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Citizen's View: Kitzhaber, put spotlight to good use

It’s never too soon to start down the road to redemption.

The power of public attention can be used for good or for evil. Many who receive it are determined to milk it dry, climbing higher and higher in hopes of achieving an even larger following and an even greater legacy.

Over the past few weeks a great deal of public attention has focused upon our former governor, John Kitzhaber. Probably too much. The media is reporting about his trips to the garbage dump, for crying out loud.

The fourth estate is trying desperately to milk this story for all it’s worth, and I guess I can’t blame them. They’re chasing that almighty website click. You click. I click. We’re curious. We want the scandalous details. We can’t get enough of a giant falling.

The fall of Kitzhaber is more a product of the public thirst for scandal than it is a product of overzealous media reporting. There’s no better moment than now for the former governor to harness this thirst for details and channel it into something significant and honorable.

The fourth sentence of his resignation letter is one that should define his legacy: “I promise you that I will continue to pursue our shared goals and our common cause in another venue.” Go for it, Kitz. It’s time for you to use this public attention to divert the spotlight from yourself and onto real issues and causes that matter.

In my work I feel humbled to catch small glimpses of what life is like for thousands of Oregonians who are struggling. Some are homeless kids. Some are starving families. Some are women who’ve suffered from domestic violence.

Our nonprofit agencies are creating real impacts in Oregon and changing the lives of the least among us. Sex trafficking, hunger, homelessness, abuse, racism, the disrepair of our prison, foster care and education systems — all of these issues are profoundly more important than high drama in the governor’s personal life.

I implore those closest to Kitzhaber to urge him: Use your time and take the cameras on a tour. Take them to a homeless camp filled with children. Take them to a classroom whose students don’t even have scissors. Take them to a foster home that lacks running water. Take them to a domestic violence shelter.

With the media on his every move, Kitzhaber can force a public conversation and refocus public attention on the issues that truly matter to our collective humanity. I fail to see how a $15 minimum wage or low-carbon fuel standard can create change for those with nothing.

Beyond money or power, the most precious resource in our world is attention. Corporations, the media, politicians, our families — they all vie for high priority.

Kitzhaber holds the ability to divert the attention to the topics of our time that can no longer wait. He has the unique position of really nothing left to lose. Why not stand up for the voiceless and the powerless? Why not defend the poor and champion the weak? There’s nothing stopping you, except maybe your pride.

Michael Calcagno is a former journalist who runs a Portland video production company. He serves on the Community Development and Housing Committee in the city of Gresham.

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