James Manning: I'm Not a Politician; I'm a Public Servant.

This blog is the third in a series of posts celebrating elected leaders who reflect our equity priorities. At Northwest Health Foundation, we know communities need the power and resources to sit at decision-making tables, to help dispel beliefs and practices that do not promote their health, and to help shape those that do. From local school boards to the state legislature, parents and families should have a voice.

Photo portrait of Senator James Manning.

Senator James Manning doesn’t think of himself as a politician. He’s a public servant, and he’s been a public servant for a long time.

Before becoming involved in Oregon government, Senator Manning worked as a state corrections officer, police officer, railroad special agent and private investigator. In 1983, he enlisted in the United States Army. After 24 years of active duty, during which he filled many roles, including everything from Military Diplomat to the Australian and New Zealand Special Forces to Postal Supervisor to U.S. Army Assistant Inspector General, Senator Manning retired in 2007 and moved to Eugene.

In retirement, Senator Manning felt the urge to give back to his community. He quickly got involved with nonprofits like United Way for Lane County. He also served on the City of Eugene’s Police Commission and was appointed by two Oregon governors to the Oregon Commission on Black Affairs. Then, in 2016, he campaigned to represent District 14 in Oregon’s House of Representatives.

Senator James Manning lost in the primaries to Representative Julie Fahey. However, he didn’t consider his campaign a waste of time; he enjoyed it. He liked going door to door, taking the time to hear from community members. In particular, he appreciated the opportunity to talk with elderly community members. He recalled one woman who took a while to get to the door, who he soon realized hadn’t been eating and set her up with Meals on Wheels, as well as a man who he spent 20 minutes with, although he was only supposed to take three minutes with each voter.

After his loss in the primaries, Senator Manning assumed he’d go back to doing what he’d been doing: serving on commissions and committees and working towards a doctor of education in organizational leadership. That’s what he did, for a while. At least until the Lane County Board of Commissioners unexpectedly appointed him to replace outgoing Senator Chris Edwards in December 2016.

What are Senator James Manning’s priorities as an elected official? Listening and responding to people’s needs. Living wages. Good jobs. Quality, affordable healthcare. Refusing to leave senior citizens and children behind. Senator Manning has pledged not to make a vote that will hurt people.

As a child, Senator Manning sometimes went to bed hungry. At times, he was homeless. Now, he wants to be an inspiration to people who feel like there is no hope. He wants to inspire people to seize opportunities and give back to others.

His advice to others who are think about running for office: It has to be about helping people, not about personal gain. Visit places that don’t feel familiar to you. Visit schools. Pay attention to the kids huddled outside, waiting for their first meal of the day. Build up name recognition, and then just do it.