You Gotta Wanna.... |
and Portland Doesn't
Despite the infuriatingly
slow, clogged traffic on what passes for a freeway in Oregon, the warm
autumn sun and brilliant fall foliage on November 2nd made for a pleasant
trip down I-5 to Lane Community College. There on the south Eugene campus,
Central Catholic junior Galen Rupp barely outdistanced Klamath Union senior
Lauren Jesperson to win the State Class 4-A cross country championship.
It was a thrilling match. The best of the best-and they gave it their
all. The track record was broken.
Oregon high school boys may well take four of eight slots in December’s
Regionals to go on to Nationals. They’re that good. The training,
the effort, the sweat and tears-this time might bring the big payoff.
State champion Rupp is trained by the best, world champion Alberto Salazar.
Still, after all the work, there is plenty of risk. There will be only
one winner. When you watch these guys run, you realize how badly they’ve
got to want it.
One item, no doubt mostly overlooked, was the mention that of the top
three senior runners, two joined state champions from previous years in
committing to Stanford for their college careers. Too bad. At one time
the University of Oregon was the track college in the country. But, to
be number one, to be the best, you’ve got to want it. You’ve
really gotta wanna. Oregon’s best high school runners in years wanna,
early winter is also the time when high school seniors across the state
busily collect their SAT test scores, their transcripts and recommendations
and finish their college applications. For some it’s a first realization
that getting into the best colleges in the country means “ya gotta
wanna”—through all four years of high school. For others it’s
the crowning achievement of four years of effort and striving. And many
of Oregon’s best and brightest, those that really “wanna”
will be leaving for out-of-state colleges and universities.
What’s that got to do with Oregon’s recent elections and new
governor? Plenty. Because to arrest and reverse the downward spiral of
Oregon’s economy and Oregon’s businesses, somebody, somewhere,
some leader has gotta wanna. They’ve gotta wanna as fiercely and
as passionately as the kid who works and studies for years in order to
score 1600 on his college boards; they’ve gotta wanna as fiercely
and passionately as Galen Rupp, whose legs and lungs must’ve burned
like fire when he ran 5,000 meters in 14:56.
You’ve gotta wanna…and Portland doesn’t.
The morning after the elections there was a deafening silence in Oregon
as everyone realized they had just elected a governor who had almost nothing
to say through his whole campaign about what he would do if elected, or
why. They had, after 16 years of Democrats, elected another Democrat.
Not exactly a fierce declaration for change in the economic
climate. And as that message sank in, a vague depression settled over
the state. Because intuitively Oregonians realize that to compete, no,
make that to survive, in the global economy, to attract the best of the
best in business, in business executives, in higher education professionals,
in school superintendents, in anything, it takes an attitude of fierce
One stunning example of Oregon’s noncompetitive attitude was highlighted
by OPB’s Gretchen Lehmann. She reported that when confronted with
the fact that a new federal school accountability program might result
in 150 to 600 of Oregon’s schools designated as failing, Assistant
State Superintendent Kate Dickson responded, “We need to find a
way to honor and appreciate the success in our schools as opposed to pointing
out the deficiencies in labeling our schools with a large deficient label.”
To be blunt, this attitude will yield more failures and no wins. Because
to succeed, ya gotta wanna. You’ve got to look those failures in
the face and make real changes.
Yet in this election cycle voters, mostly Portland voters and Multnomah
County voters, chose complacency and the status quo. The death spiral
of the state’s revenue woes apparently didn’t impress them.
Or worse, they still believe that sucking “more taxes” from
a dwindling business/revenue source will solve the problem, rather than
rebuilding a competitive, healthy business environment that creates more
there are hard feelings around the state over the typical rural-urban
split. Rural areas have been hardest hit by recession and have traditionally
remained more competitive than their laid back, liberal, urban fellows.
To get beneath the surface of the divide, as always, follow the money.
During the Republican primary, Portland business leaders asked statewide
business types to back their downtown candidate: fiscally conservative,
socially liberal Ron Saxton. Rural leaders agreed that Saxton’s
candidacy made sense and paid for more than two-thirds of Saxton’s
campaign. Across the state, conservative business leaders made great strides
toward ending the dysfunction of the Oregon Republican party. Post-primary,
these statewide backers were as disappointed in Saxton’s loss as
Portland’s business leaders. Still, realizing the urgency for an
economic attitude change, statewide leaders quickly backed the winner,
conservative Mannix, and asked Portland Republicans to do the same. Answer
from Portland: Sorry, the one-way street runs downtown only.
So, after the general election, a deeper, more serious resentment smolders
due to the timidity of the Portland business community, particularly the
Republican business leaders who broke ranks to go with winner and Governor-elect
Ted Kulongoski. After the election more than one Republican downtown business
leader whispered that the election didn’t turn out so bad. After
all, they say, “We know Ted’s people, we know Neil (Goldschmidt),
we can work with Tom Imeson, we can work with Randy Leonard.”
There was more to their timidity than just the abortion issue (though
that can be so embarrassing at corporate cocktail parties). For “the
downtown crowd,” the West Hills set, this time their vote showed
their outright fear of change (as represented by the Mannix campaign)
and their zealotry in clinging to small town power. At almost any price.
Small town?and perhaps destined to stay that way. The Portland power crowd
voted to remain mediocre, even in the face of economic contraction, rather
than risk the effort required to reinvigorate the state economically.
They have their piece of the pie; why risk the power shift that might
result from a new competitive attitude? Maybe that’s why Portland
is so very far away from being world class, and maybe that’s why
the rest of Oregon deserves to be, and is, disgusted.
What do they say about a fat cat in power? They are risk averse. What
do they say about being a winner? Ya gotta wanna.
Which brings us to the winner of the election, Ted Kulongoski. In May
when we endorsed him for the Democratic primary we wrote that he had a
“common sense approach”
a “first class personality.” In October, when we endorsed
Mannix over Kulongoski, we wrote “Kulongoski believes, and he does
so passionately, that he can make the state work better by being a better
facilitator, a better conciliator than Kitzhaber.” We closed our
endorsement by saying that if “Ted Kulongoski wins...we wish him
the best for his approach to change through negotiated compromise.”
We meant it then and we mean it now.
But Kulongoski (and all of Oregon) may be in for some bitter disappointments
if he thinks that Portland and Multnomah County actually supported his
vision for the state. What they really supported was the status quo. And
with the wrenching changes required ahead, Oregon’s governor-elect
now faces the monumental task of building a winning spirit among his supporters,
whose primary goal was resisting change. We think Kulongoski may have
better luck with his critics. At least they wanna.