Friday, October 27, 2006

Support Your Local Politician

We all like to make jokes about politicians, but somehow they don't seem as funny to me anymore. As a part-time candidate for a part-time unpaid office I can hardly consider myself a politician, but maybe I'm starting to identify with them a little? Don't think I'm becoming an apologist for "Beltway Business as Usual," but I have learned a few things:
  • Campaigning is hard work. Going door-to-door, asking for votes, always smiling and being prepared to talk about any issue-- it's not easy. I've only been doing it for two months, and no one is following me around with a camera.
  • It's often frustrating to try to get out a message when very few people are listening. I now understand the role of the professional media consultant and the sound bite-- they basically force feed the public a message. It's easier than explaining to people why your message is important.
  • It's humbling to be apply for a job where all your friends and neighbors decide your future. Can you imagine if every few years everyone in your workplace got together and decided if you could keep your job-- most of them without even speaking to you?
So here's a joke. I hope it isn't in poor taste, but I don't have a media consultant to test it for me: These two cannibals are sitting in a restaurant reviewing the menu. It says "missionaries, $5. politicians, $50." One cannibal asks the other, "Why are politicians so expensive?" He answers,"Do you know how hard it is to get them clean enough to eat?"

See what I mean? Not so funny any more. Next time a politician knocks on your door, offer them a cookie or something to drink.

More Press

The Hood River News sent each candidate a set of questions to respond to in 200 words or less. We had the weekend to work on our assignment. You can read all of our responses here. It's not quite a debate, but I think this is a pretty good format for people to get to know the candidates a little better. The responses aren't as spontaneous as a debate or a real interview, but frankly none of us is a professional politician. While a debate might be more dramatic, this is probably as realistic a view as you'll get without speaking to us directly (or reading my website!) It's obvious that each of us spent some time thinking through our responses-- and it's also obvious that none of us had a professional team packaging our message for the public. This format tends to fall flat for the higher offices, where it seems the candidates just turn the questions over to their media consultants.

KIHR radio also did a nice series a few weeks ago. Mark Bailey interviewed three of us on different mornings for about 25 minutes during "drive time." This show is a great public service. I'll confess it was my first time on radio and I found it pretty intimidating. Speaking to an audience you can't see isn't easy. While Mark is sitting next to you, you both have headphones on and he is frequently looking at his engineer for cues. I think it will be much easier next time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


A week ago the Hood River News had a banner headline about the affordable housing report: "The $385,000 Question." I think they had the right instinct-- give people a number to help them understand such a difficult to pin down concept. Unfortunately they chose the wrong number. It seems $385,000 is the average sale price in Hood River County last year. An average can be easily skewed by a few multi-million dollar sales, which is not at all uncommon in our real estate market. Economists prefer looking at medians (out of 100 sales, the price of the 50th most expensive), or other specific points in the market price distribution-- and compare them with some similar measure of household income. Those numbers will not be distorted by the high end of the market. That comparison can give a much more accurate picture of how hard it will be for a local worker to buy a house.

Why does this matter? Without a good metric in place, it will be very difficult to track our progress. The affordable housing report recommends a long list of items for the city and county to consider to address the problem. We'll be discussing affordable housing for a while. Let's agree now on what numbers we'll be tracking.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On the Campaign Trail

Knocking on a stranger's door and trying to engage them in a discussion about city government may seem like an awkward task, but it's not. Virtually everyone is polite, many seem grateful to see me making the effort, and a sizeable percentage have something they want to talk about. City government is about small things that affect our everyday lives, so I guess it's not surprising people have strong opinions.

It should be no surprise I've been hearing a lot about the new water rate structure and ground water runoff surcharge since the water bills just arrived. The biggest complaint is the hardship it imposes on fixed income residents. Several different people commented to me that Hood River yards look "less green" this summer. I understand the motivation behind the new water rate structure-- promoting conservation and raising money for the new water pipes-- but based on the level of anger I heard I'd like to see a review of the rate structure at its one year anniversary. I hope some tuning could reduce the hardship in specific areas while still generating the needed fees for system improvements.

I'm keeping a running list of issues people have asked me to look into. For now I'll present it unfiltered and without analysis or solutions:
  • Water rates
  • Sewer failures
  • Parking at downtown shops, especially during events
  • Parking at the library
  • Parking at the post office
  • Disruption to neighborhoods during construction (parking, noise, trash, dirt, traffic)
  • Lax monitoring/repair of damage caused during construction (roads, signs, curbs)
  • "View wars" as houses vie to get a view blocked by the house in front of them
  • Absentee owners/ landlords
  • Illegal apartments (noise, parking issues)
  • Truck brake noise on the freeway
  • Protection of waterfront/ riparian zone
  • Perception of anti-business attitude in city government
I'm not suggesting I will be able to solve all these problems, but I will try to follow up on several of them. I hope the other city councilors get a chance to solicit some raw, unfiltered feedback from the city residents. I think there is a difference between what people will tell you when you send them a survey and what they will tell you when you knock on their door.