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Passion hard to find in the middle

Sen. Ben Westlund is counting on the brutal truth to get him elected governor of Oregon - or at least to get him noticed.

The independent candidate, who was a Republican until fairly recently in his career, was in town July 26 to speak to the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce's government affairs council. Perhaps it's his independent status - or perhaps it's the fact that he has survived a serious illness - but Westlund willingly raises topics the two major party candidates would prefer to evade. He talks about Oregon's broken tax structure and even advocates a sales tax. He reminds listeners that, when it comes to public services, education and its standard of living, Oregon isn't the state it used to be.

He accurately describes a state Legislature that is too often more interested in scoring partisan points than in making progress on issues that matter to Oregonians.

Westlund is equally direct about his personal battles, describing himself as an alcoholic and a lung-cancer survivor. And he freely admits that his views have evolved since the years when he was more conservative. The Bend senator's approach is refreshing at a time when most politicians are so guarded in their every statement. But it remains to be seen whether Oregonians are capable of generating passion for a centrist candidate.

MODERATE IDEAS DON'T

BRING IN THE DOUGH

Certainly, it doesn't bode well for Westlund that an open-primary initiative failed to make the November ballot. The proposed measure, which would have changed Oregon's archaic closed-primary system and allowed people to cross party lines, also appealed to those who desire less partisanship and more cooperation.

It's doubtful that the open-primary proposal failed to attract enough signatures because people thought it was a bad idea. Voters in other states with open primaries would never dream of returning to a closed system. Rather, the open-primary initiative fell short precisely because it appealed to the broader public interest, not a well-funded special interest.

Emotions - and monetary contributions - run highest at the extreme left and extreme right. Westlund's challenge will be to attract excitement and cash to the political middle - that impassionate place where reasonable people come together and make decisions based on the greater good.

FUTURE ART-CENTER SITE

ALREADY GETTING USED

Fund-raising for a proposed Gresham Center for the Arts has a long way to go, but already the arts community has laid claim to the downtown turf where the center will be built. Back on July 20, arts-center supporters and Gresham Chamber of Commerce members gathered at the site for a ceremonial unveiling of this year's Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz poster. The group also heard an update on the arts center plans and listened to a bit of jazz music.

This weekend, the site once again is home to the jazz festival itself, which started Friday night and continues through tonight. If you've had trouble envisioning an arts center in downtown Gresham, it's worth a trip to the festival to see how the performing arts already are thriving in the vicinity of Northeast Second and Hood.