Few things excite Chen more than the prospect of watching Oregon emerge from the long shadow of its much-ballyhooed Bottle Bill (redeeming bottles for recycling), Beach Bill (making the coast off-limits to developers), and urban growth boundary, and do something truly audacious: help lead a nation out of a recession.

But can we?

Dan Carol, the Obama campaign veteran who helped arrange Chen’s face-to-face with Browner, thinks so. “If things go well, we’re hoping to be Obama’s teacher’s pet,” says Carol, who jokes that his main contribution to the Oregon Way effort has been leveraging what he calls his “Obama-ness.”

“We certainly have a reputation in this area, but lots of folks will be chasing us,” he says, “so it’ll be a lot like a Prefontaine race: you have to keep running hard.”

Even more critical, says Chen: Oregon needs to get used to staying in the lead. “Oregon is comfortable with being first at things, but it’s very uncomfortable leading. The travesty would be if we weren’t able to fully take advantage of this opportunity for our region, our companies. People want to make sustainability our issue—our contribution at a time when people care about this stuff at a global level.” He gazes out at the city, at the lights winking on, animating the dusk. “You can be so grandiose about this, but at a time when our state needs it, when the audience is ready to receive it, when the nation needs it, when the government is ready to receive it, support it, catalyze it, pay for it, prompt it … It’s the scariest of times.”

But the way he sees it, it’s now our time.

AND PERHAPS IT IS.

Another Oregonian made a recent trip East. On February 27, Mark Edlen traveled to Philadelphia. He had been called to appear, along with John Podesta, at the vice president’s Middle Class Task Force, which convened a green-jobs summit at the University of Pennsylvania. Edlen took the podium in a packed auditorium, where the luminaries included not just Joe Biden but also the secretaries of energy, transportation, labor, education, and much of the president’s senior staff. “I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak about the biggest economic development of our lifetime … ,” Edlen began.

Over the next fifteen minutes, he told the story of the Oregon Way, no doubt making more than a few union officials salivate as he talked about all the skyscrapers that could be retrofitted with a billion dollars from the stimulus package. Within three months, he told the crowd, architects could begin surveying buildings, preparing drawings, and pulling the required permits; soon after that they could start hiring construction workers.

“Now is the time to work together, arm in arm, to walk through this storm toward a more sustainable tomorrow, creating tens of thousands of high-skilled jobs that will not only lift this economy but will create a new foundation for our nation—a foundation that is good for the economy, good for the environment, and good for the people of this great country,” Edlen told the audience, as the spotlight on Oregon grew just a little bit brighter.