Backin’ Fourth for Oregon

There’s something great about being fourth. Oregon’s 4th Congressional District has sent some of the best and brightest representatives from Oregon to that Real-World-Disneyland we call Washington, D.C.

Rep. Peter Defazio follows a trail blazed by Jim Weaver, John Dellenbeck, and Charlie Porter before him. Each in their day demonstrated a unique congressional courage. I got to wondering why. I have a theory. But first, a few stories.

Peter Defazio has always been returned my calls. That could be seen as an act of courage in itself. I asked Peter once about Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, a Republican lawmaker from Texas who is responsible for some of today’s hyper-partisanship. He nodded and told me DeLay’s day was coming. Peter has never told me more than he wanted me to know. I respect that.

Jim Weaver represented us before Defazio. Weaver’s courage was commemorated at Waldo Lake this week, where a lakeside trail was named in his honor. He saw before others did the importance of preserving what’s wild about Oregon.

Jim Weaver often would stop by when I had a store inside the 5th Street Public Market. He had taken a fancy to the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the county courthouse, for reasons that surprise no one who knows him. 5th Street was a convenient place for lunch meetings with donors and organizers. He was shuttling back and forth between Asia and Mexico at the time, they way he shuttles now between rural and urban Lane County. More about that in a moment.

I never met John Dellenbeck, but worked closely with his daughter Barbara on the new Eugene Public Library. The elder Dellenbeck died in 2002, but his reputation was that of an independent thinker. Oregon grew Republicans of that variety back then. The Oregon Dunes are preserved to this day and beyond because of his foresight and political courage.

Before Dellenbeck, the seat was held by two forgettable politicians, whose names I can’t recall. But that’s no fault of theirs. Following Charlie Porter is a fate you’d wish on no one.

Charles O. Porter called me up one day to tell me how he believed the Comic News was important for a thriving democracy. I thanked him politely, not knowing at the time that I was speaking to a living legend. He died in 2006, wholly devoted to removing our current president from office.

My favorite story about Porter is one he told often. Porter had not been in the House of Representatives for more than a few months before he was making fiery speeches from the floor — probably opposing our incursions into Vietnam, before any of us knew how to spell it. On an elevator he met Tip O’Neil, who was already a respected senior Congressman. He chastised his freshman colleague with a New Englander’s verbal frugality: “My, you’ve been evident.”

Fast forward 50 years. In the midst of an American financial crisis unseen by three generations, Peter Defazio has been “evident.” Good for him.

Defazio is positively encyclopedic in his knowledge about how government operates and how legislation works. (Hint: they are not the same thing.) Because he’s from Springfield, he can get away with being this smart. Were he from Eugene, he’d be seen as uppity, but his ZIP code saves him. He doesn’t talk smart. He thinks smart and acts smart.

What is it about Oregon’s 4th District that grows such courageous leadership? Our district covers a lot of ground, but none of it is middle ground. Oregon’s land-use planning has essentially outlawed suburbia, so the 4th District is split between urban and rural. The Eugene-Springfield metro area has 200,000 people, but they are balanced by almost as many people whose closest municipality has a population of a few thousand, if that.

It’s a special person who can connect with rural hunters and with urban apartment-dwellers, when guns are the biggest issue for each — but one is for and one against. There’s no “splitting the difference” Oregon’s unsuburban 4th District.

God bless Peter Defazio. He carries on a proud heritage. Peter’s not a tall man, but what he lacks in height, he makes up for in depth. I’m proud that he represents me in Washington, D.C.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes every Friday in this space and blogs irregularly.