What If Oregon Elected Dennis Richardson?
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Yet to his great credit, and Oregon’s benefit, Dennis Richardson does not agree.
Political scientists tell us that we elect those who most closely represent our values and beliefs.
In other words, we tend to elect those that validate us.
Need proof? Think of Portland’s proud, center-left counterculture. Then think of Portland’s bowtie-clad, oversize-bike-lapel-pin wearing, recreational-marijuana advocating nine-term congressman, Earl Blumenauer.
Different in values and beliefs
Richardson’s biggest obstacle, insurmountable in-and-around Portland, is that he is different. Different in values and beliefs than the majority of voters who call Portland home. Or, put a little differently, Earl Blumenauer and Dennis Richardson may be from the same state, but they are from totally different planets. And on his planet, Earl always wins re-election in a landslide.
Richardson is a Mormon family man from the Medford area. An attorney and accomplished state legislator, he’s also a Vietnam vet. Like so many other veterans, Richardson paid a permanent price for his service. In his case, insulin-dependent diabetes caused by wartime exposure to Agent Orange. Richardson does not wear his affliction on his sleeve (though he does wear an insulin pump on his belt).
And as the underdog in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982, personal discipline is everything. Discipline to log the hard miles and speak to groups throughout Oregon’s every nook and cranny. Discipline to make the difficult phone calls, hour after hour, asking for money and support. The discipline to remain a happy warrior in the face of low electoral expectations and overwhelming odds.
Yet history and politics are entertaining because they provide an endless supply of “what if's?” beautifully unconstrained by electoral reality.
For example, what if Oregon had elected a Republican governor at some point during the last three decades? What if? Would we have the same mediocre public-school performance that we see today? The same PERS unsustainability? The same tepid economic growth and chronically high unemployment? The same deterioration in support for higher education?
What if Richardson was elected governor?
What if Dennis Richardson actually was elected governor? And since that is unlikely, what if he were somehow governor for just a day? You know, like in some alternate reality Star Trek episode?
Based on his legislative record over the last decade, it’s easy to imagine a one-day Richardson administration. That day would likely begin with calls to open more Asian markets for Oregon’s exports. Then with the phone still warm, he would probably demand the resignation of every agency head and political appointee in state government – and begin filling those jobs with people who had previously demonstrated managerial excellence. Then to finish his day, he would likely propose a legislative agenda designed to improve Oregon’s schools, protect Oregon’s taxpayers, utilize Oregon’s resources, and create new Oregon jobs.
But this is Oregon, not Star Trek. And barring malfeasance – because actual nonfeasance has proven for him not to be much of an electoral problem – Kitzhaber will likely win. There will be no day with Dennis. Just another 1,460 with John.
Kitzhaber will win because he best reflects our prevailing values and beliefs, after all. As a candidate or a governor, Dennis Richardson will never validate us. He won’t, he can’t, because to do so would be to validate Oregon’s current state of public affairs, which in turn means validating mediocrity.
Instead of validating us, Richardson is running to challenge us.
Like any effective mentor, teacher or colleague, and unlike those we usually elect in Oregon, Richardson’s real purpose is to push us to be something better than we otherwise would be.
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