Is "experience" all that counts?

By George Karnezis of Portland, Oregon. George describes himself as a "semi-retired teacher, parent, reader, rhetorician trying to cope with infected discourse." Previously, he contributed Running for the Money.

A cliché resounds currently in many political endorsements: we are assured that an incumbent’s “experience” outweighs the relative inexperience of the challenger. If we adhered strictly to this logic, there would never be a reason to elect a challenger, so this claim doesn’t help very much to explain the reasons for an endorsement. It is usually followed by vague descriptions of the candidate’s accomplishments and how, for instance, if we elected Rob Brading over Karen Minnis, we’d be sacrificing, according to the recent shallow endorsement by the Gresham Outlook, knowledge that would take 20 years to obtain.

On the surface, that seems a pretty compelling argument. But thoughtful voters understand how mindless such endorsements are.

First, the assumption that political or legislative experience can be obtained only within the walls of the legislature is questionable. While some experience can be gained only that way, it is equally true that experience in other arenas can serve a new legislator well. People need to see beyond this cliché and examine the full range of a candidate’s experience relevant to his or her legislative role. Similarly, candidates need to make a case for the relevance of this experience and its value for the office they seek. Newspaper endorsements discourage this sort of discussion by urging us to think of experience in terms of duration instead of quality.

In the case of Rob Brading, an excellent case can be made that his record of civic engagement reveals an experience that brings people together despite their differences. It is unfair of the press endorsements to ignore such a record of “experience” as if it didn’t count.

Second, a case might be made that experience in a position, while theoretically beneficial, may actually corrode the performance and character of the legislator. Karen Minnis’s “experience” in the legislature needs to be carefully scrutinized. Once that is done, we must note her experience in unilaterally obstructing discussion of bipartisan sponsored legislation, her winning of enormous contributions from large corporations, her indifference to sleazy campaign tactics, her honoring of the wishes of pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, and her contempt for fostering increased access to state government. Thus in Minnis’s case, experience can be narrowing , not broadening, shrinking her vision of what matters and focusing the attention on exclusive special interests instead of what’s best for all Oregonians.

Third, since “experience” can be corrosive, relative inexperience can have its advantages. Something may be said for innocent “outsiders” seeking political office. Their lack of immersion in the political process may be a virtue. They can raise questions others may not have thought of as yet, or have a fresh take on matters that invite new thinking. (The film version of this insight, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, is a good reference here.)

Conservatives have traditionally run against government and its supposedly infectious influence. But when they become the government, they suddenly claim immunity from its evils. Regrettably, they show us how truly inept government can be in the hands of “leaders” like Karen Minnis or George Bush. An alternative and less cynical view is a hope Rob Brading holds out, namely, that the current distrust of State government can be remedied by changed leadership and a realistic faith that, far from being the enemy, government can represent, as Lincoln put it, “the better angels of our nature.” That sort of faith-based government is something we all need to believe in if we are to experience something beyond the self-serving Minnis “experience” that these simple-minded endorsements wrongly credit.

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    Its not just the Gresham Outlook that put up this shallow endorsement. Its also the Portland Tribune.

    The exact same endorsement. Word for word.

    Both are owned by the same publisher--who gives shitloads of cash to Minnis.

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    "Both are owned by the same publisher--who gives shitloads of cash to Minnis."

    Leading one to the inevitable conclusion that "experience" in this case is a euphemism and not to be taken literally.

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    Isn't "experience" the main thing we lose with term limits? Don't I keep hearing how this lack of experience made term limits such a disaster in Salem?

    Just asking...

  • Ed Bickford (unverified)

    Experience is not desirable if it is garnered in subversion of democratic process. That's what I saw at work in the last session of the House under Minnis' stewardship.

    We need Representatives that will foster a real working relationship with with us middle-class constituents. The forging of such a network into an effective proponent of our rights as citizens will take time, and will have little hope if we can't keep a friendly advocate in place long enough to gain the standing to be trusted to wield power in our name. It would be the epitome of cynicism to make the assumption that such a working relationship cannot happen. You would simply condemn democracy, which I will not.

    Our Legislature meets for a few months every two years; it's going to take time for legislators make headway against the damage that's been done there.

  • Joe12Pack (unverified)

    Speaking of endorsements, read it and weep:

  • Jefferson Smith (unverified)

    Good thoughts George.

  • Don Saxton (unverified)

    I wish I had stayed living in the district Rob Brading is trying to represent. Another term with Minnis is going to be a really sad time for Oregon.

  • LT (unverified)

    Joe 12, are you talking about the Oregonian's "leap of faith" endorsement of Saxton, or their endorsement of Brading?

    If Saxton opens the Oregonian tomorrow and sees both endorsements, maybe it will finally sink in that the legislature does have a role in our state government.

    What if Saxton and Brading both win? What if Saxton faces a D legislature? Would you enjoy watching that? What if there are enough Dems for veto overrride?

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    I was reading my voters pamphlet this evening, and a comment from Paul Romain struck a familiar refrain:

    "During much of the 1990s Salem was a revolving door of freshman legislators who quickly dug themselves into partisan ditches with no way to build bridges, broker compromises or solve problems."

    There by the bedside, my League of Women Voters mailing:

    "...The result for much of the 1990s was a revolving door of freshman legislators who quickly dug themselves into partisan ditches with no way to build bridges that brokered compromises or solved problems."

    At least the League of Women Voters gives credit for the line to the Corvallis Gazette Times. Paul Romain, speaking as Executive Director, Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors, doesn't. Gotta wonder where the ball started on this one where we're criticizing "partisan ditches" (no!) and our inability to "broker compromises" (Mon Dieu!)

    Can it be that Mr. Romain can only take so many legislators to Maui each session?

    I try not to be too cynical in my musings, but when the Oregon Restaurant Association , Associated General Contractors, Oregon Assocation of REALTORS (their caps and trademark logo) and Oregon Health Care Association join together to "fight against powerful special interests...(and not) give more power to bureaucrats and those who can afford high priced lobbyists," why do I feel like I've fallen down the hole into Alice in Wonderful?

    Paul Romain arguing against the power of lobbyists being enhanced by term limits? Give me a break...

    And the miserable dismal legislative sessions caused by term limits...unlike those progressive, productive sessions we've been through since term limts were tossed?

    I'd be w-a-y more impressed with the arguments against term limits, and the awful power it gives lobbyists, if the folks making those arguments weren't lined up taking money from those lobbyists.

  • Stan Pdgorny (unverified)

    Bein' an old codger an' remem'brin the days when bein' a true stat'smen was more impot'nt than what party owned you, I can say that yes, 'xperience is impot'nt.

    Slick poly-wonk consultin' folk from back east and term limits kinda killed all that, makin' 'lected folk beholdin' to party elite an' special int'rests.

    'xperience means nothin' when eleph'nts lie and dems won't grow a spine.

    First one with guts to tell it like it is an lead like a stat'smen gets my vote. Sump'n Re-pubs can't do and Dems won't.

    It'll be a mighty lonely ballot.

  • George Karnezis (unverified)

    Response to Dufay:

    As I see it, the problem with term limits is that it frees us ofthe challenge of judging experience and prejudges, on the crude basis of a limited term, that the experience must be stopped because it yields only negatives. This argument strikes me as quite silly and presumptuous. The point of my article is that we should judge experience on the base of its quality, not on its duration. We should never assume that experience in the legislature always leads to wisdom; nor should we assume that some arbitrary limit will mean that someone without "experience" will automatically make things better. Depending on the individuals running, we should, by all means, weigh their experience both in and out of government. We should not automatically dismiss or praise a person's experience on the basis of where it took place.

    Again, I would argue against term limits because when it takes even one fine legislator, from any party, out of the contest, it diminishes the quality of government. It automatically presumes that voters are not smart enough to judge candidates, and that as such they must be wrong in believing that someone seeking a third term can contribute anything positive. That seems unfair to me as a voter and presume I'm just not smart enough to judge a candidate's qualifications; instead I need this term limit rule to make my decision-making easier. In short, term limits are needlessly suspicious and patronizing.

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    I would argue against term limits because when it takes even one fine legislator, from any party, out of the contest, it diminishes the quality of government...

    But there's multiple "contests". It's why folks run for the House, run for the Senate, run for City Council, run for Mayor.

    Nobody's arguing once you serve a term you're banished to your kitchen to bake cookies.

    I am arguing, however, that "term limits" are what may keep King George from becomming permanent dictator George...and that ain't a bad thing at all, is it?

    How long are we gonna suffer the likes of the Minnis clan, and how expensive are seats in our fine legislature gonna get?

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