I'd like to thank Senator Atkinson for taking time out of his busy schedule for this. I'd also like to thank him for snapping this nice shot of the three of us.
Because Atkinson is running a different kind of campaign. He is reaching out to alternative media and reaching out to the many concerned voters who feel disenfranchised by the status quo. He wanted to meet bloggers. What other candidate out there is willing to give people like me the time of day? And what can a person like me do in return?
Well, for starters, I can reach an average of 3,000-5,000 readers every week, about half of them in Oregon. And I can do it without costing the Senator a dime. This is a first step towards the future of political campaigning, and Senator Atkinson gets it. As he said to us today, this meeting was a moment in history.
So what did the three of us get out of this meeting?
Well, in a nutshell, I gained confidence that Jason Atkinson is the right man to run Oregon.
Before this meeting, I was already endorsing Jason Atkinson for Governor, but not because I believed he was the right man. Instead, I voiced my support for him here on this blog because I thought he was the better man: better than Kulongoski, Mannix, or Saxton. Kulongoski is running this State into the dirt; he has to go. Mannix can't beat Kulongoski. Mannix lost before, and has done nothing in three years to improve his chances this time. Plus, he has alienated many Republicans with his harsh rhetoric. Saxton is rather liberal, so much so he isn't that much different from the incumbent. Given these choices, Atkinson seemed the obvious choice.
But now I am willing to go much further. Atkinson shows a tremendous amount of insight into the issues that matter most. What's more, he looks and sounds like a leader. Kulongoski came into office with an impeccable resume: Marine Corps, laborer, law school, State Representative, State Senator, Insurance Commissioner, Attorney General, State Supreme Court... but he never came across as a leader. His inability to take charge has earned him the nickname "Sleepy Ted" on talk radio.
Atkinson looks inferior on paper. Sure, he has an M.B.A. Sure, he has solid legislative experience. But how can he expect to run against someone with a resume like Ted Kulongoski, especially now that Ted has the advantage of incumbency? Simple:
When I hear Kulongoski talk about solving problems, I hear someone reacting to a problem in bureaucratic fashion. Talking with Atkinson, it is clear that he wants to solve problems rather than simply repair the damage they cause. I think this is the difference between a J.D. and an M.B.A. mentality (and remember, this is coming from the J.D. candidate here):
Lawyers are in the business of getting an injured party a remedy after they have been injured. They react.
Business leaders can't afford to let problems occur first and solve them later. Business go out of business if they follow this model. While the J.D. waits for the injury to occur, the M.B.A. must predict what will go wrong and stop it before it happens, otherwise businesses fail.
Think about George W. Bush and his M.B.A. in comparison with Bill Clinton and his J.D.
Atkinson simply has a commanding presence. He's tall. He's energetic. He's charismatic. I talk with him for a few minutes, and I am already convinced that he is going to fix problems before they occur.
That's the first impression. After that, we went on to talk about his campaign.
Senator Atkinson promises to deliver a campaign never before seen in Oregon. There will be a huge grassroots volunteer effort. He is more interested in getting small donations from many volunteers than large donations from a few wealthy elite or special interests. As he put it, every person who donates even a small amount of money translates into ten votes. There will be an innovative internet campaign, with a new website launching very soon. He also told me to keep an eye on my mailbox in the coming months for campaign mailing that have to be seen (and felt) to be believed. I have no idea what this will be. But it's got me curious, and eager. He is going to utilize every medium instead of relying on the traditional television/newspaper approach. And that's where Sailor and I come in.
And it won't stop with us. He threw this meeting together on extremely short notice, and his schedule only allowed a meeting in the middle of a work day. Naturally, only college students like Sailor and me could make it. But he is anxious to meet more bloggers, and is planning a larger get together soon, on a weekend, when many more of us will be able to attend. And he has pledged to continue meeting with bloggers as the campaign goes on.
We spent about 20 minutes talking about nothing but blogs and their role in the election. He seemed as eager to learn from us as we were to interrogate him. And he drove home what he hopes will be another big difference between his campaign and those of his opponents and predecessors: credit. He was quick to give credit to the people working for him, and vowed to always give credit to everyone who helps him. He made it clear that he doesn't like seeing politicians stand up and take all the credit for a team effort. I think this is wise: the better you treat the people who help you, the more they help you; the more they help you, the more successful you are.
This sounds like a key to winning, and it's a key we rarely see in politics from either side of the aisle.
Another strategy he will employ is a radical departure from traditional politics. Usually, a candidate panders to the far-right base in the primary, then shifts to the moderate center in the general election. Atkinson is planning on a consistent approach. He plans on putting forth his core principles on the issues, and then sticking with them. Only time will tell if he follows through, or how it will work. But I think it's a winning plan. In the last Presidential election, Bush had one consistent message. His opponent (who served in Vietnam) had a plan. But the plan changed daily. By the time ballots were cast, no one really knew which plan (if any) Kerry would implement. I think that, more than anything, cost Kerry the election.
And on that note, we moved the conversation over to issues...
When I first contacted Senator Atkinson by e-mail to talk about his platform, I had several hot topics in mind. But that was before recent events. So for my first question, I put my pre-prepared questions aside and went right for the hottest topic: disaster relief.
I asked him what he would do as Governor to ensure that, should Oregon face a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, Oregonians would be safe. I specifically mentioned three possibilities, given our geography: earthquake, volcanic activity, and tsunami. He replied that there were two very important scenarios that I hadn't mentioned: wild fires and terror attacks.
You know, I honestly hadn't thought about the fires. But as he mentioned, fires cause more damage in Oregon than all other natural phenomena, and the possibility of a huge fire spreading out of control and into a populated area is a very real concern. This impressed me; it showed that he had already thought about what challenges he might face.
Terror attacks are also a very real concern. I certainly appreciated them; I simply hadn't included them as I was focused on "natural" disasters. I would have discussed terror separately. But he clearly showed that he was thinking in line with our Commander-in-Chief and not the peaceniks in denial about national security. He mentioned the problems we have already had, with terror cells being found in Oregon, and the possibility of an attack on Portland. He threw a nice jab at Portland's Mayor and his inability to play nice with the Department of Homeland Security. (On a side note: this was one of the only negative things he had to say about anyone in office. He made it clear that he wants to win by being the better candidate, not by slinging the most mud. He also said he believes in the Eleventh Commandment and will not speak ill of his Republican Primary opponents.)
Atkinson said the most important tool for responding to a disaster once it occurs is the effective use of the National Guard. It may sound like a stock answer, but consider what went wrong in New Orleans: if the local governments there had been on the ball and used their National Guard properly early on, what might have been different?
I said before and will say again, I think Atkinson has the qualities of a leader. Any bureaucrat can put together a plan for the effective deployment of the National Guard. But only a leader can make the quick decision to implement the plan and then see that it is carried out quickly and effectively. Thousands are dead in New Orleans because their leadership didn't carry out its own plan.
With Homeland Security out there, we shifted the conversation to the issue I think most of you readers are dying to hear about:
When asked about the problems with illegal immigration and how to solve them, Atkinson turned the tables and asked us three questions:
1) Do you think illegal aliens should be able to get drivers licenses and other identifying documents?
2) Do you think illegal aliens should be able to vote?
3) Do you think illegal aliens should have access to state programs like health care and such?
In all three cases, Sailor and I answered with a resounding NO!
After which, Atkinson said something to the effect of, "there you have it."
FINALLY, we have a politician who isn't afraid to state the obvious about a problem that transcends political parties (and political correctness).
So I asked him about the role of state government and its relation to the federal government regarding immigration, and the practice of Oregon government agencies failing to cooperate with the feds. His response was that the problem seems to be one of the attitude of the executive. It may be "policy" that state workers don't interact with the INS, but that doesn't mean it has to be, nor does that make it "law." I get the impression that Governor Atkinson would issue some new directives to the officials under his command... I like that impression, and hope it is accurate.
One thing he mentioned about which I was unaware: various Oregon agencies that deal with aliens have had different policies depending on where the alien is from. For instance, in the highly publicized debacle about tuition rates for aliens, it turns out that aliens from certain countries were getting resident tuition, while aliens from other countries were not. He made it clear that this is a flawed system and that it needs to be consistent. I can't argue with that!
We turned to a general question about the economy. I think Atkinson's general economic views are still pretty much what they have been since his first campaign: limited government, limited taxes, limited regulations, unlimited economic growth. So I asked a more specific question:
I have a number of acquaintances living in the South Coast near Coos Bay. This region is economically depressed and getting worse. The local workforce has suffered greatly due to the stagnation of the timber industry. Meanwhile, wealthy Californians, coming North and buying land for McMansion vacation homes, are driving housing prices in the area to the point where homeowners can't pay their property taxes. What would Governor Atkinson do about that?
His answer came in three parts:
1) Relief from land use laws. Oregonians are regulated to death over how to use their land, and this kills economic growth in all areas of the state. Reforming land use laws would help all Oregonians, including the depressed South Coast.
2) TIMBER! We need to revitalize the timber industry. This will, of course, be a boon to the South Coast, which has always been dependent on timber jobs. But it would also have a trickle effect throughout the state. I took it to mean that A) money coming into the area via jobs would be spent, which would help all Oregon commerce; and B) more timber would mean cheaper and more available building materials, boosting construction everywhere. But we didn't get to an in-depth discussion of the timber industry, as we moved on to the third (and most interesting) point:
3) Improving consumer confidence in politics.
This one threw me for a loop. Not because it was obtuse or complex, but because it is such a simple truth that I can't imagine any other politician saying it.
Politicians promise everyone everything. But they don't deliver. When it comes to business, an investor makes decisions based on economic reality. One reality is that the laws of a state will affect business. Taxes, regulations, etc., must all be examined by an investor before he commits dollars. When the politicians make pledges to change the laws, investors listen. But if the investors have no confidence that the politicians will deliver on their promises, then they are reluctant to risk their capital. Jason Atkinson wants to improve consumer confidence in politics by telling the investors how the laws will change and then actually changing the laws as promised.
If an investor is told that a tax rate will be lowered or a regulation will be lifted, and if that promise is kept the investor will create jobs, then it is important that the promise is kept! If investors come to trust that politicians will make good, then it becomes more attractive to take risk.
This is brilliant!
Of course, it may be more than just a Governor can do. Assuming Atkinson is elected, he will still have to convince 31 Representatives and 16 Senators to follow along. But the Governor has plenty of power all on his own, thanks to the countless regulatory agencies under his command. So just having one Governor thinking along these lines will do wonders to improve investor confidence in Oregon.
Atkinson also mentioned that he has family in the logging industry in Coos Bay, so my targeted question is a personal one for him. Here, my ears perked up a lot.
Oregon is pretty close to a 50-50 state, with a slight edge to the democrats. And demographically, the split reflects urban vs. rural environments. Portland, Eugene, and the points in between along the Willamette River make up about half the state, and are predominantly liberal. The entire rest of the vast state has the remaining population spread thin; it is here that conservatives rule. But there is one anomalous zone, and that is the South Coast.
The South Coast has a lot of very rural residents. Many of them are very conservative in their social outlook. They own guns. They drive trucks. They go to Church. And a lot of people along the South Coast depend on logging for survival; tree huggers are not welcome! But the region tends to vote democrat. The State Representatives and State Senator from the area are democrats. The reason is simple: the labor unions associated with the timber industry are well entrenched within the democrat political machine.
I have said for years that if a Republican could identify with the unique nature of the South Coast, he would take one small voting block away from the democrats. With the balance as close as it is statewide, that one shift would turn a blue state RED.
Atkinson might be the man to do it. He has close personal connections with the area. And he wants jobs for the timber industry. And he has a record that is, for a Republican, surprisingly pro-union.
I can hear the right groaning now. "Not a union backer!" But bear with me...
Senator Atkinson sponsored and passed a bill that would have been a real benefit to unions in agriculture. Governor Kulongoski vetoed it.
Unions in general are not happy with Kulongoski.
So I asked Senator Atkinson if he thought he could chip away at the democrat stranglehold on unions. His answer piqued my interest:
Yes and no. Yes, he believes the time is right for Republicans to start winning over the rank and file members of various trade unions. Most trade laborers tend to have conservative beliefs and feel alienated by the increasingly liberal "Howard Dead" democrat party. But no, the other main type of union, the public employee unions, are too institutionally tied to the democrat party.
Of course, I have an "in" with SEIU who tells me that they are ready to bail on Kulongoski because of the way he has handled negotiations over this year's contract.
Maybe, just maybe, a perfect storm is brewing, a storm that could spell the end of big labor's impact on politics in Oregon. Maybe, just maybe, the union members will split up their vote instead of going majority democrat. Maybe.
I'm telling you all now: keep your eyes and ears on polling for the South Coast. If Atkinson wins the primary, the South Coast will determine the general election.
We then discussed education. And here, I have to tell you that I am bound to secrecy on a lot of what Senator Atkinson had to say. Education reform will be a major component of his campaign, but the timing isn't right to make major announcements. So he asked Sailor and I to keep that conversation under our hats for now. All I can say is: he knows his stuff about how education dollars are allocated and spent, and he wants to radically change the system.
More on that when he gives the word.
The final major topic of discussion was crime, and most of that centered around two words: Jessica's Law.
Senator Atkinson wants Jessica's Law to be a major campaign issue. I couldn't agree more. He was one of the sponsors of a Senate Bill that would have made Jessica's Law the law in Oregon. But even with enough votes in both Houses to pass the Bill, and even with the Governor claiming he supported the idea, the democrat Senate Majority Leader stymied the bill and the Governor rolled over and let it die.
Fans of Bill O'Reilly know that this is a very big deal for the outspoken news man.
So I suggested that Senator Atkinson contact The Factor. O'Reilly has featured Oregon's lack of meaningful laws to protect minors from predatory sex offenders on more than one show. I think if Atkinson called the show's producers, explained who he is and what he is doing, and how he tried to pass Jessica's Law, he would be invited on the show and made into a hero in front of a national audience.
I urge all you readers to contact The Factor and suggest just that.
One comment Atkinson made towards the end of our discussion really struck me. If a cow is diagnosed with mad cow's disease, we have the ability to track what stall it was born in, what train it was transported on, and where the meat went. Yet, we can't tell you where any released sex offenders are in Oregon.
And on that note, we wrapped up our meeting and exchanged pleasantries.
I'm looking forward to meeting Senator Atkinson again. More than that, I'm looking forward to Governor Atkinson making changes in Oregon.