Last Friday, District 16 State Representative Dan Rayfield met with myself and former campaign opponent Sami Al-Abdrabbuh for coffee at New Morning Bakery in downtown Corvallis to discuss the overwhelming civility demonstrated between Al-Abdrabbuh, Rayfield, and their mutual competitor, Andrew Freborg, at a recent forum discussion on ranked-choice voting.
When Democrat Rayfield and Progressive Al-Abdrabbuh arrived, they immediately sparked up a conversation. Coffee in hand, we began discussing their experiences at the recent forum. I wanted to know how they managed to maintain a civil, even friendly, relationship despite representing opposing parties and competing for the same office.
“In a smaller community, you care about the community,” said Rayfield. “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump never have to see each other again, they go their separate ways.”
Rayfield explained that if he drives around Corvallis honking and giving the bird, people will take note. However this behavior can go unnoticed on a massive scale, like in LA where you may not get that sense of community.
“I think it is real easy to demonize each other in a much broader sense,” he said. “When you engage and talk with somebody in a personal manner, it’s much tougher to demonize them.”
“We all should be surprised that Trump did not meet President Obama until last week, regardless of how sincere he was,” said Al-Abdrabbuh. “It’s just shocking for me that we have this divide and it’s not only on a national level, it’s also within our communities.”
“Politics is about bringing everyone together and making sure people understand each other,” he continued. “If I had won, which I didn’t, I would have had to carry on with Dan and the Democrats.”
Al-Abdrabbuh explained that since age seven he lived in Saudi Arabia. There he debated religion, politics, and everything in between with an Orthodox Christian family friend. “One day I told my dad, ‘My stomach hurts when I debate him,’” said Al-Abdrabbuh. His father offered two pieces of advice: one, never debate him again…or two, always assume the best.
“He is our friend,” his father said. “Try to see what is common, what is different, and understand that maybe you will not change what he believes and he will not change what you believe, but you will understand him.”
Similarly, Rayfield recounted an experience from his own childhood. His father was a colonel in the air force, a vice president of an insurance company, and a Republican. His mother was progressive, opposing nuclear testing and weapons dealing. Rayfield admits that his time as a boy was split between Dan Quayle rallies and feeding the homeless.
These early experiences showed him that “they want the same thing, they’re just going about it in different ways, but they are good people.” He said, “I have this fundamental belief that we are all good on the inside, we are just going about it in different ways.”
Libertarian Freborg mirrored this sentiment in an email response to the same prompt.
“For me it comes from a place of respect, and the knowledge that from a values standpoint, all three of our goals were very similar,” he said. “We may have disagreed on the how of those questions, but we usually agreed on the what and the why.”
“When I announced my campaign I made it clear that I only wanted to debate on ideas,” Freborg continued. “When you resort to insults and name calling and make the argument personal, you have ceded the arena of ideas and have already lost. We are all human beings, and as such are deserving of respect, and that is something I will always strive for, not just in this race, but in my personal dealings as well. And I know, deep in my heart, that Dan and Sami feel the same way because they demonstrated it on the campaign and in their personal lives.”
But, is it as simple as just respecting each other?
“There’s a fine line in the game of politics,” said Rayfield. “This is the thing that is fascinating, you [still] have to distinguish yourself to win a race.”
How a candidate chooses to accomplish this is telling. Rayfield chose to actively help his opponents. As Freborg put it, “That speaks to his character, and his desire to ensure that District 16 had a rep that was fully prepared for the obstacles ahead, even if it wasn’t him.”
Al-Abdrabbuh summed up politics nicely: “Winner takes all, but it takes us all to win.”
Collectively their campaigns reveal that, despite the pernicious presidential election, opponents do not have to be enemies. Furthermore, when candidates truly respect the responsibilities that come with office, they can put selfish motivations aside and work together.
By Anthony Vitale