SALEM — Within the walls of the Oregon State Capitol there lies a unique group of ambitious, determined go-getters known fondly around Salem as the thriving and growing, “Coos Bay Mafia.”
While it’s not an official group or organization, it is a nickname used by some legislative members and staffers to describe folks from Coos Bay whose career goals have taken them to the capitol and straight into the world of politics.
Communications Director for the Oregon Senate Democrats Rick Osborn said he remembers hearing the term for the first time in 2010 as he participated in a series of workshops and classes exploring what it means to serve on the state legislature.
Osborn, who couldn’t help but smile widely as he retold the story, said he was talking to then-House Speaker Dave Hunt who used the term after he learned he was a former high school student of Senator Arnie Roblan.
“‘Oh my gosh, it’s the Coos Bay Mafia!’” Osborn recalled Hunt saying. “’You guys are really just trying to take over the world, aren’t you?’”
In addition to sharing the same coastal hometown, Osborn said most of the members of the unofficial group have actually been past students of Sen. Roblan, who worked for about 30 years as a math teacher and principal at Marshfield High School.
“Some of us definitely got our start working with Roblan,” said Osborn. “It’s just been a pleasure to work with him every day. Sometimes I joke about being called into the principal’s office whenever I go see him.”
Over the years, a number of Roblan's former students have held a variety of positions within the capitol to which many have gone on to continue their careers beyond the state level.
Among which include Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), executive vice president of Oregon Farm Bureau David Dillon and the director of Pacific Northwest Policy Liz Cooney from Rep. Peter DeFazio’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
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“When I first got here about 15 years ago I was surprised to start hearing names and seeing people who were old students of mine,” said Roblan. “It’s very heartening for me to see them in all these different roles. I’ve loved having the opportunity to enter their lives in small ways to help them do whatever it was they wanted to do. I think once a teacher you’re always a teacher and the goal is always to help your students’ progress.”
During his time at Marshfield, Roblan said he was a huge supporter of making sure students understood their worth and that if they committed and put in the hard work needed they could really effect change.
“If you engage students and Marshfield has always done a good job at that then they will truly understand that they can make a difference,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a conservative or liberal we all work on the same team.”
After working as an advisor for students for a number of years in local YMCA Youth & Government chapter, Roblan said he too discovered his interest in public office.
“One of our old coaches at the high school used to say, ‘the only person that can make a difference that you have control over is the person who looks back at you in the mirror every morning,’” said Roblan. “I was getting ready to retire and it was pretty clear to me that I’ve been talking to kids about this for 30 years and I had to look myself in the mirror.
"I’m getting to the point where I’m complaining about not having enough money for schools and all these other things. I have to run and show these kids it’s not just about words, but it’s also actions and that was actually one of the major reasons I ran for legislature.”
While the list of those who qualify to be a part of the “Coos Bay Mafia,” contains more than 30 former Marshfield students and Coos Bay natives, Roblan said he continues to find new folks to this day who share his Coos Bay connections.
“My goal has always been to make everybody understand they need to pursue their dream and go after them,” said Roblan. “They need to not worry about where they came from but where they’re going to go.”