BROOKINGS — The woman challenging Jeff Kruse to represent District 1 in the Oregon Senate plans to let her constituents weigh in on issues via the Web. Then she'll vote in accordance with their will.
If anybody knows how to make that happen, it's 34-year-old Jessica Kensinger of Brookings. She's a former lifecaster — someone who broadcasts her life over the Web to subscribers.
Lifecasters, also called livecasters, typically have the camera pointed away from them, showing viewers what they see as they go through their day. Nowadays, though, Kensinger makes her living with the camera pointed at her, as a webcam model, earning money for chatting with subscribers to a private site.
In her political career, she hopes to make use what she's learned from lifecasting and "switch it from being about me to being about politics."
Her site, United4progress.com, redirects you to a Facebook page for her campaign where she posts about issues that are important to her and polls her followers.
"If I were a representative, my job would be to know the constitution, and understand the will of the people," Kensinger said Thursday. "If the people want something and I don't want it, it's my responsibility to educate them and make them change their mind, not the other way around."
For example, "If people want the right to burn in their back yards, and you do your research and you find out that this is really bad for the elderly community, you need to stand up for the needs of the people who don't have a voice. But you should spend some time educating, writing a blog or getting out the word, about the importance of air quality."
One issue she feels strongly about is housing, which is in short supply in Curry County. She'd like to see zoning laws changed to allow people to rent out rooms. She also sees the high cost of regulatory compliance as a barrier to construction of new housing. "People who want to build something, they have to spend $200,000 before they can even build anything," she said.
Another problem she'd like to solve by deregulation is the shortage of physicians in Curry County. Kensinger supports changing medical licensing rules so that doctors from Crescent City could practice in Curry County and so that doctors coming to Oregon would find it easier to set up a practice. "The easier it is for a doctor to come to Oregon, the better it's going to be for us," she said.
She'd like education to get more attention and "more of the pie," and she'd like to see more educational opportunities for adults.
Kensinger thinks southwestern Oregon will have to become a tourism-based economy, and transportation is essential to making that happen. "Because we're a border town, we've gotten so much money from marijuana tourism. I'd really like to get more into ecotourism," she said. Airports and public transportation would help that happen, she said — "ways for other people to come here, and for our people to get out" to access services such as medical care in other places.
By connecting people via the Web, she's hoping to inspire people of all ages to feel that they can make a difference in politics.
"The sooner that one of our generation's people wins and makes it in, it's going to be an inspiration for other young people," she said. "My generation needs to get up and stop watching Netflix."
She'd like more young people to have the experience she did: "People in this local community, they gave me an alternative that was really appealing to me, and I think it could be really appealing for young people, teaching them self-reliance, how good it feels to be part of something bigger and that it is completely possible."
With that youthful energy, she'd like to invigorate the Republican Party. "If it were up to me, I wouldn't have wasted any time on the war against drugs or the war against gay people," she said. "The only job of government in that area is to make sure that things are equal. Fighting marriage equality was a huge waste of time. You've lost so many battles, and you're still going in and trying to win old, old battles, and you're wasting time. They could be figuring out what their districts want and bargaining to find out what they can do together. Fighting over things that are completely polarized and old — the Republicans are losing. Just let it go. Their job is not to try to impose their morality into laws."
Instead, she'd like to foster development of a new kind of Republicans that she calls the Kruse Republicans. "We're going to win equality, we're going to believe in tolerance of other people, free enterprise in politics and business."
In fact, Kensinger calls herself a "Kruse Republican" — someone inspired by Kruse's own example to get into politics. "Like a 'Kennedy Democrat,'" she explained.
Kensinger said Kruse has been her "friend and mentor." Kruse calls her a friend, too, and said he likes the work she does to get young people involved in politics.
If Kensinger doesn't win the primary, she plans to keep doing what she's doing — building a network online and networking with like-minded politicians in Salem. She said she "job-shadowed" Kruse during this year's legislative session and met people. Other senators she admires are Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer), Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), and Chris Edwards (D-North and West Eugene).
But if she does become a state senator, Kensinger envisions a staff of volunteers and interns working from home to collect people's opinions and tell voters what she's doing. She'd poll her constituents via the Web before voting on legislation. She'd lifecast from the legislature: "You'd know where I was, who I was talking to, what I was doing. There wouldn't be any backroom deals."
"Getting people engaged is my whole background, it's my specialty, using innovations in marketing and nonprofits and the Internet. The next logical step is innovations in government."
According to LinkedIn and the websites of her former endeavors, Kensinger's marketing innovations include sending spokesmodels into Las Vegas nightspots to dance and talk about advertisers' products with the patrons.
A former domestic violence counselor in San Diego, she also launched Clark County Social Resource Network in Las Vegas. Though the organization is defunct, a 2009 snapshot of its website on archive.org indicates that it facilitated peer-to-peer interactions to help people connect with social services and other resources.
In an April 11 post on her Facebook page, Kensinger used a business analogy to explain why she's setting her sights on a Senate seat in her first run for office, instead of starting with a lower office.
"Think about it this way: our generation makes applications for phones and social media websites that make $$$," she wrote. "No one asks 'well before I look at your app please tell me what smaller, crappier, less important apps you have made before I decide if I want your product'! The consumer tries the product and considers it the best, or NOT."