Lawmakers aren’t so easy to pigeonhole
Opinion article on urban and rural accomplishments in the Oregon legislature.
When speaking of Oregon’s “urban-rural divide,” our discussions do mainly that — they divide us. Unfortunately, The Oregonian’s editorial board has perpetuated that division with its characterization of urban dwellers as people who treat rural Oregon as “little more than a playground” (“A crisis too often overlooked,” March 27).
The truth is that voices from urban and rural parts of our state are not mutually exclusive. Legislators from urban and rural Oregon regularly work together, as they did in the recent February special session, and their diverse perspectives are well-represented in our state capital.
In the discussion over the closure of the Office of Rural Policy, I recognize people’s frustrations. But I challenge all of us to think more broadly about the conversation on rural issues.
Rural Oregon is many things, things that should defy simple characterization, and blanket statements about rural Oregon being ignored by “western legislators” are both false and insensitive for two immediate reasons.
First of all, rural Oregon is more than just east of the Cascades. As the majority leader of the Oregon Senate, I lead a diverse group of senators. They represent a vast portion of our state and represent it well. I don’t pretend that my district is rural, but I recognize that my colleagues on the Oregon coast and in southern Oregon come from districts that are rural in every respect.
Second, as Senate majority leader I am motivated to speak to the notion that somehow rural Oregon is uniformly Republican and urban Oregon is thoroughly Democratic. Our state is not so conveniently divided. Democratic members in my caucus do an exemplary job of representing communities as far away from Salem as Astoria, Coos Bay, Mount Hood, Sutherlin, Jacksonville and La Pine.
These members, along with the entirety of Oregon’s Senate Democrats, fight for all regions of Oregon because we know that our state’s diversity is a big reason why we choose it as our home. This appreciation is why we made investing in water supply options for rural Oregon and expanding coverage of the Oregon State Police top priorities in our February session. These are tangible results that directly support rural communities.
Additionally, we’ve fought for issues that defy geographical characterization; issues such as bolstering support for senior services, increasing resources to protect at-risk children, investing resources in long-term solutions for health care coverage, and making record investments in education at all levels and in all regions of the state. These are priorities that unite Oregonians, issues that are blind to topography.
These accomplishments are a result of the cooperation and dedication of legislators from all over our state. By contrast, the Office of Rural Policy was a one-person office serving a huge swath of Oregon. While recognizing the good intentions of the office, we must also recognize that no single person can solve the complex problems facing rural Oregon. Addressing the needs of rural Oregonians should be an integral part of the mission of every state agency, from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Transportation.
Collaboration is what led to the successes of the 2007 and 2008 sessions, and I’m committed to continuing this collaboration with Oregonians from every corner of the state.
Richard Devlin is a Democrat representing Tualatin and is majority leader in the Oregon Senate.