My advice to Republican candidates
By State Senator Jason Atkinson
The Oregonian, April 1, 2010
“You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”
It’s funny. More often than not I think of Democrat Will Rogers’ homey wisdom when Oregon Republicans running for office ask my advice these days. Here’s what I tell them.Foremost, be a statesman. Want the best policies for Oregon regardless of who gets the credit. Real government leadership takes place on the 85 percent of issues that reoccur regardless of what party is in charge. I highly value my friendship with Democrat Peter Courtney. Together we’ve accomplished a lot. In fact, some of my closest personal friends in politics are from across the aisle. I’m not suggesting compromising core Republican values on limited government or taxation just to get something done. Just remember that politics is a people business. The biggest issue in the next election is jobs. There are few incentives to take business risk in Oregon. Oregon’s tax structure is antiquated and punishes success. A candidate’s challenge is to turn Oregon’s business climate around. Face it, Measures 66 and 67 are law, and the unemployment lines are still long. Those are the cards you’re dealt, so stick your chin out and lead.
Have a full understanding of the education budgeting process. Champion education funding first; force the Legislature to pass the education budget within 81 days of the start of the session, and invest in higher education. Why wait till the end to pass the bill everyone campaigns on as a priority?
Don’t be afraid of environmental issues. There is a balance for natural resources and conservation. The Willamette River is Oregon’s river, and we all need to be part of the solution. Timber communities are hurting and yet timber workers are sportsmen. Like a lot of Oregonians, I fish and I vote.
Make constituent service your top priority if you get elected. Getting your name in the paper is great, but helping in adoption cases, irrigation cases, issues facing our seniors, and the difficult mental health cases is the job. There are no credits for standing up for the little guy or the single mother, but trust me the satisfaction of public service is being stopped in the grocery store and thanked by someone who thought government forgot them.
Do the hard work of campaigning: Knock on doors and be reachable. Wear out at least one pair of shoes, preferably from an Oregon company, and get to know the people you want to represent. Understand Oregonians don’t always have to agree with you, but they have to respect you and your work ethic.
Above all, listen. People are tired of being talked down to, having their fears played on by cheap sound bites, and being told it’s someone else’s fault. Leadership is taking responsibility and improving Oregon by giving credit away. Your consultants will tell you to push emotional buttons and appeal to raw nerves. That’s bad advice, and it assumes people can be duped. Oregonians are smart. They know the difference between bull and steak. Republican candidates need to provide real ideas and real solutions.
Lastly, don’t rip apart the institution you are trying to get elected to. We can’t restore honor to public service by tearing down its pillars and history. Walk daily through the rotunda of either our Capitol or the U.S. Congress. The day it doesn’t humble you and put a lump in your throat, retire. Lead as if today is your last. Take it from me, it might be.
Jason Atkinson, a Republican, represents Central Point in the Oregon Senate.