Photo: George Kiepke, courtesy George Kiepke.
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George Kiepke (D-Astoria) is running for office at one of the more difficult times to do so on any level in American history.
By mid-April, historically, candidates are in full swing, holding town hall meetings, shaking hands and looking potential voters in the eye.
This year, the coronavirus threw everything for a loop.
Gov. Kate Brown’s executive decree remains in place, ordering Oregonians to stay at home and practice social distancing when absolutely necessary to be out in public.
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That means Kiepke, 68, a former Clatsop County commissioner and Oregon Rural Economic Development Council member, and his opponent for House District 32, Debbie Boothe-Schmidt (D-Astoria), a trial assistant, aren’t able to conduct a traditional campaign.
For them, for the foreseeable future, there will be no knocking on doors and talking to constituents whenever possible at community events with a small volunteer staff dedicated to making sure as many people as possible hear their competing messages.
“I’d like to be doing those things right now, but instead I’m making phone calls and trying to keep up on social media,” Kieper said. “It’s definitely not a normal campaign.”
Jim Azumano, former Clatsop County manager who worked for the county during Kiepke’s time on the board of commissioners, didn’t say that engaging in a strictly online campaign would hinder Kiepke, but he did say Kiepke has more of a face-to-face style.
“His opinions are strong and some people never agree, but he’s a listener,” Azumano said. “What I like about George most is he wants to represent all people, not just the voters that elect him. I like the idea of someone representing everyone. He really believes that he can unify people.”
Kiepke, said he’s even having trouble getting the attention of traditional media -- local newspapers, radio stations, and TV news. “They just kind of went away,” he said. “Since the outbreak of (COVID-19) I haven’t seen much activity from (traditional media) bringing political candidates onto their shows or offering interviews.
With Kiepke provided an interview here, he wanted to make sure people are aware of three issues he sees as the most important for District 32 in 2020 and the years ahead.
“We need healthy communities,” he said. “The right thing to do is to create a healthy environment, strong medical facilities to help our residents, and we have to work on bringing back the economy -- problems with the economy haven’t fully hit yet but they’re going to present tremendous challenges.”
Kiepke, who worked as political advisor for United Steelworkers Union Local 1097, says he wants to push for the legislature to “pressure the folks in D.C.” to enforce the Mitchell Act, legislation enacted in 1938 intended to rebuild and conserve salmon, steelhead and other anadromous fish -- those that make migrate up rivers from the ocean to spawn. “It would create jobs and bring back healthy fish runs,” Kiepke said
He also wants to create new educational opportunities, or rather bring back classes that once were offered in K-12 school districts across the state.
“Some people call them outdated, but back when I went to school we had industrial arts programs,” Kiepke said. “Now we have computer science mainly, which is a good thing, but there are other trades lacking a new generation of workers, like skills for carpenters, mechanics, sheet metal workers … there are whole (tracks of) classes where a student gets involved in their freshman year and by the time they’re ready to graduate they have a possible future where they can earn good wages and have an honest career.”
He says it’s becoming obvious the United States’ server-based worker economy is the wrong way to go, and that learning skills and trades in junior high and high school give students an opportunity early on to see if those are career paths they may be interested in following.
Kiepke knows that even with his strong convictions for working across the aisle and representing everyone in District 32, whether or not he or she voted for him, there are going to be those senior politicians who are not interested in working with a newly-elected representative.
His feeling is that it’s time for elected officials who approach their jobs that way to move on.
“If you don’t want to work for the future then you shouldn’t be there,” he said. “I worked for a living all my life and yes I got into politics but I’m not there to make a living. I’m retired now by what's motivating me to run is what I saw that didn’t take place during the last few years.
“But right now, the stay-in-place order has crippled our ability to campaign,” Kiepke continued. “Right now, I’m spending my own money to fund my campaign. I’m starting a website for donations and all of the things that need to be done to run a successful bid for office. But all these things take time. It’s time-consuming and it’s just me doing it.”