Frohnmayer's Oregon blueprint
Nine years ago, Dave Frohnmayer then president of the University of Oregon was invited to speak to the Oregon Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to improving the state.
Dave didnt want to waste their time. He didnt want to speak in platitudes about the beauty and greatness of Oregon.
He gave them a speech about something he called the Oregon Blueprint. Later, he gave variations of the speech to other groups. The concept of the Oregon Blueprint was that important to him.
Blueprints are never made by just one person, Dave said. They are created by architects in consultation with electricians, plumbers, steel workers, wood workers, landscape designers, all kinds of people.
At the heart of Daves Oregon Blueprint was the idea that were all in it together. He was concerned, though, that a disease he called partisanship or tribalism was killing the state.
He told his audience nine years ago: If you leave with only one memory today, it is this: Bitter partisanship, which is the political equivalent of road rage, threatens to leave us as a state and people a tangled wreck on the side of Oregons road toward progress.
Nine years ago, he said that. What happened to Daves Oregon Blueprint?
If youve ever been involved in public projects, you know how long things can take to reach fruition if ever. Dave was a very patient man. A sweet and scholarly man. So lets take another look at that blueprint Dave left for us.
He wanted us to recapture the center from which both progress and stability usually flow.
Dave talked about vital issues the challenge of sustainability, our changing demographics, and Oregons eroding middle-class. Yes, those are some popular buzzwords strung together, but they werent always buzzwords. They once had real meaning.
Suppose you were drawing up a blueprint to create jobs. You need to sustain the economy and sustain the environment at the same time.
The ex-mill worker in Gardiner watches his old workplace dynamited and knows he is poorer for the loss, said Dave. The forest ecologist, noting the old growth trees still standing, sees a richer world.
Since we are all in this together, you wouldnt just consult only the ex-millworker or only the forest ecologist.
Dave was concerned about what he called the New Tribalism. He first defined this term back in 1992 when he started noticing how politics was becoming increasingly based on narrow concerns. Political issues were being broken down along divisions of class, region, ethnicity, religion, ideology.
At its worst, politics was becoming a hundred special-interest groups going in a hundred different directions.
Dave thought this led to a give-no-quarter activism that demanded satisfaction and accepted no compromise.
It is a raw permissiveness that escalates rhetorical excess, he said.
He had a basis of comparison for how the political climate was changing. He served six years as state representative from 1974 to 1980. He followed that with a decade as the states Attorney General.
He knew how politics could be a force for the general good. While serving in the Legislature, he promoted laws requiring that government bodies meet in public and release public records. Those are laws that serve everyone Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal.
As attorney general, he enforced consumer protections. All of us Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, whatever are consumers.
His decade as attorney general coincided with the strange mutation of tiny Antelope, Oregon, into Rajneeshpuram. A controversial guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his cult followers bought 64,000 acres of ranch land in the small community and took over.
When non-believers objected to the Rajneeshees, some cult followers fought back with poison, sickening hundreds of people with salmonella bacteria.
Dave was the antidote to the Bhagwan. Using constitutional law, he took the Rajneeshees to court, contending that the citys incorporation violated the constitutional guarantees of the separation of church and state.
Eventually, the Bhagwans chief of staff ended up in prison for poisoning 750 people. The Bhagwan himself pleaded no contest to immigration fraud, paid a $400,000 fine and was forced to leave the country.
These days, how would Oregon handle something like Rajneeshpuram? Would we split along party lines? Or would we listen to a quiet moderate like Dave?
In the Oregon Blueprint that he offered nine years ago, he warned that tribalism was creating an environment where our political system was being asked to take on social and religious disputes that it could not possibly resolve.
He was absolutely right. Our political system is supposed to be one of limited government. When one group demands that our political system help it foist its politics on another group, we end up divided even further.
Dave described this as a high-blood pressure, winning-at-all-cost, no-prisoners taken approach to politics that is better suited for the politburo than the statehouse.
In politics he believed even small gestures we could help when seeking the moderate center. Start by lowering our voices, he said. Lower the volume and raise the quality of what we are saying. Dave thought high-decibel delivery only benefited what he called the noise merchants.
He advised against e-mail flaming delete the angry e-mail before sending it.
In general, he was not a fan of quasi-public means of communication like e-mail. He realized, even nine years ago, that it had none of the nuances of honest public dialogue. Think of all the people we know who couldve used that advice the past nine years.
I thought about Dave the other day when I had some people in my office trying to get me to vote in favor of a particular bill.
It polls well, they told me.
Im sure it does. But is it good law? Is it right?
Dave would advise to look beyond your own self-interest and look beyond today. Consider the common good.
This concept of embracing citizenship ran through Daves Oregon Blueprint. He looked for ways to restore a sense of balance in the states political life.
One idea was to create a legislative exchange program, kind of like a foreign exchange program at universities. In Daves scenario, legislators would go live for a week or so in another legislative district and get a feel for representing other Oregonians.
He recalled that Oregonians who lived outside of Portland used to think PGE stood for Portland Gets Everything. To a struggling Portlander, it doesnt look like that.
Dave liked the idea of the Columbia River uniting the various parts of the state the image of Eastern Oregon farmers shipping wheat and produce down the river, into the Port of Portland and then beyond to feed the world.
Its an image that reinforces the truth that we are in this together.
When Dave died, newspaper editorials around the state hailed him as a moderate Republican in the tradition of Gov. Tom McCall and Sen. Mark Hatfield. They made it sound like Dave Frohnmayer was the last of a breed.
He would not want that. He would want others to step up. There is much to do, and the work is never done.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT