Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why I Love Oregon

I know, it's an odd topic for Mother's Day but since my wife of 32 years and mother of all of my life both passed away a few years back I take this day to quietly and privately remember (and miss terribly) them both.

In all the turmoil over national and international events once in a while I sit back and am thankful for the state I now call home.  I moved my family to Oregon in 1992 and have now lived in both the east and west sides of the state.  A California transplant (well, one of many transplants for me having grown up the son of a 26 year, three wars Navy Chief and living all over the country), we moved because California was getting way too expensive and dangerous to stay.  I've met great people on both sides of the state but I have to admit, for me the west side has the edge. Very green, lots of trees and if Oregon is blue, the west side of the state is why.

Political animal as I am, what strikes me most about the differences between California and here is Oregon's approach to politics.  For example:

When I first moved to Oregon and people found out that I had been an active Democrat in my former state, I was immediately invited to attend a debate between the two major party candidates for Governor.  OK, that alone set me back on my heels a bit - you either watched CA debates on TV or had to be special enough to be able to be in the actual audience.  So here I am, wandering the halls of the high school where the debate was to take place and watching the people there when someone noted that the Democratic candidate, John Kitzhaber, hadn't arrived yet and we should have a rally to welcome him.

OK, I say to myself, I haven't a clue who that is but I'm always up for a bit of cheering and such.  My experience with campaign rallies had always been as part of a crowd watching and cheering the candidate speaking on a stage, voice booming from mikes and speakers and us waving signs.  I grab a sign and head out.  No microphones, no stage.  OK, maybe the candidate's arrival will offer more drama.  Nope.  I hear someone say, "There he is!" and all I see is a pickup truck pull up to the curb below us.  The man inside gets out, alone, and heads up the hill to the high school.  Now the cheering starts, I say to myself again...and again, nope.  As he approaches our little band of supporters, he's greeted with "Hi, John" and that's about it.

OK, different to be sure and I'm already beginning to like it.

The debate itself was quite the departure as well.  The Republican candidate for governor, Denny Smith, was a former Congressman and radio talk show host.  He conducted his side of the debate like he was still on the radio:  Lots of shots at liberals and then-President Clinton that pleased his supporters in the audience.  Kitzhaber was more reserved and set about quietly but firmly dismembering his opponent's record and positions and was always civil throughout.  I thought afterward that Kitzhaber had conducted the nicest evisceration of an opponent I'd ever seen. That 1994 election was for Governor Kitzhaber's first term and he was re-elected four years later.

The next time how different Oregon was struck me was just before an during the 2004 presidential election year.  I had lived in California for 26 years, started really getting active in 1972 and in all of the time from then to when we moved out of the state in 1992 I had seen precisely two presidential candidates live and in person.  I attended a rally for George McGovern in '72 at a nearby shopping mall and later a '76 pre-election day rally for Jimmy Carter in San Francisco (At least, I think Carter was there.  I was so far away from the podium that day that they could have put up a cardboard cut-out of Carter and played an audio tape and I'd never would have known).  That was it.

Then came Oregon and I saw and actually shook the hands of more candidates for President than ever.  It started with a 2003 rally in Portland for Ralph Nader then another that year for Howard Dean, moved to a 2004 Dennis Kucinich speech at a Universalist church here in town then, for that year, ended with a massive John Kerry rally at a Portland waterfront park. Since then, I attended a rally (or "town hall" as his campaign called it) for, and featuring, Barack Obama just before the Oregon primary in 2008.  I didn't shake his hand though, as I was playing hookie from work that day to attend and was avoiding being on that evening's local newscasts.  With the exception of the Kucinich speech, those rallies were more like what  I was used to before though - there I did cheer and wave a sign and was joined by a crowd doing the same.

Fast forward to last night and a repeat of my first exposure to Oregon politics.  Our current Governor is term-limited after two terms so we will be having our primary later this month for a new one.  The choices on the Democratic side this year are two men I have met and like:  former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and the man I saw when I first got here - former Governor going for a third term, John Kitzhaber.  Kitzhaber is favored in the primary and general election but my vote is going for Bradbury.

This time it was no debate.  I ran across two guys I used to meet with regularly when we extended our local '04 "Veterans for Kerry" group past the election (it's kinda defunct now) and as we chatted they told me they were headed to a Kitzhaber fundraiser just up the block.  I decided to go with them to it - I wanted to see what the former Governor was saying as he campaigned.  Again, a rather quiet affair - Kitzhaber was there but wasn't being mobbed either before or after he made his remarks.  Plus, he was introduced to the crowd as "John" and that was enough. 

Yes, Oregon is definitely different and for a politics junkie like me, who knew that it'd end up being my idea of heaven to boot.  I think I'll be staying.


Kari Chisholm said...

Very nice post. I agree - that's why I love Oregon: you can actually get to know your civic leaders here.

(One very minor correction: The Kitzhaber/Smith election was in 1994. Oregon gubernatorial races happen in non-presidential years, like this year.)

James Frye said...

Thanks for bringing that to my attention - the post is now duly corrected and edited.

Lu Cifer, said...

I condole you on your loss sir.
Maybe one of these decades, FloriDUH will learn the lessons of other states like OR.
But, at least I'm not in Arizona!!! (Please AZ! Keep it up jerkweeds!!! With that damn oil geyser, we need ALL the tourists we can get...)