Josh & Ethan’s Excellent #13Percent Adventure #9

Posted on October 18, 2015

Barbara Roberts: Up the Capitol Steps
Blog Post #5:
As of 1978, Barbara and Frank Roberts were both in a full-blown political swing. After Frank planted a seed in her head, she had decided to run for the Multnomah County Commission, a seat that just a few years before would have seemed ridiculously out of reach to her.
At this juncture in the story, what struck me as particularly notable is the amazing results that a little encouragement and cultivation of confidence can do for a person; politician or not. Barbara had grown up with certain expectations for her life, expectations based on cultural norms that did not emphasize professional development and achievement for women.
And yet the seed for achievement had been planted, and she thirsted for political success. Above all her other qualities, it must have been the drive to succeed, even after failure, that made her such an effective politician. And the odds were certainly stacked against her; the existing four seats of the Commission had determined that the newly appointed commissioner, whoever it may be, would “agree to not file for election to the full four-year term.” She also learned that there was already a front runner for the seat, someone with an “inside track.”
So employed all that she had learned thus far to make a serious run for the seat. Part of this effort was calling new friends. She notified the county Democratic Party and asked for an endorsement, as well as the Oregon Women’s Political Caucus, of which she was an active member.
Just one month later, there she was, sitting in the office of what had been the last County Commissioner, arranged in a very masculine, Mad Men-esque aesthetic (think tall leather armchairs, pedestal ashtrays, and liquor cabinets).
At this point, I looked up from the book and really chuckled to myself. This was back when elected officials could use taxpayer money to adorn their offices with luxuries, and what is considered excessive and improper use of funds today is somewhat laughable compared to what the good ol’ boys used to get away with back in the 80s. Gone are the days, eh?
For example: each commissioner was also outfitted with a car (at county expense, of course). Her predecessor had chosen a rather large and impressive Chevy Caprice, with all the bells and whistles (a/c!). Barbara, always frugal, saw this practice for what it was: unnecessary. Her connections and tenacity had paid off, and some redecoration was in order.
From here, the power couple really hit their stride. Barbara wanted to run for Legislature, but that would mean running against her husband, and also a dear friend, two roadblocks that she would not cross. She began to wonder if she would ever get a chance, but suddenly, upon her return from a sailing trip with Robert, it turned out that friend of hers, George Starr, would not be seeking re-election after all. She announced her candidacy immediately.

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