Dave Lister: 10 Years of Politics

Looking back
By Dave Lister
Catch all of Dave Lister’s articles from BrainstormNW

Ten years ago, I couldn’t have cared less about politics. I was a registered Republican and I always voted, but I couldn’t have named any of Portland’s city commissioners and I couldn’t have told you anything about the structure of Multnomah County’s government. I’d spent the last couple of years being taught to fly by the then 80-year-old local aviation legend Wally Olson in a fabric-covered Taylorcraft he’d bought new 50 years before. I had just bought my very first airplane, a 1959 Cessna. I was spending my weekends flying and my weekday evenings buffing and polishing the beautiful machine.

My business was booming. My business partner and I were busily engaged in upgrading our clients’ software to be ready for the year 2000 rollover. We had all the work we could handle and were in fact turning down some jobs. Even though I continued to defer my lifetime dream of becoming a published writer, life was good and the future looked even better.

Little did I know that a small group of hard working visionaries were beginning to raise the alarm that my rosy future was in jeopardy “” visionaries who could see that single party rule, an uncompetitive business climate, and a utopian system of land use planning meant big trouble ahead. Trouble for the state, trouble for Portland, trouble for business, and trouble for me.

Those visionaries were the founders of BrainstormNW.

It would actually be a few more years before I discovered BNW. I first became politically active in the wake of Portland’s water billing fiasco. Because my business partner and I had designed a myriad of computerized billing systems, we couldn’t believe the wasteful bungling that sent the new system down the toilet and cost ratepayers countless millions. When, in December 2002, I read that the Water Bureau had been handed off to Commissioner Dan Saltzman, I knew it was time to act. I was determined to convince the city that the problem could be solved without spending millions more.

After a succession of communications culminating in a meeting with Saltzman, his staff and the consultant who had been hired to assist in making a new software selection, I realized that my warnings were being ignored; the city was about to repeat the same mistake.

“I’m declaring war on City Hall,” I told my staff when I returned from downtown.

My political activism took off like a Fourth of July skyrocket. I became involved in the Taxpayers Association of Oregon. I tuned in to local radio talk shows to stay informed on the goings on in City Hall. I scoured the Oregonian and Portland Tribune for the slightest bits of news from downtown. Most importantly, I wrote a feature length essay about my experience with the Water Bureau. I felt it was worthy of publication.

The question was, who would publish it?

A few months prior, I’d been looking into the story of Columbia Sportswear’s departure from Portland. I’d emailed Lars Larson to ask where I could get more information. He suggested BrainstormNW. I went to their website and located Jim Pasero’s excellent analysis, “Vera’s Portland, the City that Shrinks.” I was pretty sure BrainstormNW was the right vehicle for my story.

The last time I was as nervous as I was meeting with Jim Pasero to submit my article was my FAA check ride. I watched his countenance carefully as he read, taking note of the occasional raised eyebrow or subdued smile.

“Well,” Pasero said, “you might need to flesh it out with a few more facts.” He went on to explain that he would pass it on to the editor, Bridget Barton.

Pasero called the next day.

“Our editor loved it,” he said. “We’re going to run it as our feature in the July issue.”

What can I say? That was a lifelong goal achieved.

My newfound political activism combined with my previously suppressed Muse, and my writing became prolific. BrainstormNW began to publish most of it. On the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination they published my childhood recollection of having heard the news when we were in the school lunch line. On the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight, BrainstormNW published my essay about Wally Olson and the wonderful history of Evergreen airfield, where so many local pilots earned their wings. They even published Portland 2026, my fanciful look at life in Portland after 50 years of “smart growth.”

When I came up with the idea for a regular monthly column called the Eastside Guy, Pasero and Barton were encouraging.

“Write one, and we’ll take a look at it,” Barton told me.

In September 2004, the Eastside Guy appeared in BrainstormNW for the first time. The piece was entitled “A Pair to Draw to,” a sarcastic analysis of the Francesconi/Potter Portland mayoral election.

As the Eastside Guy, I’ve had the opportunity to interview many local politicians with some pretty humorous results.

Randy Leonard told me in an interview that Portland’s police pension system is not unfunded, but rather “funded by the value of all the property in the city of Portland, which only continues to appreciate.”

Diane Linn said on the record that the cost of the first county income tax west of the Rockies was a mere “latte a day.”

And Mayor Potter told me directly that changing Portland’s election financing system without a vote was entirely proper because “most of my constituents are for it.”

Three years ago, when I started penning the column, my biggest worry was that I would run out of things to write about. Turns out the antics of the folks in city hall provide enough material to write scores of columns.

I did the voice on a recent BNW radio ad. The ad reads, in part, as follows:

Hi, I’m Dave Lister. You might know me as the Eastside Guy in BrainstormNW magazine, the only Oregon magazine that challenges the status quo. BrainstormNW has the guts to support voter-approved Measure 37. BrainstormNW promoted charter schools and openly criticized the now defunct CIM-CAM plan, and they’ve exposed the flaws in Oregon’s transportation plan. There’s more to the story than what you read in the daily paper. Get the whole story.

Back when I was in high school, we used to pick up copies of the alternative newspapers and revel in being anti-establishment. Isn’t it ironic that now, nearly 40 years later, I’m writing for the lone remaining anti-establishment publication in the state?

The establishment in Oregon is non-competitive. The establishment in Oregon clings to a misguided system of centralized land use planning. The establishment in Oregon allows the unprecedented power of public employee unions to dictate policy. The establishment in Oregon is okay with a mediocre education system.

BrainstormNW advocates for global competitiveness and land use reform. BrainstormNW exposes union supported efforts to influence Salem and has put forward solid solutions for our education system.

BrainstormNW is not happy with the status quo.

The next time you’re reading BrainstormNW, I’d recommend you imagine yourself back in the day, sitting in a circle on the campus lawn with the alternative weekly complaining about “the man,” because being anti-establishment is a lot of fun. And because, more importantly, BrainstormNW is the last strong anti-establishment voice we have.

But what the heck do I know? I’m just an Eastside Guy.

Catch all of Dave Lister’s articles from BrainstormNW