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Capital Chatter: Self-deception reigns in politics

It's too easy for politicians, constituents and political operatives to look into the mirror of statesmanship and see themselves as the good-guy Dr. Jekyll but their political opponents as Mr. Hyde.

Dear Readers, I'm stepping away from Oregon capital politics for a few paragraphs — we all need relief — but I'll circle back in a moment.

I'm writing from the Tacoma area in Western Washington, where — in case you're interested — I attended Grant Elementary and Jason Lee Junior High schools. My first journalistic gig was for our sixth-grade classroom newspaper, writing about a firetruck demonstration at our outdoor school held on Vashon Island. We mimeographed the newspaper at a Lutheran church.

(If you don't know what a mimeograph is, look up a National Geographic article from June 2016, "How an Obsolete Copy Machine Started a Revolution." You'll never curse computers again. Typing and correcting stencils was a pain. But I digress …)

Lately, I've been thinking about one of my first experiences as a "professional" journalist, when I had a part-time summer job at our local newspaper during college. One day I was assigned to take photos of the scene where a teenager had been electrocuted the previous evening. She and other girls were walking back to the high school during a "big sister, little sister" event, and they came in contact with a utility pole's guy wire that somehow had become electrified.

When I arrived at the scene, two of her friends were there and agreed to be interviewed. Their comments have stuck with me over four decades: "At least we were friends when she died."

How could they live with themselves, they said, if their final words had been ones of anger and bitterness instead of kindness and friendship?

Wisdom from young minds. Choose your words and your actions carefully; you never know what the next moment will bring.

Which brings me back to the Oregon Capitol. I was again pondering that experience during the memorial service for Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem. Winters was profoundly respected across the political spectrum, and as Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and others have said, she was a calming influence within the Capitol. She had class.

The memorial service, held June 13 in the Senate chamber, was one of genuine unity. People from different walks of life came together to remember, honor and appreciate Winters.

A week later, the Oregon Senate was in disarray.

Don't get mired in who was right or wrong in the Republican Senate walkout. Consider more fundamental questions. Which is the accurate portrait — the Senate that honored Winters or the Senate that imploded its way toward adjournment? Or does the Senate comprise both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Self-deception reigns in politics. It becomes too easy for politicians, constituents and political operatives to look into the mirror of statesmanship and see themselves as the good-guy Dr. Jekyll but their political opponents as Mr. Hyde.

That is a loss for Oregon, regardless of the politician's identity, ideology or goals.

On a personal note, there is another reason I've been thinking about the aforementioned conversation with the high school students, and my ongoing struggle to be guided by their wisdom in every conversation. In fact, one of my few regrets is that it took the first third of married life until I fully appreciated my in-laws, simply because they were starkly different from my parents. Not better, not worse, just different — and wonderful, smart, talented people in their own way.

I'm glad I finally came around. Today there are no regrets about final words or estranged relationships.

My father-in-law died seven years ago. We honored him next to his roses and his dahlias. As I wrap up this column, our family and friends will gather in just a few hours in an apple orchard outside Tacoma. We will celebrate my mother-in-law's amazing life.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/DickHughes or Twitter.com/DickHughes.