House Speaker Says He Only Blossomed After Getting a Third Chance
Most politicians scrub their personal histories when running for public office. In a commencement speech at his alma mater, House Speaker Dan Rayfield shared his history in remarkably personal detail.
His personal history reinforced his message to WOU’s 2023 graduates, “Invest in people when they need it most. Don’t underestimate your impact on others. Practice unconditional forgiveness. Be patient with people.” He also defied political norms by delivering his remarks in just 12 minutes.
Rayfield, 44 and an attorney, revealed multiple alcohol and drug-related arrests and poor academic achievement, which required summer school to graduate from Tigard High School in 1997. His favorite musical group was the Spice Girls, whose debut hit was titled Wannabe.
Despite questioning his own potential and suffering from attention deficit, Rayfield applied late and was accepted at Western Oregon University. He only applied because his best friend went there to become a teacher like his parents.
After just two terms, Rayfield was placed on academic suspension with a 1.3 grade point average. He said WOU officials showed patience with him by agreeing to re-admit him for a third term. That didn’t pan out after he contracted mononucleosis.
In the face of academic failure, Rayfield moved to Florida and took a job as a Jungle Cruise skipper at Disneyworld, where corny jokes are a job requirement. That ended when he was fired. Rayfield made his way back to Oregon where WOU gave him a third chance. “I betrayed the people who gave me a second chance,” he said. He didn’t waste the third chance, even though it took him six years to earn a college diploma and he’s still paying off his student loans.
After graduating from WOU with an undergraduate degree in geography, Rayfield was accepted at Willamette University’s College of Law. While in law school, he clerked for the Benton County district attorney where his main assignment was to prosecute misdemeanors and DUIs. Later in private practice, Rayfield represented a plaintiff in a high-profile case that alleged a police officer wrongfully arrested people under false DIU accusations.
Rayfield was elected to the Oregon legislature in 2014 and quickly rose through the ranks in the House Democratic caucus as co-chair the Joint Ways and Means Committee, House Majority Whip and Speaker to preside over the short 2022 legislative session when former Speaker Tina Kotek resigned to run full-time for governor.
Rayfield’s message of patience in people isn’t a typical political message. Despite legislative successes to boost K-12 school funding, invest in affordable housing and promote environmental protection, Rayfield said the legacy that counts most is personal investment in people as a parent, employer or friend. “Patient investments in each other impact people in perpetuity,” he told WOU grads. “They are legacies passed on forever.”
“Patient investments in each other impact people in perpetuity.”
Notes on Rayfield’s Personal Background
Born in Orange County, California, Rayfield grew up in Tigard. His mother was an activist who dragged him to progressive cause events. His father was a retired Air Force colonel and commercial insurance executive who held conservative political views.
Rayfield lives in Corvallis and represents House District 16. He is married and has a son. His past community activities include serving on the boards or the Linn-Benton Housing Authority and New Roots Housing and as president of the Majestic Theater Management Board. He serves on the HOA board for the community where he lives.
In 2022, Rayfield gave an informal talk to WOU students about activism and political patience. He centered his comments on a high school student who came to him with proposed legislation allowing anyone 15 years of age or older to register as an organ donor when obtaining an Oregon driver’s license. It took five years for the concept to build support and become law.
He also related that his first exposure to the Oregon legislature came when his father returned home from Salem after lobbying lawmakers on an insurance bill. “He said the legislators didn’t seem very bright.”
Rayfield has earned a reputation for supporting civil rights, consumer protection, affordable housing and campaign reform. He has introduced campaign reform legislation in the last two sessions, which failed to pass. He isn’t expected to give up.