Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Retaking the House: Jean Cowan, HD-10

For Oregon Democrats, beating Karen Minnis is rather like the national party's interest in having Tom DeLay removed from their collective bonnets: they know it won't put the perfidy and corruption immediately to rest, but if you take out the head clown the remaining clowns are chastened. Still, as DeLay begat Boehner, if all that happens is Rob Brading defeats Minnis that will be great--but structurally, things will not change in state politics.

For a change in the way things are run to truly happen, control of the state House needs to change hands, and more Republican representatives will need to see defeat. There are several key races where Democratic leaders think they have a good shot at a pickup, and in the first of what we're sure will be several discussions about individual races across the state this summer and fall, today we're highlighting Jean Cowan, challenger to Alan Brown in the 10th district that stretches the coastline from Lincoln City to just north of Florence.

To make a key race, you have to start with a favorable district, structurally. In CA-50, Francine Busby ran a good campaign but fought hard against a 15-point registration deficit for Democrats. In an open seat it's hard enough; in an incumbent race those numbers would be deadly. But the 10th is ostensibly Democrat country; the party holds a 10-point edge in the district. The area has been trending bluer, but until now has retained Brown as its representative.

That's the second key area: is the incumbent vulnerable? The answer here is, you bet. Brown is a lockstep party voter; his compliance with Minnis' wishes is on display 90% of the time according to House Democrats. In the previous election, Cowan jumped in to prevent an unopposed win by Brown, and came within 400 votes of victory. And then there is the general mood of both Oregonians and Americans, that current policies aren't working and a change is warranted. Along the coast, schools are quickly deteriorating in quality as the effects of repeated cuts take hold. Energy prices always hit more remote areas the hardest. And there's no major industry ready to plow their corporate kicker refund back into the community. The area is ripe for change.

Which brings us to the most important factor: is the challenger a good one? Again, the answer is yes, in spades. What kind of experience do you think would be helpful in a state representative? Political experience? Three-term Lincoln County Commissioner, former mayor of Elgin--check. Health care experience? Clinic manager, EMT, public health services board member--check. Law enforcement experience? Time spent as a cop--check. Working class experience? Bus driver--check. Educational experience? Education policy consultant to the League of Women Voters--check. If there's a civic pie Cowan hasn't had her finger in at some point, we haven't found it.

Sometimes it's the little things. It was heartbreaking to watch Katrina's devastation go on and on without relief because government was working too poorly to help them. Nothing so terrible has happened on the West Coast since perhaps the great San Francisco fire. But when a series of earthquakes hit Lincoln City and environs on July 11, 2004, the City's emergency management apparatus went into action:
According to Jim Hawley, Director of Department of Emergency Services, everything worked as planned.

When the quake struck, County Commissioner Jean Cowan said that staff responded as quickly as "humanly possible."

The first thing she did was confirm that there was an emergency, she said, and when that much was confirmed, whether a tsunami was generated.

After that initial assessment, Cowan put out a call to the designated emergency broadcast station KNPT to inform the station what just happened and what the threat level was.

That information was relayed to them approximately three minutes after the quake, according to Hawley.

The information went out automatically to seven different radio stations in the area, Hawley said, although KNPT is the federally designated emergency alert station.

There does not have to be anyone in the office of Emergency Services for the procedure to begin, either.

"I was very, very pleased, every single call for service to police, fire and medical has been answered," Hawley said.
Was this some masterstroke of decisiveness, a tough call made correctly? No, it was simply going by the book--and having a book already written for such an emergency in the first place. Good government isn't flashy. It doesn't sell well. But when the shit hits the fan, we all expect that certain people will know what is going on, tell us about it, and then mobilize people to prevent or mitigate any problems happening because of it. We call it leadership, and we pay for it expecting to receive it. In one such small test, Cowan did what was expected of her. It only looked easy because they were prepared. And that kind of leadership is what people want and need--not obsequious cronyism.

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