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Capital Chatter: Where are the creative thinkers?

We exist in an era of disruptive change and missing from committees are the disruptive changemakers.

Is Oregon ready for creative thinkers in government? I mumble that question to myself whenever a new state task force is announced.

Gov. Kate Brown unveiled a couple of those committees this week. Each is composed of certifiably smart folks with considerable expertise in the subject area. Each includes at least some rural representation, which I applaud.

Each also seems to be made up of the same folks who always get appointed to these types of committees.

To a point, there is a place for them. They are the perceived experts, the known quantities.

However, we exist in an era of disruptive change and missing from committees are the disruptive changemakers.

Absent are the creators and innovators whose inclusion might so jolt the status quo that political observers would ask, "Why they heck are they included?"

In other words: people who don't fit the traditional mold, who come from other fields and whose artistic or creative mindset differentiates them.

Depending on its size, any committee needs at least a few unorthodox thinkers who are not tied to conventional wisdom — which sometimes can amount to collective self-deception. The caveat is that these outsiders, like all committee members, must be able to listen first, respond well, state their ideas effectively and collaborate for the good of the whole.

Almost any committee also should be heavily weighted toward the true experts: the clientele and the front-line individuals, such as caseworkers or peer support specialists, who work with them on a daily basis.

One committee announced by Brown is to establish the target for maximum increases in Oregon health care costs. It mandated by Senate Bill 889, which the Oregon Legislature passed overwhelmingly this year and which set the membership criteria for the Health Care Cost Growth Benchmark Implementation Committee.

Although the Legislature does pass some innovative policies, government generally is not known for outside-the-box thinking. For good reason, taxpayers don't want their money or government time being risked. Failure, even on small projects, is not honored a worthwhile learning experience.

That that caution can travel too far, such as in committee appointments.

Another committee is Brown's new Behavioral Health Advisory Council. In a telephone media availability with reporters on Thursday, Brown noted that Oregon has a failed system of mental health treatment. She noted that every Oregonian — from Portland to Pendleton, Astoria to Adel — deserves access to such care. (Adel, which I admit I had to look up, is in southeastern Lake County not far from the border.)

The council will provide input toward Brown's 2021-23 state budget proposal and policy recommendations, as well as coordinating with work being done Sens. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Denyc Boles, R-Salem, and other legislators.

I asked Brown, as I have previously, about the absence of unusual thinkers — the "curmudgeon" presence as I sometimes called it — on her committees. She gave examples of those probing, outside-the-box conversations happening organically through the diversity of people whom she has appointed.

Taking people by the hand: One co-chair of the behavioral health council is Rachel Solotaroff, CEO of Central City Concern in Portland, which has a history of client-first solutions. The other is Steve Allen, behavioral health director at the Oregon Health Authority.

In my Sept. 5 Capital Chatter, I mentioned Ed Blackburn's keynote speech at the Oregon Housing Conference. Now retired, Blackburn was the longtime leader of Central City Concern. In his own humble way, he made key point: If people are to stick with treatment for substance abuse or other care, you must literally take them by the hand, including riding with them to and from appointments.

It is that unconditional support, and the willingness to do it over and over and over, that can lead to success.

Blackburn believes that chronic homelessness can be significantly reduced if agencies and providers break out of their traditional bureaucratic norms, set aside their institutional egos and work together.

That is why unconventional thinking is needed, from wherever it arises.

Campaigning for secretary of state: If the 2020 elections were held today, Oregon's next secretary of state would be a Democrat.

As of this writing, no Republicans had yet filed. The four Democrats in the race so far were on display Sunday in Sunriver. The state Democratic Party's biennial summit included an hourlong debate among Sen. Mark Hass, Beaverton; Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Terrebonne; Rep. Jennifer Williamson, Portland; and Ryan Wruck, Salem.

The least-known of the quartet undoubtedly is 28-year-old Wruck.

I would award Wruck a 99.99% probability of losing decisively in the May 19, 2020, Democratic primary election — simply because he is a political unknown running against three knowns.

So let's give him his moment in the spotlight.

Wruck, an Oregon State graduate, is the office manager for a landscape hedge company in the Canby area. Like many first-timers, he had done too little research into the how the Secretary of State's Office operates, and that showed in his debate answers.

But unlike some little-known newcomers, he didn't come across as a wacko or a single-issue candidate. He was nervous — a sign that he cared about doing well – but composed and thoughtful. He said he's running to promote civic engagement, to audit public accounts and to protect public records.

And while the other candidates talked about listening to young people, Wruck is young people.

The fact is that Oregon's elected officials don't look like the population they represent. They are older and whiter.

And the other candidates: As she had as House Democratic leader, Williamson staked out her position as the progressives' progressive. She promised to lead the Secretary of State's Office, including the Audits Division, with an eye toward progressive values and equity.

An interesting tidbit was that her great-great-grandfather was the oldest person to sign the Oregon Constitution.

McLeod-Skinner had made a credible run against Congressman Greg Walden last year. She said Democrats need to get of their comfort zones, go beyond meeting with progressive Democrats in urban areas and talk with rural Oregonians and others who believe their voices are not heard.

On audits, McLeod-Skinner made the point that state agencies should audit their private subcontractors.

Hass said one of the first audits he would order would be on the Student Success Act. He was a leader in getting it passed this year and he wants to ensure it works as intended.

As a fan of the policy discussions happening during the Democratic presidential debates, Hass said, he hoped the secretary of state race would be decided on who had the best ideas, not the best slogans.

Appointed Republican incumbent Bev Clarno has said she would not seek election.

The Republicans will arrive: Candidates have until March 10, 2020, to file for the May 20 primary election. That leaves plenty of time for Republicans and others to run for secretary of state as well as hundreds of other positions up for election around Oregon.

As of Thursday, a mere 137 candidates had filed with the state.

The 2020 filing period opened on Sept. 12. Hass, McLeod-Skinner and Wruck all filed on the first day. Williamson did so last week. She reportedly had contemplated several offices, including going for attorney general against Democratic incumbent Ellen Rosenblum, who confirmed her own intentions by filing for re-election on Sept. 12.

My tip for candidates: When making a public appearance such as a debate, drink water from a compostable cup or your refillable water bottle. It's better for the environment and better for the political optics than bottled water, especially if your audience is Oregon Democrats.

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.