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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: A Political Pep Talk

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Don't Shoot the MessengerTwelve years ago, I ran for public office. I was a candidate for Portland’s mayor.

The campaign started with a cheeky column that I wrote for the Portland Mercury, a newspaper that I had helped launch four years earlier and for which I served as the Managing Editor. More than anything, I started my campaign to draw attention to local politics and local issues, and to contest a two-time city councilmember who had raised $1 million and who, I thought, respected big business interests more than regular citizen concerns, and also entered the race to contest the other leading candidate, a retired police chief who I believed had not done enough for police accountability.

Yet, in spite of entering the race more as a publicity stunt, my interests quickly matured into something much more sincere and earnest. About a week after I announced my candidacy, I was contacted by several young web designers who told me they wanted to help manage my campaign. They were concerned that their civic interests—about environmental protections, about affordable housing—were not being considered. It was an earnest and inspiring request, and I quickly turned my campaign into something serious and spent six months attending debates, hosting rallies and listening to residents.  

Ultimately, I did not win the mayor office. But, outspent $1 million to $11,000 and out of 26 candidates, I did place third with a sizable representation of the city’s population supporting our campaign, and we managed to use the campaign to raise issues about police accountability, environmental issues and housing concerns.  

More broadly, I had begun the campaign somewhat cynical about politics and elected officials, but ended the campaign optimistic and impressed. Even the candidates with whom I most disagreed, I can sincerely say that I respected them, as they showed up to dozens of evening citizen forums and spent countless hours pounding the pavement and front doors.

After my campaign, a local newspaper published an “exit interview” with me. “Every one should run for public office at least once in their lives. It was a great experience,” I told the reporter. “I started because I was frustrated with local government; I finished optimistic about the opportunities for changes.”

That sentiment was true then, and it is true for me to this day. I do believe that everyone should run for public office at least once, or at least help support a campaign—and, in particular, a local campaign. It is a crash-course in what is important in your city or community. Moreover, compared to a national campaign, your involvement is not a mere grain of sand in a massive beach, but is an enormous boulder thundering down the hill. While some city council races in southern Oregon are decided by dozens or hundreds of votes, your involvement truly can make the difference in educating your neighbors about what is important in the current races, and motivating them to cast a ballot.

Over the three months, there will be round-the-clock hair-splitting analysis about what Trump said and about what Clinton did not say. But there are also important local races—for city council, for country seats, for state representatives—and the Messenger plans to cover these races by publishing as many Q&A with candidates that we can. We want to provide an unfiltered look at your candidates, and to help provide you information to make a smart choice for who should represent you at city council and in Salem. (A relatively recent study found that the majority of under-35 year olds cannot name their mayor, although the majority, sixty-four percent, of that same group could name the latest American Idol winner We don’t want those to be our readers.)

I really don’t care how you vote, as long as your vote is sincere and informed; and, more so, we also urge each of our readers to go out and help with a local or regional political campaign. Find a candidate you believe in for your city council, or for county commission, or House representative, and help host forums or deliver lawn signs.

Local politics should not be passive. Get involved!

 

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