exist only in the pages of our history books.

We all have to be willing to do what it takes to change our fortunes.

Once upon a time, the Democrats were way worse off than we are. And look at them now.

We can turn it around, but we have to work together to make that happen.

Right now, this state is not living up to its potential. We all know it. This has been because of a lack of leadership and a resulting culture of complacency.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to see Oregon lead the nation in something other than hunger!
Our state is considered poor—but there’s no reason for that. We have an abundance of resources here, and our state could, and should, become prosperous beyond our wildest imagination.

But in order for that to happen, we need to lead by example, cultivate true leadership, create a positive new vision and get this state back on track once and for all.
We have the ability to change history. It’s happened before, and it can happen again, so let’s get started!

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