As we put out this Best of Central Oregon issue this week, we like to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. It's easy to get lost in the entrenched pessimism that is the mood of the day, while all around us there are ideas and solutions that simply need time to play out.
This past week's governor's debate between the Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated candidates in the race was something of a window into the moment we find ourselves living in. With Gov. Kate Brown term-limited, there is no incumbent in this race, giving each candidate an opportunity to talk endlessly about how bad things are in Oregon. Housing shortages are putting families on the streets. Inflation is stretching budgets. Forest fires represent an existential threat. Crime is out of control. (In fact, a recent analysis by OPB found that only in Portland were crime rates up.) And so on.
It's ironic to hear this from any of the three candidates, because in all of them—Republican Christine Drazan, Democrat Tina Kotek and former Democrat-turned-independent candidate Betsy Johnson—we have leaders who have recently served in the very same legislature that has had the opportunity to tackle some of these problems. Of course, Drazan will argue that her minority status has meant none of her ideas have seen the light of day. Johnson can waffle between her record in the legislature while also distancing herself from the foibles of either party. Kotek argues that she's been incredibly effective in solving issues around housing.
And on that last point we arrive at what is perhaps the most challenging part about politics and the effort to improve the lot of people's lives in Oregon: it takes time. Kotek's leadership in converting motels into shelters and in altering the rules around single-family zoning may very well have the intended effect of getting more people housed, but that effect will not truly be felt until far after this election season—and heck, even after the two terms she could very well serve.
We want our leaders to be effective, and we want it now. That's just the nature of the busy, over-stimulated society we live in. Still, good ideas are complex. Great ideas require good planning and public input and adequate funding and the ability to jump through the regulatory hoops put in place to protect people's health and safety. Reading about the houselessness crisis on NextDoor, for example, can lead one to believe that Bend is a hellscape from which there is no point of return. Meanwhile, local leaders—often vilified and overgeneralized on social media—are plodding through the plans necessary to create long-term solutions. The Bend City Council recently received criticism for rolling out a plan on how to clear unsanctioned camps. Before doing so, there was no plan at all. Which one would locals rather have: a plan intended to plod through the steps necessary to clear camps to get people off the streets all together, or anarchy where, in a town where housing prices have nearly doubled in two years, the "free market" sets a more inhumane path?
The same city councilors who are making this plan will undoubtedly catch hell from some for doing so—but they know that doing something, creating a plan and seeing it forward, may also see them lose the next election. And yet they do it anyway—because really, the most admirable politicians should be those who put their heads down and do the work that needs to be done, regardless of how it plays for their next campaign.
We have lots of hope for how our region can be better and can better serve the many people who need help. Much of it, though, comes down to being able to spend the time it takes to understand complex issues. Good ideas are out there—but a surface-level understanding can lead to surface-level depression about the state of the world. Dig in and find the layers. Give things time to play out.