Remembering Uncle Bennie

By Jesse Cornett of Portland, Oregon. Jesse is a candidate for Portland City Council.

Today is Ben Westlund Day in my household. However, one day will never suffice to pay respects to this Oregon statesman.

I grew to admire Ben Westlund, the Republican, during the 2001 Legislative Session when he appeared to be the only House Republican with compassion in a House full of slash-and-burn-I’m-only-going-to-be-here-for-6-years conservatives.

In 2003, when Westlund returned from the hospital in the middle of the longest session in Oregon’s history, he gave a speech that still rivets those of us who remember it.

He switched parties in 2006 to run for Governor, but citing his desire to be more than a spoiler, Westlund ended his race before his name appeared on a ballot. In an attempt to prevent repeats of the type of antics that Republicans tried to use in 2004 to make sure that Ralph Nader got on the ballot, the Legislature passed a measure, which unintentionally made it harder for anyone not affiliated with a major party to gain access to the ballot.

Blue Oregon readers will remember that I ran a last-minute campaign for the State Senate in 2006. During that time, it came to my attention that until I ran in 2006, Ben didn’t really know who I was. But that all changed as I sought to become his colleague. At various events, Ben would come and chat me up.

While I enjoyed my discussions with him, I was skeptical thinking he was only being nice to me because he wanted my support for his race for Governor, which was never going to happen. Time after time he’d chat with me and never did he mention his race, much less my support.

The morning after that disappointing election, I got a call – a message I retrieved later. It was a nice and long message from Ben, who referred to himself only as Uncle Bennie and asked me to do the same. I lost and a few folks called, mainly those who’d been supporters and active in the campaign. Uncle Bennie was neither and his call gave me a great reason to smile.

Ashley Henry asked the question in her post this week: what would Ben want us to do? I don’t know. I didn’t know him quite that well. But sign me up and let’s go.

Down the trail, Ben.

Comments

  • LT (unverified)
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    One of those wonderful stories which explains why we will miss him so much.

    That phone call was a class act. In the middle of an intense campaign season, it is well to remember that such good deeds resonate a long time after they happen.

    Point to ponder:

    How do you want to be remembered?

    Sadly, I have gone to WAY too many funerals of old friends in the last few years.

    "Act as you would like to be remembered" seems more and more relevant as a philosophy of life as time goes on.

  • ughhhh (unverified)
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    This article was self serving and indulgent, Jessie.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Hmmm, I thought it was BO policy to exclude columns from those regular contributors while they were running for public office?

    All aAnimals are created equal. Some animals are more equal than others.

    George Orwell

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    Kurt,

    This is correct. I can however ask for a guest column, which I did. I'd like Blue Oregon readers to think about Ben Westlund today not petty politics.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Jesse

    In an attempt to prevent repeats of the type of antics that Republicans tried to use in 2004 to make sure that Ralph Nader got on the ballot...

    Bob T:

    They may have had other motives, but isn't it better to have more candidates? What's your opinion of the antics of Democrats (the 9th Circuit Court said that Bradbury leaned toward keeping Nader off the ballot) keeping someone off the ballot, particularly a progressive hero?

    Jesse

    ...the Legislature passed a measure, which unintentionally made it harder for anyone not affiliated with a major party to gain access to the ballot.

    Bob T:

    One stupid act followed by the usual unintentional results that make it worse. That's what happens when legislation gets passed with emotion rather than calm logic.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

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    Well said, Jesse, well said. See you down in Salem later today.

    And, as for the contributor policy... correct me if I'm wrong but they get their unlimited access cut, but still can submit columns as everyone else can.

  • LT (unverified)
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    "I'd like Blue Oregon readers to think about Ben Westlund today not petty politics".

    See you at the memorial service today.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Jesse, it isn't about petty politics. It is about standards. Apparently BO has situational standards. If you're a member of the club you get special dispensation.

  • Buckman Res (unverified)
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    ”...he appeared to be the only House Republican with compassion in a House full of slash-and-burn-I’m-only-going-to-be-here-for-6-years conservatives....I'd like Blue Oregon readers to think about Ben Westlund today not petty politics.”

    Oh would you? Then you might start by leaving petty politics out of your posting.

  • Ashley Henry (unverified)
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    Thank you, Jesse. I do believe you were the first person I ever heard call him Uncle Bennie. I am glad you were given the opportunity to post this today. While naysayers may see your post as self-serving, I just want to say thank you and everyone who runs for office for participating in our democracy. I certainly don't have the tenacity to run for office, so I am grateful that people like you do.

    See you in Salem.

  • (Show?)

    Geez, this is about someone's thoughts about Ben Westlund. It's not about standards or politics, and it wasn't written so someone else could have their argument fix. Can't some of you give it a rest?

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    Kurt, as I've said many times in recent months, this is our policy:

    When our contributors are active candidates, they are no longer active contributors. They are allowed, even encouraged, to do what any other member of the public can do: comment on the site, send us news tips and pitches, and submit guest columns. They get no more or less guarantee than anyone else that we'll run their guest column or do anything with their pitch.

    On a day when Ben Westlund's memorial service is happening, I thought it perfectly appropriate to run this guest column. End of story.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Thank you Kari!

    Thank you Wayne.

    Just got back from Ben's memorial service.

    Kurt, there were people there who would normally be on opposite sides of politics who were being warm and friendly to each other. Do you have a problem with them also?

    Are you supporting Jesse's opponent and wish that opponent could get equal time? To say what?

    Do you not realize how many of us are heartbroken at the loss of Ben?

    I don't know what your problem is. Is it that a declared candidate should not have a guest opinion on someone many of us are grieving because only someone not running for office should be allowed to post about the man many of us miss terribly?

    I've known lots of people who (with her excellent manners) my high school Latin teacher described with the Latin phrase "slip of the tongue". Actually, I was thinking of one today--someone who I believe needlessly insulted Ben when he ran for Gov.

    You may think it is a "special dispensation" for a filed candidate to post a memorial column on the day of the memorial service. I thought it was a class act---but then where I live, Jesse will not appear on the ballot.

    Do you think candidates should be able to post anything on BO incl. "why I am running" or their stance on a particular issue? Or seek your approval first? Whose blog is this--yours?

    Kurt, I think your remarks are needlessly hurtful. To the point that in the future if you are trying to make a point here, I will be doubly skeptical of what you say.

    You may think you are smart, but you strike me as smart-aleck.

    What is your problem? That a filed candidate should not be allowed to grieve in print because that is "special dispensation"? Who died and made you king?

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    Thank you, Jesse.

    I attended the memorial in Salem today for Westlund. It was inspiring and wonderful. I'm go glad I went.

  • Elaine (unverified)
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    For some time, Ben and my families were pretty close. The Westlunds have always been a hospitable, gracious family, every one of them and it's too bad a few mean-spirited posters think it appropriate to further their agendas in these comments. One day, we may have a cure for cancer, but we may never see a treatment for a lack of compassion.

    It took Ben some time to find his stride, but when he did -- well, he was impressive! While I would've rather gone to the Bend memorial, Salem worked for me. It was heartening to see how folks came together for this occasion, sad though it was.

    As for the question of what Ben would want us to do -- he'd probably want us to find our passion, our area of strength is and go with it. He'd want us to live well. So, if you are politically inclined, great! He was no political elitist, encouraged citizen participation and took his job of representing Oregonians more seriously than anything else outside of his family.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Great comment, Elaine!

  • LT (unverified)
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    Elaine, you are so right about a lack of compassion.

    Here is a quote from an article on today's Westlund memorial.

    “Nothing survives but the way we live our lives,” Westlund said in 2003, after returning from lung cancer surgery.

    Now, if some people want to lead mean-spirited lives, that is their decision.

    What I saw today at the memorial was some politicians (former candidates and/or current/former legislators) who have been known in the past to make a mean-spririted, snide remark or play political hardball no matter who got angry. But by golly, today they were friendly and gracious to everyone. It was a sight to see. I spoke to a couple of them, and it was nice to have a friendly conversation.

    Could it be that people who have been in the public eye understand the importance of good manners (esp. at a memorial service) in a way some bloggers never will?

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    I stayed close to home with a nasty bug, and missed both of Ben's memorials. I have heard countless stories told on Ben and I'll bet there were some I haven't heard from Friday or Saturday. Jesse, I appreciate your story, a typical act from Ben. Elaine, I think you have it right about what Ben would have us do.

    One thing is for sure, we know and will remember Ben because of how he touched us. We can and should still learn from Ben through his stories.

  • Val (unverified)
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    Thanks for the post Jesse, you really captured his spirit in the telling of your story. I was at the memorial as well and it was truly a wonderful celebration of life for a great man.

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    Jesse's post contains incorrect statements. He says:

    In an attempt to prevent repeats of the type of antics that Republicans tried to use in 2004 to make sure that Ralph Nader got on the ballot, the Legislature passed a measure, which unintentionally made it harder for anyone not affiliated with a major party to gain access to the ballot.
    I testified against that bill, HB 2614 (2005). Making it harder for non-affiliated candidates to get on the ballot was the entire point of the bill; it was not "unintentional." As introduced, it would have prohibited anyone who voted in the primary election from signing any petition for any non-affiliated candidate. Upon the unwelcomed advice of ballot access expert Richard Winger (that such blanket prohibitions have been ruled unconstitutional), it was amended so that only Republicans and Democrats who voted in the primary election (about half the entire registered electorate) were disqualified from signing any such petition, along with anyone who participated in any minor party nomination process.

    Further, Jesse is claiming that Republicans used "antics in 2004 to make sure that Ralph Nader got on the ballot." What exactly were those antics? This is just part of the Democrats "big lie" campaign against Nader.

  • Travesti Yeliz (unverified)
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    How long between the end did not find the information I could find on your site. Indeed information and thank you for sharing. Really helpful for me thanks in large degree..

  • free publicity for mandate's clients (unverified)
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    "Kurt, as I've said many times in recent months, this is our policy" (Kari "Full-disclosure" Chisholm)

    BO and it's owner KFC have a long standing policy of throwing their ample weight behind Mandate's clients. Nothing new here. I'm sure Jesse was the ONLY person who could have contributed a post on Ben Westlund, having been well acquainted for all of 4 years. The link to Jesse's campaign site was simple disclosure. ;-)

    And the reason Steve Novick seems to have free reign on BO these days is that he's stumping for another Mandate approved candidate (hint, it's the less progressive of the 2 Democratic front runners for Guv.)

  • LT (unverified)
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    Free p--- I have argued bitterly with both Kari and Steve. Matter of fact, one thing I thought about in the week after Ben died was something really stupid one of Kari's clients did and Kari backed him up---in the summer of 2006 when the independent Westlund campaign was going on, Ted K. made a crack on a radio show, "I'm running against 2 Republicans" (Saxton and Westlund).

    Bet Ted would not have wanted to be reminded of that after he spoke at Westlund's memorial service.

    That being said, Free, no one is forcing you to read this blog.

    Start your own blog, if you wish. Establish a policy that after someone files for office, they are not allowed to post on your blog.

    All you are doing here is proving why Ben will be so sorely missed---he did not do partisan potshots of the sort so often practiced by people like Free.

    I agree with this: Posted by: Wayne Kinney | Mar 13, 2010 11:45:07 AM

    Geez, this is about someone's thoughts about Ben Westlund. It's not about standards or politics, and it wasn't written so someone else could have their argument fix. Can't some of you give it a rest?

  • (Show?)

    I'm sure Jesse was the ONLY person who could have contributed a post on Ben Westlund

    No, he wasn't. But he was the only one who did on Saturday, the day of the memorial service.

    And the reason Steve Novick seems to have free reign on BO these days is that he's stumping for another Mandate approved candidate

    Steve Novick would have free reign here, no matter who he would be supporting. That's the whole damn point. I'm only aware of about a half-dozen BlueOregon contributors (and I'm the only editor) who have endorsed anyone in the governor's race.

  • (Show?)

    ...and I should note: Steve was a contributor here BEFORE he ran for the Senate, and as soon as the race was over, he was a contributor again.

    <h2>And that was in summer 2008, long before we knew who would be running in 2010 for Governor.</h2>
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