by W. Scott Jorgensen
I celebrated my 30th birthday just over three years ago.
It was May 2010, and life was pretty good at the time. I was helping to run a weekly newspaper with one of my best friends, hosting a live, weekly call-in radio show in my home town of Grants Pass, and happily married with children.
I had other reasons to be optimistic about the future. My friend Wally Hicks was running unopposed for the Republican nomination for Oregon House District 3. Another friend, Simon Hare, was among those running for Josephine County Commissioner. Both were in their early 30s.
My birthday fell on a Saturday that year, so I went out to celebrate with a bunch of my friends.
But at one point, I looked around the table and realized that I was the only one that had a job.
It wasn’t that my friends were losers. Far from it. In fact, many had gone to college, been gainfully employed for years and had outstanding work ethics.
They didn’t have a lot to work with, though, as the Great Recession was hitting Southern Oregon hard.
Unemployment had been in double digits for quite some time, with no end in sight. The newspaper I worked at had been getting by with the help of foreclosure notices. My own mother lost her home in Grants Pass to foreclosure that year.
Up until then, I had yet to directly feel the effects of the Great Recession. That all changed in a hurry.
The newspaper I worked at had been for sale for years. Its owner, a good friend of mine, had retired and moved to Wyoming. Then he sold it to this guy from Washington. His first official act as publisher was to relief my friend of her duties as editor in chief. My stint at the paper wrapped up a month later.
Because of all this, we decided to leave Grants Pass and move to the Portland area. And that’s what we did a few days before the November 2010 election.
I was in Vancouver, Washington that night and realized that Jaime Herrera Beutler had just been elected to represent me in the United States Congress. She was also the only Republican to pick up a Congressional seat on the entire West Coast, even though that party did very well that night everywhere else in the country. Like my friends Wally and Simon, Jaime was in her early 30s.
That same night, back in Grants Pass, Wally was elected state representative with nearly 80 percent of the vote and Simon knocked off an incumbent to become county commissioner.
As the beginning of 2011 emerged, I felt pretty good about the future. But that turned into fear and anxiety after months of job searching turned up very little, aside from a collection of rejection letters. My 31st birthday, consequentially, involved more mourning than any kind of a celebration.
I fell into a deep depression that summer. It was right around then that a friend of mine suggested that we start a band. After all, I had nothing better to do.
In my teenage years and in my early twenties, I had been in any number of bands, with names like Suicide Squirrel and Drunken Public. Life had gotten in the way, though, and I hadn’t played regularly in years.
We started jamming, and I started to remember what a great release music is. I suddenly had an outlet for my angst, and had an excuse to jump up and scream.
I spent part of 2011 working odd jobs, doing whatever I could to keep the lights on.
But things started to get better in 2012.
In February, I was hired to report on the education and health care committees during the month-long legislative session in Salem. This got me back in circulation and gave me a reason to hang out at the capitol again.
It also meant that I could afford to go to the annual Dorchester Conference in the coastal town of Seaside. One of the keynote speakers that year was Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock. He has the distinction of being the first member of Congress ever born in the 1980s.
A few days later, I was back at the capitol for filing day. That’s where I met Jacob Daniels on the House floor.
Jacob was running for a legislative seat near his home town of Creswell. He had a piece of literature in his hands that day with a familiar phrase: A New Generation of Leadership. The phrase was familiar to me, as it had been the theme of the farewell address I gave the day before leaving Grants Pass.
I also got to cover the contested legislative primary races last year. Almost half of them included candidates between the ages of 21 and 36. Half were Republicans and half were Democrats.
These races were spread all throughout Oregon, everywhere from Portland to the suburbs and even Eastern Oregon. I got to talk to these candidates and tell them about each other and about Simon, Wally, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Aaron Schock.
The 2012 primary election coincided with my 32nd birthday. I spent it at an election night party, where I got to see all but one of the young people running in those primaries lose their races.
Towards the end of that summer, I became a field organizer for a statewide ballot measure campaign. This took me literally all over Oregon.
In my travels, I got to meet more young people who were running for office. I met Medford City Councilor Eli Matthews, who was in his late 20s. My friend Matt Rowe, who was 26, decided to run for mayor of his home town of Coquille. Back in Vancouver, 26-year-old Brandon Vick decided to run for a seat in the Washington legislature.
Jacob Daniels was appointed to a city council seat in his home town of Creswell. And 29-year-old John Davis was running for state representative in my new home town of Wilsonville.
During one campaign swing through Coquille, I got to see Matt Rowe interact with younger people thrilled at the prospect of someone their age becoming mayor. The next time I came through town, I saw him at a town hall meeting, explaining his vision for the town’s future to people twice his age.
Matt and every single one of these young candidates won their races in the November 2012 election. All of the young people I knew about who were already in office were re-elected.
It was a clean sweep, just like it had been in 2010. Those two elections had drastically different results, with Republicans dominating in 2010 and Democrats winning in 2012. But the one commonality is that both elections saw every young person I knew who was running for office win.
The campaign I worked on was also successful, which helped land me in my current position of deputy communications director for the Oregon House Republican Office.
In that role, I got to sit in caucus meetings with Wally and John Davis. And I couldn’t help but think about how lucky we are to be able to participate in this process, not as voices shouting outside the gates, but as people with a seat at the table.
We are witnessing a peaceful transition of power between generations, and it’s only just beginning.
I celebrated my 33rd birthday in May 2013, feeling better about the future than ever before.
My experience provided me with enough material for a book, which has now been released by Carlton-based Ridenbaugh Press. Transition is available at http://www.ridenbaugh.com/index.php/ridenbaugh-book-store/transition/ or at www.amazon.com.
For more information, go to: https://www.facebook.com/TransitionMovingIntoLeadershipInHardTimes.
W. Scott Jorgensen has reported on local and state government for various Oregon publications, and was a news director and talk show host for the Grants Pass Broadcasting Corporation. He is the deputy communications director for the Oregon House Republican Office, and lives in Wilsonville with his wife and children.