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The Cost of Serving Portland—and Jesus—as an Oregon Politician

The Cost of Serving Portland—and Jesus—as an Oregon Politician

State Representative Jules Bailey, an unlikely Christian, has drafted some of the most innovative environmental legislation in the state.

It's perhaps no surprise that Oregon State Representative Jules Bailey has ended up serving the very district where he was raised by politically progressive parents. The 32-year-old, elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2008, says he had "the quintessential Portland upbringing" on Hawthorne Boulevard in the southeast end of the city, where his family preached civic engagement and environmental responsibility.

What may be surprising is that Bailey—now among Oregon's leading legislators on the environment and job creation—has returned to his hometown a bona-fide Christian. On a rainy December morning in December, Bailey sat in a Portland café wearing jeans and a sweater, recounting his story of coming to faith while sipping locally roasted coffee. "I didn't grow up in a faith tradition at all," Bailey said. "My parents weren't opposed to it; they just believed in letting me figure it out for myself."

While attending the private Lewis & Clark College to study environmental policy and international affairs, Bailey began reading Dostoyevsky's sprawling The Brothers Karamazov, the spiritual drama full of ruminations on suffering, free will, and the goodness of God. And it didn't make much sense to Bailey, who had never read a Bible and had been implicitly taught that faith and intellectual pursuits were separate. He decided to read the Bible cover to cover.

"It was honestly just a literary exercise," he said. But when he read the New Testament, he realized the Bible was a lot different than he had thought. "It was pure truth," he said.

After graduating from Lewis & Clark, then working on the Senate election bid for Bill Bradbury, Bailey thought he was through with politics. He earned a master's in public affairs and urban and regional planning from Princeton, then moved back to Oregon to work for a private economic development firm. "But it wasn't enough," he says, "sitting at a desk cranking out spreadsheets and numbers."

And then, in 2008, his district's representative moved from the state House to the state Senate, and the seat became available. Bailey's friends encouraged him to run for office, but he hesitated, and not because he was a new Christian. "Honestly, I didn't think I was cool enough," Bailey said, noting that unlike most of his young constituents, he doesn't have piercings, tattoos, or a customized bicycle. But he was passionate about creating a stable economy and a sustainable environment in his district. What finally convinced him to campaign was the chance to emulate Christ, who was the ultimate servant. "Christ lived to serve us, and he died to save us," Bailey said. "No matter how much we do for others, we'll never be able to give as much as he gave to us."

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