In Depth with Corvallis Rep. Dan Rayfield

rayfield2Steeped in a culture of action movies and good vs. evil plot lines, it can be difficult to peg a real leader when not suited in battle armor or pontificating before the masses. Tyrion Lannister, State Representative Dan Rayfield’s favorite fictional figurehead, is 53 inches of leadership and he does it through intellect and hard work. Moreover he operates in the moment from a base of internal values that allow him to be humorful rather than deceitful and (in most cases) understanding instead of petty.

Rayfield has this feel to him. He seems driven by similar ideals and by acting on the opportunities that have presented themselves, he finds himself in the roles of family man, business owner, and state representative. Not large in physical stature, he is highly energetic.

Sworn in on Jan. 15, 2015, Rayfield has hit the ground running and, in many ways, reset the bar for joining the Democratic caucus. Rayfield was not only awarded a gavel his first year, he was also elected to the leadership role of House Majority Whip by his peers. Rayfield simultaneously runs an attorney office through the Nelson, MacNeil, Rayfield Trial Attorneys PC to which he has become a full-fledged partner. When finally we consider his wife and their four-year-old son Adam, the question of how he fits all of this into any given day kind of asks itself.

“You have to be flexible and any free time you get, you take advantage of it and it’s just a matter of prioritizing the things in your day,” said Rayfield.

In order to get the full picture, it is worth noting that Rayfield first ran for State Senate in 2010. Although he was not elected, neither was he defeated. “It was a competitive race and that gave me a real insight into how you start thinking about this,” explained Rayfield. Between the 2010 and 2014 elections, Rayfield had been planning the organization and functionality of his future office, all while developing relationships within the community including former senators and other state offices.

A day in the life of Rayfield can indeed look pretty hectic, especially during a short legislative session. The alarm sounds off at 5 a.m. and Rayfield slips into the clothes he laid out the night before. After slamming some rolled oats and Grape-Nuts, it’s off to the SamFit. After connecting with clients via Bluetooth during the commute, Rayfield arrives in the capitol at 8 a.m.

Once in Salem, Rayfield meets with staff, committees, or depending on the day, does Whip Check-ins. This continues until 10 or 11 a.m. when the entire Democratic caucus meets. During this time there are presentations, issue forecasting, and time for making sure the whole team is on the same page and moving towards their overall goals.

The floor session in which most people are at their desks as they go over bills passed in committee is next. As a leader, Rayfield sits in the back where he can keep tabs on everyone and make sure there are enough Democrats on the floor at any given time. He also roves between the 35 other members to gauge their interest in a given bill and learn of any concerns whilst maintaining knowledge of the greater debate at hand.

Then comes a short break. Rayfield explained that “generally speaking, you have about half an hour to grab a quick bite to eat; often you are cutting that short because you crammed a few meetings into your lunch as you are always maintaining trying to be accessible.”

After lunch, it is time for committee meetings. Rayfield serves as a member of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety, vice-chair of the Committee of Consumer Protection and Government Efficiency, and a member of the House Committee on Rules. This takes about an hour and a half, then the rest of the day until 5 p.m. is spent in meetings of which there can be in excess of seven a day. Only, since Rayfield is in a leadership role, he has one more leadership meeting letting out between 6 and 8 p.m.

Needless to say this lifestyle requires considerable discipline, but where is all this motivation coming from? Like Tyrion, Rayfield’s father was a leader in the armed services and a successful businessman. His mother was an advocate for progress that brought him along to protests and to feed the homeless. “As I grew up, I’ve always had this drive inside of me that we can always make this better, we can always do better.” Rayfield explained that as a kid, his family planned for the future and acted in leadership roles and this helped instill these values in him.

These values were certainly recognized by his peers when Rayfield was elected to House Majority Whip after exercising his reputation for bringing sides together during a $30 million ODFW shortfall in 2015. “Using principals of looking at interspace negotiation we were able to bring more than 25 to 30 stakeholder groups to the table and come to a solution that was in everybody’s interest—and it was a bipartisan solution,” said Rayfield. In doing so, he gained the respect of colleagues and ultimately created his own endorsement just by keeping his head down and working hard.

“First off, [being Whip] adds more to your schedule,” said Rayfield, “so there are other types of duties—events that I will go to and be a part of.” But there is the intangible element of taking more leadership in the caucus as well. Examples include helping other members with their campaigns, traveling to other districts, fundraising, and listening. This latter part is vitally important.

“Not everybody goes through a legislative session, or quite frankly the interim, in perfect spirits, so we need to be in tune with what’s going on for folks,” said Rayfield. Team-building is also a major focus, and with potentially 10 new incoming members—that is one-third of the current Democratic caucus—Rayfield is working on intern programs and workshops to get everyone on the same page.

Overall Rayfield’s time in the legislature has been a source of continual growth and learning. “I almost liken it to a new magician, and this is odd, because when I was younger I wanted to be a magician,” said Rayfield. His comparison was that of sleight of hand. At first, you are so caught up in the mechanics that you don’t look natural, your movements are not refined, and you cannot speak while doing it.

“Later on when you really understand and master the basics and principals, then things become a little bit more refined. That’s when you’re able to be comfortable with yourself and talk,” said Rayfield. “It’s kind of the transition that I think a legislator has where they shift from being very mechanical to being able to come from that values-based decision.”

An example of one of these values-based decisions took place last legislative session. Rayfield and others set their minds to upholding the needs of workers who had been locked out of their jobs. A lockout is basically an inverse strike where the employer closes its doors to the employees. The problem is that said employees only have six months unemployment. To make matters worse, finding new jobs is often difficult, especially considering many of the workers would willingly return to their jobs if they could. As Rayfield put it, they are basically stuck in a state of limbo.

Despite some ups and downs, they managed to come to a bipartisan solution that extended unemployment benefits for an additional six months. At the session’s end, 30 to 40 locked-out steel workers and their families came down to the floor to show their gratitude. “That’s why you run for office right there, it was an amazing moment,” said Rayfield. “It was also unique because they took me into their group, so I was emotionally connected to them.” It was what could be called a win-win-win situation.

Having achieved so much so quickly, one can only wonder where fortune will take Rayfield next. While there was some mention of Ambassador to the Bahamas, Rayfield explained that “if opportunities are there, I’d like to be able to have worked hard enough to be able to make a decision on whatever path presents itself later in life.” So long as the dynamic is working for his family, Rayfield is content to keep his head down, work hard, and—in between catching the latest Game of Thrones episode with his wife—“provide the absolute best representation out of any office.”

By Anthony Vitale