Frazier: What happened to the 'Oregon Way'?
During Oregon's political golden era — when the likes of Tom McCall, Mark Hatfield, Norma Paulus and Vera Katz blended pragmatism and principles to move the state forward — folks began to talk about the "Oregon Way" of getting stuff done.
But the four legs of the Oregon Way are broken.
First, social institutions have declined in number and influence; of those with any members, they have likely been sucked into the morass that is Oregon politics and cajoled into taking sides on a seemingly never-ending barrage of binary political questions.
Second, norms that used to keep those political battles in check have disappeared as Oregonians on the extremes have undermined the authority of elected officials at various levels. Elected officials themselves have abandoned the norms that previously brought legislators together at the local bar as well as on tricky policy matters. Instead, officials seem more keen to take drastic, uncompromising and performative actions that inflame passions while quashing any chance of achieving compromise.
Third, democratic processes, blatantly flawed but somehow immune to change, have allowed the denigration of norms to continue while forcing social institutions to pick favorites to try to perpetuate their perilous existence.
Fourth, and finally, the values that are rife for discord between Democrats and Republicans have become the issues of the day, erasing any overlap in values that may have previously existed.
So where do we go from here?
First, we need to return to the sort of community-based politics that motivated resettlers — the wave of migrants that came to the Oregon Territory beginning in the 1840s — to come to Oregon in the first place.
Oregon's diversity can and should be celebrated, and the unique and disparate cultures, economies and histories of its communities should be respected. Fewer decisions should come from Salem, and more power should be devolved to the local level. By grounding more decisions and placing more resources at the local level, we can begin to restore a sense of community among individuals.
The prosperity that results at the local level will raise the overall economic well-being of the state. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, "some economists say that the decline of institutions that fortify communities has a negative impact on household income."
If Oregon succeeds in developing the support systems and networks generated by social institutions, then Oregonians will experience greater social capital. Increases in social capital, according to Bob Davis and Gary Fields, will result in fewer people missing work during tough times, more kids participating in extracurricular and developmental activities, and more residents finding unique ways to get and stay ahead.
Second, we need to update our democratic process to put people, not parties and special interests, first. This means adopting an independent redistricting commission, opening up primaries, moving to ranked-choice voting, and installing meaningful campaign finance reforms that give more people a real shot at shaping the outcomes of elections. These are big shifts but are long overdue if Oregon is serious about reclaiming its rightful place as a leader in using democratic processes to build consensus among diverse stakeholders around common-sense policy.
Kevin Frazier is a Tualatin resident.
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