Thursday, November 09, 2006

A peak behind the curtain

Today, I'm going to offer a look behind the scenes of at what happens when an opinion piece is written for the Capital Press.

One of our editorials in the Northwest editions of Capital Press first came to life here on Blogriculture as a post to our blog by Executive Editor Elaine Shein. Elaine is currently up in Canada, but was monitoring U.S. and Oregon election results from up there. She filed an opinion piece yesterday via e-mail and also and posted it on the Blogriculture site.

Two of the other members of our editorial board, Managing Editor Carl Sampson and I, read the piece and discussed it. We added a few refinements based on our observations of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and his election win Tuesday night.

We edited the piece a little and used it on the Opinion page that will appear in the Northwest editions of the Capital Press that will hit newsstands, subscribers' homes and our website tomorrow.

But since you got a sneak peak at the "rough draft" of the editorial here at Blogriculture, I thought I would let our blog readers also get an advance copy of the final editorial as it will read tomorrow in print and online.

Here it is:

Kulongoski still has work to do to win over rural Oregon


While Ted Kulongoski has won a second term as governor of Oregon, voters have sent him a strong message: He has a lot of work still to be done to gain the respect of rural Oregon -- particularly the farm and ranch community.

Unofficially, Kulongoski received just under 51 percent of the votes in this week's election. Republican Ron Saxton received 43 percent. As expected, Saxton did best in the rural areas, including the eastern and southern parts of the state. Kulongoski won Portland, the place Saxton needed to crack if he wished to be a serious contender.

Considering how poorly Republicans did nationally in both the House and Senate, and how well they did in other Oregon races, Kulongoski should note that his margin of victory was rather modest due to rural voters who opposed him in large numbers.

So what should Kulongoski do during a second term if he wants to create a legacy for all of Oregon and earn some respect from farmers and ranchers?

First, keeping Katy Coba in her job as director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture would be an admirable start. She has done an impressive job of representing the interests of agriculture at the state, national and international levels.

Secondly, Kulongoski should immediately arrange to start meeting more with the agricultural organizations and their representatives in this state. Kulongoski must do more to understand and work with the agricultural and rural communities. During his campaign, Kulongoski boasted that he travels extensively in Oregon and knows the state and its issues. However, it is apparent that rural communities don't feel they know the governor or that he has their best interests at heart.

He can, and should, do a much better job of learning the issues important to farm and ranch communities, seek common ground and collaborate on solutions. He has to show respect for those people who toil on the land and spend time talking with farmers and farm leaders on issues vital to farmers and Oregon's economy. The state's economy -- meaning the state's workers and taxpayers -- still heavily depend on natural resource industries such as farms, ranches, forests and fisheries.

Kulongoski needs to be more visible in rural Oregon. He must show he listens and can be influenced by those he meets in farm country, not just the traditional Democratic base of state employees and labor unions.

Thirdly, Kulongoski needs to show leadership. This is especially true now that his party also has control of the Legislature. However, he needs to show he can work with politicians from both parties, as the Republican legislators largely represent the parts of Oregon where Saxton captured the majority of votes. Kulongoski needs to find solutions to streamline confirmation of his appointments to commissions and boards; lead state government leaders to work toward solutions; and make the Oregon of tomorrow a progressive, viable, dynamic place to live and do business.

Kulongoski should meet with the small business association and see what can be done to encourage and support the growth of that sector.

Fourthly, the universities and education system are relying heavily on Kulongoski to deliver on promises he has made in recent months. They will watch the next state budget closely to see whether he truly believes Oregon State University and others should continue to have the resources and support they need.

And finally, Kulongoski and other Democrats elected Tuesday need to work to restore the faith of voters in politics here in the West. During Kulongoski's first term, the agricultural community became very disillusioned with him and the Democratic party. They felt more than just a power vacuum in Salem. They felt ignored, frustrated and forgotten.

If Kulongoski believes the election gave him a mandate to continue doing what he has in the last four years, he is forgetting that his own party was disillusioned with his leadership, which is why he faced such a crowded field of challengers in the spring primary election.

If he uses the election as a wake-up call and lesson on how to do things better and makes an honest attempt to work harder with the agricultural community, then there is hope for the future.

However, this election serves as a sobering reminder for the agriculture community as well. Democrats are even more solidly the party of power in Oregon and now have control of most seats in Congress. Agriculture leaders will need to court Democratic support for the issues important to their industry.

Political power in the West isn't based on acreage, it's based on population.

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