Running for public office is not for the faint-hearted. It can be brutal, costly and candidates often have to make several attempts before getting elected. For people who care deeply about their communities, however, it remains one of the most meaningful ways to express it.
For Keizer resident Robert Husseman, who lost his recent bid to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for District 21 to Ramiro Navarro in May’s primary election, it was a devastating experience.
“I’m personally crushed by the result,” he said in a statement to the media following his concession to Navarro.
It’s been two weeks since the loss, and while the initial sting of losing has worn off, he remains disappointed – mostly in himself.
Despite a simple, direct and integrated set of campaign issues and a strong team behind him, Husseman was able to garner only a little more than half the votes he needed to win.
“I didn’t do enough,” he said. “That weighs on me – I feel like I let my campaign manager down, I let all the volunteers down. I wasn’t effective enough at getting out my message.”
Husseman focused on housing, education, climate and what he called “general societal fatigue,” by which he meant the professional and financial uncertainty that the pandemic caused in his community.
“Everybody I speak with is exhausted, stressed or burned out in some capacity,” he told Keizertimes in January. “So many residents of District 21 are grieving lost loved ones, recovering from illness, facing uncertain professional or financial futures – or just wondering what the hell it all means.”
He sees the same set of problems facing the district that he saw when he began his campaign, and he says more recent events have only exacerbated it.
“Oregonians are even less secure than they were six months ago,” he said. On May 17, his message resonated with nearly 1,400 Democrats in Keizer, Salem and Four Corners who checked the box next his name, and he’s proud of his team. His campaign took no donations from political action committees or corporations and received no institutional support from the Democratic National Committee or the Oregon Democratic Party.
The primary loss was his first attempt at running for office. He has worked at several newspapers in the state and often still freelances as a journalist, but his primary career is as a financial analyst for Portland-based Boly:Welch.
“I’m really glad I put forth the effort and it was a great experience that taught me a lot,” he said. “I’ve covered political campaigns as a journalist, but it’s very different when you’re the one putting yourself out there to advocate for change.”
Husseman is the child of two educators and was born-and-raised in Keizer. He attended Clear Lake Elementary, Whiteaker Middle School and McNary High School, and even worked as an intern for Keizertimes before completing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Oregon and an MBA from Willamette University. Education is a big deal for Husseman, so it’s no surprise that one of the central planks in his platform was supporting State Treasurer Tobias Read’s push for universal state-funded Pre-K in Oregon.
Husseman was one of several candidates who emphasized the homelessness crisis gripping the region, and he had specific ideas about how to address it.
“[My plan] would build units for 20,000 Oregonians across the state via the issuance of $7 billion in bonds – no taxpayer funding required, though we may be able to snag nickels and dimes from certain state agency budgets,” he proposed. “The idea is, it’s a one-time expenditure that will reap dividends for years to come with Oregonians living in secure spaces.”
Husseman said there is no single policy Oregon could enact which would improve the lives of people more than a comprehensive housing policy. He believes good housing leads to good schools and stronger communities, which in turn allows for society to work together in solving larger problems, such as the climate crisis and increasingly severe annual regional fire-seasons and weather events.
Another issue he says has gotten worse since January is the state government’s lack of transparency and what he sees as a glaring need for administrative oversight in unemployment, transportation and education.
“Thousands of Oregonians had to wait for their unemployment checks earlier this year,” he said. “There is a general lack of willingness to be transparent with voters when things go wrong at the state capitol, and that needs to change.”
He said voters need more than creative policy – they need to see their state government turning that policy into action. He has become frustrated with a state legislature that neglects to make incremental progress and continues to miss opportunities to get small legislative victories first, which they could then translate into bigger ones later.
Husseman, 33, is also one of a group of newcomers to politics. According to Voice of America – an organization tracking millennials running for office – there has been an explosion of participation among people between the ages of 25-40, up 266% since 2020.
He thinks that in politics, the primary generational gap is in information sourcing.
“What and how we consume information is a big factor,” he said. “I oppose barriers to information – in fact, I have a plan to provide state funding for local newspapers. We need a robust information system in the modern world.”
Those plans, and many others, will have to wait. For what, he’s not sure – but he’s not ruling anything out.
“I can’t say what office I’ll run for, but I’m definitely not done and I’ll work harder next time.”