Sunday, November 03, 2013

Gov. Atiyeh Statue, Portland Airport

At the far end of Portland International Airport's international concourse is a statue of former Governor Vic Atiyeh, who was governor of Oregon from 1978-1987. He was famous at the time for international trade missions, forever flying to Japan and points across Asia trying to interest them in Oregon products and tourism and so forth. Hence the statue of him standing in the middle of the terminal, looking like his flight's been delayed. Portland Public Art devoted a short post to the sculpture, which is by the same guy who created the Vera Katz statue on the Eastbank Esplanade. The post is sort of lukewarm about the statue, saying "its mundanity, its general ordinariness is disconcerting". I actually like that about it; it seems to capture its subject more accurately that way. I mean, I only met him once, briefly, and I was one of a hundred or so Cub Scouts in the room, and I don't claim to have been a keen judge of character then (or now for that matter), but I recall he seemed like a nice man and he didn't act as though talking to us was a waste of his precious time or anything. If the sculptor had gone the traditional 19th century route and made a larger-than-life equestrian statue, with the governor in fantasy Roman emperor garb, now that would be a disconcerting thing to find in the middle of the Portland airport.

As of right now (2013), Oregon hasn't seen a Republican governor since Atiyeh left office. A recent Steve Duin column waxed nostalgic about the Atiyeh era, when politicians of both parties supposedly all worked together for the common good and so forth. I'm not sure how true that really was, but the end of his second term was also the beginning of the end of the state's traditional (and once-dominant) Republican party, business-friendly and socially (and temperamentally) moderate. In this polarized age, it's hard to imagine Oregon Republicans nominating an Arab-American of Syrian descent, much less reelecting him after he raised the state income tax to patch a hole in the budget. The party nominated moderate Republicans again in 1986 and 1990, losing narrowly both times. In the 1990 election, a far-right candidate drew 13% of the vote, more than enough to tip the election to Barbara Roberts, the Democratic nominee. The party got the message and spent the next few elections nominating a series of right-wing whackaloons for the top job. The last couple of elections have seen a return to sorta-moderate candidates, albeit ones with limited political experience and little charisma. Oregon Republican primaries tend to be rather brutal affairs, and the typical winning strategy is to tack as far to the right as possible in the primary, and immediately scurry back toward the center once you win the primary, and hope the public forgets all about your primary-season persona. The last couple of elections have been closer than the nutjob era of Bill Sizemore and Kevin Mannix, but they still can't seem to get over the top. It's possible that there just aren't as many moderate Republicans and true independent swing voters as there once were. I'm not really a swing voter, to be honest. I'm a registered Democrat of a liberal to left-leaning persuasion. When it comes to future elections, I'm not inclined to absolutely rule out voting for anyone or any party; I've even quietly voted for the 'R' in a couple of cases, albeit in cases where they had absolutely no chance of winning, just to keep the winner's margin of victory somewhat less absurd. My ideal world is one in which the Republican candidate keeps losing by a slim and hard-fought 51% to 49% margin, forcing the Democrats to nominate quality candidates and build reasonably professional campaign organizations. The D's have gotten careless over the years, seeming to think they just own the Governor's office, leading to lazy candidates (*cough* Kulongoski *cough*) and flabby poorly-run campaigns. At this rate, one of these cycles they're bound to screw it up and we'll be stuck with a shrieking flat-earther for four years. Which is a terrifying idea.

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