Counting on Gov. K
A politician in statewide office doesn't have to fawn over Baker County.
Baker City is the 42nd largest city in Oregon. Baker County rates 28 of 36 for population out of Oregon's counties, not quite 17,000 souls strong and not all of those of voting age, either.
Tonight, however, Governor-elect Ted Kulongoski will make his second appearance here since winning election in November. Kulongoski is in town for what is being billed as the "First Eastern Oregon Governor's Inaugural Dinner," a celebratory prerunner to the official inaugural ball in Portland.
And he'll be here again in just under two weeks for the Baker County Unlimited banquet.
In other words, in the span of one month, Kulongoski will have visited Baker City three times.
That's more public appearances here than John Kitzhaber managed in eight years as governor, despite his stylized rural trappings.
We would like to believe that Kulongoski's interest runs deeper than politics and symbolic goodwill toward rural Oregon. We want to believe Baker County has a special place in the governor-elect's vision of Oregon, that he has an honestto-goodness relationship with Baker County.
Consider: Kulongoski has friends here. He named Mike Nelson to his transition team, and is old friends with Peggi Timm.
Consider: Kulongoski has long made annual weeklong treks into the Wallowas with friends, expeditions that begin in Baker County's wilds.
Consider: Last spring, after winning the Democratic primary, he made a surprise appearance at the 10th anniversary of the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. It was a surprise, in part, because Kulongoski was in town without campaign staff, vacationing with his wife, Mary Oberst.
Baker County doesn't need special treatment. As willing as our communities would be to take on additional state-funded jobs or projects, what we really yearn for is an audible voice and a fair shake for our ideas in Salem.
This is a community that can, in many ways, be held up to others as a leader in some regards. And we need a state-level ally to put us in touch with other communities that have tackled the challenges we face and succeeded.
Can Kulongoski make everybody happy? We wouldn't believe it if you said he did.
We are optimistic that, for at least the next four years, Baker County and rural Oregon will be on the mental radar of Mahonia Hall. And that's a revolutionary change.