Ryan Deckert, a decade out of government but still in the public arena, has made it official: He will seek to lead the Washington County Board of Commissioners.
"I have lost my mind," he said half jokingly to an audience at his campaign kickoff Tuesday (Aug. 15).
But Deckert, a Democratic state legislator from Beaverton before he led the Oregon Business Association for the past decade, drew a contrast with the three other declared candidates — all of whom hold public office now.
"I think 10 years outside is an asset, not to be a career politician, to come in from outside and show you can bring Democrats and Republicans together," Deckert said in a brief interview.
"How often do you see people who don't agree on everything come together here tonight? We are going to run that type of campaign and I think we need more of this in America."
The others who have declared for the position being vacated by Andy Duyck after two terms are Commissioner Bob Terry, Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden and Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington. Duyck has made no endorsement.
The countywide position is nonpartisan, as are the four commissioners elected by district.
"I was only so happy to get out and cheerlead Ryan into this," former Commissioner Desari Strader said. "But we have our work cut out for us."
Though Deckert outlined some of his likely priorities, he did praise the current county leadership.
"You do not open the newspaper, ever, and hear about what is wrong in Washington County," he said. "The first rule of management is don't fix something that's not broken. It's heartening as a Washington County resident to have that type of leadership."
Among the crowd were people associated with Gordon Smith, the former Republican U.S. senator, and also Mark Hass, the Democrat who succeeded Deckert in the Oregon House and Senate. Like Deckert, Hass now leads the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee.
As a reporter for Portland television station KATU, Hass covered Deckert's first bid for the House in 1996, when the 25-year-old Deckert won an open seat against a former timber executive and two-time Republican congressional candidate. It was also the only recent year in which state contribution limits applied.
"It not only made me a fan of campaign finance laws, it made me a fan of Ryan ever since," Hass said. When Deckert said he would seek public office again, Hass added, "I cannot think of anyone better to do that."
Filing opens Sept. 7 and closes March 6. If no candidate wins a majority in the May 15 primary, the top two finishers will move on to the 2018 general election.
Deckert, 46, lives in Beaverton with his wife, Inga, and their three children.
He is a graduate of Beaverton High School and the University of Oregon.
When he won at age 25, making him one of the youngest people ever elected to the House, Deckert acquired the nickname "Doogie Howser" after the television character. He ousted Republican incumbent Eileen Qutub for a Senate seat in 2000.
Deckert resigned after the 2007 session to become president of the Oregon Business Association, which merged recently with Associated Oregon Industries to become Oregon Business & Industry.
Deckert said that as board chairman of Oregon's second most populous county, he would support efforts by Hass in the Legislature to boost state aid to public schools and stabilize the boom-and-bust cycle for state tax collections.
"If we do not get public education right … what are we doing? That is the heart of Washington County and the soul of economic development," Deckert said.
"We have got to move this over the finish line… Mark needs more allies."
At the same time, Deckert said, the county should focus more on housing costs in a county that generates more jobs than housing workers can afford.
"We cannot fix all the income-disparity issues. But we can do something on housing affordability. We must not become Vancouver," he said, referring to the high-cost city in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
As Washington County has become more diverse, Deckert said the county should continue to embrace that trend with events such as the Beaverton Night Market, which showcases international foods and culture.
"It is not the county I grew up in. It has changed so much. We have to keep up with it ... and create places in Washington County," he said.