Grumpy old men like me now make up a larger share of the population than at any other time in our history; so I’m inclined to believe there is more carping against government (and just about everything else) than I saw or heard in the past. The combination of cranky old timers and an explosion of media where they can express their feelings have given rise to a surplus of negative energy that could reduce our reliance on foreign oil if only we could find some positive outlets for the disaffected with too much time on their hands. My recommendation would be to require anyone who makes a public complaint to run for public office in the next election. Almost no one runs for Precinct Committee positions; so this requirement may not be as intimidating as it seems. I know of many people, including me, who changed their point of view after learning more about democratic local government and how it works.
I majored in skiing at Central Oregon Community College, but I also took some political science courses my freshman year that caused me to question some of the actions of the Deschutes County Commission. My father apparently got tired of my complaints and suggested I run for the Commission if I was so sure they were doing the wrong things. I guess I wasn’t a shy 19-year-old because I took my father’s suggestion and filed to be a candidate in the May 1972 Primary Election.
I was probably fortunate to finish third in a five-way race for my party’s nomination, although I did earn the local newspaper’s endorsement and two members of my campaign committee went on to be elected mayor of Bend, with one eventually chairing the Deschutes County Commission. My treasurer was a friend’s mother and my campaign manager was my college speech professor. I think my sole contribution to the politics of Central Oregon was to help kindle or reignite the interest in local government of two people who went on to become outstanding leaders.
My father’s suggestion and his subsequent support, along with the contributions of my friends, taught me an important lesson that has helped me throughout my life. I learned from them that if you don’t like the way things are, you should take positive action to change them. I didn’t win my first election, but I did contribute to making things better in a way I never imagined.
I ran on a platform favoring home rule for the county and advocating for a regional wastewater treatment system. My interest in sewage goes back more than 40 years. I think the voters recognized that while I may have had some good ideas, I probably lacked the skills and experience to make them happen. The election loss allowed me to go back to college and acquire the tools I needed to eventually find a career in local government. I also learned that the issues confronted by local government are not as simple as they might seem, when all you are doing is thinking of clever ways to be critical.
I know we really can’t require people to run for public office, and I’m glad that many of those who complain aren’t interested in doing so. To paraphrase Milton, they also serve who only stand and gripe, and there is much to be learned from the complaints of citizens. I believe there is much more to be gained, however, from those who find ways to make positive contributions to their community.