Gilbertson runs as frugal, fair
Farming full time and running a political campaign can be a bit challenging, admitted Jim Gilbertson, a local farmer running for state representative in District 59.
At his 130-acre farm in Culver, Jim and his wife Althea were putting together campaign signs in the barn. "It's been hectic," he said, noting that District 59 covers five counties -- Jefferson, Wasco, Wheeler, Sherman, Gilliam, part of Grant, and also a small portion of Deschutes.
"Sometimes I'm going and sometimes I don't know if I'm going. I tank up on coffee in the morning and just kinda go for it," he said.
Gilbertson became interested in politics in the 1960s during JFK's presidency. He finally decided to get out of "armchair" politics and threw his hat in the ring for the state representative seat in 2002, with the encouragement of friends in the county's Democratic Committee.
While he didn't win in that election, he did get 49 percent of the vote. "We actually did better than I thought. We just didn't quite make it. So I guess Lincoln, he didn't win the first time, either," Jim noted with a laugh.
His political aspirations were put on hold in 2004 with the purchase of an additional 80-acres that needed attention. With his new acreage drilled and seeded for hay, when the 2006 elections rolled around he was ready to take on another race.
"This season came around again and I thought, you know, hey! If I don't get signed up this time, I'll be two years older next time, so I'd better get in gear!" said the energetic 71-year-old.
The political signs in yards around the county spell out what Jim Gilbertson is all about: Frugal Fair Farmer. The Gilbertsons joke about being frugal while assembling the signs left over from the 2002 campaign. "We never got around to putting them all together, so we're trying to be economical and use `em."
Along with frugality, his platform consists of issues such as school funding. Stable school funding is an issue worth solving, he said.
"Ever since the bill passed that took a lot of property taxes from the school funding, it became harder for the schools to get the financing," he said. "I would like to see if we can't come up with some kind of bill that will guarantee a dedicated source of income -- that's easier said than done, but important enough to keep trying and trying."
Another problem that concerns Gilbertson is health care. "I've met a lot of people, going around in the campaign. Some people pay as high as $800 a month for healthcare, and you know, a lot of people don't have the wherewithal," he said.
When the decision is between medicine and doctor's visits, or food on the table, he says the government should intervene. He blasts the current legisature for not allowing a bill controlling the price of prescription drugs to be debated.
"Fortunately", he said, "Bill Morrisette gathered enough signatures to get a similar bill, measure 44, on the ballot. People will be able to vote for it."
When asked to describe his political style, Jim stated that he is a "loose-in-the-saddle, Harry Truman kind of Democrat," meaning that he is open to suggestion and different interpretation.
He talks about being able to listen to the voters across his district and practicing bipartisanship. "They're not all Democrats, so to my way of thinking, I'm going to have to click on, so when they start talking it doesn't go in one ear and out the other. I'm going to have to listen and see where they're coming from."
Political partisanship, a problem Gilbertson sees with the current legislature, is one that he hopes to help solve. He would like to see both parties working together to create better bills that would benefit Oregonians, he said, instead of "taking target shots at the other (party). If they both put it together, you know, they would have less to argue about."
While he acknowledges that bipartisanship would be a challenge, it is one he feels qualified to take on. "I'm a fiercely independent Democrat, and I will vote for measures that will benefit District 59, irregardless of whether Republican or Democrat."
Gilbertson has been endorsed by the Truman Club of Central Oregon.
A summer of campaigning has taken its toll. Gilbertson's commitments made to forum groups have left less time for farming. "If I wouldn't have campaigned, the hay would've probably been up. So now I'm kind of under the gun on this hay."
Meanwhile, with only a few weeks left until the election, he feels fairly confident. "I'd say the campaign is going along pretty decent. I keep getting feedback and hear people tell me how good it looks. Sometimes I don't know if they're telling me the truth, or just trying to be nice, so there's a little bit of uncertainty there."
If going to Salem isn't in the cards for Gilbertson, there is always farming. "We'll come back; we have a farm here, but," he said, "I would really love to give `er a good chance! If I didn't think we could do better, I wouldn't be in the race. I think we can do a lot of good."
When the political trail ends for Jim and Althea, they have plans to restore a collection of 35 two-cylinder tractors they have picked up at various auctions. Even though Jim works with newer John Deere tractors, diesels with air-conditioning, he admits to a fondness for the two-cylinder variety -- old ones like he used to drive growing up on a farm in Minnesota.
He didn't like farming, then. "Dad made me get on the tractor, and go out and cultivate, and clean chicken coops and cow barns ... I didn't care for it."
Retiring from 39 years of millwork has given him fresh perspective. He leans against his favorite tractor and grins. "I couldn't wait to get back over here," he said. "You have so much more freedom to do what you want -- you can even get into politics!"