Slumbering Through Salem

Chris Bouneff

I was driving home from Bend last week, listening to of all things the soundtrack from Rent (nice music; probably would have been nicer had I known the plot) and rolling through the beautiful Santiam Pass, which is my favorite route to and from Central Oregon in winter. And I pulled into Salem.

And it hits me. I'm tired. Not sleepy tired. Not eyes closed tired.

Civically tired. Spent. Worn down. What embers of hope I had just a year ago had long turned as cold and gray as the clouds above. Salem makes me tired.

When, oh, when will this state or this country find leadership? I'm not naive enough to believe there was some golden age of leadership. But there was a day when Idaho elected a liberal Democrat to four terms in the U.S. Senate and had a Democrat in the governor's office followed by a  good one-term Republican. In Oregon, we had two Republican senators who were fairly progressive and a mix of Dems and GOPers. The West was the West, and our state wasn't just a microcosmic battleground where local politicians parroted the national parties' anemic sound bites, and the news of the day wasn't whether Jack Roberts practiced law or not.

We talked about our social compact, our responsibilities as citizens and businesses to our community. Business leaders believed that they needed to contribute more to society than wage-paying jobs that, in turn, paid income taxes.

(Aside No. 1: If you listen to AOI and some other business trade groups, you'd think it's their world and we're just lucky to get some of the scratch they throw us.)

Today, we can't even talk about fundamental tax reform without the GOP reflex for capital gains tax cuts or the Dems talking about raising more revenue. And both groups know we need tax reform.

There's no blueprint. No vision that I know of. I'm fairly in tune with current events. I'm no political hack, thankfully, and I don't always follow the skirmishes because it's not informative to watch people in power talking about perpetuating power or claiming even more power. (Aside No. 2 -- Hey, InPortland section. Stop covering the "personalities" of City Hall and give me something tangible. And note to City Hall: Get over yourselves already. Please.) (Aside No. 3: Are there any native Portlanders left in Portland? Is there a place where we can all hang out?)

I guess I'd like to believe in something -- anything, really, that gives me hope. May is around the corner, and I just don't care.

I recognize that's a problem. Like I wrote, I'm not a political hack, I kind of follow the polls, I don't talk insider baseball very much other than for the fun of it. And then it's really not that fun for very long. I need something more than people talking about horse races to care again.

I'm waiting, slumbering, but still ready to rise. Somebody, please wake me up.

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    RENT. Benny used to live with Mark and Roger. Benny used to date Mimi. Mark and Roger are best friends and roommates. Mark and Roger are friends with ex-roommate Collins. Mark used to date Maureen.That's what the Broadway musical is all about.

    Nice choice of tunes.

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    Here is the plot from the Playbill.

    "Benny is Mark and Roger's former roommate. With the help of his new wealthy father-in-law, Benny has bought a building in which Mark and Roger live, and the lot next door. Benny wants to build a high-tech cyber-arts studio on the property. Toward this end, he plans to clear the homeless from the lot and evict all the tenants from the building, including Mark and Roger.

    Mark's former lover, Maureen schedules a performance protest of Benny's scheme for midnight on Christmas Eve. Benny offers a deal to Mark and Roger. If they convince Maureen to stop her protest, they can stay in the building rent free.

    At the end of Act I, Maureen's performance goes on. A riot erupts in the lot, which Mark videotapes. Then Benny padlocks the building, locking out all of the tenants.

    Act II begins on New Year's Eve as Mark, Roger and friends attempt to break into the building."

    Sounds a lot better than Oregon politics doesn't it..

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    I agree with you -- Salem just bores me. Kulongoski is a good governor, as far as governors go (even though he may be mediocre by Oregon standards, he's still an improvement over any governor that California has had in the past 30 some-odd years, I would wager). Kitzhaber was a good governor before him. But, visionary? When it came to health care, you could call Kitzhaber that, but neither one of them rates that rank with regards to any other field. Oregon does need a new vision -- one that holds the ground on all the advances already made, but one that also opens the door to building a stronger, more sound economy based on environmental stewardship, community, infrastructure improvements, alternatives to the automobile, a love for the outdoors, good micro-brewed beer and the neighborhood pub.


    Who's with me on this one?

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    i am sooo tired of these kinds of posts. "when will we get leaders?" "when will dems be dems?" it's like people are channeling steven bocho's self-hating doctors & lawyers from l.a. law orchicago hope.

    dude we have leaders a-plenty. al gore is speaking out with courage, passion and power. howard dean totally revitalized the grassroots and today continues to spread the liberal/progressive gospel throughout the country. john kitzhaber chose not to run for governor, but he'll have an impact on the health care debate no one else could match. here in benton county, our new state representative, sara gelser, is already accounted a strong leader, one who gives so many of us a lot of hope for the next session. barrack obama has inspired many people around the country. al franken's voice is one of intelligence and refusal to accept that the status quo need remain.

    and that's just off the top of my head. brian schweitzer in montana. barbara boxer. nick lampson challenging tom delay. all the "fighting dems", iraq war vets seeking office under the blue. hell, even harry reid and nancy pelosi are coming around.

    i'm not sure where this great dearth of leadership is. maybe because i don't listen to cnn, nbc, abc or any of the MSM media. i know the MSM is devoid of real progressive voices and overflowing with wingnuts and "nattering nabobs". instead i'm involved in things down here at the 'roots, working with people who worry a lot less about what "they" (our leaders) are doing and more about what "they" (themselves) are doing.

    more than ever, we have little need of leaders. more than ever, what we need is ourselves. there ain't nobody we can elect to fix congress, not in one off-year election (we can hope that grand juries will help the problem even more). but we can bust our butts to elect good people locally, and then we can show up to push our local officials in the right direction. we can be our own damn leaders, or we can hang our heads in despair and lose before we even begin.

    and by being our own leaders, we create our own vision. we don't need that supplied; we simply need to recognize it within ourselves and then articulate it in harmony with our neighbors and friends.

  • paulie (unverified)

    t.a. you are correct. There are a few good solid leaders in Salem. I recently asked a person close to the legislature, "Who are the good leaders?" and the reply was more than could be counted on one hand and less than two hands.

  • Eric Berg (unverified)

    "Are there any native Portlanders left in Portland? Is there a place where we can all hang out?"

    I'm not a native Portlander. But I've lived in the city all but four years since I turned 18 in 1985. More important, I'm a native Oregonian and remember when Democratic farmers from both sides of the Cascades served in the legislature and local chambers of commerce wanted workers in their communities to have strong union contracts. I also grew up in an Oregon I once recall Ken Kesey describing as "When the loggers and the hippies looked the same, dressed the same, and both worked in the woods. After work, the hippies went home, smoked pot and bitched about the government. After work, the logger went to the tavern, drank Blitz, and complained about the government."

    Chris, I don't smoke pot and Blitz hasn't been around for decades, but if you want to hang out sometime, the first pint at the Lucky Lab or some other local brewpub is on me. It sounds like you need some cheering up. I'm sure I can round up a few other natives to join us.

  • Sid (unverified)

    Here's something to get excited about.

    We have leaders. They just don't hold an office at this point.

  • LT (unverified)

    Sid, you are right to say "We have leaders. They just don't hold an office at this point."

    TA is also right. I know someone who is running for legislature, someone who has a campaign kickoff in a week, and 2 friends who would be excellent legislators should they choose to run. They have previous civic experience and are all leadership potential.

    If you don't like what is going on in the legislature, find a legislative candidate to campaign for. That is the best way to change Salem--change the membership--of the House esp. There are already people who would shine if they had the chance, but that means a more common sense legislature which actually listens to citizens. Whatever reforms are proposed, they might work or have unintended consequences. But if good people get elected, they can change the tone, the operation (doing everything in the open, for a change) and the product.

    In the movie Its A Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart is shown what his town would have been like if he had never lived. Think about the legislature the same way--for all its flaws, imagine if Witt had defeated Ringo and Tiernan had defeated Devlin in 2002.

    Imagine if Roblan had lost (703 margin)if Brown had not defeated Cowan over on the coast (414 margin) if Howells had defeated Dalto (825 margin) if Galizio had lost instead of winning by 815 votes.

    Yes, the legislature has seemed like a long hard slog lately. But this is the year we can change that by concentrating on ALL contested House contests. And if all can't be won at least the Republicans won't be able to take any seat for granted in a year they don't seem to have any inspiring candidate for Governor.

  • Political Staffer (unverified)

    Interesting the Kitzhaber and Westlund are the chief petitioners... From Oregon Live

  • Jeremiah L (unverified)

    OT (kind of) I was thinking about very similar things tonight as I was coming home from Northern Lights Theatre & Pub here in Salem, but more focused on the city itself. I began reading posts on this site a while back, but usually when Salem is mentioned, it feels more like an object of scorn than anything else, and it bothers me. The downtown has been going through a period of drastic changes, but businesses seem slow to catch on to anything more than cosmetic. Businesses are busy moving away from downtown, either out to South Salem or to Lancaster, and downtown is in need of some major rebuilding. Our conference center is done, but it seems out of use all the time, despite the huge amounts poured into it.

    t.a., you're right. On the national level, people are working hard to assert themselves. But it seems at the smaller levels, in each district, in each county, in each city, or even neighborhood, people are just looking to the next level up for leadership. I personally feel that the key to any kind of revitalization of America in terms of leadership has to come by way of revitalizing each town along the way, not just the major party at the state+ level.

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    Oregon has experienced changes in the past twenty years that have significantly altered the political landscape. (I write this as a member of a family whose lived here for a quarter century, but one who returned to the state six years ago after being away for nearly 20.)

    I hate to sound too pessimistic, but I see little chance of a return to a "golden age" of leaders--which essentially in your case seems to mean leaders who drew on moderate, cross-part coalitions.

    There is a host of changes, but here are two big ones:

    1) The restructuring of the Oregon economy, especially the decline of timber. I don't take credit for this--I heard a cogent account of this from Richard Clucas, whose edited volume on Oregon politics is coming out this Spring. In brief, the end of timber as the dominant industry in Oregon destroyed the uneasy (and unusual) alliance between the urban and suburban areas around Portland and the agricultural sector.

    2) In-migration. While I think you bemoan the in-migration in your post, there is no doubt that in-migration has been an important part of Oregon, especially Portland, Bend, and Medford/Ashland's economic and social vitality in the last two decades. But, politically, these in-migrants have done two things. First, they bring attitudes and approaches much less distinctively "Oregon" and must more like the rest of the country. But second, many are quite progressive/liberal, thus exacerbating the urban/rural valley/flatland, west/east divide in the state.

    If I were to be non-partisan for a moment, my hope at the state level would be for the Democrats to gain control of both the Senate and the House, and a moderate Republican (Saxton) or Independent (Westlund) to win the governorship (e.g. Saxton). This would force the creation of cross-party coalitions and have a governor who'd preach fiscal reform and a Democratic legislature that would prioritize human services and education. That being said, as a loyal Democrat, I'm likely to advocate for Kulongoski.

    In the City of Portland, I have high hopes for charter reform, resulting in an end to the commission style of government and a new city council elected by districts, so that the disempowered sections of the city (east of 205) would have a voice in City Hall.

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    Here is a link to the book if anyone is interested.


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